John Adams was the second President of the United States, and he was the handpicked successor of George Washington. Despite Washington warning against political parties, after his departure there were two clear political parties. President Adams was on the constitutionalist side of the Federalists, while his vice president, Thomas Jefferson who lost to Adams only by a brief margin, was an Anti-Federalist, which also had come to be known as the Democratic-Republicans. During his position as vice president, Jefferson did everything he could in his power to frustrate Adams as president, a man who was not seen positively in a public light.
Though Jefferson did all he could to hinder Adams as president, Adams himself was already seen as a man with a short temper and stubbornness in the offices he took. Though his fellow Federalist Alexander Hamilton was Secretary of Treasury for a short while under George Washington, Adams showed little cooperation in terms of Hamilton’s economic plan as Secretary of Treasury. Adams was seen as favoring central government that was too strong, perhaps believing the executive branch of the government was meant to be the strongest of the three branches. Domestically, John Adams was unpopular and would have to lobby hard for any support he wanted to gather. His first confrontation was involved overseas in Europe.
France was at war with Britain, and the particularly pro-British terms of Jay’s Treaty, signed in 1794, upset the French government that had aided America in its war for independence. The French navy was seizing American ships and impressing American sailors, using the supplies aboard the merchant ships as a way of funding its war and preventing the merchant ships from successfully reaching British ports. John Adams sent delegates to France in order to negotiate terms to keep peace with France at the public outcry in America for something to be done about the intrusion. The XYZ Affair, as it was to be known, was when the French delegates with whom the Americans met wanted a large sum in the form of a bribe to even be met with.
After word got to Adams, and Adams released documents of the Affair at the request of Thomas Jefferson, Americans were outraged. The American public became overwhelmingly anti-French and Adams was preparing to go to war, asking Congress for the ability to mobilize the army as a result of the French insult. American warships would come into contact and battle the French navy, though no war was officially declared by Congress. An alliance that had been struck by France and America in 1778 was broken by Adams and he began to build up America’s military might, raising a larger navy and army than had been at a president’s disposal before.
Congress passed the Alien and Sedition Acts in 1798. The first act, the Naturalization Act, extended eligibility for immigrants trying to become citizens and required them to have to be in America for 14 years to become citizens. The Act Concerning Aliens gave the president the power to deport aliens, many of whom were French immigrants. The Sedition Act prevented anyone from publishing “scandalous and malicious writing” against governmental officials, directly abusing the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights. The fourth act, and the third pertaining to aliens, was the Alien Enemies Act, and it allowed the President of the United States to deport any aliens that were from a country at war with America, targeting French immigrants. These Acts were used to target Democratic-Republicans and French immigrants, and the arrest of political enemies forced public opinion against Adams.
The problem with the French was resolved by Napoleon. The government that was in power was overthrown and Napoleon assumed control, which eliminated any threat America had with the government during the XYZ Affair. Once Napoleon assumed power, Adams demobilized the military and opened up talks with French delegates, a move that angered the public that had just grown into a harshly anti-French sentiment. Alexander Hamilton became infuriated with the pro-French movements, and the Federalist Party was split n two. With support split between a single political party, Thomas Jefferson as the Democratic-Republican candidate for president captured it against Aaron Burr. His presidency would mark a deep contrast to that of Adams. As his last effort as president, John Adams appointed judges just before the end of his presidency to contradict anything Jefferson would try to do – this act, the “midnight judges”, was later found unconstitutional.
David McCullough’s “John Adams”
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