Cyclopædia of Political Science, Political Economy, and the Political History of the United States

Edited by: Lalor, John J.
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New York: Maynard, Merrill, and Co.
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Includes articles by Frédéric Bastiat, Gustave de Molinari, Henry George, J. B. Say, Francis A. Walker, and more.
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ADAMS, John, president of the United States 1797-1801, was born Oct. 19, 1735, in Braintree (now Quincy), Massachusetts, where he died July 4, 1826. He was graduated at Harvard in 1755, was admitted to the bar in 1758, and in 1770 entered public life as a representative in the legislature. He was a delegate to the continental congresses of 1774-77, (see DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE.) He entered the diplomatic service in 1777 as minister to France and (in 1785) to England. In 1788 he returned so free from domestic political entanglements that, next to Washington, he was the most available presidential candidate. He became vice-president in 1789 (see ELECTORAL VOTES,) and retained that office until 1797, his casting vote as president of the senate being very useful in support of Hamilton's federalist measures. (See FEDERAL PARTY.) In 1797 he was generally accepted (see CAUCUS, CONGRESSIONAL) as the federalist candidate for the presidency, and was elected over Jefferson. His fatal mistake lay in his retaining Washington's cabinet. His own mind was bent on Washington's policy of neutrality between England and France, and his hearty dislike of Great Britain was a sufficient make-weight against commercial inclinations to enable him to keep the balance fairly even. But his cabinet was as strongly inclined to the Hamiltonian policy, which was not averse to the idea of war with France, and Adams was by no means as successful as Washington in controlling his political household.


—At first the new administration was extremely popular. The X. Y. Z. mission created an intense anti-Gallican feeling in the United States, and while Adams was willing to direct the storm, he was as popular with the Hamiltonian federalists as he had always been with those of New England. But he soon became satisfied that his cabinet was "Hamilton's rather than his," and that the main Hamiltonian object was to force a war upon France. In February, 1799, he therefore nominated ministers to France, and in November imperatively ordered their departure, in both cases without the previous knowledge of his cabinet. His action, dictated by pure patriotism and by a clear perception of the country's best interests, ruined the political prospects of himself and his party. The republicans, (see DEMOCRATIC-REPUBLICAN PARTY,) relieved from the necessity of choosing between France and the United States, gathered fresh strength and renewed the struggle for the presidency; and the two factions of the federalists were more successful in proving one another unworthy of public confidence than in repelling the attacks of the common enemy. Upon Adams was thrown the entire responsibility for the alien and sedition laws, the increase of the army for political purposes, and every other "high-flying" federalist measure which had originated in congress. He was beaten by Jefferson, though really only by the vote of South Carolina, and there by a very slender majority (see ELECTORS,) and, embittered by the virulence of the campaign, retired from Washington on the morning of March 4, 1801, without taking part in Jefferson's inauguration. The breach between them was not healed until some thirteen years after.


The federal party never forgave Adams for his share in their overthrow. Their animosity was kept warm by the open desertion of his son (see ADAMS, JOHN QUINCY) to their opponents, and for many years the private life of the ex-president was made busy by recurring newspaper controversies. He and Jefferson died on the same day, the fiftieth anniversary of their joint work, the adoption of the Declaration of Independence.


—See 1-3, 7-9 C. F. Adams' Life and Letters of John Adams; Correspondence of John Adams and Wm. Cunningham, 1803-12; 2 Gibbs' Memoirs of the Administrations of Washington and Adams; Trescott's Diplomatic History of the Administration of John Adams; Parton's Life of Burr, 225; Wood's History of the Administration of John Adams, and Correct Statement of the Sources of the history (both entirely untrustworthy, but interesting); and authorities under articles referred to.


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