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Essay/Term paper: John adams

Essay, term paper, research paper:  American History

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John Adams, who became the second president of the

United States, has been accused by some historians of being

the closest thing America ever had to a dictator or monarch

(Onuf, 1993). Such strong accusations should be examined

in the context of the era in which Mr. Adams lived and

served. A closer examination of the historical events

occurring during his vice presidency and his term as

president, strongly suggests that Adams was not, in fact, a

dictator. Indeed, except for his lack of charisma and political

charm, Adams had a very successful political career before

joining the new national government. He was, moreover,

highly sought after as a public servant during the early

formation of the new federal power (Ferling, 1992). Adams

was a well educated, seasoned patriot, and experienced

diplomat. He was the runner-up in the election in which

George Washington was selected the first United States

President. According to the electoral-college system of that

time, the second candidate with the most electoral votes

became the Vice President (Smelser & Gundersen, 1975).

As president, Washington appointed, among others, two

influential political leaders to his original cabinet; Thomas

Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton. Jefferson, a veteran

politician became the Secretary of State and Hamiliton, a

young, outspoken New Yorker lawyer, became the

Secretary of the Treasury (Ferling, 1992). Jefferson, like

Adams, had also signed the Declaration of Independence.

Hamilton, however, was the only cabinet member relatively

unknown to Adams (Ferling, 1992). It was Hamilton,

nonetheless, who excelled during this new administration by

initiating numerous, innovative, and often controversial

programs, many of which were quite successful. Adams and

Hamilton were both Federalists. Unlike Hamiliton, Adams

was more moderate (Smelser & Gundersen, 1975). During

this first administration, Adams and Hamilton quarreled

(Washington Retires, 1995), and Adams contemptuously

began referring to Hamilton as "his puppyhood" (DeCarolis,

1995). This created a rift in the administration, for

Washington generally favored Hamiliton (Smelser &

Gundersen, 1975), and disregarded Adams (Ferling, 1992).

Hamilton also went to great lengths to drive Jefferson out of

the cabinet (Allison, 1966). Jefferson did finally, indeed,

resign from the cabinet. The Federalists "party," of which

Hamiliton was the leader (DeCarolis, 1995) was greatly

divided and even violent, at times, under his leadership

(Allison, 1966). This is significant in assessing Hamilton"s

and others" arguments of Adams being a dictator after his

presidential victory in 1796 A.D. There are several traits that

were conspicuous about John Adams. First, he was known

as an honest man of integrity (Ferling, 1992; Smelser &

Gundersen, 1975). He was also often described as

"stubborn," quick-tempered, and even cantankerous at times

(Liesenfelt, 1995; Smelser & Gundersen, 1975; Wood,

1992). He was, however, quite intelligent and apparently

had a secure self-esteem, being quite willing the challenge

tradition (Wood, 1992). Adams was an intensely

self-introspective man, though confident (Calhoon, 1976).

By 1795, conflict was raging with France. Washington made

it clear that he was not returning to office. This, for the first

time, provided the impulse for the two differing political

philosophies to align into separate parties, even though the

Federalists never considered themselves to be a party

(Wood, 1992). Hamilton tried to by-pass Adams by

nominating Carolinian Thomas Pickney (Ferling, 1992). He

had instigated a similar conspiracy to keep Adams from

defeating Washington in the second national election, as

Adams had discovered (DeCarolis, 1995). In spite of the

divided Federalists, Adams defeated Thomas Jefferson by

three electoral votes. He became the second president and

Jefferson, having the second largest number of votes,

became vice-president. This event, too, is significant because

for the first time in office here were two men of totally

different philosophies of government, attempting to run the

country together. Adams" presidency was stressful from the

moment of his inauguration. In his address, he sought to

make it clear that he was not a monarchist (Allison, 1966).

France had decreed to seize American ships. The country

was divided over whether to be pro-British (as was

Hamilton) or pro-France (as was Jefferson). Hamiliton

eventually resigned the position of inspector general, but

continued to send Adams unsolicited recommendations

regarding foreign policy issues (DeCarolis, 1995). Adams

resented Hamilton"s meddling in his executive prerogatives.

He eventually expelled two other Hamiltonian cabinet

members. The height of Adam"s presidency and popularity

came primarily from the victories the navy had over French

vessels, and the exposure of the scandal called the XYZ

Affair, in which Adams was applauded for revealing the

dishonesty and corruption of the French officials, and French

insistence on demanding bribes. This period, however, was

very unstable and uncertain, both at home and abroad.

Hamilton made bitter attacks on Adams" policies (Elser,

1993). The fiscal situation was desolate. The national debt

and the threat of what appeared to be inescapable war

caused great stress, opposition, and even occasional

violence (Onuf, 1993). Matters only became worse. The

Federalist Congress created a provisional army which,

though needed, added to the financial strain. Congress then

passed three major oppressive measures all within a

two-week period: the Alien Act, the Naturalization Act, and

the Sedition Acts, all of which caused Adam"s popularity to

decrease and his political direction to be questioned (Ferling,

1992). The army, needed because of the French conflict,

was very expensive to maintain. The Alien Act permitted the

president to deport those who are considered a threat to the

government. Many immigrants did return to Europe because

of fear. The Naturalization Act placed new stipulations on

becoming a citizen and required fourteen years of residency.

The last, and most offensive act, the Sedition Act, was

purely a censorship tactic, which did result in several

anti-federalists (Republicans) being indicted for printing

criticisms against the government (Ferling, 1992). Adams

never recommended any such measures, but he did sign the

bill (Allison, 1966). This law prohibited attacks on the

government, oral or written, and upon arrest the defendant

had to prove his innocence (Smelser & Gundersen, 1975).

Due to these congressional measures, citizens, including

Jefferson, began to fear that the provisional army would not

just fight France, but also use their military strength to attack

protesting Americans, hence beginning a civil war. That

Sedition Act had no immediate impact may be evidence that

the Federalists were acting out of paranoia in their immediate

frenzy to stop domestic opposition (Ferling, 1992). These

events, along with the establishing of political parties, as well

as John Adam"s non-charismatic political style, increased

tensions that lead some to accuse the second president of

being a dictator. Adams was proactive, but he was not a

dictator. According to Ferling, "President Adams sought to

control events rather than to be controlled" (1992). At the

approach of the 1800 election, Jefferson and Burr entered

the presidential race against Adams. This eventually resulted

in a tie between Jefferson and Burr, upon which the

Congress chose Jefferson. Consequently, the election was

not a landslide, nor did Adams do poorly. He received 65 of

the electoral votes, or 24 percent. The significance of this

election is not necessarily that Adams lost, but that the votes

were divided almost equally among the candidates, with no

one gaining a decisive victory. This first suggests that the

people were quite disunited, or undecided, about which

political direction the country should go. Second, Adams

received almost as many votes as his opponents, suggest that

he may not have made such a poor political performance, as

has been suggested. In this writer"s opinion, the Federalistic

Congress probably did over-react, as well as obscure their

democratic aims. It was, however, these described events,

and the fact of Adams" lack of political charisma, that

proved unproductive in building support and popularity in the

latter part of his term. It should also be pointed out that

though the Sedition Act was anti-democratic in practice,

Thomas Jefferson, who defeated Adams, used it against the

Federalists in 1803 (People v. Croswell) and indicted a

publisher (DeCarolis, 1995). Jefferson was not accused of

being a dictator for such non-democratic actions. Adams

was neither dictatorial in his conduct, or imperial in his

policies. He appeared to have had the interest of the

common people at heart. The conflict with France, the high

taxes needed to keep the army and navy operating, and the

poor legislative faux pas Congress made during period time,

all cast a negative reflection on President Adams. This

provided his opponents, like Hamilton, Burr, and even

Jefferson, with political leverage to use against him, just as

politicians and political parties do in our own modern era. If

Adams were a dictator, then one must ask would the citizens

elect his son to be the future president, twenty-four years

later? Or, how his grandson, Charles Francis Adams,

became America"s minister to London. Apparently the

citizenry remembered President Adams in a positive,

democratic way, and not as a dictator. 

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