John Adams

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John AdamsSignature of John Adams

John Adams (born October 19 jul. / The thirtieth October  1735 greg. In Braintree , Suffolk County , Province of Massachusetts Bay ; † 4. July 1826 in Quincy , Suffolk County, Massachusetts ) was one of the Founding Fathers of the United States and in 1789 until 1797 the first Vice President and after George Washington from 1797 to 1801 the second President of the United States .

Adams came from a puritanical parents and learned after studying at Harvard College the legal profession . In Boston he came into contact with Samuel Adams and the Sons of Liberty during the early American Revolution . Initially still loyal to the British constitution , he increasingly approached the colonists who were striving to break away from the motherland . As a member of the Continental Congress from 1774 to 1778, he promoted the independence of the Thirteen Colonies from the Kingdom of Great Britain . Together with Thomas Jefferson , Benjamin Franklin and others, he was involved in the conception of the United States Declaration of Independence .

Between two diplomatic missions in the Kingdom of France , Adams worked on the Massachusetts Constitution at home . He then conducted negotiations in Europe with the Kingdom of Great Britain, which resulted in the Peace of Paris in 1783 . Then Adams was active as a representative for the young republic in various states and from 1785 first American ambassador in London .

In the first American presidential election in 1789, Adams was runner-up in the Electoral College, Vice President under George Washington. In the 1792 elections he was able to defend this office against George Clinton . In the emerging first party system , Adams was one of the most important representatives of the Federalist Party . As their candidate, he narrowly defeated Thomas Jefferson of the Democratic Republican Party in the presidential election in 1796 . Adams's tenure was overshadowed by the quasi-war with revolutionary France and the intrigues of Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton against him. The most significant piece of legislation under his presidency was the Alien and Sedition Acts . In a highly polarizing election campaign, Adams was defeated by Jefferson in 1800. He then retired into private life and, shortly before the end of his life, saw his eldest son, John Quincy Adams, be elected President in 1824 .


Parental home and education

Adams was born on October 19, 1735, the eldest of three sons in Braintree, now Quincy. He was descended from Henry Adams, who emigrated to the Massachusetts Bay Colony around 1636 . John Adams was a member of the fourth generation of the Adams family , born in the Thirteen Colonies. Adams' father, John (1691–1761), was a shoemaker and farmer with no formal education who farmed nearly 20  acres and served 14 terms as dean in the local congregational church. In 1734 he married Susanna Boylston (1708-1797), who came from a medical family from Brookline . Adams grew up in simple and cramped conditions. His father attached great importance to education and sent him to a Latin school after elementary school. His mother taught the sons to read when they were five years old. Upbringing as a whole was shaped by Puritanism , with Adams viewing his father as a role model throughout his life. As the firstborn, Adam's parents gave him special support and kept him free from working on the farm.

In 1751 he attended Harvard College , where he studied Greek , Latin, logic , rhetoric and physics. As a senior , he took the subjects moral philosophy and metaphysics . After graduating, he returned to Braintree in 1755, but did not take up a pastorate there, as his father had wanted and it was the usual career path for Harvard graduates at the time. Adams may have been deterred by the attacks that liberal theologian Jonathan Mayhew was facing at the time. After a short term teaching Latin at a grammar school in Worcester , he decided in the summer of 1756 to become an apprentice to Worcester's leading attorney, James Putnam. During this time Adam began to keep a diary, which he continued until the end of his life.

Legal practice

For the next two years, Adams worked as a Latin teacher and took part in legal training. After admitting to the bar in August 1758, Adams returned to Braintree, in the Boston Judicial District, to practice and make a name for himself. He was able to win James Otis Jr. and Jeremiah Gridley as sponsors , while Robert Treat Paine developed into his strongest competitor as a lawyer.

Abigail Adams, Benjamin Blyth, 1766

From 1759, Adams was a regular traveler in Massachusetts, taking on a wide range of legal cases. In Braintree, Adams led a successful campaign against taverns for the abstinence movement and achieved the restriction to three local liquor licenses . In the winter of 1761 he followed with great interest a case of Otis representing Boston traders who opposed the raid of their warehouses and ships by Customs officials from the Kingdom of Great Britain. Adams realized that the outcome of this process had far-reaching consequences for the authority of the Crown in the Thirteen Colonies. He later saw the dawn of American independence in Otis' rousing speech against British arbitrariness during this trial.

After initial successes in court, Adams was admitted to the Superior Court of Judicature . The biographer John E. Ferling cites as reasons for Adams' rise in addition to a puritanical performance orientation, a very good power of observation, with which he studied the behavior of contemporaries and partly imitated it. So he based his writing style on Otis and the congregational preacher Peter Thacher .

In the spring and summer of 1763, seven essays by Adams appeared under the pseudonym Humphrey Plowjogger in the Boston Gazette , derisively commenting on local political disputes over the appointment of a representative for the Province of Massachusetts Bay in London. Other articles he published anonymously this year looked at the question of how a government could control the harmful instincts of people, especially when they are in positions of power. Adams advocates a balance between monarchy , aristocracy and parliamentarism , which means that he is politically oriented towards the Whigs . In January 1765, Adams joined a study group of lawyers around Gridley who regularly discussed classics of legal literature. Further newspaper articles emerged from his speeches there.

Because of a variation a little later than planned, Adams married Abigail Smith on October 25, 1764 . After their wedding, the couple moved to the Saltbox , which Adams had inherited from his father, who died in 1761, which is located right next to the house where he was born. The bride's father was a pastor, and the Smith family as a whole was relatively wealthy, having income from two farms and four slaves. Abigail's mother, for example, was against the marriage, since in her eyes Adams was not a proper husband for her daughter. Adams and Abigail Smith, already a strong-willed and well-read person at the time, had been introduced to each other in 1759 and had been friends since 1761. The marriage, which was only parted by death, had five children, including future President John Quincy Adams . Unusually for the time in rural New England, they led an equal marriage, as was more likely to be found among the wealthy planters of the southern states.

Start of the American Revolution

John Adams, portrait by Benjamin Blyth, 1766

When the British Parliament passed the Sugar Act in April 1764 , some votes were against it in the Thirteen Colonies. One of the best treatises against this customs law is that of James Otis, whose actions Adams later described as particularly formative for his thinking at the time. The Stamp Act , which followed in 1765, was the Crown's first attempt to tax the Thirteen Colonies directly . When it became known, it led to outbreaks of violence in Boston and the pillage of Governor Thomas Hutchinson's house in August of the same year. Adams reacted with irritation and concern to these street protests led by the Sons of Liberty . As the best-known opponent of the stamp duty law outside the Assembly , in which the conservative Tories had lost their majority to the country party of traders and farmers, Samuel Adams made a name for himself . This cousin of Adams' united various groups in a protest movement from which the patriots emerged and inspired Adams to become actively involved in the resistance.

Adams' role in the fight against the Stamp Act in 1765 and 1766 remained insignificant and inconspicuous, probably also in order not to jeopardize the commercial success of his legal work that had set in. For the landowners where he lives in Braintree, Adams prepared an instruction from their delegate in the Assembly, published in October 1765 in the Boston Gazette, condemning the stamp duty law as unconstitutional and jeopardizing security. In this text he raised the central demand " No taxation without representation " for the first time . In a short time, this catalog of requirements was adopted by 40 other cities. Adams attended regular Sodalitas meetings where city leaders debated law and order and their importance for a free society. This resulted in a series of four articles in the Boston Gazette, which Adams published again between the end of August and October 21, 1765 under the pseudonym Humphrey Plowjogger and without a title.

They were later published in London as A Dissertation on Canon and Feudal Law . This essay is considered one of the most outstanding of Adam's writings. In the series of articles, Adams developed some ideas that he referred to over and over again during the American Revolution . The core thesis is that the ancestors of the American settlers were freedom-loving persecuted people who designed a social order in the New World that freed itself from feudalism and canon law . As an example of London's intention to enslavement the residents of the Thirteen Colonies, he cites plans by the Crown to appoint a Bishop of the Church of England in America. Few sentences are devoted to the Stamp Act, which he judges to be less dangerous. In the dissertation he mentions the colonies' right of resistance as a means of returning from contemporary decadence to the virtues of old New England .

When the Stamp Act came into effect on November 1, 1765, the courts were closed for a long time and Adams was initially unemployed. When the repeal of the stamp tax law became known in May 1766, he was able to continue his legal practice. Adams concluded from this event that the intense protest in the Thirteen Colonies against the Stamp Act had paid off and the future prospects of the colonists had improved. In the Massachusetts General Court of 1766, for example, those who supported the Stamp Act lost their seats in large numbers, while opponents such as Thomas Cushing and Samuel Adams entered the assembly. Adams experienced a great disappointment when he ran successfully for the city council, but was defeated in the election as assembly delegate for Braintree to the pro-British Ebenezer Thayer. In January and February 1767, Adams published a series of five essays in the Boston Gazette in which he defended the colonists' resistance to the Stamp Act, previously criticized by his friend Jonathan Sewall .

When, after the Townshend Acts became known, the ship of the merchant John Hancock was confiscated on suspicion of smuggling in 1768, Adams acted as its defender in the following lawsuit, which was dropped in December 1768. The situation deteriorated further as a result of the harsh policies of the Colonial Secretary for America , Wills Hill, 1st Marquess of Downshire , who instructed General Thomas Gage , among others , to order three regiments of the British Army to Boston. Apart from small support activities in secret for the Sons of Liberty , Adams stayed in the background during this time. He immediately rejected an offer from Sewall to succeed him as Attorney General for the Province of Massachusetts Bay.

Colored copperplate engraving The Bloody Massacre Perpetrated in King Street Boston on March 5th, 1770 , created by Paul Revere three weeks after the event .

The presence of the British red coats in Boston culminated in the Boston massacre on March 5, 1770 . In the trial against the soldiers Adams acted together with Josiah Quincy II as their defense. His motives for accepting this risky assignment, with which he put his reputation and personal safety at risk, have not yet been fully clarified. When selecting the jury , he skilfully made use of his rights as a defense attorney and, according to the legal historian Hiller Zober, ensured his subsequent success at this stage. After five days of the trial, the commanding officer Thomas Preston was acquitted after the prosecution's witnesses had cross- examined themselves in contradictions, an order to fire had not been proven and the defense witnesses had shown how confusing and threatening the situation had been for the redcoats . In the subsequent trial against the soldiers in November 1770, Adams succeeded again in highlighting the threat to the soldiers at that time as well as the first attacks on them from the crowd, using an early form of racial profiling on the dark-skinned victim Crispus Attucks . In the end, six of the defendants were acquitted and only two sentenced to branding a finger. Although Adams lost many of his clients after the trial, it increased his reputation over the long term.

In 1770 Adams had been elected by an overwhelming majority to the Assembly, where he joined the Whigs faction. He was now one of the most sought-after lawyers in the Province of Massachusetts Bay with over 450 cases per year per client such as Governors John Wentworth and Francis Bernard, 1st Baronet . His clients included slaves seeking their release and seeking his advice. During the four sessions of the Assembly from 1770 to 1771, Adams participated in the vicious campaign against Governor Hutchinson, against whom he felt a deep dislike. Adams was convinced of the British constitution and that the conflict could be resolved within this framework , which is why he did not yet share the demand for American independence. A collapse in early 1771 caused Adams not to run for Assembly again.

Adams retired from politics for nearly two years. In January and February 1773, he published a series of seven articles on London's decision to self-reward governors, raising concerns that the measure in question jeopardized the independence of the courts. At the same time, at a request from the Assembly, together with Samuel Adams and Joseph Hawley , he drafted a replica to Governor Hutchinson's demand that all Thirteen Colonies obey Westminster's absolute claim to power . As an alternative, they cited independence from the motherland.

According to the biographer Ferling, Adams, who until then had seen the colonies as a miniature version of England, from his diary entries in 1773 finally came to the conviction that the motherland was a deeply corrupt, despotic and immoral nation. He contrasted this with an idealized self-image in the sense of American exceptionalism . Associated with this, Adams had a cyclical understanding of history, according to which young nations are pure and virtuous and morally deteriorate with age. The image of the decadent and corrupt motherland was central to Adam's advocacy for independence. Other historians cite earlier and later events for Adams' transformation into an American revolutionary , with the majority seeing 1765 as the decisive one. His grandson Charles Francis Adams, Sr. characterized this change as very reluctant, while Howard Zinn , even more drastically, describes Adams as an aristocrat who sympathized with the revolution and wanted to prevent it from going too much in the direction of democracy.

Adams was elected to the Governor's Council in 1773 and 1774 , but the governor's appointment was denied in both cases. When Adams heard of the Boston Tea Party on December 17, 1773 , he immediately recognized its epoch-making significance and advocated the action as without alternative. According to the Intolerable Acts of London, which were initially directed exclusively against Massachusetts, the colonies agreed to a joint assembly. On June 17, 1774, the Assembly designated a four-member delegation for this First Continental Congress , to which Adams, James Bowdoin , Robert Treat Paine and Samuel Adams were elected.

Continental Congress

Carpenters' Hall, venue of the First Continental Congress

Adams left New England for the first time on the way to Philadelphia in August 1774. In the delegation, Thomas Cushing replaced the bowdoin, which had been canceled at short notice. In the days leading up to the first congressional assembly, Adams first met George Washington and found that although there was consensus among delegates about the rights of Americans, almost half of them were very anxious to stand up to the crown. This conservative faction , mainly from the Central Atlantic states , was grouped around Joseph Galloway , John Jay , James Duane and William Livingston . Adams found the most reliable and courageous allies outside New England in the delegations from the Province of South Carolina and Colony of Virginia . In order to be able to reach consensus between the twelve participating colonies, Massachusetts, which was notorious for its radicalism, held back at the beginning of the Continental Congress . The meeting at Carpenters Hall established a 24-member Grand Committee including Adams. This commission was given the task of drafting an opinion on American rights.

Adams did not excel as a faction leader, but was able to find compromise solutions in some controversial discussions. On October 14, 1774, as a result of the Grand Committee , the assembly passed the ten article long Declaration of Rights and Grievances . Adams' contribution to this declaration can be seen in the preamble and the fourth article, which emphasizes the right of the colonies to have their own tax legislation while they are not represented in the UK Parliament.

In December 1774 he was elected to the delegation for the Second Continental Congress by the Massachusetts Provincial Congress , which had replaced the assembly that had been dissolved by the Crown . After ten years, Adams was back on the Braintree City Council, where he was responsible for the establishment of three Minutemen companies. In response to the essays of the Torys Massachusettensis , behind which the lawyer Daniel Leonard , who strongly condemned the decisions of the First Continental Congress, hid, Adams replied as Novanglus in twelve letters published between January and April 1775. With these essays he presented himself nationwide as the coming leading figure of the Continental Congress.

Adams, who had dealt intensively with state theories and especially the republic theory of James Harrington from 1773 , developed as Novanglus a radical new basis for the autonomy of the colonies. As republics with a bicameral system and a multi-person executive, these should voluntarily enter into a bond with the British Crown. The Novanglus letters received little attention at the time of their publication, but four years later determined the conception of the Massachusetts constitution . In contrast to Richard Alan Ryerson, the biographer John P. Diggins emphasizes the polemical character of the letters and the fact that of all the philosophers referenced, only John Locke knows a right to revolution.

Before the publication of the last letter, the American Revolutionary War broke out on April 19, 1775 . Adams observed a deep division within the population, which he estimated at one-third each patriots , loyalists and neutrals. It was clear to him that the relationship with England had irreversibly broken and a long war was imminent. At the Second Continental Congress from May 1775, the delegation from Massachusetts ended the self-imposed restraint because of the outbreak of war. In the first month, two factions emerged, one of which, under the leadership of John Dickinson, sought a compromise with London, while the other, under the leadership of Adams, advocated a continuation of the war and independence. He worked extremely hard over the next two years and sat on 90 committees , chairing 25. Because of the influence and general respect he had earned, he was elected to major commissions by the Continental Congress. From June 1776 Adams headed the important five-member Board of War , which organized the warfare of the Continental Army in detail and consisted of Roger Sherman , Benjamin Harrison V , James Wilson and Edward Rutledge . Among other things, this committee was responsible for recruiting, replenishment, arming, fortification and filling officer positions. He followed the outbreak of a smallpox epidemic in Boston in July 1776 with great concern and hoped to protect the Continental Army from it with stricter hygiene regulations. In the judgment of many historians Adams was awarded the chairmanship of the Board of War de facto the Secretary of War .

Although Adams later claimed to have been primarily responsible for the appointment of Washington as Commanding General of the United States Army on June 15, 1775, the historian Joseph J. Ellis sees this as an exaggeration of his own influence. In the autumn of 1775, Adams convinced the Continental Congress on the occasion of a request from the New Hampshire Colony to leave the colonial legal systems and to form their own constitutions with corresponding organs . He campaigned vigorously for the establishment of the United States Navy , which Congress passed on October 13, 1775, and was instrumental in drafting its shipboard regulations. Adams later described the work on the naval committee, where he got to know and appreciate Stephen Hopkins , as the most pleasant of those years.

The painting American Declaration of
Independence by John Trumbull (1819). Adams (first from left) in the five-person preparatory committee standing in front of the table presenting the declaration of independence

At the beginning of February 1776, the delegations from six colonies had orders not to agree to any independence. The mood in the Continental Congress only tipped towards independence when on February 27 the Proclamation of Rebellion by George III. which branded the colonists as traitors and, even more momentous, the pamphlet Common Sense by Thomas Paine appeared in January . Adams welcomed the pamphlet , but feared that its radical egalitarianism would be detrimental to a post-colonial state structure. So Adams published Thoughts on government , which he first recorded for William Hooper when he asked him for suggestions on the revision of the Province of North Carolina Constitution . In this work, he criticizes Paine's concept of popular sovereignty , which provides for a unicameral system and clearly limited executive power , and emphasizes that social happiness does not arise from an unregulated will of the people, but rather through the rule of laws and institutions. These are a protective mechanism against the destructive urges of human nature, of which Adams had a rather pessimistic picture . He advocates a balance between the executive and legislative branches , which should be guaranteed by the head of state's right of veto , annual elections and a judiciary appointed for life . Of all of Adam's works, the Thoughts on Government became the most influential.

On May 10, 1776, Adams and Richard Henry Lee introduced a bill calling on the Thirteen Colonies to form new governments and, contrary to expectations, unanimously passed. This was directed against the Assembly of the Province of Pennsylvania , in which a majority was still against independence and for an understanding with Great Britain. On May 15, after three days of intense debate, the Continental Congress passed the preamble to the May 10 law drafted by Adams, which gave the colonies full self-government and obliged them to abolish all state authority of the crown. For Adams this resolution was synonymous with the independence of the Thirteen Colonies. In Pennsylvania, the event caused an immediate change in patriotic sentiment. After the Assembly of Pennsylvania in the presence of Adams on May 20, through a popular assembly of 4,000 citizens, gave its delegation the green light to vote for independence, the last of the still reluctant colonies collapsed. On June 7th, 1776 he seconded Lee in introducing the so-called Lee Resolution , which declared that the colonies were free and independent states, that this should be according to natural law , and that they should form a confederation together. When the Continental Congress was unable to reach an agreement in the debate, Adams was appointed to the Committee of Five four days later, along with Thomas Jefferson , Benjamin Franklin , Robert R. Livingston and Sherman, in order to work out a preamble to this resolution, which would later become the Declaration of Independence . In the first committee meeting, Adams was offered to take the lead on the design, which he declined due to his heavy workload, so Jefferson took on the task. After two weeks he presented Adams with a sketch based on the Virginia Declaration of Rights for review, to which Adams made only minor stylistic changes. On June 28, the Committee of Five presented the draft to the Continental Congress. Three days later the debate on the resubmission of the Lee Resolution took place, in which Adams addressed Dickinson's objections to independence in a two-hour, unprepared speech. This speech was not only the most significant to date in the Continental Congress, but also the best in Adams's political life. The next day the delegation from the province of New York as well as Dickinson and Robert Morris as opponents of independence stayed away from the vote, so that the Lee resolution was unanimously adopted by the twelve colonies present. On July 3rd and 4th, the Continental Congress debated the Declaration of Independence of the Committee of Five and passed it after editorial changes and a quarter cut, with the passage on the outlawing of the slave trade being completely deleted.

Portrait of the Staten Island peace negotiations by Alonzo Chappel with the following people standing from left to right: John Adams, Edward Rutledge, Benjamin Franklin and Admiral Richard Howe, 1st Earl Howe

In the month of the declaration of independence, the Continental Congress began to debate the future constitution. In September 1776, General John Sullivan , captured by the British at the Battle of Long Island , appeared before the Continental Congress and brought an offer to negotiate from the commanders and brothers Admiral Richard Howe, 1st Earl Howe and General William Howe, 5th Viscount Howe . Adams spoke out against talks with the opponent, as he feared a renewed polarization of the population. He was overruled and sent with Franklin and Rutledge as an envoy to Staten Island , where they met the Howes on September 11th. Since they only accepted submission to the crown as a condition for peace, in return for which they offered a reprieve for part of the rebels, the negotiations ended on the same day. In September, Adams increased the incentives for a longer commitment period and, with Jefferson, brought a law through the Continental Congress that drastically increased the penalties for violations of duty . He also proposed the establishment of a military academy in vain. The unpleasant course of the war led him to reconsider his rejection of military alliances with European powers.

After a few weeks with the family in Braintree, Adams returned to the Continental Congress in January 1777, which moved to Baltimore for some time due to the war and met again in Philadelphia from February. Adams served on 26 committees, of which the Board of War was the most time consuming and gave him no opportunity to get involved in drafting the Articles of Confederation . He was optimistic about the future, considering the failure of the Continental Army in the third year to be even less likely, given the British inability to achieve victory in the first two years of the war. Adams was also confident that the Kingdom of France or Spain would soon take advantage of the American War of Independence to pull the United Kingdom into war in Europe. After the American defeat in the Battle of Brandywine , Adams fled with the Continental Congress before the advancing British Army from Philadelphia via Lancaster to York . When General Horatio Gates defeated the British Army in the Battle of Saratoga shortly afterwards , Adams immediately recognized the decisive turning point in the War of Independence.

Diplomatic missions

In late November 1777, the Continental Congress elected Adams in absentia as diplomat of America in the Kingdom of France . There he was supposed to negotiate possible alliances and financial support with Franklin and Arthur Lee as delegation members at the French court and to replace the previous American representative Silas Deane . Adams was elected because he was one of the first delegates to the Continental Congress to develop ideas for the foreign policy of the Thirteen Colonies. So he had introduced the right to form foreign alliances in the Lee Declaration of June 1776. One of Adams as Chairman of the Committee of Treaties ( GermanCommittee on State contracts ) designed model agreement for bilateral relations with the Kingdom of France was adopted in September 1776 by the Continental Congress and was used for the next 25 years the pattern for intergovernmental agreements in America. On his trip to Paris Adams was accompanied by his ten-year-old son John Quincy, with whom he embarked on the USS Boston on February 15, 1778 . This was done in the utmost secrecy at dawn and outside the port of Boston, out of fear of British spies. After a short voyage, they chased a British frigate , which they could only detach after three days. When applying the English merchant ship Martha an opponent's ball Adams narrowly missed and struck the mizzen mast behind him. At the end of March they reached Bordeaux and moved on to Paris.

Before leaving the ship, Adams learned that Lee, Franklin and Deane had met Louis XVI in Versailles on February 6th . had already concluded an alliance and trade agreement and thus had done their main task. Disappointed, Adams, who lived in the Hôtel de Valentinois with Franklin, took over the administration of documents and finances for the American Commission and learned French . The top priority for him was to gain more support from the French Navy in the Revolutionary War, as he, like Washington, saw sea ​​power as a possibly decisive factor in the war. For the time being he was denied success in this matter, since France was planning an invasion of England at the time. Despite his classic republican ideals, he was impressed by the bustle of Parisian life and the opulence of Parisian life and got to know the philosopher Marie Jean Antoine Nicolas Caritat, the Marquis de Condorcet and the economist Anne Robert Jacques Turgot . Adams was officially presented to the king on May 8, 1778.

The main contact for the American delegation was Charles Gravier, comte de Vergennes , who was well versed in secret diplomacy and intrigue . De Vergennes met with great suspicion from Adams from the start and preferred the more sociable and less determined Franklin to talk to. Adams, initially a great admirer of Franklin, was increasingly critical of Franklin's careless handling of money and potential spies in his personal environment, as well as his lack of diligence. On September 14, 1778, the Continental Congress determined the dissolution of the commission and appointed Franklin sole ambassador to the French court . The official report reached Adams on February 12, 1779. He experienced the dismissal without assignment of a new post or request to return as a serious humiliation and deep mortification. On April 22nd, he boarded the USS Alliance with his son in Nantes . Her departure was delayed, however, because she was supposed to attack the English west coast as part of an American-French expedition fleet under the command of Marie-Joseph Motier, Marquis de La Fayette and John Paul Jones . To the annoyance of Adams, who for reasons of secrecy had not been informed about the background, he could not start the journey home until June 17th on board the Sensible , a frigate of the French Navy. On board was Anne César de la Luzerne , the new French ambassador to the United States .

Back in America, he reported to the Continental Congress on the issues that still had to be resolved with Paris. From mid-September 1779, Adams created a draft of the Massachusetts constitution within just under six weeks , which was based on his Thoughts on Government and the Virginia Declaration of Rights and provided for a two-chamber system of checks and balances . The judiciary was independent and empowered to subject the actions of the other two state powers to a judicial review . A historical innovation was the duty of the state, formulated in the draft constitution, to ensure the education and cultural and scientific education of its citizens. Adams' draft served as the model for most of the later federal constitutions, including the Central Atlantic and Southern states , with lifetime chief federal judges considered the greatest achievement. At a banquet in August 1779 in Harvard in honor of the French ambassador, Adams suggested founding the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in Boston as a counterpart to the American Philosophical Society in Philadelphia , which was implemented a year later. In October 1779, the Continental Congress unanimously appointed him envoy with power to negotiate a peace treaty with the Kingdom of Great Britain. On the renewed crossing to Europe, which began on November 15th on the Sensible , he was accompanied by his two eldest sons and Francis Dana as official secretary.

Because of a ship leak from Ferrol , Adams did not reach Paris until February 9, 1780. There he was held up by de Vergennes, who feared for his diplomatic decision-making autonomy and was generally hostile, and insisted that Adams give his authority to negotiate a peace treaty with London, did not make it public, although his mission was an open secret. Therefore, Adams initially operated public relations for the American cause and published anonymously articles in the Mercure de France and in British newspapers. The relationship with de Vergennes deteriorated so much by the summer of 1780 that from July 29th he only accepted Franklin as a conversation partner. This was triggered by a dispute, probably deliberately initiated by de Vergennes as a pretext, about the devaluation of the US dollar and Adams' refusal to advocate exemptions for French traders.

As early as July 27, 1780 Adams had set out with both sons to the Republic of the Seven United Provinces to negotiate a friendship and trade treaty in place of Henry Laurens , who had been established by the British. In addition, he stayed less in the capital, The Hague, than in Amsterdam , where the real power lay. Many of the intellectuals there recognized parallels between the American War of Independence and their own struggle for freedom in the Eighty Years War , which is why they, like the majority of the Dutch, sympathized with the American Revolution. After he was not officially received for months, not least because the Republic of the Seven United Provinces was dependent on British protection of its maritime trade routes, Adams wrote a letter directly to the States General in April 1781, contrary to diplomatic practice, in a letter soon to be published throughout Europe . In the summer he sent his son Charles, who was in poor health, back to America, while Quincy set off for the Russian Empire , where Dana had been appointed ambassador. The States General waited until the surrender of Charles Cornwallis, 1st Marquess Cornwallis in Yorktown in November 1781, was announced before a binding trade agreement was concluded and America was diplomatically recognized by The Hague on April 19, 1782 . Adams' official reception as ambassador by the governor Wilhelm V took place three days later. In June he negotiated a loan of 5 million guilders with three Dutch banks and in October a trade agreement with the Republic of the Seven United Provinces. Adams later described the success of his mission in the United Netherlands as his greatest political achievement.

Unfinished oil sketch American Commissioners of the Preliminary Peace Agreement with Great Britain by Benjamin West with John Adams (2nd person from left)

At the end of October 1782, Adams returned to Paris to work with Franklin and John Jay to negotiate a peace treaty with Great Britain. The order of the Confederation Congress to submit to de Vergennes and to put the question of independence aside enraged both Adams and Jay. Contrary to this instruction and with Franklin's consent, they began negotiations with the Kingdom of Great Britain on October 30, without first consulting de Vergennes. They insisted on the recognition of American independence by London in the treaty text. Other unanswered questions included claims for compensation from escaped loyalists , American private debt to British traders and, particularly important to Adams, the fishing rights in the Newfoundland Bank . The border dispute was quickly settled when Britain ceded the territory between Appalachia and Mississippi to the United States and America granted navigation rights on that river. At Adams' insistence, the debts were not simply offset against the war damage suffered, as suggested by Franklin and Jay, but a passage on payment was added, which later proved to be impractical. After the compensation of the loyalists was relegated to the jurisdiction of the states at the end of November, the fishing rights remained the last open question, which almost brought the negotiations to failure. When the British granted America not the "right" but the "freedom" to fish in the Newfoundland Bank as well, a preliminary contract was concluded on November 30, 1782. Finally, on September 3, 1783, Adams, Franklin and Jay, representing the United States, signed the final peace of Paris .

During this phase, Adams asked Abigail in vain to come to him and Quincy, who had meanwhile returned from Saint Petersburg . She was very afraid of crossing and leaving her home country and it was not until her father died and she learned that Adams was seriously ill in Paris in October 1783 that she traveled to Europe in June 1784 with her eldest daughter “Nabby”. Adams had meanwhile moved into a recovery residence outside Paris in Auteuil , where he took Abigail and "Nabby" with him immediately after their reunion in London on August 7, 1784. Jefferson, who succeeded Franklin as ambassador to France, was a regular guest at the Adams' house. A close friendship developed between him and Adams, but also Abigail. Her diplomatic mission to work with Franklin to conclude trade agreements with major European nations proved tough; this only succeeded in July 1785 with Prussia .

At the end of April 1785, Adams learned of his appointment as America's first ambassador to London . The following month he moved to London with Abigail and "Nabby", while Quincy returned to America to study at Harvard. On June 1, Adams presented himself to King George III during a private audience at St James's Palace . in front. The meeting went well and was characterized by mutual respect. Adams rented a residence in Grosvenor Square , which subsequently became the American embassy . Except for regular attendance at court ceremonies and a few contacts with British government officials, Adams was ignored by London society and the victim of a smear campaign in the English press. Overall, anti-American sentiment in the Kingdom of Great Britain was as high as it was during the War of Independence. He was unable to obtain assurances from Prime Minister William Pitt the Younger or Secretary of State Francis Osborne, 5th Duke of Leeds , that he would withdraw the remaining troops from America, establish privileged trade relations, or pay compensation for slaves and property that British officers had removed from America.

In July 1785 there was the first conflict with the barbarian state when two American ships were captured by barbarian corsairs in the Mediterranean Sea and the crew enslaved. At the behest of the Confederation Congress, Adams paid a ransom to a messenger from the Sultan . In January 1787, Adams and Jefferson agreed annual protection payments with Morocco . At the same time, social unrest occurred in the American Confederation, culminating in the Shays' rebellion in western Massachusetts. Adams was concerned about this development and feared, on the one hand, that the European powers were playing the states off against one another, and on the other, that, as happened in Rhode Island and North Carolina , the debtors with a legislative majority paid their creditors with worthless paper money and the jurisdiction excepted Put strength. As foreseen by him, the central power reacted to this with a clear strengthening of its authority, which the Philadelphia Convention established in September 1787 with the adoption of the United States Constitution . As ambassador in London, Adams wrote the three-volume A defense of the constitutions of government of the United States of America . This extensive monograph , published in 1787–1788, deals with political philosophy and is in large part a historical scholarly rendition of his Thoughts on government of 1776. Adams examines different types of republics and identifies the Westminster system as the ideal form of government within the Tradition of Cicero and has been successfully freed from the power of the nobility in America. He considers the demand for equality of all people to be illusory, since in reality individuals will always differ in terms of their abilities, means and motives. A defense of the constitutions of government of the United States of America was initially received favorably, but was seen by some critics in America as proof that Adams was a monarchist. In March 1788, Adams left England with his wife and daughter and returned home after asking Jay to be recalled as ambassador more than a year earlier.

Vice Presidency

Official portrait of Adams as Vice President by John Trumbull between 1792 and 1793.

On June 17, 1788, Adams reached Boston, where after almost nine years of absence he was triumphantly received by several thousand citizens as a revolutionary hero and the diplomat who had achieved the peace of Paris and the recognition of American independence. He was immediately considered the most promising candidate for the vice presidency under Washington, but did not seek this office openly because this was considered improper behavior at the time. From January 1789 Washington signaled its approval for this constellation and firmly counted on Adams' election. In the first presidential election, 1788–1789, the states designated 69 electors for the Electoral College , each of whom had two votes per ballot, with the runner-up automatically becoming vice-president. John Adams was undisputedly the second man after Washington, but Alexander Hamilton intrigued against him behind the scenes. Perhaps he was trying to strengthen his own position as a potential successor to Washington or prevent his unanimously elected idol from becoming a rival who was revered as a popular hero in New England. On April 6, 1789, Adams, unaware of Hamilton's covert operation, became Vice President by 34 votes, a result that deeply hurt his pride. On April 13, 1789, accompanied by a military escort and a pageant, he left Braintree and went to the then capital, New York City , to take office eight days later, taking the presidency of the Senate .

Condemned to silence in the Senate and without the institutional framework to address the public, he was quickly disillusioned with the vice presidency. He stated that this position was "the most insignificant office" that "has ever been devised in human history". For Cabinet Washington Adams had, although here the polarization between an uncomplicated relationship Foreign Minister Jefferson, who as a model a rural America of the wealthy planters had, and to urban banking and monetary system oriented Finance Hamilton became apparent quickly. With Adams no such regional imprint dominated; the state institutions, which were more decisive for him than his origins, formed his basis of trust. Even more than the enforced Hamilton founding of the First Bank of the United States which divided French Revolution the young republic. While the Jefferson and Paine camp welcomed them as an expression of the will of the people, Adams had already warned before this event in the Thoughts on Government against radical egalitarianism and absolute popular rule through a unicameral system, which Edmund Burke took up in 1790 in the Reflections on the Revolution in France . Adams foresaw earlier and more clearly than any other American politician that the revolution would result in tyranny.

At first, Adams was unsure of how to conduct his business and dealt intensively with etiquette and questions of protocol , for example how to address Washington as President of the Senate when he announced his State of the Union Address . This, in connection with his critical attitude towards the French Revolution, quickly brought him criticism by political opponents of having a majestic self-image and of having become a monarchist during his time as ambassador in London. Overall, this episode seriously damaged Adams's reputation. In addition, Washington increasingly distanced itself from Adams, which made the vice presidency even less important. In the summer of 1789, the Senate was still intensely debating a bill that stipulated that the President could only dismiss cabinet members with the approval of the Senate. In the vote, this bill was narrowly rejected, with Adams' vote as Senate President tipping the bill. In total, Adams, in his role as Vice President, cast the decisive vote in 31 votes, which none of his successors have achieved at this level to date. These included pioneering decisions such as the Residence Act, which clarified the capital issue .

From April 1790, Adams published a series of articles in the Gazette of the United States , which lasted over a year and was soon published as a book under the title Discourses on Davila . The core of the book was a translation of Enrico Caterino Davila's historical treatise on the Huguenot Wars . In his comments, Adams stated, among other things, that republics are as little immune from the craving for recognition and worship of the rich and powerful as monarchies. Historically, a virtue that set the republics apart never existed. Adams' critics quickly took up this text as supposed evidence of his monarchist sentiments. With no one daring to attack Washington as president, the opposition to the Federalist Party increasingly focused on Adams. Still covert at first, Jefferson increasingly opposed Adams, in whom he saw, like the leader of the Federalist Party Hamilton, a traitor to the ideas of the American Revolution. To this end, he circulated harmful rumors and hired journalists, but also the poet Philip Freneau , who created a counterweight to the federalist Gazette of the United States in the National Gazette . At this time the public began to perceive Adams and Jefferson as mostly political arch-rivals. Like Washington and many others, he viewed the increasing formation of factions with great despair, since he saw the emergence of political parties as a great danger to the young republic.

In the 1792 elections, the anti-federalist Virginians around Jefferson and James Madison cooperated with New York and Pennsylvania. With the support of New York Governor George Clinton , they tried to prevent Adams' re-election as Vice President. However, he defended his vice-presidency 77-50 against anti-federalist Clinton, this time supported by Hamilton.

With the outbreak of the coalition wars, fears grew among the anti-federalists around Jefferson that Adams could force Washington to go to war with the French First Republic . Faced with the seizure of American ships by both France and the United Kingdom, Washington and Adams embarked on a course of strict neutrality that invalidated the 1778 treaty of alliance with the Kingdom of France. To counter this proclamation of neutrality , the First French Republic sent Edmond-Charles Genêt to America in April 1793 . When the latter gave an address to Congress over the heads of Washington, Adams and Jefferson and began to recruit privateers against the British in American ports, he himself lost the support of the Republicans who sympathized with the French Revolution. The strong military response from Washington and Hamilton to the Whiskey Rebellion of 1794, which was directed against the taxation of one of the most important commercial goods of the time in western Pennsylvania, pleased Adams extremely, but on the other hand he was concerned that such uprisings might turn into a young one Republic that does not yet have a clear political identity. When the conditions of the Jay contract with London , which many perceived as unsatisfactory, became known the following year , they caused national outrage. Although Adams, like Washington, was far from satisfied with the agreement, he was loyal to the president, who signed it in the summer of 1795. On the one hand, he knew from his own experience the tenacity of the British negotiating partners; on the other hand, he preferred a disadvantageous contract to another war with the Kingdom of Great Britain. This affair haunted Adams into his presidency.

After Washington's decision to waive a third term became known, the political climate worsened considerably and in some places took the form of agitation . Adams and Jefferson soon emerged as the main competitors, without either of them actively campaigning for the office. Jefferson's supporters, who called Adams “His Rotundity” because of his supposed monarchism, accused him first of all of rejecting the French Revolution and also of advocating the Jay Treaty and the military reaction to the Whiskey Rebellion. For example, some Republicans wore Jacobin hats during the election campaign out of sympathy with the First French Republic . The 1796 elections still saw a single ballot in Electoral College, each with two votes for President and Vice President, with candidates from two different states to be elected. Hamilton, as the leader of the federalists, asked the New England electors not to give away their second vote, but to split it between Adams and Thomas Pinckney , in order to prevent Jefferson as president and possibly also as vice president. He also hoped to help the outsider Pinckney surprisingly to the presidency, which he believed to be easier to control. Since some of the electors did not keep his request, Adams won on December 7, 1796 with 71 votes, just over Jefferson (68 votes), who became the new Vice President. Adams and his wife Abigail never forgave Hamilton, who always saw himself as the most suitable successor to Washington, this interference in the Electoral College and have been enemies ever since. Adams also saw in Hamilton a proponent of plutocracy and military adventure.


Drawing of the presidential house in Philadelphia (approx. 1828–1830). This is where Adams resided until he moved to the White House in 1800.

In contrast to his first appearance as Vice President before the Senate, Adams waived a pompous ceremony when he was inaugurated as President on March 4, 1797 . In his inaugural address to the 5th United States Congress , he touched on the American Revolutionary War and the suppression of the British Crown. He praised the common sense and righteousness of the people and emphasized his rejection of European feudalism . Adams, like many other presidents after him on this occasion, called for an understanding between the parties. To the annoyance of the Anglophile federalists, he cited the admiration he had gained for the French nation through his stay there and spoke out in favor of continuing the peace course in foreign policy. The John Adams Cabinet showed little change from the Washington Cabinet , as Adams was keen to maintain harmony among the federalists. A few days later he moved into the presidential house in Philadelphia and was shocked by its disastrous constitution, especially since he had to pay rent for it. At first, like his predecessor, Adams was primarily concerned with replying to letters, mostly from veterans of the Revolutionary War, asking for a position in the administration.

The presidency began with a great mortgage of a personal nature: On the one hand, Vice President Jefferson, as the leading figure of the Republicans, was his political opponent; on the other hand, Hamilton, as the leader of the federalists, was actually Adams' natural ally, and had been enemies with him since the 1796 election. Both tried to prevent the re-election of Adams as president. In addition, the three most important cabinet members, Timothy Pickering , Oliver Wolcott junior and James McHenry , were under Hamilton's control. They belonged to the radical wing of the federalists, the "High Federalists", and were downright Francophobic . So they worked against the presidential guidelines without resigning from their offices. To date, it is not clear to what extent Adams was aware of the disloyalty of his ministers. Possibly his decision to keep it was due to the will to ensure more professionalism through personal continuity in the staff and the public administration as a whole. In addition, Adams requested a written statement from the ministers on important issues, but in the end decided on his own, as he had little confidence in their ability to analyze important problems impartially. Even so, Adams is one of the seven presidents of America who never made use of their veto power during their tenure . He signed all of the Congress bills that were submitted to him.

Another difficulty faced by the Adam presidency and the federal government at large was political geography . The transport infrastructure of America was rudimentary and compared to Europe prevailed technological backwardness. The journey from Virginia to New England was weeks like in the early colonial days, there were only three covered wagon roads in the country and most rivers, especially in the southern states, had no bridges. All of this promoted regionalism and made it difficult for a national sense of community to develop. Most politicians also identified more with their state than with the United States.

Adams suffered some blows of fate in family life during the presidency. In the early summer of 1798 he traveled to Quincy with Abigail, who became seriously ill there. When Adams returned to Philadelphia in November, he was forced to leave his still unhealthy wife behind. The capital itself suffered from a yellow fever epidemic that killed 3,000. Therefore, Philadelphia was largely evacuated and the business of government temporarily moved to Trenton . Until Abigail's full recovery in November 1799 and her return to Philadelphia, Adams stayed several times for extended periods of time in Quincy, including continuously from March to September 1799, and carried out his office from there. Because of the upcoming move of the capital to the Washington, DC wetlands and the prevailing primitive living conditions, Adams was very concerned about his wife's health. Immediately after the results of the 1800 presidential election were announced , Adams learned that his second oldest son, Charles, who was suffering from alcohol problems, had died of cirrhosis of the liver on November 30th .

XYZ affair and quasi-war

British caricature about the XYZ affair in May 1798. Five French rob America, shown as a young woman, while in the picture on the right six people who symbolize the European nations are watching the goings-on. On the hill beyond, John Bull laughs and enjoys the view.

In terms of foreign policy, Adam's presidency began immediately with a crisis, as the French board of directors , angry at the Jay Treaty, which they interpreted as an Anglo-American alliance, rejected the legitimation of Pinckney as ambassador to Paris in November 1796 and expelled him from the country. Adams learned of this, as well as of France's undeclared naval war against American merchant ships, only a few days after his inauguration. To resolve this conflict and to seek compensation from Paris for hijacked merchant ships in the Caribbean , the President sent a delegation from Pinckney, John Marshall and Elbridge Gerry to France, which arrived in Paris in early October 1797. They later reported in encrypted messages about their conversations with Secretary of State Charles-Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord and three of his agents, known to the American public as X, Y and Z, which is why this incident became known as the XYZ affair . In order to settle the disputes, they not only demanded an American loan of 22 million Dutch guilders and Adam's friendlier tones towards France, but also a personal bribe for Talleyrand. The Foreign Minister threatened the delegation that any nation that refused to support the French First Republic would be viewed as hostile, and that America would share the fate of the destroyed Republic of Venice if it did so. When XYZ finally informed the American ambassadors that Talleyrand would report their uncooperative behavior to Adams, the negotiations were broken off; Pinckney and Marshall left France.

Even before the President was informed of this scandal in March 1798, the confrontation with the First French Republic at Sea had intensified. For example, a French privateer broke into the port of Charleston and sank a British ship there, while more than 60 other pirates blocked American foreign trade in the Caribbean. When the government became aware of the XYZ affair, two ministers called on the president to ask Congress for a declaration of war . Adams thought war with France inevitable, but saw America too ill-equipped for such an undertaking. He was also aware of the internal political opposition to it from the Republicans . When Adams informed Congress of the XYZ affair on April 3, 1798 in a relatively reserved speech that emphasized the fundamental differences between the American and French revolutions, this led to an outcry nationwide. The population showed solidarity with the president, who instantly became a national hero and was at the height of his popularity, set up militias and raised money to build a navy. It was generally expected that the president would declare war on France in the summer of 1798, and even Abigail saw this as inevitable. For the first and only time during his tenure, Adams was popular and undisputed in this phase in the Federalist Party.

Naval battle of the USS Constellation against the L'Insurgente .

During this brief heyday of his presidency, Adams successfully pushed two federal laws through Congress: on April 30, 1798, the founding of the United States Department of the Navy was resolved, in whose leadership Benjamin Stoddert proved to be very successful and the only loyal cabinet member, and on April 9 , 1798 July was followed by the Act Further to Protect the Commerce of the United States , which allowed ships of the United States Navy to attack all French naval units that threatened American trade. The Republicans continued to see France as a sister republic and accused the government of distorting the matter in order to provoke the Directory to declare war. In their opinion, Adams intended with this war to drive America into the arms of the British monarchy. The contrary positions of federalists and republicans on this question were also based on economic interests: while the New England federalists had close business and trade ties with the Kingdom of Great Britain, the planters in the southern states were traditionally highly indebted to the commercial banks of London.

A legislative initiative by Adams to allow merchant ships to be armed failed due to opposition from Jefferson. On the other hand, the president was successful when in Congress in 1797 he achieved the completion and the following year the full equipment and crew of the USS United States and two other frigates and was able to enforce the expansion of the Naval Act of 1794 to a total of twelve warships. The USS Constitution and USS Constellation in particular achieved surprising successes, for example the victorious battle against the L'Insurgente in February 1799 . Adams' plan to raise a regular army of 25,000 men was downgraded to 10,000 by Congress. American rearmament and continued French aggression led to the conflict soon being generally referred to as quasi-war . In addition to the opposition from the Republicans , a faction of hardliners against Adams emerged within the federalists , the so-called arch-federalists, who demanded a declaration of war on the First French Republic and an end to diplomacy. Prominent spokesmen for this group included Secretary of State Pickering, Senator George Cabot and former Representative Fisher Ames . Among other things, they were bothered by the fact that Gerry persevered in Paris despite the XYZ affair in order to be able to continue the broken negotiations if necessary. When Adam returned to America on October 1, 1798 to report to Adams, he was exposed to great hostility from the federalists. Since the president hesitated to part with Gerry and weighed up his options until the winter of 1798–1799, this was increasingly interpreted by his own party as a weakness in decision-making.

On February 18, 1799, Adams informed the Senate that he had appointed William Vans Murray as envoy to Paris to resume negotiations with France. This news, which was surprising even for Foreign Minister Pickering, received indignation particularly among the federalists; however, they did not seek a counter-resolution in the Senate. Ultimately, they agreed with Adams not to entrust Murray alone with the trial, but to put Patrick Henry and Chief Justice Oliver Ellsworth at his side. Many contemporaries and later historians saw the long decision-making phase and its unexpected outcome as a sign that Adams had lost control. Other historians such as Stephen G. Kurtz claim that the president made a conscious decision to wait longer. On the one hand, Adams wanted to calm down the internal tensions triggered by the John Fries Rebellion and the Alien and Sedition Acts and observe the development of the military clout of the United States Navy. On the other hand, the Directory was overturned in November 1799 and replaced by the French Consulate . This soon signaled to Adams that an American embassy was welcome. In the autumn of 1800 the envoys Murray, Ellsworth and William Richardson Davie , who had replaced the late Henry, reached France and in the same year negotiated the Treaty of Mortefontaine , which ended the quasi-war. Since news of this agreement did not reach America until after the 1800 presidential election, Adams could no longer benefit politically. Nevertheless, defining himself more as a statesman than a politician, he counted the Treaty of Mortefontaine, along with the peace treaty with the Kingdom of Great Britain and the loan from the United Netherlands, to the three great successes of his career.

The French colony of Saint-Domingue turned out to be a moral victory for America on a sideline in the quasi-war . There, the Haitian Revolution led by Toussaint Louverture to the liberation of the slaves, whom Adams welcomed, thinking similarly to Abraham Lincoln on this matter , and who were able to drive Spanish and British troops from the whole island of Hispaniola by 1796 . Pickering and Adams saw Toussaint Louverture as an ally for America, and in June 1799, on his promise in Congress to prevent all pirate voyages against American ships from Haiti, they were able to lift the trade restrictions against France in the case of Saint-Domingues. In addition, the naval officer John Barry was ordered to Haiti with a fleet to pay tribute to the American people with a flag parade to Toussaint Louverture. Like most planters in the southern states, Jefferson was appalled by this solidarity with "rebellious negroes" and later, as President, he supported Napoleon Bonaparte in the reintroduction of slavery in Santo Domingo.

Alien and Sedition Acts

In the summer of 1798, when Adams was at the height of his power and the quasi-war intensified, the Alien and Sedition Acts were passed, and he had no part in drafting them. The Sedition Act , in particular , became the most controversial and the most damaging decision to his reputation as president, even in the judgment of many later historians. The Alien and Sedition Acts were directed primarily against political refugees from Europe such as royalists, Jacobins or Irish Republicans and consisted of four laws: The Naturalization Act extended the minimum length of stay for American citizenship from five to 14 years. The Alien Act allowed the President to evict foreigners who he judged threatened security. The Alien Enemies Act gave the President the power to deport or intern citizens of the enemy nation living in America in the event of war. The Sedition Act , the most controversial of the four laws, made it a criminal offense to publish false or scandalous texts attacking the President or other state organs. Adams was less enthusiastic about the Alien and Sedition Acts than his wife Abigail, who had previously campaigned against press attacks on her husband . Adams ordered only two deportations during his tenure, but these were never carried out. However, after the first high-profile trial of the Republican Matthew Lyon , which resulted in a prison sentence of several months, there were twelve further convictions under the Sedition Act . The case against the journalist James T. Callender in 1800 was deliberately provoked by Jefferson, who supported this pamphleteer financially, in order to harm the president in the election campaign. After the federal election defeat in 1800, the two-year Alien and Sedition Acts expired . Unlike the President, the Republicans did not see the Alien and Sedition Acts as justified war laws affecting federal foreign relations, but as an unconstitutional restriction on freedom of speech , which is the responsibility of the states. In their opinion, this was intended to exploit war fears and, as a first step, erode civil liberties in order to convert the republic into a monarchy. Hiding their authorship, Jefferson and Madison drafted resolutions for Virginia and Kentucky, which were passed in 1799 and granted states the right to repeal unconstitutional federal laws in their territories.

John Fries Rebellion

In view of the quasi-war and the need for rearmament, Adams and Congress agreed in the summer of 1798 to introduce direct taxes . The president soon received the first reports of anti-government voices among the Pennsylvania Dutch in southeastern Pennsylvania, with a focus on Bucks County . The house tax, which was based on the number and size of the windows, met with particular resistance. From January 1799 there were violent attacks on federal tax assessors, whereupon this US marshals sent to the region. On March 7, when they were preparing several captured tax opponents for transport to Philadelphia, they were surrounded in Bethlehem by a 150-man militia under the command of John Fries. This demanded, with reference to the 6th Amendment, that the prisoners be surrendered, which the marshals obeyed in view of their superiority. After that, the crowd immediately broke up and when Fries was arrested a few days later, he was doing his job as an auctioneer. Adams' opponents, but according to Diggins also later historians, fabricated this rather insignificant incident into a disproportionately significant event that contributed to the election of the president in 1800. While the Republicans saw the John Fries Rebellion as a struggle for freedom against oppression and expropriation of the rural population in the style of feudal Europe, the arch-federalists interpreted them as a peasant uprising and the prelude to class struggle and civil war. A direct consequence of the event was, on the one hand, that the population of Pennsylvania, which had traditionally been a stronghold of the federalists, largely showed solidarity with John Fries and his companions. In addition to the Irish-Americans , who traditionally leaned toward the Anglophobic Republicans , more and more German-Americans now turned their backs on the federalists. On the other hand, in March 1799, Adams successfully passed the Eventual Army Act through Congress, which allowed the federal government to take action against any "French-inspired" uprising with troops, for which a provisional army was quickly raised. The cabinet was also able to convince Adams to accuse Fries and others of high treason . From April the trials of 60 people involved in the rebellion began in Philadelphia. After the first trial against Fries had failed, the second was chaired by the staunch federalist Samuel Chase , so that the outcome was predetermined and the death sentence was passed and set for May 23, 1800. Before it was carried out, Adams put a catalog of 14 questions to his cabinet to clarify whether the John Fries rebellion was simply a rebellion or an actual uprising. Although the ministers replied unanimously that in their opinion this was high treason, the President decided otherwise in April 1800. He pardoned Fries and two others sentenced to death, as well as all others against whom lesser sentences had been pronounced.

1800 presidential election

Distribution of electors to states and parties

When Washington died in December 1799, many Republicans feared that his successor as Commanding General of the United States Army , Hamilton, might use the regular army politically against them. To make matters worse, Secretary of War McHenry was less loyal to Adams than to Hamilton. Adams had no chance in the 1800 presidential election. The pardon of John Fries and the embassy from Murray to Paris had alienated him from his own party, while the Alien and Sedition Acts and the recruitment of a regular army with Hamilton as chief commander had outraged the Republicans . Some ministers such as Treasury Secretary Wolcott wanted to prevent Adams as president and replace him with Pinckney. Secretary of War McHenry encouraged Hamilton to leak to the press an analysis of Adams' alleged presidential incompetence, based on allusions and rumors that Hamilton had spread since 1796 about damaging Adams's reputation in the federalist leadership circle. This text reviled Adams not only as a politician, but also as a capricious and emotionally unstable character who was unworthy of founding father status. The election campaign, in which the incumbent president and his vice president faced each other for the first and so far only time in American history, was fierce. While Jefferson was portrayed by his opponents as a godless Jacobin striving for reign of terror , Adams was denigrated as a conspiratorial monarchist who had one of his sons with a daughter of George III. intended to marry in order to reunite the United Kingdom and America.

As in the last election, the electors were chosen by the state assemblies. Since these self-scheduled their election days, the popular vote lasted from April to October of the year 1800, whereby the counting of the votes was not completed until December. In the first week of December, the federalists led and maintained their strongholds in New England, while the southern states traditionally voted for the Republicans . The decisive factor for Adams' subsequent defeat was the loss of New York and Pennsylvania to Jefferson, who was supported by Aaron Burr as the second candidate . Adams ended up with 65 votes in Electoral College and Jefferson with 73. While the Pennsylvania defeat was linked to the John Fries rebellion, the New York defeat was due to Hamilton, who had used his clientele there to prevent Adams' re-election .

Until the inauguration of Jefferson, whose election after a stalemate with Burr in Electoral College was only after 35 ballots in the federally dominated House of Representatives, Adams reviewed the terms of the Mortefontaine contract and called on the disloyal cabinet members to resign. He brought a judicial law through Congress called the Midnight Judges Act , which created new courts. Adams was therefore accused of occupying the judiciary with federalists at the last minute in order to hinder the transfer of power. Against this is the fact that he named Marshall, an outspoken opponent of the Alien and Sedition Acts, as Chief Justice of the United States . Early that morning on March 4, 1801, he left the White House without meeting his successor. This was not meant as an affront to Jefferson, as Adams had no hostile feelings towards Jefferson and had received him for dinner with Abigail a few days earlier.

After the presidency

Peacefield (2005)

Adams retired into private life after his election defeat. He lived in Peacefield , a larger property near the house where he was born, which he bought in 1787. As he had little financial means after a bad investment at the Bank of London, he lived off his property like many of his compatriots at the time. Because of his advanced age, Adams stopped practicing as a lawyer and devoted himself to family life and the many visitors who came to Peacefield. Since he had barely organized his papers and notes throughout his life, he refrained from writing an autobiography due to the amount of work involved. Although no longer actively participating in political life, he continued to be very much concerned with political history. Similarly later Arthur M. Schlesinger saw their course as cyclical and predicted for America about every twelve years that one party would “leapfrog” over the other. On November 10, 1818, after 54 years of marriage, Abigail died of a stroke , leaving a devastated Adam. Jefferson, with whom Adams had been in correspondence for six years at the suggestion of his mutual friend Benjamin Rush , sent him condolences that moved him deeply. This correspondence, which reads like an endless argument in search of a unifying principle, lasted until her death and, in addition to politics, encompassed a very wide range of topics including religion, science, history, philosophy, archeology and much more. According to Diggins, this correspondence is one of the richest documents in American intellectual history.

Graves of John Adams (left) and John Quincy Adams (right) and their wives in the United First Parish Church in Quincy (2005).

In late 1820, Adams was a delegate to a convention to revise the Massachusetts Constitution. There he campaigned in vain for a constitutional amendment that was supposed to guarantee complete religious freedom, with particular concern for the equality of American Jews . Health restricted as he approached his 90th birthday, Adams flourished again at the end of 1824 when he saw his son John Quincy's successful presidential election against Andrew Jackson . Nonetheless, he held Jackson in high regard, not least because of their mutual dislike of banking entrepreneurs. He was pleased to receive Jefferson's congratulations on the election of his son as president and asked him to regard John Quincy as their son and heir. He fell into a coma on July 1, 1826 and died three days later, like Jefferson, on Independence Day . On July 7th, Adams was buried in Quincy in the presence of a crowd of 4,000 people.

In 1826, John Quincy Adams donated the construction of the United First Parish Church in Quincy, which was designed by the well-known architect Alexander Parris . Before the church was dedicated in November 1828, the remains of John and Abigail Adams were interred in the crypt on April 1, 1828. In December 1852, John Quincy and his wife Louisa Catherine Adams found their final resting place here .

Beliefs and beliefs

Thomas Jefferson, portrait by Gilbert Stuart around 1821

Adams's philosophy of the state was in many ways contrary to Jefferson's views . This conflict determined the first party system that emerged after the presidency of Washington and set the trend for American political history. The free will of the people, revered by Jefferson and Paine as an ideal that any government can only tarnish, if not endanger, was no guarantee for Adams that natural human rights would be respected . He saw the state not only as a means of safeguarding individual freedom, but also of safeguarding human rights. Adams was convinced of the importance of institutions in which he had more confidence than in human nature, which is why he stated: "Laws are intended not to trust what men will do, but to guard against what they might do." ("Laws are not there to trust what people will do, but to protect against what they might do."). These different priorities explain why Jefferson celebrated the French Revolution even after its radicalization process in 1793, while Adams emphasized that it had nothing in common with the spirit of 1776. These essential differences in the philosophical understanding of the state led in further American history to opposing positions on the increasingly important question of slavery. The dualism culminated in the Lincoln-Douglas debates of 1858 and ultimately led to the American Civil War as a radical counter-movement to federalism of Adamic style .

Through historical studies of the polis of ancient Greece up to the Italian city republics of the Renaissance , Adams came to the realization that every government in human history, regardless of its form, has three universal components: the ruler ("the one"), the aristocracy ( "The few") and the people ("the many"). According to this, the freedom of a society is determined by the extent to which laws restrict each of the three elements to its functional function, i.e. not the emergence of monarchical tyranny , aristocratic oligarchy or anarchist popular rule. With a view to the young republic, Adams saw the ruler realized in the highest representative of the executive and defined the aristocracy, unusual for the time in America, not as a prominent feudal upper class, but as a class with special political and economic ambition, the upper houses , so the Senate , controlled. Among the many, Adams counted all eligible voters who were not of the few or so poor that they could not make independent decisions. The people are dominant in the lower houses , i.e. in the House of Representatives , and in the judiciary. According to Adams' biographer Diggins, the lines of conflict that shaped the first party system can be assigned according to this pattern: According to this, Hamilton put his emphasis on strengthening the few, which amounted to a plutocracy , while Jefferson realizes popular rule, ideally in a one-chamber system , accented. Adams, on the other hand, emphasized the importance of the One who was essential to balance the interests of the aristocracy and the people. In anticipation of the findings of modern sociology , he was aware that without a ruler the state organs would be feudally dominated, as the people tended to imitate the lifestyle and views of the elite and to orientate themselves normatively. Diggins sees in Adams as a whole the president in American history whose political philosophy revolved most around the question of how government action can prevent critical conflicts between the social classes . Similarly, later Otto von Bismarck in his foreign policy of the balance of power , Adams saw the need for a third power to mediate and resolve bipolar tensions.

Both John Adams and his wife Abigail firmly opposed slavery and later employed freelance workers to run their estate. Adams saw - like Benjamin Franklin , another opponent of slavery - the enormous potential for domestic conflict in this question: If the Declaration of Independence had contained a clear condemnation of slavery, the slave-holding southern states would never have agreed to it. According to Heinrich August Winkler , Adams was "unwilling to let the declaration of independence fail because of the irreconcilable conflict on this issue." Adams therefore never developed any political initiative to support abolitionism .

Although Adams grew up in a puritanical - congregational environment, he later described himself (like his wife) as a Unitarian and rejected the divinity of Jesus.


Historical reviews

In the traditional understanding of history, Adams was one of the least understood Founding Fathers until the 1990s, overshadowed by Washington, Franklin and Jefferson. In some cases he was caricaturedly overdrawn as an inflated and complacent busybody and loser who was voted out of office as the first president and who led the Federalist Party to its downfall. For the 20th century, Ferling names three essential biographers who wrote about Adams: Gilbert Chinard, Page Smith and Peter Shaw. Chinard, who wrote his work shortly after the First World War, saw Adams as narrow-minded in some ways, but regarded him as the most realistic American politician of his generation. Adam's achievements, whom he compared with Georges Clemenceau , he rated higher than those of Jefferson. Almost 30 years later, during the height of the Cold War, Smith championed the second president as a teacher for contemporary America who protected the young republic from radical Jacobins like Paine. Finally, Shaw focused in his biography on the psychological motives for action of Adams. In doing so, he reduced him to a person who, driven by enormous ambition, fails to get a grip on their lust for fame and in the end loses respect for the social environment.

The negative image of Adams, which had prevailed for a long time, is partly due to his extensive correspondence including his diary, both of which have been extensively preserved in Washington, Franklin and Jefferson, but do not testify to such a personal and open nature in communication. Another aspect in this context is Adams' bitterness after the loss of the presidency, which he expressed in many letters. Ferling sees his 1992 biography of Adams as a further reason for his poor reputation in his last important works on state theory, since these were outside the direction that would determine the political thinking of the next generations. Jürgen Heideking has a similar opinion in the compilation The American Presidents: 44 historical portraits from George Washington to Barack Obama, first published in 1995 : Adams was one of the most talented and morally integrity men of the founding generation, but he was the intellectual counterpoint to the general urge for more equality and democracy functions. In addition, his personality had a polarizing effect, which clearly set him apart from the “presidential” Washington. According to Heideking, Adams is to be regarded as a great statesman, but this is less due to his presidency than to his overall life achievement.

In his Adam's biography, published in 1993, Joseph J. Ellis pointed out that the study of history is experiencing a new beginning due to the exploration of his extensive correspondence. He sees Adams as the most misunderstood and misunderstood great man in American history. In the period between 1998 and 2007, there was hardly a president on whom as much specialist literature was published as on Adams, especially the biography of David McCullough from 2001, which won the Pulitzer Prize and was the basis for the miniseries John Adams - Freedom for America became. These and the works of Richard Alan Ryerson, Bradley C. Thompson, Michael Burgan, Stuart A. Kallen, and Bonnie L. Lukes led to a re-evaluation of his presidency that is gradually beginning to emerge from the shadows of Washington and Jefferson. The reputation gains for Adams are not limited to the professional world, but have already reached the public, Ellis judged in 2000. He cites three reasons for this: The endless political scandals and the widespread cynicism towards the actors in Washington left them in the present Adams stand out as a morally indubitable statesman who was less concerned with personal power than justice. In the controversies over the role of the state, as it dominates the recent history of America , the conviction of the founding father Adams of the importance of a strong government is more sensible and easier to integrate than the anti-establishment ethos of Jefferson. As a final point, Ellis cites the unpretentious sincerity of Adams' letters and diary entries. On the one hand, this prevented posterity from being surrounded by a mythical aura like Franklin, Jefferson and Washington, on the other hand, because of their honesty, these records represented the best time window to observe the personal motives of the founding fathers undisguised. In addition, because of the wealth of personal writings, his biography is the best documented for the years around the American Declaration of Independence.

In American history, no presidential term has been so dominated by a single foreign policy conflict as that of Adams by the quasi-war with France. Adams was unable to resolve this problem, which had already arisen under Washington, during his tenure. On the one hand, Paris lacked the willingness and authority to reach an agreement, and on the other hand, the president lacked political support and public opinion. Adams had an outstanding strategic understanding and recognized as early as the spring of 1797 that both the pro-British faction around Hamilton and the pro-French Republicans would pull America into a foreign war if they prevailed. He subordinated his political survival to the national interest of keeping the United States out of a European conflict, which remained the isolationist course of American foreign policy towards Europe until the First World War . In order to be able to protect the domestic coasts in this context, Adams prioritized the formation of the United States Navy over the recruitment of a standing army , especially since he feared Hamilton as the highest in command. Adams had no understanding of parties in the modern sense and after his election tried to cooperate with Vice President Jefferson. The desired cooperation was prevented from the start by Madison on the one hand and by the leadership of the federalists on the other, so that the consensus-oriented president had already isolated himself in the early term of office. While he never lost his respect for Jefferson, a heartfelt hostility soon arose towards Hamilton.

Although Adams did not pursue an ecclesiastical career, Puritan upbringing determined his thoughts and actions. He consciously looked for situations that exposed him to a conflict between public and personal interests in order to prove his moral integrity. A frequently recurring motif in the diary entries is Adam's self-doubt and reproach about the extent to which his ambitions are a sin and that he has them under control.


The birth house of John Adams , where he lived until his marriage and several generations of the Adams family lived from 1720 until 1885, is now in the Adams National Historical Park . In this National Historical Park is further Peacefield , resided in the Adams and his wife from 1788, and the birthplace of John Quincy Adams. The United First Parish Church , where John and John Quincy Adams and their wives are buried, has been a National Historic Landmark since 1970 .

A total of seven counties are named after Adams. One of the three buildings of the Library of Congress is the John Adams Building , built in 1939 . He is also the namesake of the Mount Adams volcano . In 2007, the presidential dollar series began with portraits of Washington, Adams, Jefferson, and Madison.



Published in lifetime

Work editions

  • George A. Peek, Jr. (Ed.): The Political Writings of John Adams: Representative Selections. New edition. Indianapolis 2003, ISBN 0-87220-699-8 .
  • Lester J. Cappon (Ed.): The Adams-Jefferson Letters: The complete correspondence between Thomas Jefferson and Abigail and John Adams. Renewed edition. University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill 1987, ISBN 978-0-8078-1807-7 .
  • Gregg L. Lint, Robert J. Taylor et al. (Ed.): Papers of John Adams . 17 issues so far. Harvard University Press, Cambridge 1980-.
  • Charles Francis Adams, Sr. (Ed.): The works of John Adams, second President of the United States: with a life of the author, notes and illustrations. 10 volumes. Little, Brown and Company, Boston 1850-1856, LCCN  08-019755 .


Web links

Commons : John Adams  - album with pictures, videos and audio files


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This article was added to the list of excellent articles on December 22, 2017 in this version .