Learned and thoughtful, John Adams was more remarkable
as a political philosopher than as a politician. "People and nations
are forged in the fires of adversity," he said, doubtless thinking
of his own as well as the American experience.
Adams was born in the Massachusetts Bay Colony in
1735. A Harvard-educated lawyer, he early became identified with the
patriot cause; a delegate to the First and Second Continental
Congresses, he led in the movement for independence.
During the Revolutionary War he served in France and
Holland in diplomatic roles, and helped negotiate the treaty of
peace. From 1785 to 1788 he was minister to the Court of St.
James's, returning to be elected Vice President under George
Adams' two terms as Vice President were frustrating
experiences for a man of his vigor, intellect, and vanity. He
complained to his wife Abigail, "My country has in its wisdom
contrived for me the most insignificant office that ever the
invention of man contrived or his imagination conceived."
When Adams became President, the war between the
French and British was causing great difficulties for the United
States on the high seas and intense partisanship among contending
factions within the Nation.
His administration focused on France, where the
Directory, the ruling group, had refused to receive the American
envoy and had suspended commercial relations.
Adams sent three commissioners to France, but in the
spring of 1798 word arrived that the French Foreign Minister
Talleyrand and the Directory had refused to negotiate with them
unless they would first pay a substantial bribe. Adams reported the
insult to Congress, and the Senate printed the correspondence, in
which the Frenchmen were referred to only as "X, Y, and Z."
The Nation broke out into what Jefferson called "the
X. Y. Z. fever," increased in intensity by Adams's exhortations. The
populace cheered itself hoarse wherever the President appeared.
Never had the Federalists been so popular.
Congress appropriated money to complete three new
frigates and to build additional ships, and authorized the raising
of a provisional army. It also passed the Alien and Sedition Acts,
intended to frighten foreign agents out of the country and to stifle
the attacks of Republican editors.
President Adams did not call for a declaration of war,
but hostilities began at sea. At first, American shipping was almost
defenseless against French privateers, but by 1800 armed merchantmen
and U.S. warships were clearing the sea-lanes.
Despite several brilliant naval victories, war fever
subsided. Word came to Adams that France also had no stomach for war
and would receive an envoy with respect. Long negotiations ended the
Sending a peace mission to France brought the full
fury of the Hamiltonians against Adams. In the campaign of 1800 the
Republicans were united and effective, the Federalists badly
divided. Nevertheless, Adams polled only a few less electoral votes
than Jefferson, who became President.
On November 1, 1800, just before the election, Adams
arrived in the new Capital City to take up his residence in the
White House. On his second evening in its damp, unfinished rooms, he
wrote his wife, "Before I end my letter, I pray Heaven to bestow the
best of Blessings on this House and all that shall hereafter inhabit
it. May none but honest and wise Men ever rule under this
Adams retired to his farm in Quincy. Here he penned
his elaborate letters to Thomas Jefferson. Here on July 4, 1826, he
whispered his last words: "Thomas Jefferson survives." But Jefferson
had died at Monticello a few hours earlier.
Biography from www.whitehouse.gov