The Demigod’s Successor

Posted: November 1, 2013 in Uncategorized
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When history looks back on our nation’s presidents, you will find great leaders, speakers, politicians, underdogs, and could-have-beens. Over all, history is pretty kind to the presidents the longer they are out of office. That is, except one in particular, John Adams. Out of all the brilliant things Adams is known for, he is best known for, it seems, what I like to call “The Nation’s First Screw-up”. Sure this could have applied through some of the things done in Washington’s presidency, but who wants to tarnish his years? Washington was thought of particularly before the Revolutionary War as to the status of a demigod which propelled him as the sole option as the nation’s first President of the United States under the new constitution. (There were several people before him who were called “the president”, but they where figure heads whose only power was presiding over the Senate, which is not really any power at all.)
So how do you follow the lead of the most beloved man in the country? You be yourself. That is, if you are obnoxious, stubborn, ornery, and John Adams. While Washington’s hugely unpopular act was the Act of Neutrality, Adams upped Washington with the Alien and Sedition Acts. These acts were so unpopular and caused an uproar, they were deemed unconstitutional. And he would have gotten away with it if it wasn’t for those meddling Republicans. History in a way tucks Adams in a corner and casts light on his predecessor and successor, Washington and Jefferson. While both of these men cemented their place in history well before they became president, people forget one vital part, without Adams, Washington and Jefferson wouldn’t be so important.
To understand what I mean, we have to go back to the Second Continental Congress. On June 13, 1775, Congress appointed George Washington as commanding general of the Continental Army. Before this, Washington had only been a colonel until 1758 during the French and Indian War. While Washington had an excellent soldier, Congress needed a bit more convincing from the 12-year retiree. This is where Adams comes in. Adams provided that extra convincing, sealing Washington’s fate in history as the leader of the soon-to-be underdog nation. Afterwards, it eventually came to the declaration. Following the resolution by Richard Henry Lee which stated, “these colonies are, and of the right ought to be, free and independent states”, and as the one who was the driving force for independence from England, John Adams was then tasked to form the Declaration Committee. This comprised of Robert Livingston, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Roger Sherman, and himself. Thanks to having previously read Jefferson’s A Summary View of the Rights of British America, Adams determined that Jefferson was the perfect man to write this declaration.
Before Washington led the force in the revolution, and before Jefferson put it to paper, Adams was the catalyst which set it all in motion.
Back to Adams’ presidency, one must remember also why he was chosen. Four years earlier, the first presidential election was not about who was to be president, at least not really, it was more so about who would be Vice President under Washington. Adams was Washington’s right hand man in more than just title, Adams influenced Washington so much that despite not having a political party, Washington was essentially a Federalist. Adams was the background guy trying to make everything run smoothly so Washington could preside in ease. During his own presidency however, Adams found it increasingly difficult to run things smoothly, especially since Vice President Jefferson was there to disagree every step of the way. Not only did Adams babble with Jefferson and his political party of the Republicans (D-R, not modern), but he also had a tendency to upset members of his own party of the Federalists too. During his presidency, this disagreement was best shown through the peace negotiations with France, especially after the Quasi-War. While the Quasi-War was not an official war, it created tensions between not only the US and France, but John Adams and the Senate. His fight for peace with France was so unpopular, it contributed to his failure to win reelection. This did not matter much to Adams, who continued to boast on his achievement later on in his life.
Adams’ two biggest blunders that overshadowed his brilliant peace negotiations were the XYZ Affair and the Alien and Sedition Acts. In the XYZ Affair, Adams sent Charles Pinckney, John Marshall, and Elbridge Gerry to France to discuss a peace settlement with France. After numerous delays and constant raises in monetary demands with the French delegates only listed as X, Y, and Z, the delegation sailed back to the States. The welcome back at home was not any better than it was in France, in fact it was worse. The Senate was furious at the demands of the French and refused to agree to this “settlement”. This failure only prolonged the tension between the two countries. It was not until the Treaty of Mortefontaine in 1799, did peace arrive.
Adams’ second blunder, the Alien and Sedition Acts were a bundle of four acts was meant to diminish the opposition to the administration and the French-sympathizing immigrants. These acts were: the Naturalization Act, the Alien (Friends) Act, the Alien Enemies Act, and the Sedition Act. The Naturalization Act made the process to citizenship more difficult by changing the period of residence required before an immigrant could attain American citizen, which now took 14 years. This was Adams’ way to control the election where naturalized citizens tended to vote Democratic-Republic. Both the Alien Friends and Alien Enemies Acts provided Adams the power to deport any foreigner he thought dangerous to the country. The Sedition Act made it illegal to publish “false, scandalous, and malicious writing” against the government or its officials. This would probably would have been very helpful to presidents like Jackson in the 1824 election and Nixon to prevent the Watergate scandal from surfacing. The odd thing about the acts though, was that they were not seriously enforced and barely used, but nonetheless, they caused an uproar that would outlast Adams’ remaining term.
So while Adams’ did not have the greatest ending to a presidential term, at least he survived. More remembered as Washington’s Vice President, more than anything, Adams definitely made a lasting impression in history and the more you look, the better his looks.
I am not afraid to admit that I did use Wikipedia to support the facts, but luckily for me, they list their sources too!
      • Kurtz, Stephen G (1957). The Presidency of John Adams: The Collapse of Federalism, 1795–1800.

 

 

 

 

 

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