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John Adams: Overlooked Hero of the Revolution


Part 2: President for a Term

Elected vice-president under George Washington for two terms, Adams distinguished himself more outside the federal offices. He and Alexander Hamilton saw to the beginnings of the Federalist Party, which, though short-lived, had a major impact on the government and subsequent presidents. Adams was elected president in his own right when Washington bowed out after two terms. The rules then were simply that the two top vote-getters got the two top offices. Thus, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, political rivals, were President and Vice-President.

Adams's presidency was beset by division at home and dissension abroad. His own party did not support him at times, believing, like Hamilton, that war with France was necessary. On this issue, Adams was in the middle, with Jefferson and his Democratic-Republicans on the side of the French Revolutionaries on philosophical grounds. To make matters worse, ships from Britain and France were seizing American ships in international waters. Adams tried his hand at diplomacy, having been successful in that arena in the past. But his choice of people was not too swift here, as the negotiations exploded into the XYZ Affair, which involved an attempted bribe of the French minister in exchange for a peace treaty.

Out of this affair came the Department of the Navy and its most famous early product, the USS Constitution, "Old Ironsides." But Adams was determined to keep the peace, and keep it he did with a treaty signed by the French Foreign Minister himself: Talleyrand. As the European wars continued, Adams followed Washington's lead and kept America out.

Next page > One Term and Out > Page 1, 2, 3

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