John Adams


John Adams, who became the second president of the

United States, has been accused by some historians of being

the closest thing America ever had to a dictator or monarch

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

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

served. A closer examination of the historical events

occurring during his vice presidency and his term as

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

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

charm, Adams had a very successful political career before

joining the new national government. He was, moreover,

highly sought after as a public servant during the early

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

was a well educated, seasoned patriot, and experienced

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

George Washington was selected the first United States

President. According to the electoral-college system of that

time, the second candidate with the most electoral votes

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

As president, Washington appointed, among others, two

influential political leaders to his original cabinet; Thomas

Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton. Jefferson, a veteran

politician became the Secretary of State and Hamiliton, a

young, outspoken New Yorker lawyer, became the

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

Adams, had also signed the Declaration of Independence.

Hamilton, however, was the only cabinet member relatively

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

nonetheless, who excelled during this new administration by

initiating numerous, innovative, and often controversial

programs, many of which were quite successful. Adams and

Hamilton were both Federalists. Unlike Hamiliton, Adams

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

this first administration, Adams and Hamilton quarreled

(Washington Retires, 1995), and Adams contemptuously

began referring to Hamilton as “his puppyhood” (DeCarolis,

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

Washington generally favored Hamiliton (Smelser &

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

Hamilton also went to great lengths to drive Jefferson out of

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

resign from the cabinet. The Federalists “party,” of which

Hamiliton was the leader (DeCarolis, 1995) was greatly

divided and even violent, at times, under his leadership

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

and others’ arguments of Adams being a dictator after his

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

were conspicuous about John Adams. First, he was known

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

Gundersen, 1975). He was also often described as

“stubborn,” quick-tempered, and even cantankerous at times

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

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

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

tradition (Wood, 1992). Adams was an intensely

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

By 1795, conflict was raging with France. Washington made

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

time, provided the impulse for the two differing political

philosophies to align into separate parties, even though the

Federalists never considered themselves to be a party

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

nominating Carolinian Thomas Pickney (Ferling, 1992). He

had instigated a similar conspiracy to keep Adams from

defeating Washington in the second national election, as

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

divided Federalists, Adams defeated Thomas Jefferson by

three electoral votes. He became the second president and

Jefferson, having the second largest number of votes,

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

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

different philosophies of government, attempting to run the

country together. Adams’ presidency was stressful from the

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

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

France had decreed to seize American ships. The country

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

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

eventually resigned the position of inspector general, but

continued to send Adams unsolicited recommendations

regarding foreign policy issues (DeCarolis, 1995). Adams

resented Hamilton’s meddling in his executive prerogatives.

He eventually expelled two other Hamiltonian cabinet

members. The height of Adam’s presidency and popularity

came primarily from the victories the navy had over French

vessels, and the exposure of the scandal called the XYZ

Affair, in which Adams was applauded for revealing the

dishonesty and corruption of the French officials, and French

insistence on demanding bribes. This period, however, was

very unstable and uncertain, both at home and abroad.

Hamilton made bitter attacks on Adams’ policies (Elser,

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

and the threat of what appeared to be inescapable war

caused great stress, opposition, and even occasional

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

Federalist Congress