Podcast # 10: John Adams

John Adams was born in the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1735. He attended Harvard University and became a lawyer. He married Abigail Smith Adams. They were married for 54 years and had 6 children. She was his closest advisor. Kept apart by foreign appointments and his various government roles, but they consistently wrote letters to each other.

He was a successful lawyer and had a law practice in Boston. He actually defended the British Soldiers accused of Murder in the Boston Massacre. He was well known for his great skills as an orator and much to the dismay of many of his colleagues in the continental congress, often put them to good use when debating key issues in the call for independence and the creation of our nation’s government.

He served 2 terms as Vice President and won the election of 1796 and became the 2nd President of the US. He was the first President to live in the White House. It was still being built, and only lived there at the very end of his term. His Presidency was shaped by Foreign Affairs and his unfortunate choice to maintain many of the same individuals in his cabinet that had served under George Washington posed significant problems to his Administration. As a result, they had a greater allegiance to George Washington and Alexander Hamilton. Growing tensions and widening divisions between both political parties and sectional differences also began to really take shape during his Presidency.

Domestic Issues:

Growing Tensions between Political parties: The Federalists (Adams and Hamilton were consistently at odds within the party. Hamilton and other Federalists, wanted the US to be more aligned with Britain whereas the Democratic Republicans led by Thomas Jefferson sought to have a greater alliance with France. The Federalists were clamoring for War with France but Adams wanted to avoid war at all costs.

Alien and Sedition Acts: 1798

Significantly limited civil liberties such as freedom of speech and the press. The Alien Acts made it more difficult to become a citizen. Increasing the time from 5 to 14 years and allowed the President the right to deport any alien seen as dangerous. The Sedition act made it illegal to speak out and criticize the government or the President. Could be fined and or jailed.

Fries Rebellion

A rebellion against the direct taxes being levied in PA. Government officials attempting to assess the worth of homes and property were threatened and run out of town. Leaders of the rebellion were tried for treason, found guilty and sentenced to be hanged. They were pardoned by President Adams.

Appointed 3 justices to The Supreme Court

1. George Washington’s nephew a man by the name of Bushrod Washington & Chief Justice John Marshall

Adams and Slavery

John Adams didn’t own any slaves. He felt Slavery was a moral and political wrong, but there are letters which would lead people to conclude that the Adams’ hired enslaved people at times and paid their owners the wages. There is also evidence of hiring freed blacks and some historical documents mention a worker who stayed with them for 7 years and was released. This is most likely and indentured servant which was also a common form of labor at the time. The Adams’ stance on slavery is certainly complicated as a result. It is also important to note that The Adams’ were the first to occupy the White House and it was still being built. Slave labor was used to build the nation’s capital.

Foreign Issues:

XYZ Affair “Millions for defense not a cent for tribute”

In response to France attacking American ships, Adams sent a delegation to France to seek reparations for the lost ships and merchandise, instead of meeting with the French Minister Talleyrand himself, the delegation met with 3 agents who were simply referred to as Mr. X, Mr. Y and Mr. Z. They demanded bribes be paid to both Talleyrand and to France. Once the American Public was made aware it sparked outrage. Furthered Political tensions and sparked talks of war with France. On the home front, it led to distrust against French immigrants and led to the passage of the Alien and Sedition Acts.

Quasi War 1798-1800

Undeclared war between US and Revolutionary France, fought mostly at Sea. US owed large amount of debt from Revolutionary War. Once the king was overthrown, the US stopped payments arguing, it was a new regime and they didn’t owe money to them but to the old government that no longer existed. France was seizing American Merchant ships and was angered over the increase in trade with GB which France was also at war with. Outright war with France was avoided.

John Adams lost his bid for re-election in 1800. The election was rather dramatic and Adams was left so infuriated that he refused to stay for Jefferson’s inauguration. Adams, had become very unpopular towards the end of his presidency and the two once close friends, didn’t talk for many years. They eventually rekindled their friendship and exchanged letters with each other up until their death.

John Adams lived long enough to see his own son, John Q. Adams become President of The United States. Like his father, he would only serve 1 term in office.

John Adams Death: Died on July 4, 1826 – 50th Anniversary of the signing of the declaration of independence. His last words are believed to be “Thomas Jefferson survives” unbeknownst to Adams, Thomas Jefferson had died a few hours earlier.

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