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 created