Author: Staff writer


When John Adams was elected president the population of the United States was 4’900,000. The presidential election was the first contested election in the United States. When the final tabulation of votes arrived at the senate, ironically it was Adams who opened the envelope as he was President of the Senate. John Adams won with seventy one votes and Thomas Jefferson received sixty eight therefore becoming Vice President. As expected Adams received every Electoral College vote from New England while Jefferson controlled the South. Adams served for one term from 1797 to 1801 and was succeeded by Thomas Jefferson.


Adams victory over Jefferson

The country wished for a continuation of peace and prosperity that the eight years of Washington’s government brought. As Washington’s Vice President it was natural that Adams would maintain the same policies. In addition, Adams had built a reputation over the years, as a lawyer, a politician and a man of integrity, which gave him all the Electoral College votes in New England. Residents felt that after eight years of southern rule, it was their turn to control the executive branch.

Adams was supported by merchants and industrialists in the South, Jefferson’s stronghold. Another valid reason for Jefferson’s defeat over Adams was that the war between France and Britain divided the nation in factions and partisanship. It is believed that Francophile support hurt Jefferson’s election to the highest office.


John Adam’s Administration

Adams was not a popular president. His independent mind and inflexibility led to his own political isolation, even his cabinet opposed his policies most of the time. He distrusted the partisan style and factionalism and distrusted public opinion. He was a more outstanding political philosopher than a politician.

His party, the Federalist, was divided between the conservatives led by Hamilton and the moderates led by Adams. In addition to increasing problems in his own party, Adams faced the first major international crisis of the nation. France perceived the Jay’s Treaty, a treaty of Amity Commerce and Navigation, as an alliance between the US and Britain. France reacted by suspending diplomatic relations with the U.S.

His administration focused on France, Adams was determined to avoid a war with France and had to battle with his own party to keep the peace which cost him the reelection to a second term as president.


Members of the Cabinet

Secretary of State: Timothy Pickering (1797-1800), John Marshall (1800-1801)

Secretary of the Treasury: Oliver Wolcott, Jr. (1797-1801), Samuel Dexter (1801)

Secretary of War: James McHenry (1797-1800), Samuel Dexter (1800-1801)

Attorney General: Charles Lee (1797-1801)

Secretary of the Navy: Benjamin Stoddert (1797-1801)


Timeline of events during John Adams’ Presidency

1797 – The XYZ Affair.

1798 – The 11th Amendment was proclaimed, it limited the power of federal courts.

1798 – Department of the Navy was created.

1798 – Alien and Sedition Acts

1798 – 1799 – Kentucky and Virginia declared that the Alien and Sedition Acts were unconstitutional.

1800 – The Capital of the nation was moved to Washington DC.

1800 – Establishment of the Library of Congress.


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Vice Presidency

John Adams returned to America in 1788 after ten years in Europe serving as a diplomat. He left London without any immediate commitments, he was even uncertain whether to continue in politics or return to his practice of law. However after his unexpected reception in America showing public support and admiration he decided to remain in politics. Within a month he had made his decision: to run for the Presidency. There were three candidates: George Washington, John Hancock and John Adams. Knowing that George Washington would be the first President he was content to get the Vice Presidency. As Abigail put it “any office was beneath himself”.

Adams had earned a solid reputation as a patriot who had served his country and gone through great personal sacrifice for the benefit of his country’s citizens. He was also known as a person of solid principles and a man of rigid mind.

As expected, in the elections of 1789 Adams was elected to the position of Vice President and George Washington as the first President of the United States with 34 and 69 votes in the Electoral College respectively. Hancock, although popular in his native Massachusetts, got four electoral votes. Adams received the second largest number of votes after Washington, therefore becoming Vice President. He was reelected Vice President in 1792.

John Adams Role as Vice President

During the first government of the nation Washington named Thomas Jefferson as secretary of state, Knox as secretary of war, Jay was named to the Supreme Court and Hamilton as Treasurer. On April 1789 Adams assumed his duties as President of the Senate. As Vice President his role was constrained by constitutional limits and his reluctance to work with the executive. As leader of the Senate, Adams played a more active role; he cast the tie-breaking vote at least thirty one times during his eight years as Vice President. His votes influenced the location of the nation’s capital, defended the presidential power to remove senate appointees and prevented war with Great Britain. Washington’s cabinet rarely sought Adams’ opinion and he played a minor role in early 1790s politics.


New Political Parties

By 1792 political parties had began to form. Alexander Hamilton led the Federalist, who supported a strong central government, closer ties with England and was business and industry friendly. Adams was a Federalist. The opposition, the Democratic-Republican was led by Thomas Jefferson. They supported landowners and limited powers of the government, personal liberty and supported France.

For the eight years that Adams served as Vice President, a position devoid of power by the constitution, he regarded himself as the next in line for the presidency. When Washington announced his intention to retire his party, the Federalist, nominated Adams and Thomas Pickney as their candidates for President. The Republicans’ choices were Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr. Each party named two candidates and each member of the Electoral College cast two ballots for their choice of president. The candidate with the most votes was the winner of the presidential election only if it was the majority of the votes cast.

John Adams was elected president in 1796 in the first contested presidential election.

First American Ambassador to Britain – 1785 to 1788

After nearly a year of negotiation, in September 1783 Adams, Jefferson and Jay signed the Treaty of Paris with Great Britain. During the period between the Treaty of Paris and his appointment as Minister to Britain, John was one a key negotiator of trade relations between the United States and Prussia.

In 1785, John Adams was appointed as the first American ambassador to Great Britain, his mission lasted thirty days short of three years. His aim was to restore the damaged relationship between the two countries and to create commercial ties by persuading Britain to open its ports to American products.

Meanwhile he finally had Abigail and Nabby by his side after more than four years of separation. During this time he made acquaintances with almost every British dignitary and other nation’s ambassadors as well as writers, scientists, wealthy merchants and church officials. During his stay in London Adams participated in negotiations of commercial agreements with Portugal and Prussia and negotiations of loans with The Netherlands.

His mission was received with a cold shoulder by the British government who was not willing to cooperate with a once rebellious Adams. In early 1787 he requested Congress to name a successor to the ministry. In 1788 Adams returned to the United States.

Treaty of Paris 1783 – Document transcription

The Definitive Treaty of Peace 1783

In the Name of the most Holy & undivided Trinity.

It having pleased the Divine Providence to dispose the Hearts of the most Serene and most Potent Prince George the Third, by the Grace of God, King of Great Britain, France, and Ireland, Defender of the Faith, Duke of Brunswick and Lunebourg, Arch- Treasurer and Prince Elector of the Holy Roman Empire etc.. and of the United States of America, to forget all past Misunderstandings and Differences that have unhappily interrupted the good Correspondence and Friendship which they mutually wish to restore; and to establish such a beneficial and satisfactory Intercourse between the two countries upon the ground of reciprocal Advantages and mutual Convenience as may promote and secure to both perpetual Peace and Harmony; and having for this desirable End already laid the Foundation of Peace & Reconciliation by the Provisional Articles signed at Paris on the 30th of November 1782, by the Commissioners empowered on each Part, which Articles were agreed to be inserted in and constitute the Treaty of Peace proposed to be concluded between the Crown of Great Britain and the said United States, but which Treaty was not to be concluded until Terms of Peace should be agreed upon between Great Britain & France, and his Britannic Majesty should be ready to conclude such Treaty accordingly: and the treaty between Great Britain & France having since been concluded, his Britannic Majesty & the United States of America, in Order to carry into full Effect the Provisional Articles above mentioned, according to the Tenor thereof, have constituted & appointed, that is to say his Britannic Majesty on his Part, David Hartley, Esqr., Member of the Parliament of Great Britain, and the said United States on their Part, – stop point – John Adams, Esqr., late a Commissioner of the United States of America at the Court of Versailles, late Delegate in Congress from the State of Massachusetts, and Chief Justice of the said State, and Minister Plenipotentiary of the said United States to their High Mightinesses the States General of the United Netherlands; – stop point – Benjamin Franklin, Esqr., late Delegate in Congress from the State of Pennsylvania, President of the Convention of the said State, and Minister Plenipotentiary from the United States of America at the Court of Versailles; John Jay, Esqr., late President of Congress and Chief Justice of the state of New York, and Minister Plenipotentiary from the said United States at the Court of Madrid; to be Plenipotentiaries for the concluding and signing the Present Definitive Treaty; who after having reciprocally communicated their respective full Powers have agreed upon and confirmed the following Articles.

Article 1st:
His Brittanic Majesty acknowledges the said United States, viz., New Hampshire, Massachusetts Bay, Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia, to be free sovereign and Independent States; that he treats with them as such, and for himself his Heirs & Successors, relinquishes all claims to the Government, Propriety, and Territorial Rights of the same and every Part thereof.

Article 2d:
And that all Disputes which might arise in future on the subject of the Boundaries of the said United States may be prevented, it is hereby agreed and declared, that the following are and shall be their Boundaries, viz.; from the Northwest Angle of Nova Scotia, viz., that Angle which is formed by a Line drawn due North from the Source of St. Croix River to the Highlands; along the said Highlands which divide those Rivers that empty themselves into the river St. Lawrence, from those which fall into the Atlantic Ocean, to the northwesternmost Head of Connecticut River; Thence down along the middle of that River to the forty-fifth Degree of North Latitude; From thence by a Line due West on said Latitude until it strikes the River Iroquois or Cataraquy; Thence along the middle of said River into Lake Ontario; through the Middle of said Lake until it strikes the Communication by Water between that Lake & Lake Erie; Thence along the middle of said Communication into Lake Erie, through the middle of said Lake until it arrives at the Water Communication between that lake & Lake Huron; Thence along the middle of said Water Communication into the Lake Huron, thence through the middle of said Lake to the Water Communication between that Lake and Lake Superior; thence through Lake Superior Northward of the Isles Royal & Phelipeaux to the Long Lake; Thence through the middle of said Long Lake and the Water Communication between it & the Lake of the Woods, to the said Lake of the Woods; Thence through the said Lake to the most Northwestern Point thereof, and from thence on a due West Course to the river Mississippi; Thence by a Line to be drawn along the Middle of the said river Mississippi until it shall intersect the Northernmost Part of the thirty-first Degree of North Latitude, South, by a Line to be drawn due East from the Determination of the Line last mentioned in the Latitude of thirty-one Degrees of the Equator to the middle of the River Apalachicola or Catahouche; Thence along the middle thereof to its junction with the Flint River; Thence straight to the Head of Saint Mary’s River, and thence down along the middle of Saint Mary’s River to the Atlantic Ocean.  East, by a Line to be drawn along the Middle of the river Saint Croix, from its Mouth in the Bay of Fundy to its Source, and from its Source directly North to the aforesaid Highlands, which divide the Rivers that fall into the Atlantic Ocean from those which fall into the river Saint Lawrence; comprehending all Islands within twenty Leagues of any Part of the Shores of the United States, and lying between Lines to be drawn due East from the Points where the aforesaid Boundaries between Nova Scotia on the one Part and East Florida on the other shall, respectively, touch the Bay of Fundy and the Atlantic Ocean, excepting such Islands as now are or heretofore have been within the limits of the said Province of Nova Scotia.

Article 3d:
It is agreed that the People of the United States shall continue to enjoy unmolested the Right to take Fish of every kind on the Grand Bank and on all the other Banks of Newfoundland, also in the Gulf of Saint Lawrence and at all other Places in the Sea, where the Inhabitants of both Countries used at any time heretofore to fish. And also that the Inhabitants of the United States shall have Liberty to take Fish of every Kind on such Part of the Coast of Newfoundland as British Fishermen shall use, (but not to dry or cure the same on that Island) And also on the Coasts, Bays & Creeks of all other of his Brittanic Majesty’s Dominions in America; and that the American Fishermen shall have Liberty to dry and cure Fish in any of the unsettled Bays, Harbors, and Creeks of Nova Scotia, Magdalen Islands, and Labrador, so long as the same shall remain unsettled, but so soon as the same or either of them shall be settled, it shall not be lawful for the said Fishermen to dry or cure Fish at such Settlement without a previous Agreement for that purpose with the Inhabitants, Proprietors, or Possessors of the Ground.

Article 4th:
It is agreed that Creditors on either Side shall meet with no lawful Impediment to the Recovery of the full Value in Sterling Money of all bona fide Debts heretofore contracted.

Article 5th:
It is agreed that Congress shall earnestly recommend it to the Legislatures of the respective States to provide for the Restitution of all Estates, Rights, and Properties, which have been confiscated belonging to real British Subjects; and also of the Estates, Rights, and Properties of Persons resident in Districts in the Possession on his Majesty’s Arms and who have not borne Arms against the said United States. And that Persons of any other Description shall have free Liberty to go to any Part or Parts of any of the thirteen United States and therein to remain twelve Months unmolested in their Endeavors to obtain the Restitution of such of their Estates – Rights & Properties as may have been confiscated. And that Congress shall also earnestly recommend to the several States a Reconsideration and Revision of all Acts or Laws regarding the Premises, so as to render the said Laws or Acts perfectly consistent not only with Justice and Equity but with that Spirit of Conciliation which on the Return of the Blessings of Peace should universally prevail. And that Congress shall also earnestly recommend to the several States that the Estates, Rights, and Properties of such last mentioned Persons shall be restored to them, they refunding to any Persons who may be now in Possession the Bona fide Price (where any has been given) which such Persons may have paid on purchasing any of the said Lands, Rights, or Properties since the Confiscation.

And it is agreed that all Persons who have any Interest in confiscated Lands, either by Debts, Marriage Settlements, or otherwise, shall meet with no lawful Impediment in the Prosecution of their just Rights.

Article 6th:
That there shall be no future Confiscations made nor any Prosecutions commenced against any Person or Persons for, or by Reason of the Part, which he or they may have taken in the present War, and that no Person shall on that Account suffer any future Loss or Damage, either in his Person, Liberty, or Property; and that those who may be in Confinement on such Charges at the Time of the Ratification of the Treaty in America shall be immediately set at Liberty, and the Prosecutions so commenced be discontinued.

Article 7th:
There shall be a firm and perpetual Peace between his Britanic Majesty and the said States, and between the Subjects of the one and the Citizens of the other, wherefore all Hostilities both by Sea and Land shall from henceforth cease:  All prisoners on both Sides shall be set at Liberty, and his Britanic Majesty shall with all convenient speed, and without causing any Destruction, or carrying away any Negroes or other Property of the American inhabitants, withdraw all his Armies, Garrisons & Fleets from the said United States, and from every Post, Place and Harbour within the same; leaving in all Fortifications, the American Artillery that may be therein: And shall also Order & cause all Archives, Records, Deeds & Papers belonging to any of the said States, or their Citizens, which in the Course of the War may have fallen into the hands of his Officers, to be forthwith restored and delivered to the proper States and Persons to whom they belong.

Article 8th:
The Navigation of the river Mississippi, from its source to the Ocean, shall forever remain free and open to the Subjects of Great Britain and the Citizens of the United States.

Article 9th:
In case it should so happen that any Place or Territory belonging to great Britain or to the United States should have been conquered by the Arms of either from the other before the Arrival of the said Provisional Articles in America, it is agreed that the same shall be restored without Difficulty and without requiring any Compensation.

Article 10th:
The solemn Ratifications of the present Treaty expedited in good & due Form shall be exchanged between the contracting Parties in the Space of Six Months or sooner if possible to be computed from the Day of the Signature of the present Treaty.  In witness whereof we the undersigned their Ministers Plenipotentiary have in their Name and in Virtue of our Full Powers, signed with our Hands the present Definitive Treaty, and caused the Seals of our Arms to be affixed thereto.

Done at Paris, this third day of September in the year of our Lord, one thousand seven hundred and eighty-three.


Treaty of Paris 1783

On September 3rd, 1783, the Treaty of Paris was signed by the three American negotiators, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin and John Jay, and David Hartley, representing King George III. The treaty was signed at the historical Hotel d’York in Paris. The Treaty of Paris was ratified by the American Congress of the Confederation on January 14, 1784 and by British Parliament on April 9, 1784.

The Treaty of Paris formally ended the American War of Independence and recognized Great Britain’s former thirteen colonies as free and independent states, acknowledging the existence of the United States as a sovereign country. The American Independence War became a world conflict where France, Spain and the Netherlands were formally involved. Britain signed separate peace agreements with each of the counties.

All three negotiators played a key role in the final outcome of the treaty. Franklin and Ray were responsible for the boundary settlements including the trans-Appalachian lands. Adams, advocating for Massachusetts, secured American fishing rights.

Conveniently for the Americans, Britain was severely feeling the financial implication of the American Revolution. Prime Minister, Lord North recognized the unsustainability of the war and resigned but King George did not want to give up the American territory. The new government of Lord Rockingham was short lived as he died of influenza three month after he took office.

The American negotiators understood the distresses of Europe’s power and exploiting Britain’s weaknesses secured not only peace but all the aims that Congress had set forth in 1779 when John Adams was sent as an envoy to negotiate peace. As Adams put it, the treaty had secured “the Cod and Ducks and Beavers” for the United States.

The Treaty of Paris agreed and confirmed its negotiations in ten articles:

Article 1: Acknowledging the thirteen colonies as free sovereign and independent states and relinquishing all claims to property and territorial rights.

Article 2: Set up of territorial boundaries.

Article 3: Conceding the right to fish on the Grand Bank and on other Banks of Newfoundland.

Article 4: Creditors on either side shall meet with no lawful impediment to the recovery of debt.

Article 5: Congress will recommend to state legislature the restitution of estates, rights and property that belonged to British subjects.

Article 6: Bring to an end and prevent all future prosecution and confiscation of loyalists’ property.

Article 7: All prisoners of war on either side shall be set free.

Article 8: The Mississippi River should remain open to British and American citizens.

Article 9: Territories captured by either Britain or the United States after the Treaty will be restored without compensation.

Article 10: Ratification of the treaty was to occur within six months from the signing of the parties.


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Diplomatic Assignments – Paris 1779 and Netherlands 1780

Diplomatic Assignment – Paris 1779

By November 1779 John Adams was packing again to cross the Atlantic and this time accompanied by John Quincy, twelve, and Charles, ten years old.  Congress voted unanimously to nominate him as minister plenipotentiary to negotiate the end to the war with Britain. Adams was aware that his mission had little chance to succeed immediately. The peace agreement as stipulated by congress was to have Britain relinquish to the United States all territory westward to the Mississippi River and southward to the thirty-first parallel as well as southern Canada, they must also have access to the Newfoundland fisheries. Also, JA was to negotiate a commerce agreement with Britain. However before seeking a peace treaty he had to negotiate with France as the Treaty of Alliance with France stipulated that the war would continue until the allies agreed jointly to end the war.

In July 1780 Adams wrote a letter to French Foreign Minister Vergennes asking him consent to inform the British ministry of his powers to engage in peace negotiations. Vergennes was troubled by the prospect that the American colonies and London might reach reconciliation before France had achieved its objective in this war. The French minister severed communication with John Adams while Franklin supported Vergennes.

Adams kept busy writing an average of five reports a week with information and intelligence gathered from his contacts in Paris and from the British newspapers. With the approval of the French government he wrote essays for the Paris newspaper, Mercure de France, mostly propaganda pieces about the Franco-American Alliance. He also wrote essays for British newspapers, without the authorization of French authority, to refute the essays by Joseph Galloway, a loyalist former colleague in Congress who sought refuge in London. Adams counter reply to Galloway was that an independent America can coexist with Great Britain and prosper from flourishing trade.

John thought that America was in an unequal partnership with France, that Paris did not want to make peace with Britain until their interests would be served and viewed Franklin as fearful and too servile toward the French. Vergennes and Adams distrusted one another; Vergennes sent letters to Congress stating that Adams was unsuitable for such a crucial diplomatic assignment.


Diplomatic Assignment – Netherlands 1780

At the end of July 1780 John Adams was named commissioner to the Netherlands and together with John Quincy and Charles moved to Amsterdam. He sought to cultivate the Dutch as merchants were willing to open trade with the United States and to negotiate a loan that would allow the country to be more independent of France. The Dutch were hesitant as they did not want to get drawn into losing side of the war just as the Americans were defeated in Charleston, South Carolina. But Adams’ tireless efforts and the news of the American victory at Yorktown, Virginia suddenly changed the Dutch position and Adams secured a two million dollar loan.


Diplomatic Assignment – Paris 1777

The new government started to face up to the diplomatic consequences of the war not until 1776 when Silas Deane was sent to France. Deane’s assignment was to purchase goods with the purpose of bribing Indians to cooperate with Americans and to persuade the French government to supply arms, ammunition and uniforms for the Continental Army.  However, Deane’s actions arouse suspicions of own financial benefit and was recalled by Congress. Congress elected John Adams as replacement.

Accompanied by his oldest son, John Quincy, Adams embarked on a six week crossing of the Atlantic. He was to join American delegates Benjamin Franklin and Arthur Lee in Paris to negotiate a military pact with France. About a week before Adams left America Franklin had already signed a pact with the French which left Adams questioning about his own usefulness in Paris. He did not want to leave and reported to Congress that financial affairs were in a state of confusion so John set to organize the backlog of paperwork and acted as a bookkeeper for the delegation, activities with which the other men did not want to occupy themselves. Although the primary focus of the delegates was maintaining relations with France, they also dealt with incidents between American merchants and pirates and exchanges of prisoners of war.

From that time on, Adam’s hostility toward Franklin grew. Benjamin Franklin was the best known American in the world, mostly for his scientific work, publishing and his charismatic personality, a favorite among French women. JA felt overshadowed by Franklin, he sensed that the French society and government did not pay much importance to him and the fact that he was often mistaken as his cousin, Samuel Adams, made him feel unappreciated. Historian John Ferling suggests that JA was out of his element, that he did not have the skills to be successful in a highly polished society.

Eighteen months after JA arrived in Paris Congress decided to name Franklin the sole minister to France. John was humiliated and had to return to America. During his stay in America he was elected as part of the Massachusetts Constitutional Convention and was put in charge of drafting the state’s first Constitution which became the core of the Massachusetts Constitution of 1780 and shaped the future American Constitution.


Related Information

Diplomatic Assignments – Paris 1779 and Netherlands 1780

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