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.

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