AP US: John Adams as President (1797-1801)

Election of 1796

  • Washington's VP, John Adams, and former Secretary of State, Thomas Jefferson, run for President
  • Adams choose Pinckney, Jefferson chooses Burr as VP
  • however, the party system is not yet understood, and the Electoral College system doesn't let it work very well
    • electors cast two votes, and the President is the one with the majority, the VP is the second highest
  • Adams (Federalist) and Jefferson (Democrat-Republican) are elected Pres/VP, leading to conflicts
  • indicates that the system needs to be fixed to compensate for political parties

Adams as President

  • intelligent, but not a great "people person"
    • however, his four years in office aren't of amazing quality
    • he's the first one-term president
    • faces many problems, including foreign and domestic policy, and discord within his party
  • vies with Hamilton for party leadership - the system hasn't yet evolved to where the President is de facto leader

Foreign Policy: France

  • relations with France begin to unravel soon after he begins his term
  • the French are upset by Washington's Neutrality Proclamation
    • they see Jay's Treaty, which makes a deal with the British, as violating the principle of neutrality
    • France had given money and troops for the American Revolution, and they wanted better treatment from the Americans
    • believed the Federalists were pro-British - and Hamilton, at least, was
  • France decides to attack US shipping, as Britain had already done so with success
  • so, Adams sends a group for discussion
    • Marshall, Gerry, and Pinckney are sent to negotiate with France
    • however, the king's three representatives "X, Y, and Z" ask for a $250,000 bribe to be able to start negotiations, and want the US to pay millions in tribute
    • (this becomes known as the "XYZ Affair"
    • Pinckney refuses to pay to negotiate - he is outraged by the request for a bribe and tribute
    • this also infuriates Congress, so they vow to spend millions on defence rather than on tribute
  • Adams is being pushed to respond to France
    • the Federalists want to arm merchant ships
    • Hamilton agitates for war, he wants a break with France and open trade with Britain
    • Adams took the high road and took the blame for his party, but he did try to make a settlement
  • Convention of 1800
    • Adams negotiates with Napoleon
    • any previous agreements are cancelled
    • each nation recognises the other
    • France promises to stop attacking US ships
    • relations begin to improve

Alien and Sedition Acts

  • Adams will take the blame for the actions of a Federalist-controlled Congress
  • they pass four acts, collectively known as the "Alien and Sedition Acts"
  • Naturalisation Act
    • attempts to curb criticism from immigrants, especially the French and Irish
    • believe that the French and Irish identify most with the Democrat-Republicans
    • raise residency requirement for citizenship to 14 years - and you can't vote until you're a citizen
  • Alien Friends Act
    • gives the President the authority to deport individuals that he considers a threat to the US
  • Alien Enemies Act
    • gives the President the authority to deport or imprison individuals that he considers to be a threat to the US in time of declared war
  • Sedition Act
    • speaking, writing, or publishing criticism of the government were, at the least, a misdemeanour, or possibly treason
  • Historian's Views
    • violate the 1st Amendment, and probably unconstitutional
    • the Sedition Act certaintly violates the 1st
    • Naturalisation Act, apart from its motive, is definitely within the legal authority of Congress
  • Washington was right
    • because of politics, Adams signs a law he might not otherwise have signed - he was focused on gaining power in his party, rather than on what was necessary for the nation
  • Supreme Court has not yet figured out that its job is to stop acts like these, so they pass

Challenges to the Alien and Sedition Acts

  • 1798 - Kentucky legislature adopts a resolution written by Jefferson questioning the authority of the government to pass the Acts
  • Virginia legislature, under Madison, articulates the "Compact" or "States' Rights" theory of government
  • Kentucky and Virginia Resolves
    • together, the Kentucky and Virginia resolutions were known as the Kentucky and Virginia Resolves
    • they state that the federal government was created by the states, and thus the states have priority over declarations of the federal government
    • support of James Madison is surprising
      • he had written the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution, which gives the supreme authority of the national government, over that of the states
      • this supremacy clause had been ratified by Virginia and Kentucky
    • this idea, even though it is unconstitutional, will continue for many years, ex. the Civil War

Midnight Judges

  • as he was leaving office, Adams appointed many federal judges
  • however, not all of these commissions were delivered on time, leading to the pivotal Supreme Court case, Marbury v. Madison
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