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Adams, John, 1735-

Second President of the United States; from 1797 to 1801; Federalist; born in Braintree (near Quincy), Mass.. Oct. 30, 1735. He was graduated at Harvard College in 1755, and immediately afterwards taught school at Worcester, where he began the study of law. His father was in moderate circumstances — a selectman and a farmer. Beginning the profession of law in Braintree in 1758, he soon acquired a good practice; and, when he was twenty-nine years of age, he married Abigail Smith, an accomplished woman possessed of great common-sense. His first appearance in the political arena was as author of Instructions of the town of Braintree to its Representatives on the subject of the Stamp act, which was adopted by over forty towns. Associated with Gridley and Otis in supporting a memorial addressed to the governor and council, praying that the courts might proceed without the use of stamps, Adams opened the case by declaring that the Stamp Act was void, as Parliament had no right to make such a law. He began early to write political essays for the newspapers; and. in 1768, he went to Boston, when the town was greatly excited by political disturbances. There he was counsel for Captain Preston in the case of the “Boston massacre” (see Boston), and in the same year (1770) he was elected to a seat in the General Court. From that time John Adams was a leader among the patriots in Massachusetts. He was a delegate to the first Continental Congress (1774), where he took a leading part. Returning. he was elected a member of the Provincial Congress. He was an efficient speaker and most useful committee-man in the Continental Congress until he was appointed commissioner to France late in 1777, to supersede Deane. He advocated. helped to frame, voted for, and signed the Declaration of Independence. and he was a most efficient member of the Board of War from June, 1776, until December, 1777. He reached Paris April 8, 1778. where he found a feud between Franklin and Lee, two other commissioners. He advised intrusting that mission to one commissioner, and Franklin was made sole ambassador. He was appointed minister (1779) to treat with Great Britain for peace. and sailed for France in November. He did not serve as commissioner there, but. in July, 1780, he went to Holland to negotiate a loan. He was also received by the States-General as United States minister, April 19, 1782. He obtained a loan for Congress of $2,000,000, and made a treaty of amity and commerce. He returned to Paris in October, and assisted in negotiating the preliminary treaty of peace. With Franklin and Jay, he negotiated a treaty of commerce with Great Britain: and, in the following winter, he negotiated for another Dutch loan.

John Adams

In 1785 Adams went as minister to the English Court. and there he prepared his Defence of the American Constitution. Being coldly received, he returned home, and. in 1788, was elected Vice-President of the United States under the national Constitution. He sustained the policy of Washington through the eight years of his administration, opposed the French Revolution, and was a strong advocate for the neutrality of the United States. In 1796 [27] he was chosen President by a small majority over Jefferson, and his administration was vehemently opposed by the new party known as Republicans, led by the latter, its real founder. He had much trouble with the French Directory throughout his entire administration, and drew upon himself great blame for favoring the Alien and Sedition Law. In his eagerness for re-election Adams offended a powerful faction of his party, and was beaten by Jefferson at the election in 1800. Then he retired to private life, where he watched the course of events with great interest for twenty-five years longer, dying July 4, 1826;. His death occurred on the same day, and at almost the same hour, as that of Jefferson, his colleague on the drafting committee and in signing of the Declaration of Independence, fifty years before. His biography, diary, essays, and correspondence were edited and published, in 10 octavo volumes, by his grandson, Charles Francis Adams. Though courteous in his manner usually, he was, at times, irritable and imperious. See cabinet, President's.

While he was teaching school at Worcester, in 1755. he wrote a letter to Nathan Webb, in which he remarked: “Mighty states and kingdoms are not exempted from change. ... Soon after the Reformation, a few people came over into this new world for conscience‘ sake. This apparently trivial incident may transfer the great seat of empire to America. If we can remove the turbulent Gallies, our people, according to the exactest calculations, will, in another century, become more numerous than in England itself. The united force of Europe will not be able to subdue us. The only way to keep us from setting up for ourselves is to disunite us.” Less than thirty years afterwards the prophet stood before the monarch of England as the representative of an American republic, where, only ten years before, were flourishing English colonies. And just a century after that prophecy was uttered the number and strength of the people here exceeded the calculation of young Adams. The population then was more than double that of England an d, while his country was fiercely torn by civil warm its government defied the power of Great Britain, France, Spain, and the Papal States, whose rulers were enemies of republican government. Lord Kanes uttered a similar prophecy in 1765.

On June 1, 1785, he was introduced by the Marquis of Carmarthen to the King of Great Britain as ambassador extraordinary from the United States of America to the Court of London. The inexecution of the treaty of peace on the part of Great Britain had threatened an open rupture between the two nations. Adams was sent with full powers to arrange all matters in dispute. His mission was almost fruitless. He found the temper of the British people, from the peasant up to the monarch, very unfriendly to the United States. He was never insulted, but the chilliness of the social atmosphere and the studied neglect of his official representations often excited hot indignation in his bosom. But his government, under the old confederation, was so weak and powerless that he was compelled to endure the hauteur of British officials in silence. They gave him to understand that they would make no arrangements about commercial relations between the two governments; and when he proposed to his own government to pass countervailing navigation laws for the benefit of American commerce, he was met by the stern fact that it possessed no power to do so. At length, believing his mission to be useless, and the British government sturdily refusing to send a minister to the United States, Mr. Adams asked and obtained permission to return home.

Mr. Adams saw with alarm the contagion of revolution that went out from Paris, in 1789, affecting England, and. in a degree. his own country. It was different, in form and substance, from that which had made his own people free. With a view to avert its evil tendencies, he wrote a series of articles for a newspaper, entitled Discourses on Davila. These contained an analysis of Davila's History of the Civil War in France, in the sixteenth century. In those essays he maintained that, as self-esteem was the great spring of human activity, it was important in a popular government to provide for the moderate gratification of a desire for distinction, applause, and admiration. He therefore advocated a liberal use of titles and ceremonial honors for those in [28] office, and an aristocratic Senate. He proposed a popular Assembly on the broadest democratic basis to counteract any undue influence; and to keep in check encroachments upon each other, he recommended a powerful executive. The publication of these essays at that time was unfortunate, when jealousy was rife in the public mind concerning the national Constitution. His ideas were so cloudily expressed that his meaning was misunderstood by many and misinterpreted by a few. He was charged with advocating a monarchy and a hereditary Senate. The essays disgusted Jefferson, who for a time cherished the idea that Hamilton, Adams, Jay, and others were at the head of a conspiracy to overthrow the republican institutions of the United States.

The threatening attitude of France.

On May 16, 1797, President Adams communicated the following message to the Congress on the serious relations which had sprung up between the United States and France:

Gentlemen of the Senate and Gentlemen of the House of Representatives,--The personal inconveniences to the members of the Senate and of the House of Representatives in leaving their families and private affairs at this season of the year are so obvious that I the more regret the extraordinary occasion which has rendered the convention of Congress indispensable.

It would have afforded me the highest satisfaction to have been able to congratulate you on the restoration of peace to the nations of Europe whose animosities have endangered our tranquillity; but we have still abundant cause of gratitude to the Supreme Dispenser of national blessings for general health and promising seasons, for domestic and social happiness, for the rapid progress and ample acquisitions of industry through extensive territories, for civil, political, and religious liberty. While other states are desolated with foreign war or convulsed with intestine divisions, the United States present the pleasing prospect of a nation governed by mild and equal laws, generally satisfied with the possession of their rights, neither envying the advantages nor fearing the power of other nations, solicitous only for the maintenance of order and justice and the preservation of liberty, increasing daily in their attachment to a system of government in proportion to their experience of its utility, yielding a ready and general obedience to laws flowing from the reason and resting on the only solid foundation — the affections of the people.

It is with extreme regret that I shall be obliged to turn your thoughts to other circumstances, which admonish us that some of these felicities may not be lasting. But if the tide of our prosperity is full and a reflux commencing, a vigilant circumspection becomes us, that we may meet our reverses with fortitude and extricate ourselves from their consequences with all the skill we possess and all the efforts in our power.

In giving to Congress information of the state of the Union and recommending to their consideration such measures as appear to me to be necessary or expedient. according to my constitutional duty, the causes and the objects of the present extraordinary session will be explained.

After the President of the United States received information that the French government had expressed serious discontents at some proceedings of the government of these States said to affect the interests of France, he thought it expedient to send to that country a new minister, fully instructed to enter on such amicable discussions and to give such candid explanations as might happily remove the discontents and suspicions of the French government and vindicate the conduct of the United States. For this purpose he selected from among his fellow-citizens a character whose integrity, talents, experience, and services had placed him in the rank of the most esteemed and respected in the nation. The direct object of his mission was expressed in his letter of credence to the French Republic, being “to maintain that good understanding which from the commencement of the alliance had subsisted between the two nations, and to efface unfavorable impressions, banish suspicions, and restore that cordiality which was at once the evidence and pledge of a friendly union.” And his instructions were to the same effect, “faithfully to represent the disposition of the government and people of the United States (their disposition being one), to remove jealousies and obviate complaints by showing that they were groundless, to restore that [29] mutual confidence which had been so unfortunately and injuriously impaired, and to explain the relative interests of both countries and the real sentiments of his own.”

A minister thus specially commissioned it was expected would have proved the instrument of restoring mutual confidence between the two republics. The first step of the French government corresponded with that expectation. A few days before his arrival at Paris the French minister of foreign relations informed the American minister then resident at Paris of the formalities to be observed by himself in taking leave, and by his successor preparatory to his reception. These formalities they observed, and on December 9 presented officially to the minister of foreign relations, the one a copy of his letters of recall, the other a copy of his letters of credence.

These were laid before the Executive Directory. Two days afterwards the minister of foreign relations informed the recalled American minister that the Executive Directory had determined not to receive another minister plenipotentiary from the United States until after the redress of grievances demanded of the American government, and which the French Republic had a right to expect from it. The American minister immediately endeavored to ascertain whether by refusing to receive him it was intended that he should retire from the territories of the French Republic, and verbal answers were given that such was the intention of the Directory. For his own justification he desired a written answer, but obtained none until towards the last of January, when, receiving notice in writing to quit the territories of the republic, he proceeded to Amsterdam, where he proposed to wait for instruction from this government. During his residence at Paris cards of hospitality were refused him. and he was threatened with being subjected to the jurisdiction of the minister of police; but with becoming firmness he insisted on the protection of the law of nations due to him as the known minister of a foreign power. You will derive further information from his despatches, which will be laid before you.

As it is often necessary that nations should treat for the mutual advantage of their affairs, and especially to accommnodate and terminate differences, and as they can treat only by ministers, the right of embassy is well known and established by the law and usage of nations. The refusal on the part of France to receive our minister is, then, the denial of a right; but the refusal to receive him until we have acceded to their demands without discussion and without investigation is to treat us neither as allies nor as friends, nor as a sovereign state.

With this conduct of the French government it will be proper to take into view the public audience given to the late minister of the United States on his taking leave of the Executive Directory. The speech of the President discloses sentiments more alarming than the refusal of a minister. because more dangerous to our independence and union, and at the same time studiously marked with indignities towards the government of the United States. It evinces a disposition to separate the people of the United States from the government, to persuade them that they have different affections, principles, and interests from those of their fellow-citizens whom they themselves have chosen to manage their common concerns, and thus to produce divisions fatal to our peace. Such attempts ought to be repelled with a decision which shall convince France and the world that we are not a degraded people, humiliated under a colonial spirit of fear and sense of inferiority, fitted to be the miserable instruments of foreign influence, and regardless of national honor, character, and interest.

I should have been happy to have thrown a veil over these transactions if it had been possible to conceal them; but they have passed on the great theatre of the world, in the face of all Europe and America, and with such circumstances of publicity and solemnity that they cannot be disguised and will not soon be forgotten. They have inflicted a wound in the American breast. It is my sincere desire, however. that it may be healed.

It is my sincere desire, and in this I presume I concur with you and with your constituents, to preserve peace and friendship with all nations; and believing that neither the honor nor the interest of the United States absolutely forbid the repetition of advances for securing these desirable [30] objects with France, I shall institute a fresh attempt at negotiation, and shall not fail to promote and accelerate an accommodation on terms compatible with the rights, duties, interests, and honor of the nation. If we have committed errors, and these can be demonstrated, we shall be willing to correct them; if we have done injuries, we shall be willing on conviction to redress them: and equal measures of justice we have a right to expect from France and every other nation.

The diplomatic intercourse between the United States and France being at present suspended, the government has no means of obtaining official information from that country. Nevertheless, there is reason to believe that the Executive Directory passed a decree on the 2d of March last contravening in part the treaty of amity and commerce of 1778, injurious to our lawful commerce and endangering the lives of our citizens. A copy of this decree will be laid before you.

While we are endeavoring to adjust all our differences with France by amicable negotiation, the progress of the war in Europe, the depredations on our commerce, the personal injuries to our citizens, and the general complexion of affairs render it my indispensable duty to recommend to your consideration effectual measures of defence.

The commerce of the United States has become an interesting object of attention, whether we consider it in relation to the wealth and finances or the strength and resources of the nation. With a sea-coast of near 2,000 miles in extent, opening a field for fisheries, navigation, and commerce, a great portion of our citizens naturally apply their industry and enterprise to these objects. Any serious and permanent injury to commerce would not fail to produce the most embarrassing disorders. To prevent it from being undermined and destroyed it is essential that it receive an adequate protection.

The naval establishment must occur to every man who considers the injuries committed on our commerce, the insults offered to our citizens, and the description of vessels by which these abuses have been practised. As the sufferings of our mercantile and seafaring citizens cannot be ascribed to the omission of duties demandable, considering the neutral situation of our country, they are to be attributed to the hope of impunity arising from as supposed inability on our part to afford protection. To resist the consequences of such impressions on the minds of foreign nations and to guard against the degradation and servility which they must finally stamp on the American character is an important duty of government.

A naval power, next to the militia, is the natural defence of the United States. The experience of the last war would be sufficient to show that a moderate naval force, such as would easily be within the present abilities of the Union, would have been sufficient to have baffled many formidable transportations of troops from one State to another, which were then practised. Our sea-coasts, from their great extent, are more easily annoyed and more easily defended by a naval force than any other. With all the materials our country abounds; in skill our naval architects and navigators are equal to any; and commanders and seamen will not be wanting.

But although the establishment of a permanent system of naval defence appears to be requisite. I am sensible it cannot be formed so speedily and extensively as the present crisis demands. Hitherto I have thought proper to prevent the sailing of armed vessels except on voyages to the East Indies, where general usage and the danger from pirates appeared to render the permission proper. Yet the restriction has originated solely from a wish to prevent collisions with the powers at war, contravening the act of Congress of June, 1794. and not from any doubt entertained by me of the policy and propriety of permitting our vessels to employ means of defence while engaged in a lawful foreign commerce. It remains for Congress to prescribe such regulations as will enable our seafaring citizens to defend themselves against violations of the law of nations, and at the same time restrain them from committing acts of hostility against the powers at war. In addition to this voluntary provision for defence by individual citizens, it appears to me necessary to equip the frigates, and provide other vessels of inferior force, to take under [31] convoy such merchant vessels as shall remain unarmed.

The greater part of the cruisers whose depredations have been most injurious have been built and some of them partially equipped in the United States. Although an effectual remedy may be attended with difficulty, yet I have thought it my duty to present the subject generally to your consideration. If a mode can be devised by the wisdom of Congress to prevent the resources of the United States from being converted into the means of annoying our trade, a great evil will be prevented. With the same view, I think it proper to mention that some of our citizens resident abroad have fitted out privateers, and others have voluntarily taken the command, or entered on board of them, and committed spoliations on the commerce of the United States. Such unnatural and iniquitous practices can be restrained only by severe punishment.

But besides a protection of our commerce on the seas, I think it highly necessary to protect it at home, where it is collected in our most important ports. The distance of the United States from Europe, and the well-known promptitude, ardor, and courage of the people in defence of their country, happily diminish the probability of invasion. Nevertheless, to guard against sudden and predatory incursions the situation of some of our principal seaports demands your consideration. And as our country is vulnerable in other interests besides those of its commerce, you will seriously deliberate whether the means of general defence ought not to be increased by an addition to the regular artillery and cavalry, and by arrangements for forming a provisional army.

With the same view, and as a measure which, even in a time of universal peace. ought not to be neglected, I recommend to your consideration a revision of the laws for organizing, arming, and disciplining the militia, to render that natural and safe defence of the country efficacious.

Although it is very true that we ought not to involve ourselves in the political system of Europe, but to keep ourselves always distinct and separate from it if we can, yet to effect this separation early, punctual, and continual information of the current chain of events and of the political projects in contemplation is no less necessary than if we were directly concerned in them. It is necessary, in order to the discovery of the efforts made to draw us into the vortex, in season to make preparations against them. However we may consider ourselves, the maritime and commercial powers of the world will consider the United States of America as forming a weight in that balance of power in Europe which never can be forgotten or neglected. It would not only be against our interest, but it would be doing wrong to one-half of Europe, at least, if we should voluntarily throw our-selves into either scale. It is a natural policy for a nation that studies to be neutral to consult with other nations engaged in the same studies and pursuits. At the same time that measures might be pursued with this view, our treaties with Prussia and Sweden, one of which is expired and the other near expiring, might be renewed.

Gentlemen of the House of Representatives.--It is particularly your province to consider the state of the public finances, and to adopt such measures respecting them as exigencies shall be found to require. The preservation of public credit, the regular extinguishment of the public debt, and a provision of funds to defray any extraordinary expenses will, of course, call for your serious attention. Although the imposition of new burthens cannot be in itself agreeable, yet there is no ground to doubt that the American people will expect from you such measures as their actual engagements, their present security, and future interests demand.

Gentlemen of the Senate and Gentlemen of the House of Representatives,--The present situation of our country imposes an obligation on all the departments of government to adopt an explicit and decided conduct. In my situation an exposition of the principles by which my administration will be governed ought not to be omitted.

It is impossible to conceal from ourselves or the world what has been before observed, that endeavors have been employed to foster and establish a division between the government and people of the United States. To investigate the causes which have encouraged this attempt is not [32] necessary, but to repel, by decided and united councils, insinuations so derogatory to the honor and aggressions so dangerous to the Constitution, Union, and even independence of the nation is an indispensable duty.

It must not be permitted to be doubted whether the people of the United States will support the government established by their voluntary consent and appointed by their free choice, or whether, by surrendering themselves to the direction of foreign and domestic factions, in opposition to their own government, they will forfeit the honorable station they have hitherto maintained.

For myself, having never been indifferent to what concerned the interests of my country, devoted the best part of my life to obtain and support its independence, and constantly witnessed the patriotism, fidelity, and perseverance of my fellow-citizens on the most trying occasions, it is not for me to hesitate or abandon a cause in which my heart has been so long engaged.

Convinced that the conduct of the government has been just and impartial to foreign nations, that those internal regulations which have been established by law for the preservation of peace are in their nature proper, and that they have been fairly executed, nothing will ever be done by me to impair the national engagements, to innovate upon principles which have been so deliberately and uprightly established, or to surrender in any manner the rights of the government. To enable me to maintain this declaration I rely, under God, with entire confidence on the firm and enlightened support of the national legislature and upon the virtue and patriotism of my fellow-citizens. John Adams.

The fourth of July.

In a letter to his wife. dated Philadelphia, July 3, 1776, Mr. Adams made the following predictions:

Had a declaration of independence been made seven months ago, it would have been attended with many great and glorious effects. We might, before this hour, have formed alliance with foreign states. We should have mastered Quebec and been in possession of Canada.

You will. perhaps, wonder how much a declaration would have influenced our affairs in Canada; but, if I could write with freedom, I could easily convince you that it would, and explain to you the manner how. Many gentlemen in high stations and of great influence have been duped, by the ministerial bubble of commissioners, to treat; and in real, sincere expectation of this event, which they so fondly wished, they have been slow and languid in promoting measures for the reduction of that province. Others there are in the colonies who really wished that our enterprise in Canada would be defeated; that the colonies might be brought into danger and distress between two fires, and be thus induced to submit. Others really wished to defeat the expedition to Canada, lest the conquest of it should elevate the minds of the people too much to harken to those terms of reconciliation which they believed would be offered us. These jarring views, wishes, and designs occasioned an opposition to many salutary measures which were proposed for the support of that expedition, and caused obstructions, embarrassments, and studied delays, which have finally lost us the province.

All these causes, however, in conjunction, would not have disappointed us, if it had not been for a misfortune which could not have been foreseen, and perhaps could not have been prevented — I mean the prevalence of the small-pox among our troops. This fatal pestilence completed our destruction. It is a frown of Providence upon us, which we ought to lay to heart.

But, on the other hand, the delay of this declaration to this time has many great advantages attending it. The hopes of reconciliation which were fondly entertained by multitudes of honest and well-meaning, though short-sighted and mistaken, people have been gradually, and at last totally, extinguished. Time has been given for the whole people maturely to consider the great question of independence. and to ripen their judgment, dissipate their fears, and allure their hopes, by discussing it in newspapers and pamphlets, by debating it in assemblies, conventions, committees of safety and inspection, in town and county meetings, as well as in private conversations, so that the whole people, in every colony, have now adopted it as their own act. This will [33] cement the union, and avoid those heats, and perhaps convulsions, which might have been occasioned by such a declaration six months ago.

But the day is past. The second day of July, 1776, will be a memorable epoch in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great Anniversary Festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp, shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of the continent to the other, from this time forward forever.

You may think me transported with enthusiasm; but I am not. I am well aware of the toil and blood and treasure that it will cost us to maintain this declaration and support and defend these States. Yet, through all the gloom, I can see the rays of light and glory; I can see that the end is more than worth all the means. and that posterity will triumph, although you and I may rue, which I hope we shall not.

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