John Adams [PART TWO] [Click here to read PART ONE]
“If we do not lay out ourselves in the service of mankind, whom should we serve?”
In 1777 Adams was dispatched to Europe as Ambassador to France. Unfortunately he didn’t speak French, (and his background as a New England farmer’s son left him a little adrift in the powdered wig-ed drawing rooms of the French court.)
The Hague to obtain a much needed loan and to open commerce. In 1781, together with Franklin, John Jay, and Henry Laurens, Adams was part of the commission of American diplomats that negotiated the Treaty of Paris, the pact that brought an end to the War of Independence. [Miller Center.org]
After the war he was the first US minister to England.
In 1787 He wrote Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America, that called for a strong Executive branch that would act as “father and protector” of the nation.
He expanded on this theme in a series of essays for a Philadelphia newspaper that were ultimately known as “Discourses on Davila.” Many contemporaries mistakenly believed that they advocated a hereditary monarchy for the United States.[Ibid]
After ten years in Europe he came back to America in 1788. He was elected Vice President (under George Washington) the next year. He faithfully served as Washington’s Vice President for eight years, a job he describe as “the most insignificant office that ever the invention of man contrived or his imagination conceived.”[Thinkexist.com]
When Washington announced that he would retire after his second term the first contested American Presidential election took place. It was four man race with the Federalist nominating Adams and Thomas Pinckney of South Carolina, and the Democratic-Republicans nominating Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr. Jefferson was labeled a Francophile, a coward and an atheist. “Adams was portrayed as a monarchist and an Anglophile who was secretly bent on establishing a family dynasty by having his son succeed him as President.” [Miller Center.org] Adams won by three votes; Jefferson came in second, making him Vice President.
When Adams became President, the war between the French and British was causing great difficulties for the United States on the high seas and intense partisanship among contending factions within the Nation. [Our Presidents/2.John Adams. whitehouse.gov.]
Adams sent commissioners to France, but Paris refused to meet with them unless they paid a bribe. “Adams reported the insult to Congress, and the Senate printed the correspondence, in which the Frenchmen were referred to only as “X, Y, and Z.”” [Ibid] The X,Y,Z affair increased Adam’s and the Federalist’s popularity. Congress passed the Alien and Sedition act and funded three new frigates for the navy.
President Adams did not call for a declaration of war, but hostilities began at sea. At first, American shipping was almost defenseless against French privateers, but by 1800 armed merchantmen and U.S. warships were clearing the sea-lanes. [Ibid]
The US had some spectacular victories at sea and France sent word that it would now receive an envoy (this time without a bribe). Negotiations ensued and the quasi war ended. But by sending an envoy to France to sue for peace the Adams Administration infuriated the Democratic-Republicans. The Federalist were weakened. Washington’s death in 1799 hurt the party even more. In the 1800 Election Jefferson won the electoral vote by 8 votes.
Just before he left the office of Presidency, Adams arrived at the new Capital City (now Washington DC)
to take up his residence in the White House. On his second evening in its damp, unfinished rooms, he wrote his wife, “Before I end my letter, I pray Heaven to bestow the best of Blessings on this House and all that shall hereafter inhabit it. May none but honest and wise Men ever rule under this roof.” [Ibid]
In retirement he moved back to Massachusetts to his farm at Peacefield. He did not attend Jefferson’s inauguration (Adam’s son Charles had just died and he was anxious to get home).
Charles’s widow, Sally, and her young daughters moved in with John and Abigail, filling the house with laughter and life. For five years, John Quincy’s son lived there as well while his parents were abroad on public service. The family of Thomas Adams, another son, also lived nearby.[Miller Center.org]
The farm was a lively and happy place. John Quincy was a frequent visitor as he sought his father’s advice on matters “that ranged from diplomatic to elected office and culminated in his election as President in 1824.” [Ibid]
John Adams wrote his biography (which he did not complete) in which he addressed everything “from the nature of his manure piles at the farm to history and political philosophy.” [Ibid] In 1812 He and Jefferson renewed their friendship through an exchange of letters that lasted for 14 years. The two men died on the same day, July 4th 1826.