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President Adams Provokes Criticism
With the growing division between
Federalists and Democratic-Republicans
were brought into the lime light during
the election of 1796. The Federalists
nominated Vice-President John Adams
for president and Thomas Pinckney for
vice-president. The DemocraticRepublicans nominated Thomas
Jefferson for president and Aaron Burr
for vice-president.
In this election, Adams received 71
electoral votes, while Jefferson received
68. Because the Constitution stated that
the runner-up should become vicepresident, the country found itself with a
Federalists president and a DemocraticRepublican as vice-president. What
seemed sensible when the Constitution
was written had become a problem
because of the unexpected rise of
political parties.
The election also has an underlining theme of sectionalism – placing the interests of
one region over those of the nation as a whole. Almost all the electors from the
southern states voted for Jefferson, while all the electors from the northern states
voted for Adams.
Adam Tries To Avoid War
Soon after taking office,
President Adams faced his first
crisis: a looming war with
France. The French
government regarded the Jay
Treaty with Britain as a
violation of the FrenchAmerican alliance. The Jay
Treaty settled the disputed
issues as to which nation would
control territories west of the
Appalachian Mts.
The French refused to receive the new American ambassador and began to seize
American ships bound for Britain. Adams sent a three-man delegation consisting
of Charles Pinckney, future chief justice John Marshall; and Elbridge Gerry to
Paris to negotiate a solution. This was known as the XYZ Affair, the French
Government sent three low-level officials to meet with the American delegation
instead of the French foreign minister Talleyrand. These officials demanded a
$250,000 bribe as payment for seeing Talleyrand. This provoked a wave of AntiFrench feeling at home.
The XYZ Affair caused Congress in 1798 to create a navy department and
authorized American ships to seize French vessels. Congress authorized the
creation of an army of 50,000 troops and brought George Washington out of
retirement to be “Lieutenant General and Commander in Chief of the armies
raised. While war was never officially declared, for the next two years an
undeclared naval war raged between France and the United States.
The Alien and Sedition Acts
Anti-French feelings continued to the U.S., and many of the Federalists believed that
French agents were everywhere in the United States, plotting to overthrow the
government. Federalists and Adams countered what they saw as a growing threat
against the government, the Federalists pushed through congress in 1798 four
measures that became known as the Alien and Sedition Acts. The Alien Acts
raised the residence requirements for American citizenship from five years to 14
years and allowed the president to deport or jail any alien considered a threat. The
Sedition Acts set fines and jail terms for anyone trying to hinder the operations of
the government or expressing “False, Scandalous, and Malicious statements”
against the government.
Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions
The Alien and Sedition Acts outraged the Democratic-Republicans who called the
laws a violation of freedom of speech guaranteed by the 1st Amendment.
Jefferson and Madison saw these acts as a serious misuse of the power on the part of
the federal government. They organized opposition to the Alien and Sedition Acts
by appealing to the states.
Madison drew up a set of resolutions that were adopted by the Virginia legislature,
while Jefferson wrote resolutions that were approved in Kentucky. The Kentucky
Resolution asserted the principle of Nullification – that states had the right to
nullify, or consider void, and act of congress that they deemed unconstitutional. No
other states adopted similar declarations so the issue died out.
Nevertheless, the resolutions showed that the balance of power between the states
and the federal government remained a controversial issue, which would continue to
be debated in the election of 1800.
The Death of Washington
Washington remained active in the military all the way until his death on December
14th, 1799 after catching a severe cold. Ironically, Washington’s death improved
relations with France. Napoleon ordered a ten day mourning to be observed in the
French armies for the American leader. Napoleon would make greater concessions
to the Americans in the future.
Adams Provokes Criticism Study Guide
1. Adams did the elections of 1796 underscore the growing danger of
2. What was the XYZ affair?
3. What was the purpose of the Alien and Sedition Acts?
4. What was the theory of nullification?