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Aim: What makes a good leader? Does the government have the right to limit our
rights? How do politics divide a nation?
Topic: President John Adams (March 4, 1797 – March 4, 1801)
Document #1 – Election of 1796
At the end of Washington’s Presidency, two main political parties (a group with different
political ideas) were forming – the Federalists, led by John Adams and Alexander Hamilton, and
the Democratic-Republicans, led by Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr (who were originally the
Anti-Federalists). The election of 1796 was the first election in American History where there
was no incumbent (President trying to hold his office in the election). It was also a very ugly
election with both sides insulting each other and claiming each others’ policies will ruin our
nation. In the end, John Adams won and became the 2nd President of the United States.
1) What were the two political parties? Why do you think they chose those names?
2) Does this election sound similar to elections today? Why/why not?
3) Why was this election important?
Document #2 - Adams’s Presidency March 4, 1797 – March 4, 1801
Document 2a) - The XYZ Affair
Despite Washington’s warning, wars overseas quickly influenced America. Britain and
France had gone to war and France asked the U.S. for help, but Adams and the Federalists wanted
the United States to stay neutral. This led to France viewing the U.S. policies as anti-French (and
even pro-British), which angered France. In response, France began to capture U.S. ships
heading to England for trading. The U.S. then began building a Navy and even had a few naval
(sea) battles with the French (known as the French Naval War). In 1798, in an effort to cool the
situation down, John Adams tried to avoid a war with France by sending diplomats
(representatives) to France to work out their problems. French officials would not see the
American diplomats. Instead, three French agents tried to extort (make money demands) from
the Americans: $250,000 to the French foreign minister and a $10 million dollar loan to France in
order to end the French capturing American ships. The American diplomats refused and returned
to America where they told President Adams what happened. The President in turn informed
Congress, referring to the French agents as X, Y, and Z. This became known as The XYZ
Affair. This greatly angered the public, and the new slogan became “"Millions for defense, but
not one cent for tribute!" The XYZ Affair also led to several political reactions…
1) Why do you think Adams and the Federalists did not want to help the French?
2) Why do you think the French were angry?
3) How would you react to the XYZ affair if you were an American living during this
4) What does the slogan"Millions for defense, but not one cent for tribute!" mean?
5) Do you agree or disagree with the slogan?
If you were John Adams, what would you do?
Document 2c) Alien Acts of 1798
In response to the Quasi-War with the French, the XYZ affair and the European wars threatening
the United States, John Adams did two things: first, he pushed Congress to build an army and
navy for the United States, which they did. Adams and Congress also passed several acts known
as the Alien Acts of 1798. They said:
Citizens have to wait fourteen years before they can become a citizen of the United States.
When the United States is at war with another country, any male over 18 who is a native of that
country will be removed from the United States as an enemy.
1) Do you agree or disagree with the Alien Acts? Why/why not?
2) What grade would you give Adam for handling the XYZ affair? Why?
Document 2d) Trouble domestically:
Party-politics and critical press of Adams angered the President. He believed that a
strong nation needs to have unity, especially a nation on the brink of war -- he and the Federalistcontrolled Congress passed the Sedition Act of 1798 (sedition is conduct or language that goes
against a government). The act states:
Anyone who wrote, said, or printed anything false or critical about the US government,
the Congress or the President and “shall be punished by of $2,000-$5,000 and jail time of 2-5
1) Do you agree or disagree with the Sedition Act?
2) What grade would give Adams for passing this act?
Practice Regents Question:
1) The Alien and Sedition Acts of John Adams and the Patriot Act of George Bush
are similar in that they both:
a) Limit the power of the Supreme Court
b) Give citizens rights not granted to them in the Constitution
c) Limit the rights of citizens for national purposes and security
d) Expand the ability to enter into foreign treaties