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John Adams: Critical Review

John Adams was criticized during his presidency by his enemies as well as his colleagues. Obviously, his reputation as president doesn't really bring a positive thought to ones head. But does John Adams deserve a better reputation as the president of the United States? Steven G. Kurtz will argue that Mr. Adams was a good president. He just did not do a very good job when it came to picking his cabinet. His colleagues messed up his reputation. On the other hand, a newspaper called the Aurora, which was publicized in Philadelphia during his presidency, continually heaped abuse upon Adams. They claimed that he was all words, but no action. Most of the country felt this way about him when it came to the issue with the war with France. John Adams was not a very popular president of his time. John Adams was born in the village of Braintree near Boston on October 19, 1735. Who would have thought that this farm boy would grow up to one day become president. John Adams first ran for presidency in 1789, but he lost to George Washington, whom by far was the unanimous choice. Adams received thirty four electoral votes and became vice-president. Adams ran for the second time in 1797, and this time he came out the victor. He defeated Thomas Jefferson by only three electoral votes. The country did not really have confidence in John Adams. On March 4, 1797, John Adams delivered his inaugural address and became the second president of the United States.

Being the president, Adams was allowed to choose his own cabinet. He replaced Washington's cabinet which consisted of Edmund Randolph, Alexander Hamilton, Henry Knox, and William Bradford. Timothy Pickering of Massachusetts was appointed the secretary of state, Oliver Welcott of Connecticut became the secretary of treasury, James McHenry of Maryland became the secretary of war, and Charles Lee of Virginia was appointed the attorney general. It is quite obvious that George Washington had a much better cabinet than Adams did. John Adam's cabinet was not nearly as witty or as intelligent than the one of Washington. Obviously, Mr. Adams did not do too good of a job on choosing his colleagues.

During John Adam's presidency, hi ran into the biggest problem in foreign policy. The French were attacking American shipping. Hoping to resolve the problem, Adams sent Charles Pinckney, who was the United States minister to France, John Marshall, A Virginian federalist, and Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts. The mission was a total disaster. Charles Maurice de Tolleyrand-Perigod, the French foreign minister, sent three agents who demanded a bribe of 250,000 dollars as the price for making a deal. The Americans went ballistic. "No, no, not a sixpence" was Charles Pinckney's response to the agents. This later became known as the XYZ affair. The talks of negotiations disappeared and all of a sudden there was the possibility of war. "Millions for defense, but not a cent for tribute" had become the national slogan. Just three months after Adams had become president, he called in congress together for measures of defense to be taken immediately. He did not want to wait any longer. He had asked for a provisional army. He also asked for the officers to be commissioned and for recruiting to begin. However, he did not call for an establishment of a large, professional army. Throughout the two years that the possibility of a war had existed, Adams had made it clear to everyone that he put he put his faith in a strong navy. He did not want to use the army as an instrument for defense. Adams believed that the only way France could be brought around to treat with American envoys on an even basis is if it was made clear that the Americans were prepared to fight and that they would not submit to any further humiliation. He wanted France to see that the Americans were not backing down and that they were not afraid to go to war with the nation of France.

In 1798, President Adams signed into law the Alien and Sedition Acts. These acts were four bills which were designed to crush the opposition. The Naturalization Act made it more difficult for immigrants to become citizens. It raised the amount of years required for naturalization from four to fifteen. This act was repealed in 1802. The Alien Act empowered the president to arrest and deport any alien who is considered to be dangerous. This act expired in 1800.

The Alien Enemies Act was directed at French immigrants. It authorized the president to round up and imprison enemy aliens during war time. This act expired in 1801. The Naturalization and Alien Acts were aimed largely at Irish immigrants and French refugees who had participated in political activities critical to the Adams administration. In a severe blow to the freedom of the press, the sedition act threatened with fine and imprisonment anyone who "shall write, print, utter or publish...scandalous and malicious writing or writings against the government of the government of the United States, or either House of the Congress...or the President...with intent to defame...or to bring them...into contempt or disrepute; or to excite against them...the hatred of the good people of the United States."

The Sedition Act was an attempt to curb newspaper editors who supported the Republican Party and who, in many cases, were also immigrants and refugees.  Before this act expired, twenty five people were arrested and about ten were convicted. Some of them were later pardoned. In 1799, John Adams fixed the war crisis by reopening negotiations with France. The Federalists did not agree with him. The country wanted to go to war. They were insulted, and they wanted revenge. However, President Adams did not wish to go to war. He did not think that the United States was ready for a war with a nation such as France. He was bluffing when he was building the navy. Adams did not want to kill our nations young men when the situation could have been settled peacefully. Many people called Adams a coward after he chose not to go to war with France. Timothy Pickering said that Adams did not take full advantage of the anger caused by the XYZ Affair.


President Adams was criticized intensely. James Otis of Massachusetts once said: "You will never make a soldier. You can only talk about it. You have the head for strategy-but not the heart for fighting.... I have searched you r heart. Tired with one year's service Representative, dancing from Boston to Braintree and from Braintree to Boston. Mopping about the streets of this town as hipped as Father Flynt at ninety. You don't care for anything but to get money enough to carry you smoothly through this world!"

John Adams lost the election of 1800 to Thomas Jefferson most likely because he did not go to war with France. Adams thought that he would be praised because he handled the situation peacefully, but instead, he was harshly criticized and was told that he does not have what it takes to be the leader of this country. John Adams was a very proud man and he took all this directly to the heart. He thought that he saved many lives by not going to war, and that he deserved to be the President for another term. Bitter about his defeat by Jefferson, President Adams spent the final hours of his administration appointing a slew of Federalists to the judgeships and lesser court offices created by the hastily passed Judiciary Act passed in 1801. The Judiciary Act created six new circuit courts, presided over by sixteen new federal judges and a small army of attorneys, marshals, and clerks. The Federalists had filled the judiciary with the members of their own party. These midnight appointments were designed to deny the incoming administration the opportunity to leave it's mark on the courts, and to guarantee a strong Federalist check On the Democratic-Republicans. These midnight appointments were quite useless because President Jefferson removed many of these. John Adams ended his presidency on a sad note. John Adams was an unpopular president of his time. However, if you evaluate his presidency, he was not at all a bad president. Throughout his presidency, many things had happened which have left the United States ashamed. The Sedition Act totally contradicts the First Amendment, which states that congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peacefully to assemble, or to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. This act was not a justified act.

John Adams had made a lot of foolish mistakes during his presidency.  However, there were great things which he had done. Those are the things society seems to forget about. People look only to criticize. No one wants to praise others. Because of John Adams, the United States was trading goods with France. He turned an enemy into a friend without using violence. The United States did want to go to war because France had disrespected them. There were a lot of patriots who were willing to go to war. But could a developing nation such as the United States defeat a world power? If Adams had gone to war, many young men would have crawled into their early graves. "There is no such thing as a good war or bad peace".

There were good things said about John Adams. Johnathan Sewall once said that "Adams has a heart formed for friendship and susceptible and susceptible of it's fondest feelings. He is humane, generous, and open; warm in his friendly attachments, though perhaps rather implacable to those whom he thinks his enemies. John Adams was not a bad president. However, because of society's selfish and impatient needs, he was made out to be the enemy. They faulted Adams for acting like a coward, but if to think about it, it's a lot easier to go to war than it is to keep peace. It's also quite difficult to go against the majority of ones colleagues who continually pressure you to act. John Adams may not have been the greatest president because of his ambition. However, he was a much better president than what he was given credit for. He was a brave and an honorable man who gave up re-election by not going to war. That's real honor. To give up one's own selfish needs for the good of one's country. John Adams was a much better president than he was given credit for.



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