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The Presidency of John Adams

While Washington was President he refused to join one of the fledgling political parties. In fact, he thought, as did Hamilton, that political parties were potentially dangerous. The difference was that Washington never joined one and Hamilton ended up founding one! Our second President, John Adams, would find that political parties would impact greatly upon his presidency.

I. The Presidency of John Adams

A. The Election of 1796

1. Jefferson (Democrat -Republican) ran against Adams (Federalist). Aaron Burr was the Dem candidate for vice-pres.

2. Adams received 71 electoral votes and Jefferson 68. The Constitution stated that the runner up for pres. should become vice-pres. This is very important because a Republican President had to serve under a Federalist Vice-President. This presented a problem that would later be solve by the twelfth amendment.

3. Washington was disappointed that the election had broken down into support for the South (Democrat - Republicans) and support from the North (Federalists). Washington disapproved of sectionalism--placing the interests of one region ahead of the welfare of the nation as a whole.

B. The Differences Between The Two Parties


Democrat Republicans

Strong Central Gov

Favored Tariffs

Loose Constructionists

Opposed Nullification

Favored States Rights

Opposed Tariffs

Strict Constructionists

Favored Nullification

C. The Federalists Strike Out

1. The high federalists decided to crush the criticism that Adams was receiving from the Republican press.

2. The Alien Act--gave the president power to in peacetime to order any alien out of the country

3. The Enemies Act--permitted the president in wartime to jail aliens at his pleasure. (No arrests were made under either act but many frightened French refugees left the country)

4. The Sedition Act--provided fines and jail penalties for anyone guilty of sedition--speaking or writing "with the intent to defame…or bring into contempt or disrepute" the president other members of the government.

5. The Midnight judges are appointed as Adams leaves the Presidency.

D. The Election of 1800

1. Republicans accused Adams of being the "tool of the wealthy. Federalists accused Jefferson of being a friend of France and of revolutionary disorder. None of these charges were accurate.

2. Adams received 65 votes and Jefferson received 73 but Burr, who was also running, received 73 too. This meant that the House of Representatives, which was dominated by Federalists, would have to break the tie between two Republicans.

3. Hamilton intervened and persuaded enough Federalists to cast blank ballots to give Jefferson the majority. Burr became the nations third Vice President. This is ironic considering that Hamilton and Jefferson battled throughout their careers and had totally contrary political views. The fact of the matter was that Hamilton did not trust Burr. He saw Burr as an opportunist and a power monger. He respected Jefferson as a patriot and despite the fact that he disagreed with Jefferson's politics he felt that Jefferson would always act in the best interests of the nation. Needless to say Burr felt that Hamilton, the leader of his political party, stabbed him in the back.

(It should be noted that Burr later shot and killed Hamilton in a duel. 8 years later, as Burr ran for governor of New York, Hamilton campaigned against him. Burr, lost and challenged him to a duel. Hamilton, who had publicly resolved not to fire, was shot and killed.)

4. Most politicians now recognized the need to change the system of voting in the Electoral College. The next Congress drafted the twelfth amendment.

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