History of the United States
Volume III

Chapter II
Adam's Administration, 1797-1801

On the 4th of March, 1797, President Adams was inaugurated. From the beginning of his administration was embarrassed by a powerful and well-organized opposition. Adet, the French minister, made inflammatory appeals to the people, and urged the government to conclude a league with France against Great Britain. When the President and Congress stood firmly on the doctrine of neutrality, the French Directory grew insolent, and began to demand an alliance. The treaty which Mr. Jay had concluded with England was especially complained of by the partisans of France. On the 10th of March the Directory issued instructions to French men-of-war to assail the commerce of the United States. Soon afterward the Federalist, Mr. Pinckney, the American minister, was ordered to leave the territory of France.

These proceedings were equivalent to a declaration of war. The President convened Congress in extraordinary session, and measures were devised for repelling the aggressions of the French. Elbridge Gerry and John Marshall were directed to join Mr. Pinckney in a final effort for a peaceable adjustment of the difficulties. But the effort was fruitless. The Directory of France refused to receive the ambassadors except upon condition that they would pledge the payment into the French treasury of a quarter of a million dollars. It is said Pinckney answered with the declaration that the United States had millions for defense, but not a cent for tribute. The envoys were then ordered to leave the country; but Gerry, who was an anti-Federalist, was permitted to remain. These events occupied the summer and fall of 1797. The American people were thoroughly aroused. The vigorous recommendations were generally approved. The very strong pro-France faction of the country was either silent or joined enthusiastically in maintaining American honor against the insults of the Directory. The war-spirit ran at high tide. Patriotic songs were sung and speeches demanding redress were everywhere made. War with France seemed imminent.

In the beginning of the next year an act was passed by Congress completing the organization of the army. Washington was called from the retirement of his old age and appointed commander-in-chief. Hamilton was chosen first major-general. A navy of six frigates, besides privateers, had been provided for at the session of the previous year; and a national loan had been authorized. The patriotism of the people was thoroughly aroused; the treties with France were declared void, and vigorous preparations were made for the impending war. The American frigates put to sea, and in the summer and fall of 1799 did good service for the commerce of the country. Commodore Truxtun, in the ship Constellation, won distinguished honors. On the 9th of February, while cruising in the West Indies, he attacked the Insurgent, a French man-of-war carrying forty guns and more than four hundred seamen. A deperate engagement ensued; and Truxtun, though inferior in cannons and men, gained a complete victory. A year later he overtook another frigate, called the Vengeance, and after a five hours' battle in the night would have captured his antagonist but for a storm and the darkness. These events added greatly to the renown of the American flag. But the Directory of France had come to its last days. In the waning hours of its power it expressed a willingness to receive an American minister. President Adams, without even consulting his cabinet, proceeded at once to appoint envoys.

Meanwhile, Napoleon Bonaparte had overthrown the Director of France and made himself first consul of the republic. More wise and just than his associates, he was eager for peace with the United States. The proposals were met with favor. Three American ambassadors--Murray, Ellsworth, and Davie--reached Paris, after many delays, in the beginning of March, 1800. Negotiations were at once opened, and, in the following September, were happily terminated with a treaty of peace. In all his relations with the United States, Napoleon acted the part of a consistent and honorable ruler.

Before the war-cloud was scattered America was called to mourn the loss of Washington. On the 14th of December, 1799, after an illness of only a day, the venerated chieftain passed from among the living. All hearts were touched with sorrow. The people put on the garb of mourning. Congress went in funeral procession to the German Lutheran church, where General Henry Lee, the personal friend of Washington, delivered a touching and eloquent oration. Throughout the civilized world the memory of the great dead was honored with appropriate ceremonies. To the legions of France the event was announced by Bonaparte, who paid a beautiful tribute to the virtues of "the warrior, the legislator, and the citizen without reproach." As the body of Washington was laid in the sepulcher, the voice of partisan malignity that had not hesitated to assail his name was hushed into everlasting silence; and the world with uncovered head agreed with Lord Byron in declaring the illustrious dead to have been among warriors, statesmen, and patriots

"---The first, the last, the best,
The Cincinnatus of the West."

The administration of Adams and the eighteenth century drew to a close together. In spite of domestic dissensions and foreign alarms, the new republic was growing strong and influential. The census of 1800 showed that the population of the country, including the black men, had increased to over five millions. The seventy-five post-offices reported by the cvensus of 1790 had been multiplied to nine hundred and three; the exports of the United States had grown from twenty millions to nearly seventy-one millions of dollars. The permanency of the Constitution as the supreme law of the land was now cheerfully recognized. In December of 1800 Congress for the first time assembled in Washington city, the new capital of the nation. Virginia and Maryland had ceded to the United States the District of Columbia, a tract ten miles square lying on both sides of the Potomac; but the part given by Virginis was afterward re-ceded to that State. The city which was designed as the seat of government was laid out in 1792; and in 1800 the population numbered between eight and nine thousand.

With prudent management and unanimity the Federal party might have retained control of the government. But there were dissensions in Mr. Adam's cabinet. He, himself, except for the brief period in which he upheld American honor against France, had not been popular. His method of re-opening negotiations with that nation when the country was ripe for war was especially odious to his party and it was split in twain. At this day it is pretty difficult to see where there was less genuine statesmanship displayed in trying to avoid war with France than there was three years before in accepting the Jay Treaty to prevent war with England. Much of the recent legislation of Congress, too, had been unwise and unpopular. The alien law, by which the President was authorized to send out of the country any foreigners whose presence should be considered prejudicial to the interests of the United States, was specially odious. The sedition law, which punished with fine and imprisonment the freedom of speech and of the press when directed abusively against the government, was denounced by the opposition as an act of tyranny. Partisan excitement ran high. No attempt to enforce the alien law was ever made. But in order to muzzle the press, editors were arrested, and imprisoned under the sedition law for printing some very inconsequential statements. There was much justifiable remonstrance to such high-handed legislation. But as is usual where party spirit runs wild many things are done that history does not approve.

These laws furnished the occasion for the famous Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions. Jefferson was the author of the first and Madison of the second. But at the time and for many years thereafter the authors were unknown. The resolutions condemned unsparingly the alien and sedition laws, claimed that Congress had exceeded its authority in passing them, and propsoed the very dangerous doctrine that the Constitution is only a compact between the States, that the powers of the Federal government are only delegated ones, that the States have a right to judge of the infractions of the United States, and lastly that the remedy of such infractions was nullification by the States. Other Legislatures condemned these resolutions, and while the people as a whole did not approve of them, yet they served to arouse a feeling against the party responsible for the odious measures. The campaign that followed was a bitter one. Mr. Adams and Mr. Charles C. Pinckney were put forward as the candidates of the Federalists, and Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr of the Republicans or Democrats. The latter were triumphant. In the electoral college Jefferson and Burr each received seventy-three votes; Adams, sixty-five; and Pinckney, sixty-four. In order to decide between the Democratic candidates, the election was referred to the House of Representatives. Here the influence of Hamilton over the Federalists was thrown for his rival, Jefferson. "I cannot," he said, "remain with a party which so degrades itself as to elect Burr." After thirty-five ballotings, th choice fell on Jefferson; and Burr, who was now second on the list, was declared Vice-President. After controlling the government for twelve years, the Federal party passed from power, never to be restored.

Return to Ridpath's History of the United States Table of Contents
Return to E-Books Index
Return to California AHGP Home Page
Return to Sacramento County AHGP Home Page

© 2000-2002 by Jacque Rogers