Adams, John

Adams, John
   An American revolutionary leader, a Federalist, and second President of the United States (1797–1801). Adams was at the forefront of protests in Britain’s American colonies against taxation without representation. In 1774, he was selected by the Massachusetts legislature as one of five delegates to the First Continental Congress and quickly became the leading voice for American independence. During the American Revolution, Adams was dispatched to Europe to secure alliances and financial support for the colonial struggle against Britain. In 1783, he then negotiated, together with John Jay and Benjamin Franklin, the Treaty of Paris, which formally acknowledged the independence of the United States. Adams was appointed the American ambassador to London, where he tried and failed to secure British agreement to open ports to American commerce, to obtain guarantees respecting American navigation and fishing rights, and to achieve the withdrawal of British troops.
   In 1793, when war broke out between France and Britain, Washington had insisted that the United States maintain a policy of neutrality. As president, Adams attempted to continue this policy by steering a middle course between the pro-British and pro- French factions at home, but French attacks on American shipping made this dif- ficult. Together with the cynical treatment of American diplomatic envoys by the Directory in the “XYZ Affair,” these predations forced Adams into an unofficial Quasi War with France. On April 30, 1798, Adams signed the bill authorizing the creation of a Department of the Navy. Congress also authorized increases in naval power and the use of the navy against French warships and privateers. By September 1799, the United States had deployed three battle squadrons to the Caribbean and the United States was taking its first precocious steps toward becoming a naval power. Adams also signed the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798, pushed by the Federalist majority in Congress. The acts were influenced by alarm at the influx of French fugitives from the Terror, as well as from the slave uprisings in the Caribbean and Irish refugees from the Rebellion of 1798. In 1800, Adams lost his bid for reelection to Thomas Jefferson. His presidency had been consumed by the Quasi-War, a product of the unique international circumstance and conflicting pressures of the time. Adams believed that the national interest lay in peace through neutrality but rightly concluded that it would require a powerful American fleet to defend it.
   See also <>, <>.
   DeConde, Alexander. The Quasi-War: The Politics and Diplomacy of the Undeclared War with France, 1797-1801 . New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1966;
    Ellis, Joseph J. Passionate Sage: The Character and Legacy of John Adams . New York: W. W. Norton, 2001;
    McCullough, David. John Adams. New York: Touchstone, 2001;
    Smith, Page. John Adams. 2 vols. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1962.

Encyclopedia of the Age of Imperialism, 1800–1914. 2014.

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