John Adams: Independence and Foreign Affairs

Jun 2013
There has already been a thread “John Adams” but that thread was mainly about sources to read about John Adams and discussion of the feud between Hamilton and Adams and ended with clips from the HBO movie “John Adams” on the independence debate.

I thought John Adams, the 2nd U.S. President, might merit a second thread. In this new thread, I hope to focus a bit more discussion on some of the important accomplishments and issues of his long life
(1735-1826), particularly in the area of American independence and foreign affairs.

These areas include –
- Adams’ role in the debate at the Continental Congress from 1774 to 1776
- Adams’ role in the committees of Congress and how he came to be called the “Collosus of Independence”
- Adams’ mission to France for Congress in 1778-1779
- Adams’ writing of the constitution for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts on his return from France in 1780
- Adams’ second mission to France in 1781 and his procuring of loans from the Netherlands
- Adams’ role in the negotiation of the peace treaty with Britain in 1783
- Adams’ handling his position as the first ambassador to the Court of St. James, UK 1785-88
- Adams’ handling of the XYZ Affair and the Quasi War with France 1798-1800
- Adams’ success in achieving the peace treaty with France of 1800 (something he had put on his tombstone as his life achievement)

Comments on any and all those topics of John Adams' role in American independence and foreign affairs are most welcome.


I am likewise open to other John Adams topics on this thread, that people might want to discuss, such as

His work as defense attorney for the British soldiers tried for murder in the 1770 Boston Massacre
His work as the first U.S. Vice President under President Washington, 1789-97
The Alien and Sedition Laws of 1798, perhaps the blackest mark on the John Adams presidency
His correspondence with Thomas Jefferson from 1812 to 1826
The death of both Adams and Jefferson on July 4, 1826 – the 50th anniversary of the Declaration
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Ad Honoris
Mar 2009
Wow, where to begin?
Adams was one of those men that you seemed to either support him
or you didn't, there wasn't much middle ground. Those who didn't like
him were vehement about their feelings of the man and the politician.

Adams was an extremely brilliant man with a great mind. I think his
problem came in not knowing when to mince his words and not to
write what he was thinking. Personally, I can respect a man for taking
that road, but, just as easy as it is to dish it out, they have to be able
to take it back and move on. Adams was a very opinionated man with
high standards that were hard to measure up to.

He had the misfortune of being president at a time when the nation had
split in twain over which direction the nation should take and what role
was the Federal government to have.

He was trodding on new political ground that was beset with traps
and issues to trip over. We today can easily see what direction events
should have gone, but we have 216 years of information.

But in the end, there was no Founding Father who did more or cared more,
than Adams did, and who wanted the best for his nation. I'll write more later. :)
Jun 2013
TJ, you are quite right that America was quite split over who to favor in foreign policy between France and Britain. Trying to stay neutral and preserve the peace was a difficult path, amid the provocations he had from France, especially the XYZ Affair, and the strong urgings of his part led by Hamilton to go to war.


Ad Honoris
Mar 2009
I feel one nugget often overlooked in the whole XYZ Affair and Franco-American
relations at the time, was the passage of the Jay Treaty (1794).
I can see France feeling left out by the deal the US and England made and how their
dealings might effect France.
The US had every right to act as an independent nation, but I see France feeling
shoved aside as not being important enough to consult or to keep in mind.
I also see Adams' personal dislike of the French, their lifestyle, their religion
and their language, as barriers to understanding them more. Being a native
English speaker, it was far easier for him to side with England, and her obvious
global strength, and trading markets, than with a wobbly and revolutionary France.
Then I see the natural tendency of Adams, to want to do things his way and any
counter advice was to be seen as threatening and to be ignored. That's where he
clashed with advice from his Vice President Jefferson.
Jun 2013
I think Adams was consistent in neither favoring Britain nor France but favoring American interests and strongly desiring as Washington desired to keep America out of war as she recovered from the Revolution and began to develop her economy as an independent nation. In the HBO Adams movie in Adams interview with King George III the king asks Adams whether the new American state will be anti-British or pro-French and that was just Adams answer - he would be pro-American. Certainly, Adams had every right to be anti-British - he was very coldly received during his years 1785-1788 as the first ambassador to Great Britain.


Ad Honoris
Mar 2009
Keep in mind Axel, that Adams was VERY pro-British if we are to believe Jefferson.

Washington asked Jefferson in 1792 to call together his cabinet one night to discuss
some matters, I don't know exactly which matters. GW was not going to be there,
he was going to be at Mt. Vernon.
Jefferson called to dinner Adams, Hamilton, Henry Knox and Edmund Randolph to
dine and drink wine, at his place in the capital city. The conversation drifted to
talking about the British and Adams remarked:

"a collision of opinion arose between Mr. Adams and Colonel Hamilton, on the merits of the British constitution, Mr. Adams giving it as his opinion,
that, if some of its defects and abuses were corrected, it would be the most perfect constitution of government ever devised by man."
Jefferson in a letter to Dr. Benjamin Rush

Hamilton then replied to Adams' remark:
"Hamilton, on the contrary, asserted, that with its existing vices, it was the most perfect model of government that could be formed; and
that the correction of its vices would render it an impracticable government."
Jefferson in a letter to Dr. Benjamin Rush

Upon seeing that Jefferson had three portraits of Francis Bacon, John Locke and
Isaac Newton, Hamilton asked Jefferson who the men were. He replied,
"I told him they were my trinity of the three greatest men the world had ever produced, naming them. He (Hamilton) paused for some time: "the greatest man," said he, "that ever lived, was Julius Caesar."
Jefferson in a letter to Dr. Benjamin Rush

Jefferson comment on the two men and what he just witnessed:
"Mr. Adams was honest as a politician, as well as a man; Hamilton honest as a man, but, as a politician, believing in the necessity of either force or corruption to govern men."
Jefferson in a letter to Dr. Benjamin Rush

So you see how both Adams and Hamilton were to Jefferson, dangerously
very 'pro-British' and were two forces that had to be watched and kept in check.
Jun 2013
I don't disagree that in the 1790s, given the choice of government between the stable British constitutional monarchy and revolutionary France, Adams preferred Britain. But at the same time, I don't see his views of those countries influencing the policies he espoused near as much as it did Jefferson who favored France in all matters and Hamilton who favored Britain in all matters. Adams favored the American interest first and foremost. He favored the Jay Treaty because is was good for the United States and avoided war with Great Britain for more than 10 years. Then as President he sought a similar traty of peace with France. His patience was sorely tried by the French and he had to go against his own political party but Adams was determined to seek peace with France and protect the American interest and he did so at tremendous political cost.


Ad Honoris
Mar 2009
I see it more as Adams just wanting to not fight anyone and wanted
the best deal for the US. That is why he is the second half of my name
here; I agree with his character, morals and intent. He may have not
gotten everything right and he might have enjoyed the trappings, power
and attention he got as president, he did want to make sure History
didn't forget him, but on the sliding scale of greatness, he scores high
with me. Far higher than a lot of other US presidents who followed him
and to me, abused their power while hiding behind the Constitution.
Jun 2013
tjadams said:
I see it more as Adams just wanting to not fight anyone and wanted the best deal for the US.
TJ, I see it the same way. Plus, I see Adams as a man who put that principal first no matter how unpopular and no matter what cost to his ambition. With the publication of the French actions in the XYZ Affair, the anger in the country was palpable and the Federalists thirsted for war with the French, and there was in fact an undeclared war int eh Carribean, yet Adams would not give in those who wanted war even if he might win popular favor. He went against Hamilton the leader of his party, his Secretary of War and much of his cabinet and continued to doggedly seek peace with France. He even used his son to help feel out the French one last time.

Adams efforts achieved success. The treaty he secretly negotiated with France was signed in October 1800. Unfortunately for Adams, word of his crowning success did not reach the United States until after the election of November 1800. I feel he would have won that election had word of the treaty success first reached the county.


Ad Honoris
Mar 2009
^I don't see Adams winning a second term no matter the
success of the Treaty of Mortefontaine. By then, Hamilton was
bent on getting Adams out of the White House and Burr flexed his
New York political muscles in support of Jefferson. Besides, Adams own Federalist Party was
too divided by holding up Charles Pinckney and John Jay in addition to
Adams. But I do see a glimmer of what you're talking about in regards to Adams'
chances being better, IF, the treaty had been worked out quicker.

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