Biography of U.S. President John Adams Part 4 Election

About the United States President John Adams, biography and history of his election and presidency.


2nd President



Election: Winter, 1796 . . .

When factionalism fractured American politics in the 1790s, Vice-President Adams identified himself with the Federalist party, and in 1796, after Washington had announced his retirement, Adams was the Federalist candidate for president. Adams's chief competition came from Thomas Jefferson, the Republican candidate, who was billed as the "uniform advocate of equal rights among citizens" while Adams was portrayed as the "champion of rank, titles, and hereditary distinctions." Nevertheless, Adams's long service to the cause of independence and his status as heir apparent to Washington made him the odds-on favorite.

The situation was complicated, however, by divisions in the Federalist party. Alexander Hamilton distrusted the stubborn streak in Adams and wanted a president he could control more easily. He developed a complicated plot centering on Thomas Pinckney, the Federalist candidate for vice-president. According to Hamilton's plan, Federalist electors from Pinckney's native South Carolina would secretly drop Adams's name from their ballots, while still voting for Pinckney. Thus the Federalists' number-two man would receive more votes than Adams, and so be elected president. When New England electors got wind of this conspiracy, they retaliated by dropping Pinckney from their ballots, in order to insure that Adams would come out on top after all. The result of this manipulation was that both Adams and Pinckney lost votes, and the election was almost thrown to Jefferson. The final tally in the electoral college showed Adams with 71 votes, while Jefferson, right behind him with 68, was automatically elected vice-president under the old system. Pinckney, who had lost his chance at the vice-presidency because of Hamilton's treachery, finished third with 59 electoral votes.

Term of Office: Mar. 4, 1797 . . .

Adams was driven to his inauguration in a gilded coach drawn by six white horses. He was sworn in by Chief Justice Oliver Ellsworth in the chamber of the House of Representatives in Philadelphia, then capital of the U.S. The government did not move to Washington until the end of Adams's term, and Adams was the first president to occupy the executive mansion.

During his term, Adams enjoyed Federalist majorities in both houses of Congress and did not veto a single bill. He was the first of eight presidents who never used the veto power.

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