Biography of U.S. President John Adams Part 5 Pros and Cons
About the United States President John Adams, biography and history of his presidency, positives and negatives.
PROFILES OF THE PRESIDENTS
His 4 Years as President:
In order to head off the threat of war, Adams built up the armed forces of the U.S. to respectable proportions; he has justly been called the Father of the American Navy. In a series of naval skirmishes with France, only one of the new American ships was lost, while 85 French vessels were sunk or captured. This formidable military establishment (later dismantled by Jefferson) helped protect American independence and ensured peace during Adams's term.
The military buildup under Adams went far beyond what was necessary, and the people--especially poor farmers--paid dearly for it in increased taxes. In both his military and financial programs, Adams was often unable to control his own cabinet, which was unduly influenced by his archenemy, Alexander Hamilton.
Adams showed remarkable courage and defied his own party in heading off a full-scale war with France. While much of the country clamored hysterically for war, Adams concluded a treaty of peace, and then showed skill and determination in forcing the restless country to accept it. Though this responsible statesmanship probably cost him reelection, Adams understood that keeping the peace was his most valuable contribution to his country. He once suggested that his epitaph should read: "Here lies John Adams, who took upon himself the responsibility of peace with France in the year 1800."
Although Adams is certainly to be commended for stopping short at the brink of war, it was Adams himself who led the country so dangerously close to that disaster. If he had not overreacted to relatively minor French provocations, the war hysteria would never have gotten started. Actually, Adams seems to have been more interested in discrediting his pro-French, Republican opponents than in conducting a sensible and consistent foreign policy.
Adams has been blamed unfairly for the Alien and Sedition Acts, passed during his administration to curb criticism of the government. He did not initiate these measures, he signed them reluctantly, and he then resisted the Federalist clamor for a more vigorous crackdown on the administration's opponents. Actually, the acts were passed in anticipation of war with France, and in many respects they resembled the necessary limitations on free speech imposed by the government during future wars.
Whatever the extenuating circumstances, Adams formally approved the Alien and Sedition Acts and thereby showed his complete disregard for fundamental civil liberties. Many prominent Americans were fined or imprisoned for their criticism of the government under the Federalist "Reign of Terror." One Republican editor from New York was marched in chains over 200 mi. in order to serve his prison term for "sedition." Even more shocking was the case of Matthew Lyon, a Republican congressman from Vermont, who was arrested and imprisoned for criticizing the President in a private letter. Luckily Adams's defeat and the election of Jefferson in 1800 preserved the basic guarantee of free speech.
Adams deserves credit for his appointment of John Marshall, the greatest chief justice in the history of the U.S. Supreme Court.
Along with Marshall, Adams also appointed a score of "midnight judges" in the last hours before the inauguration of his successor. This was a transparent attempt to stack the judiciary with entrenched Federalists and to thwart the will of the people as expressed in the recent election.
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