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ADMINISTRATION OF JOHN ADAMS.
THE inauguration of John Adams, as the second president of the United States, took place in Congress Hall, at Philadelphia, on the fourth of March, 1797, in the presence of a large concourse of people, among whom were General Washington, the vice-president elect, the heads of departments, many members of Congress, foreign ministers, and other distinguished persons. Mr. Adams, who was then in his 62d year, was dressed in a full suit of pearl-colored broadcloth; with powdered hair. Before the oath of office was administered to the new president, by Chief-Justice Ellsworth, he delivered his inaugural address; the sentiments and style of which produced a favorable impression upon the people.
The retirement of General Washington was a cause of sincere rejoicing among those of his countrymen who had opposed his administration. In France it was an event long desired and cordially welcomed. On the other hand, many of the political friends of Washington, in view of the situation of the country, considered the loss of his personal influence a public calamity. But, as his successor was known to entertain similar views of public policy, great hopes were felt for the success of the new administration.
Mr. Adams continued in office the same cabinet which had been left by President Washington, namely: Timothy Pickering, secretary of state; Oliver Wolcott, secretary of the treasury; James M'Henry, secretary of war; and Charles Lee, attorney-general; these gentlemen being all of the federal party. The navy department was not established until 1798, when Benjamin Stoddert, of Maryland, was appointed secretary of the navy, George Cabot, of Massachusetts, having declined the office.
The affairs of the United States with France, received the early attention of President Adams. The American minister to that republic, Charles C. Pinckney, had been expelled from their territory by the French rulers, who also issued new orders for depredations upon American commerce, more unjust and injurious than their former decrees. The president thought the state of affairs demanded the immediate consideration of Congress, and he therefore called that body together on the fifteenth of May, 1797.
There was a decided federal majority in each branch of the national legislature. Jonathan Dayton, of New Jersey, was again elected speaker of the house of representatives; which body, as well as the senate, responded to the president's speech in terms of approval. Several members, who were generally found in the opposition, voted in favor of resolutions for supporting the honor of the country, in consequence of the insulting conduct of the French government.
The administration and a majority in Congress, were still desirous of maintaining a neutral position, and an act was passed, in June, 1797, to prevent American citizens from fitting out or employing privateers against nations at peace with the United States. The exportation of arms and ammunition was also prohibited, and the importation of the same encouraged by law. The president was authorized to call out the militia to the number of eighty thousand, and to accept of the services of volunteers. At the same time, Congress provided for a small naval force, but not sufficient to meet the views of the president.
To provide means for extra expenses, to be incurred for measures of national defence, duties were imposed on stamped paper, and parchment, used for business purposes; an additional duty was also laid on salt, while a drawback was allowed on salt provisions and pickled fish exported. The stamp act proved an unpopular measure. This special session of the fifth Congress was adjourned on the 10th of July, 1797.
The president having intimated to Congress that he should make a new attempt to conciliate France, appointed, with the advice and consent of the senate, Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, Elbridge Gerry, and John Marshall, special envoys to that republic, with very ample powers. These gentlemen met at Paris, in October, 1797, and promptly attempted to execute their commission. The scenes which followed were well calculated to excite the indignation of the Americans.
The French government employed unofficial individuals to confer with the envoys, those individuals using, instead of their names, which were then unknown, the letters X. Y. Z., and in this way the intercourse with the American ministers was carried on. Attempts were made to detach the envoys from each other, and to learn the separate views of each, by secret interviews. Two of the ministers, Messrs. Pinckney and Marshall, were soon satisfied that no treaty could be made with France which would be honorable to the United States, and they requested of President Adams leave to return. They were soon ordered by the French government to quit France, while Mr. Gerry was invited to remain, and did so; not returning to the United States until October following.
When the despatches from the envoys were made public in the United States, they excited very general indignation, particularly when it was known that the French negotiators had demanded money of the United States,
as the price of peace. The people responded to the sentiment of Mr. Pinckney on the occasion, "Millions for defence, but not a cent for tribute." Mr. Gerry was severely censured for not having left France with his colleagues. There is no doubt that he meant well, and that he supposed his better standing with the French rulers would enable him to effect the purposes of his mission. After finding his mistake, he was compelled to withdraw, on receiving instructions from the president, without, of course, effecting anything.
The fifth Congress reassembled at Philadelphia, on the 13th of November, 1797, and continued in session until the 16th of July, 1798, a period of 247 days, or over eight months. Many important laws were passedamong which were those for the protection of navigation, for maintaining neutrality, for the defence of the seacoast, by the fortification of Boston, Newport, New York, Baltimore, Norfolk, Charleston, and Savannah; and for an additional land and naval force; also for a loan, which was negotiated at eight per cent. interest, and a direct tax on real estate, to meet the extra expenses of these measures of defence. There was an apprehension on the part of a majority in Congress, that the French government, elated by the success of their arms in Europe, might attempt an invasion of the United States. At this time French ships-of-war were depredating on American commerce, and decrees were issued by the French directory, subjecting to seizure all American vessels having on board British goods or products, or which had sailed from British ports. An act of Congress was passed, in June, 1798, to suspend the commercial intercourse between the United States and France and her possessions. Merchant ships were authorized, under certain restrictions, to be armed in their voyages either to the West Indies or to Europe. A regular and permanent army was ordered to be raised, and the president was authorized to organize twelve additional regiments of infantry, and one regiment each of cavalry, artillery, and engineers, to serve during the difficulties with France. The president was also vested with power to build, purchase, or hire, twelve vessels, of twenty guns each, as an increase of the infant navy of the United States. Although these measures for defence were generally warmly opposed by the democratic minority in Congress, and some of them adopted by small majorities, they were received with approbation by a great majority of the people. The young men took up the subject of the affairs of the country with great zeal, and in Boston, Robert Treat Paine wrote the celebrated song of " Adams and Liberty." He and others delivered patriotic orations to their young associates. Addresses were sent to the president from all parts of the country, glowing with patriotism, and with defiance of France. Mr. Adams had good reason to think that he stood strong in the respect and affections of the people, and at this period his administration was undoubtedly popular.
• At this session provision was made by law for the establishment of a navy department.
In the arrangement of the intended military force, all eyes were turned to Washington as the chief. Mr. Adams made known his intention to appoint him; and in answer, without intimating a willingness to accept, he expressed his full approbation of the president's measures. He was afterward appointed, with the condition that he might select his officers next in command.*
The crisis did not arrive which rendered it necessary for Washington to take the field, and, in the course of the following year, a treaty was made with France, which put an end to the military operations in the United States. An army, however, was raised, in 1798, as voted by Congress, and General Hamilton, of New York, was the immediate and active commander, being next in rank to Washington, when the officers were appointed, and who was recommended by him for that station.†
Although there was no declaration of war, either on the part of France or the United States, hostilities actually commenced on the ocean between the two nations. The United States frigate Constellation, of 38 guns, Commodore Truxton, on the 9th of February, 1799, fell in with and captured the French frigate l'Insurgent, of 40 guns. This action took place in the West India seas, and lasted about an hour. The Constellation, after refitting in the United States, met at sea, February 1, 1800, the French frigate l'Vengeance, of 54 guns, which latter vessel was silenced after an action of five hours. A squall enabled her to escape, with
the loss of 160 men killed and wounded.
The French government and people were surprised by the hostile movements of the United States. They seem to have relied on the opposition party in the United States to prevent war, which was not the object of France, and there soon appeared a disposition on the part of the French rulers to recede, with regard to their course toward the United States.
There were two acts of Congress passed in the summer of 1798, which became extremely unpopular with a large portion of the people. These were the alien and sedition laws. The alien law was objected to as extremely liable to abuse by the president, who was empowered to order aliens who were found or supposed to be conspiring against the peace and authority of the United States, to depart from its territories. One apology for the law was, that there were then computed to be thirty thousand Frenchmen in the United States, all of whom were devoted to their native country, and mostly associated, through clubs or otherwise. Besides these, there were computed to be fifty thousand who had been subjects of Great Britain, some of whom had found it unsafe to remain at home. It was also contended that the persons who, by the law, were liable to be required to leave the country, were not citizens-had no just claims to a continuance here-and that their residence, with the views they had, and † Bradford.
the opinions they published, endangered the welfare of the nation, for which it was the imperious duty of Congress to provide. The objection to the sedition law was, that it restricted the liberty of speech and of the press, which was an arbitrary interference with the right of the citizens to express freely their opinions on all public and political measures. Those who justified the law asserted that the grossest falsehoods were uttered and published, tending to deceive the people, and to excite their prejudices unduly, to the danger of the peace of the nation: And the gov ernment ought to take measures to protect its rightful authority, and maintain the peace of the republic-that the law expressly provided, in mitigation of the common law on libels, that the truth, if proved, should be a justification. [There were at this period two hundred newspapers published in the United States; 178 or 180 were in favor of the federal administration, about twenty were opposed to most of the leading measures then adopted, and the greater portion of these were under the control of aliens.]†
The opposition to the alien and sedition laws was very great in some parts of the country. In Virginia and Kentucky the legislatures declared them to be direct and gross infractions of the constitution, and appealed to the other states to join in opposition to them. At the next session of Congress, numerous petitions were presented for a repeal, but without avail at that time.
When the president met the fifth Congress at the commencement of their third session, in December, 1798, General Washington was present in the representatives' hall, accompanied by Generals Pinckney and Hamilton. This was Washington's last visit to Philadelphia, previous to his death, which took place a year afterward. He was now at the seat of government for the purpose of consulting with the president in arrangements respecting the organization of a provisional army.
The replies of both branches of Congress to the president's speech were in terms of decided approval of the measures recommended by him, particularly with regard to the course pursued toward France. Acts were passed for completing the organization of the army, and for augmenting the navy. The navy now began to be regarded with favor, and the president was authorized to contract for building six ships-of-war, of seventyfour guns; and six sloops-of-war, of eighteen guns each; for which purpose one million of dollars was appropriated.
Acts were also passed, for the relief and protection of American seamen, and authorizing the president to retaliate on subjects of other nations in cases of impressment; to regulate trade and intercourse with the Indian tribes; and farther to suspend the commercial intercourse between the United States and France. Sundry other measures of importance
• See Bradford's History of the Federal Government, and Sullivan's Letters.