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John Adams

2nd President of the United States (1797-1801)

John Adams portrait
John Adams

The President of the United States serves as the head of the Executive Branch of our United States Government. Over forty men have been privileged to serve in this role.

The portrait of John Adams to the right was painted in London by Boston-born artist John Singleton Copley in 1783 about fourteen years before Adams became the second President of the United States. Adams posed for this portrait after successfully completing negotiations that resulted in the Treaty of Paris, formally ending the Revolutionary War.

In this elaborate portrait, John Adams gestures to maps and a globe, symbols of the treaty he had just negotiated.

The life-size portrait measures about 93.7" by 57.9" and is part of the Harvard University Portrait Collection, bequest of Ward Nichols Boylston to Harvard College 1828.

John Adams (1735 - 1826)
Date of birth: October 30, 1735
Birth place: North Precinct of Braintree (now Quincy), Massachusetts
Mother: Susanna Boylston Adams
Father: John Adams
Education: Harvard College graduate (1755)
Profession: Lawyer
Religion: Unitarian
Marriage: October 25, 1764, to Abigail Smith (1744-1818)
Children: Abigail Amelia (1765-1813), John Quincy (1767-1848), Susanna (1768-1770), Charles (1770-1832), Thomas Boylston (1772-1832)
Political party: Federalist
Presidential term: 1797-1801
Nickname(s): Atlas of Independence
Date of death: July 4, 1826
Place of death: Quincy, Massachusetts
Resting place: Quincy, Massachusetts
Source: The Whitehouse, www.whitehouse.gov, February 21, 2007
Source: Miller Center of Public Affairs, The University of Virginia, www.millercenter.virginia.edu, February 21, 2007
Source: The National Portrait Gallery, The Smithsonian Institution, www.npg.si.edu, February 21, 2007

John Adams' presidency

  • March 4, 1797: John Adams inaugurated as the second President of the United States. Thomas Jefferson is serving as Vice President.
  • May 15, 1797: Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, the American envoy to France, leaves France after being insulted by the French foreign minister. President Adams convenes the first special session of Congress to debate the deterioration of French/American relations.
  • May 19, 1797: Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, Elbridge Gerry, and John Marshall comprise a three-man commission appointed by the President to renegotiate trade treaties with France.
  • June 24, 1797: Congress authorizes President Adams to raise a militia of 80,000 men for defense against France if hostilities break out.
  • October 18, 1797: President Adams' three-man commission is virtually ignored in France. They are asked to pay bribes to gain access to Charles Maurice Tallyrand, resulting in what would become known as the XYZ Affair.
  • January 8, 1798: The Eleventh Amendment to the Constitutional is adopted.
    "The Judicial powers of the United States shall not be construed to extend to any suit in law or equity, commenced or prosecuted against one of the United States by Citizens of another State, or by Citizens or Subjects of any Foreign State."
  • April 3, 1798: The Congress is outraged, when President Adams presents evidence indicating French efforts to intimidate and solicit bribes from U.S. officials seeking to speak with French diplomat, Charles Maurice Talleyrand.
  • April 7, 1798: Congress establishes the Mississippi Territory from land ceded to the United States by Spain. President Adams appoints Winthrop Sargent as Territorial Governor and selects Natchez as the capital.
  • May 3, 1798: Adams names Benjamin Stoddert to serve as the first Secretary of the Navy for the four-day-old Department of the Navy.
  • May 28, 1798: Congress authorizes President Adams to enlist 10,000 men in case of war or invasion and authorizes Adams to order commanders of ships-of-war to seize armed French vessels praying upon or attacking American merchantmen off the coast of the United States.
  • June 18, 1798: Four questionable laws, referred to as the Alien and Sedition Acts, were passed during the Adams administration. The first of these laws, An Act to Establish an Uniform Rule of Naturalization, shorthand the Naturalization Act, is adopted. Among other things, this law extends the length of residency required to obtain U.S. citizenship from five to fourteen years. This law is passed without a term limit. It is repealed by the Congress in 1802.
  • June 25, 1798: The second of the Alien and Sedition Acts, An Act Concerning Aliens, shorthand the Alien Friends Act, is passed by Congress. It gives the President the power to deport any foreign person whom he considers a danger to the nation's safety. This law is inacted to "continue and be in force for and during the term of two years from the passing thereof." It expires in June, 1800.
  • July 6, 1798: Congress adopts the third of the Alien and Sedition Acts. An Act Respecting Alien Enemies, shorthand the Alien Enemies Act, empowers the President to apprehend, restrain, secure, and remove as alien enemies, "all natives, residents, denizens, or subjects of the hostile nation or government, being males of the age of fourteen years and upwards,...not actually naturalized," whenever hostilities exist between the United States and the hostile nation or government. This law is adopted without a term limit and remains in effect today.
  • July 7, 1798: All treaties with France, including the 1778 Treaty of Alliance, are declared null and void by vote of Congress and President John Adams appoints George Washington to serve as commander in chief of the United States Army.
  • July 14, 1798: Congress passes the fourth law of the Alien and Sedition Acts. An Act for the Punishment of Certain Crimes against the United States, shorthand the Sedition Act, subjects any American citizen to fine or imprisonment for obstructing the implementation of federal law or for publishing malicious or false information against the President, the Congress or the government. This law "shall continue and be in force until the third day of March, one thousand eight hundred and one,..." This law expires on March 3, 1801.
  • Sept 12, 1798: Benjamin Franklin's grandson, newspaper editor Benjamin Franklin Bache, is arrested under the Sedition Act for "libeling the President & the Executive Government, in a manner tending to excite sedition, and opposition to the laws, by sundry publications and republications."
  • Nov 10, 1798: The Kentucky Legislature adopts the Kentucky Resolutions as protest against the Alien and Sedition Acts adopted by the U.S. Congress. The Kentucky Resolutions reserve states' rights to override federal powers not enumerated in the Constitution. Years later, Thomas Jefferson admitted authorship.
  • Feb 9, 1799: The frigate, Constellation, the first ship commissioned in the United States Navy, engages and captures the French L'Insurgente near the Caribbean island of St. Kitts. The defeat of the L'Insurgente, the fastest ship in the French fleet, is the first major victory for a U.S. designed and built warship.
  • Mar 30, 1799: Upon assurances from the French that they will be treated with respect due the United States, President Adams selects Van Murray, Chief Justice Oliver Ellsworth, and North Carolina Governor Davie to serve as U.S. envoys to France.
  • July 11, 1799: A Treaty of Amity and Commerce is concluded between the United States and Prussia in Berlin.
  • October 26, 1799: Thomas Cooper, lawyer and newspaper editor, of Northumberland, Pennsylvania, is tried and convicted of libel against President Adams under the Sedition Act after publishing a broadside critical of the President.
  • Jan 10, 1800: Congress finally approves 1797 Treaty of Peace and Friendship with Tunis, one of the Barbary States attacking American shipping in the Mediterranean.
  • Feb 1, 1800: The United States frigate Constellation defeats the French ship La Vengeance on the high seas.
  • April 4, 1800: Congress passes and Adams signs into law the Federal Bankruptcy Act, providing merchants and traders protection from debtors.
  • April 24, 1800: A resolution is passed and eventually signed by President Adams calling for the establishment of a Library of Congress.
  • May 7, 1800: Congress passes an act dividing the Northwest Territory into two parts, with the border between them running north from the junction of the Ohio and Kentucky Rivers. The western part of the territory will be known as the Indiana Territory while the eastern half will retain the name Northwest Territory.
  • June, 1800: The new city of Washington in the District of Columbia becomes the official capital of the United States, succeeding Philadelphia. It would not be until November that Congress convened in the new capital and Adams moved into the new Executive Mansion.
  • Sept 30, 1800: The "quasi"-naval war with France effectively ends with the signing of the Treaty of Mortfontaine in Paris. France agrees to lift its embargos on American ships, cancel all letters of marque, and respect neutral ships and property. The United States agrees to return captured warships but not captured privateers.
  • Oct 1, 1800: Spain cedes the Louisiana territory to France with the signing of the secret Treaty of San Idlefonso. Leaders express alarm because the French could be a potentially dangerous enemy in the region.
  • Nov 11, 1800: The fourth presidential election is held. Adams, the Federalist Party candidate, loses his bid for reelection. A tie in electoral votes between Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr throws the election into the House of Representatives, with Jefferson emerging the winner.
  • March 4, 1801: Thomas Jefferson is inaugurated as the third President of the United States, becoming the first President to be inaugurated in Washington, D.C. John Adams’s term as President officially ends.

Source: Miller Center of Public Affairs, The University of Virginia, www.millercenter.virginia.edu, February 21, 2007

John Adams's cabinet
Vice President: Thomas Jefferson
Secretary of State: Timothy Pickering (1797 - 1800) John Marshall (1800 - 1801)
Secretary of War: James McHenry (1797 - 1800) Samuel Dexter (1800 - 1801)
Postmaster General: Joseph Habersham (1797 - 1801)
Secretary of the Treasury: Oliver Wolcott Jr. (1797 - 1800) Samuel Dexter (1801 - 1801)
Attorney General: Charles Lee (1797 - 1801)
Secretary of the Navy: Benjamin Stoddert (1798 - 1801)
Source: Miller Center of Public Affairs, The University of Virginia, www.millercenter.virginia.edu, February 21, 2007

John Adams Presidential $1 Coin — First President, 1797-1801

John Adams Presidential Coin
U.S. Mint image

Born in the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1735, John Adams was one of the earliest and most vocal advocates for colonial independence. The Harvard-educated lawyer served as a delegate to both the First and Second Continental Congresses.

A skilled diplomat, Adams lived in France and Holland during the Revolution, working to secure crucial international support and recognition of American independence. He served eight years as George Washington’s Vice-President before winning the Presidency in 1797.

Elected by a margin of just three electoral votes (71-68), John Adams was the first President to live in the White House, arriving in Washington on November 1, 1800. On his second evening in its damp, unfinished rooms, he wrote to his wife, "Before I end my letter, I pray Heaven to bestow the best of Blessings on this House and all that shall hereafter inhabit it. May none but honest and wise Men ever rule under this roof."

Coinage Legislation under President John Adams

Act of February 1, 1798: This Act suspends, for a period of three years, a portion of the Act of February 9, 1793, relating to the acceptance of foreign coinage as legal tender in the United States.

Act of April 24, 1800: This Act authorizes the purchase of copper equivalent to the number of cents and half-cents produced during the prior year, and authorizes an annual purchase to continue the striking of these coins.

Act of March 3, 1801: This Act directs the location of the United States Mint to remain in Philadelphia until March 1803.

United States Mint Directors appointed by President Washington

  • President John Adams did not appoint a Director of the United States Mint.

Abigail Adams First Spouse $10 Gold Coin - First Lady (1797–1801)

Abigail Adams First Lady Coin
U.S. Mint image
Abigail AdamsFirst Lady Coin (reverse)
U.S. Mint image

Abigail Smith was born in Weymouth, Massachusetts, in 1744. As was customary for the time, Abigail did not receive formal education, but her quick mind and her curiosity for the world around her were nurtured in her family's library, and her desire to read and learn was encouraged. She married John Adams, a young Harvard-educated attorney in 1764, and lived with him in Braintree, Massachusetts, while he built a successful law practice.

She joined him in Europe from 1784 to 1788 as he served as an American diplomat in France and as the first United States Minister to Great Britain. The couple returned to Massachusetts in 1788. After her husband became President, they were the first couple to live in the White House after they arrived in Washington in November 1800. Abigail returned to Braintree in 1801, now called Quincy, where she lived until her death in 1818.

Reverse Design

Because of John Adams' commitment to the cause of colonial independence, he and Abigail were often separated for lengthy periods of time—she in Massachusetts, and he in Philadelphia. Letters they wrote to each other during the Revolution and the formation of the United States are a mirror of the intellectual vigor of the times. He himself acknowledged that she had as much political insight as any of his colleagues, and that he valued her counsel above all others, combined with the affection and loyalty of her friendship. In one of her most memorable letters, Abigail Adams requested that her husband John "remember the ladies" when creating the framework for the new Republic.

Source: The United States Mint, www.usmint.gov, February 21, 2007


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