John Adams Above the Fray: The Original Foreign Policy President

Critical Thinking

December 12, 2023
by Max Schreiber Also by this Author


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The “whole of [President John] Adams’s single term was absorbed, to a degree unequaled in any other American presidency, with a single problem”: a diplomatic crisis with France.[1] Some Federalists must have been surprised that France, the United States’s greatest ally during the Revolution, became its greatest enemy within a generation. Not Adams: As a young congressman, he warned in 1775 that making a military treaty with the French to win the Revolution would make America “little better than puppets, danced on the wires of the cabinets of Europe.”[2] Adams’ prediction metastasized—and he’d deal with the French alliance at its nadir as President.

When he was elected in 1796, Adams had just completed two terms as George Washington’s Vice President. The States were polarizing over America’s role in Europe after the French Revolution turned violent and caused a spillover war with the European monarchies.[3] In his valedictory, Washington promoted the wisdom of a nationalist foreign policy, which meant staying neutral to the ongoing war between England and France.[4] While the “Neutrality Proclamation” was Washington’s policy, President Adams implemented it.[5] And as a loyal Federalist, President Adams was “the earnest advocate of every principle of foreign policy” that Washington initiated.[6]

Adams was perfect for managing such a volatile American milieu. His entire political career was about “maintaining order and stability in American society.” Early in his career this meant “expanding . . . the role of the [American] people in the political process.” But the French Revolution forced Adams to backtrack on “expanding . . . the role of the [common] people” in societal rule.[7] It was a more dangerous form of the social instability that proved so challenging during the Articles of Confederation era. The post-Independence social rebellion—exemplified by exploding debt, disregard for authority, and a decline of virtue[8]—so concerned the Founders that it provoked the Constitutional Convention and subsequently a stronger federal government.

Adams hated “mobs and violence” and believed “all men were subject to passions and emotions that had to be disciplined and controlled.” He was a Federalist because he believed government and laws were essential to create structure which protected individual rights and promoted mature citizenship.[9] Adams believed in elevating popular government but would not sacrifice stable society for it. Accordingly, he abhorred the French Revolution, humorously reasoning it was “impossible . . . to make a [stable and functioning] republic out of [thirty] million atheists.”[10] Having just helped lead a successful Revolution himself, Adams thought the French were “going about [representative government] in all the wrong ways.” For Adams, balance was the key to great societies—whether that be between classes (like in pre-Revolution France) or separation of powers (like in America).[11] Adams soured on the French Revolution early, remarking it would “involve France in great and lasting calamities.”[12]

Balance was key to Adams’s diplomatic realpolitik, too. As President he had a spectacular ability to balance the American zeal for war in Europe with the nation’s interest in peace. This balance was a product of his experience: Raised in modern-day Quincy, Massachusetts, Adams was guided by a “Puritan sense of duty and a deep concern for the rights and welfare of others.” This led him to assume, for example, the controversial duty to defend British soldiers responsible for the Boston Massacre. He did so to honor due process and expected harsh political blowback for the work, but none came even after winning his detested clients acquittals.[13] The Massachusetts governor before the American Revolution also tried offering Adams a bribe to cease his resistance activities—and Adams declined, without hesitation.[14]

America’s second president served in the Continental Congress as a delegate from Massachusetts, serving on eighty separate committees (and chairing twenty-five) in the span of four years. There, he debated the purpose and role of the national government—most prominently its powers relative to the states. He was also the federal government’s best diplomat, representing America as an official envoy before Holland, France, and England—with significant achievements in every capacity.[15]

Unlike George Washington, who was elected unanimously, President Adams won a heavily contested election. His 1796 victory came by only three electoral votes over Thomas Jefferson, the Republican nominee, and Thomas Pinckney—the “other” Federalist nominee. American division over France and England’s ongoing war dominated the election. After the Jay Treaty between America and England, the infuriated French blistered American publications with advertisements that hammered the agreement, thrilling the already impassioned American politicians.[16] In fact, the Treaty so inflamed France that it overtly supported Thomas Jefferson for President. Even though Jefferson also publicly endorsed neutrality as Washington’s Secretary of State, he was “perceived [as] much friendlier to French interests” and, unlike Adams, did not mourn King Louis XVI’s beheading.[17] And, while he may have disagreed tactically and strategically with the French Revolution, Jefferson was certainly sympathetic to it philosophically. As he once proudly stated, “aristocracy and monarchy must be annihilated, and the rights of the people firmly established.”[18]

The French saw Jefferson as an ally for its revolutionary cause and shrewdly supported him in the 1796 presidential election. They leaked an onslaught of favorable, official French policy toward Jefferson to the American press.[19] French support toward Jefferson became so overt that Washington’s Secretary of State, Timothy Pickering, rebuked France’s involvement.[20] This gave more bellicose Federalists who wanted war with France—known as “High” Federalists and led by Alexander Hamilton—to abandon Adams’ presidential campaign in search of a more aggressive champion.[21]

Hamilton hand-selected Thomas Pinckney, the former governor of South Carolina and current minister to Great Britain, to run for president.[22] Hamilton believed Pinckney was easily manipulable and could peel off southern electors to deny Adams an Electoral College majority.[23] Before the Twelfth Amendment, the Constitution used the same Electoral College count to pick both the President and the Vice President. Each elector had two votes, so Hamilton believed Adams and Pinckney could neutralize each other’s votes in the north while Pinckney could outgain Adams in the south.[24] When Adams learned of this scheme, he was not upset at being betrayed by his supposed allies—instead, he was mortified at the idea of his distinguished resume being mentioned alongside a diplomatic lightweight like Pinckney.[25]

Nevertheless, Adams’ foreign policy agenda cut through the smoke. As the historian Ralph Brown observed, at this time in American presidential politics “only John Adams seemed to understand the necessity and demands of neutrality.”[26] Accordingly, while Jefferson was the candidate of France and Pinckney the candidate of Britain, it was Adams who vowed to protect the crux of American foreign policy,[27] Washington’s neutrality.[28] Neutrality was damn popular with many American people—popular enough to make Adams the President.

But Adams’s razor-thin election win significantly hindered his ability to shift America’s foreign policy (or threaten to do so).[29] For example, Washington’s electoral mandate gave him the ultimate political cover to act abroad on behalf of the American people—his diplomatic will was unquestioned.[30] The first President “me[t] all the requirements . . . of republican virtue.” Washington’s diplomatic stature was analogous to the sovereign Kings of European empires.[31] He could aggressively carve out a foreign affairs agenda, govern with near-impunity, and take political risks—the Jay Treaty exemplifies this.

In contrast, Adams won his election by “the narrowest of margins.” But his embrace of Washington’s popular foreign policy agenda was successful in distinguishing Adams from Pinckney and Jefferson. Between all the American infighting over France and England, there was “a middle party, much larger, composed of estimable men of the other two parties . . . which loves its country above all and for whom preferences for either . . . are only accessory.” These were John Adams voters. Adams sacrificed his personal policy preferences for victory from these men: While he likely preferred a warmer diplomatic relationship with the British, American politics would not allow it.[32]

Upon Adams’s inauguration, America was subject to “immediate and continuous threat of foreign war.”[33] And the President was not surrounded by the best personnel for these testing times. Because the Constitution then awarded second place in the Electoral College the Vice Presidency, that position went to Thomas Jefferson—France’s chosen candidate and the Republican leader.[34] Further, Adams declined to stack his cabinet with loyal and passionate supporters. He believed in an experienced and stable civil service which led him to retain Washington’s principal cabinet members, such as Timothy Pickering at State, Oliver Wolcott at Treasury, and James McHenry at War.[35] He also worried that aggressive personnel changes, considering his narrow victory, could split the Federalist party further.[36] But these three men were all High Federalists and thus “devious and disloyal” to the new President’s wishes.[37] Together, they supported a militant America that would resist France vigorously, a position far more hawkish than that of Adams and the American people.[38]

With the popular and triumphant Washington out of office, France believed it could finally export its Revolution to American shores.[39] By Adams’s inauguration, France was led by an executive council—the Directory—which inclined itself to a “bloody project of imperialist expansion.”[40] Ambassador to Portugal John Quincy Adams, the President’s son, diagnosed the Directory as desiring cooperation, not war, with the United States.[41] But, the Directory’s leadership had France moving through Europe with ruthless efficiency and “on a glide path towards continental dominion.”[42] Surely, Adams could not trust French leadership to keep their belligerence confined to Europe.[43] How could he? French leadership treated Adams’ victory as a crime against the worldwide republican movement they claimed to lead.[44]

After Adams’ inauguration, the French “gave up on subtly interfering in American politics,” and instead used the Jay Treaty as a pretext to take aggressive diplomatic action.[45] Early in 1797, the Directory rejected the credentials of Ambassador Charles Cotesworth Pinckney upon his arrival in France.[46] France’s contempt toward Pinckney challenged the sovereignty of the United States and the legitimacy of Adams. Adams decided to send over a prominent Republican instead to placate the French; but the only two palatable options, Jefferson and Madison, were unavailable.[47]

Adams also had to deal with a new policy by the Directory,[48] which enabled French ships to stop American vessels transporting British goods and classified any American aboard a British ship as a pirate.[49] Soon, there were “hundreds of incidents” where French ships interdicted American ships.[50] France wanted to cut off American consumers from British markets to obfuscate England’s global supply chain.[51]

How would Adams respond to this early French aggression? He could: (1) call Congress to special session and ask them to declare war; (2) arm American merchantmen for self-defense at sea; (3) issue retaliatory sanctions; (4) engage Britain for an alliance, including perhaps even using the British Royal Navy for sea protection;[52] or (5) send a mission to France to avert further aggression, much like America did with the Jay Treaty and England in 1794.[53]

Adams called a special session of Congress in mid-May 1797, but did not demand war. Instead, he excoriated France’s actions, accusing it of “produc[ing] divisions fatal to our peace” and that such “attempts ought to be repelled.” He also recommitted the United States to neutrality and announced a new effort at talks with the Directory. “We shall not fail to promote and accelerate an accommodation,” he stated, before enshrining as a goal “equal measures of justice we have a right to expect from France and every other nation.”[54]

Adams believed the nation was not ready for war with France, both militarily and politically.[55] America’s military was dispersed, small, and disorganized. War with France or Britain also meant forging an alliance with the other—which the nation, bitterly divided between France and England, couldn’t handle.[56] Adams also believed France had legitimate grievances, including Washington rejecting the Treaty of Amity’s alliance obligations requiring the states to back France in any war.[57] But Adams’ experience with England and the Jay Treaty confirmed his belief that diplomacy worked. Why couldn’t the same strategy work with France?

For the French delegation, Adams named John Marshall of Virginia, Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts, and Charles Pinckney of South Carolina—the rejected ambassador—as plenipotentiaries to France.[58] Pinckney was selected to vindicate the international embarrassment he suffered months earlier in a sign of strength by Adams. John Marshall was a loyal Federalist, but Gerry was a close confidante of Jefferson and a strong Republican.[59] Gerry’s inclusion in the team incensed the High Federalists led by Hamilton, but gave the envoys diplomatic legitimacy in France. Adams instructed them to seek: (1) compensation for losses to American commerce due to French aggression at sea; (2) the official release of U.S. obligations in the Treaty of Alliance to defend the French West Indies; and (3) peace.[60] In return, Adams authorized the men to offer revising the Treaty of Amity and Commerce to align with the Jay Treaty—which gave Britain preferential trade status with the U.S. relative to France.[61]

After the delegation departed, Adams prepared the nation for a worst-case scenario. War between France and the states was still very much a possibility. And, because the French had the largest standing army in the west,[62] strengthening the nation’s defense apparatus was critically important. Hamilton believed a military build-up would “induce” France “to respect [our] neutrality”—an early analog to the modern day “peace through strength.”[63] But the Republicans bitterly resisted this mobilization, contending it would provoke, rather than deter, further French aggression. They also feared the consequences of America’s growing national debt and deficit more than France’s imperial efforts.[64]

Thus, Adams had to triangulate a sufficient military build-up, the political demands of Federalists and Republicans, and the public’s fervor for war. Throughout 1797, he spearheaded a trio of anti-escalation policies: Adams forbade the arming of American merchant ships, exportation of arms, and privateering—a clear signal that the United States was focused on trade, not war, abroad. But simultaneously, the national government authorized the enlistment of an additional eighty thousand troops, funding for the fortification of coastal harbors, and the construction of three additional frigates for the navy. With significant political pressure and little time, Adams nevertheless successfully “ke[pt] the peace [and] prepared for war” while awaiting “the result of its extraordinary mission to France.”[65]

Pinckney, Marshall, and Gerry arrived in France in October 1797.[66] By this point, the Directory was losing its grip on national government to Napoléon Bonaparte, whose military success unified the French people. Meanwhile, the Directory leadership was enthralled in bribery, corruption, and power struggles.[67]

Charles Talleyrand, France’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, was one of the government’s most corrupt offenders. He forced the three American ambassadors to wait for weeks in the Directory’s official buildings without a meeting. Just as the envoy was ready to give up and return home, three of Talleyrand’s agents—designated as X, Y, and Z in subsequent reports—approached the Americans. They notified the team that any meeting with Talleyrand was contingent on: (1) a bribe of two hundred and fifty thousand dollars; (2) a loan to the French government of twelve million dollars; and (3) an apology from Adams for his special session address to Congress.[68] Shocked and angered, the three American diplomats declined.

Upon learning of the “XYZ Affair,” Adams believed reconciliation with France was impossible and immediately called for a military buildup. He notified Congress of Talleyrand’s demands and in March 1798 ordered all three ambassadors recalled. Pinckney and Marshall had already left Paris,[69] but Elbridge Gerry elected to remain—officially as a private citizen—at Talleyrand’s personal invitation. Gerry’s decision deservedly earned him great scorn from American politicians but he nevertheless believed an open line of communication open with Talleyrand could avoid war.[70]

In April 1798, the details of the XYZ Affair were published. Upon reading these accounts the country was “electrified [like] . . . no other event since the Revolutionary War.”[71] In response many Republicans—who had traditionally supported the French due to heritage or politics—joined the Federalist party.[72] Because they were the undisputed “champions of national rights against foreign aggression,” the XYZ Affair empowered the Federalists to govern.[73]

Because of the XYZ Affair, President Adams’ political support in 1798 mirrored Washington’s. But the nation was much closer to war. And while the diplomatic incident increased Adams’ political support, it also licensed the High Federalists to escalate their war advocacy. Adams wanted to spend his public capital on improved harbors, an expanded navy, the arming of merchants, and a larger provisionalarmy.[74] This spending was focused on improving America’s defensive posture without conceding neutrality.[75] In contrast, Alexander Hamilton—out of government but undoubtedly the High Federalists’ leader—thought the XYZ Affair should be exploited to build a sizable, permanent standing army and imperial navy. While the country was unifying in its resistance to France, the Federalist party was quickly dividing: Hamilton wanted outright war with France, while Adams still believed neutrality and negotiation best served the nation.[76]

Nevertheless, Adams knew France’s actions warranted a response. Talleyrand’s behavior was unacceptable. Adams promised to “never send another minister to France without assurances that he will be received . . . as the representative of a great, free, powerful, and independent nation.”[77] Further, the French had unleashed picaroons—small privateering ships—off the American coast to harass its ships.[78] The American military was too small to deter such action: the navy was comprised of the three frigates authorized one year prior, and the army had 3,500 men mainly fighting Indians out west.[79]

Thus, Congress gave the President discretionary powers to increase the size of the army,[80] and Adams tripled the enlisted ranks.[81] The Department of the Navy was created in May 1798, funded so that it could procure a dozen warships and be fully operational in short time.[82] Shortly after, in July 1798 the U.S. Marines was formed. Finally, Adams signed laws authorizing the seizure of French ships which threatened American vessels and voided all existing treaties with France.[83]

Many believed war was imminent, but Adams still had to assign operational command of the military. A group of High Federalists wrote to Washington that Adams was unprepared for military conflict with France and insisted on a significant military role for Alexander Hamilton.[84] While Hamilton had a polished military record, he was best known for serving as an aide-de-camp to then-General Washington in the Revolution—hardly analogous to commanding the entire army.[85]

But Adams wanted his predecessor—George Washington—to retain command of the military. Thus, without even asking him, Adams nominated and the Senate unanimously confirmed Washington to lead the military in July 1798.[86] But Washington made acceptance of his rank contingent on his ability to appoint officers[87]—and Washington appointed Alexander Hamilton as Inspector General of the Army, the number two position, in short order. And because Washington commanded solely from Mt. Vernon, Hamilton had effective operational control of the army. This “cut into the unity of the Federalist[s]”[88] by rallying the hawkish High Federalists that stacked Adams’ cabinet behind Hamilton.[89]

The High Federalists demanded and expected a formal declaration of war.[90] They believed a “real” war would consolidate patriotic support, accelerate military preparations, facilitate tax collection, and end collaboration between sympathetic Republicans and French dignitaries. Additionally, the High Federalists wanted a land war, which would act as a political instrument for maintaining Federalist control of the government. Adams, in contrast, wanted to fight France at sea.[91] A tit-for-tat naval war would better maintain the appearance of neutrality, calm domestic tensions, and improve America’s negotiating position with France if it could restore the Atlantic supply chain.

Adams’ preference for a naval fight won out, and as Secretary of State Henry Kissinger describes it, Adams managed to “keep the challenge . . . below the threshold of all-out war.”[92] Test votes gaging Congress’s support for a formal war declaration failed.[93] Thus, President Adams maintained total discretion—but limited legal autonomy, since no war was declared—over how the United States fought France. This “Quasi-War” was America’s “first limited war.”[94] Adams directed the United States coast to be cleared of French picaroons, an order which was accomplished “quickly” by commissioning significant numbers of private vessels.[95]

The principal theatre for the Quasi-War was the Caribbean, where U.S. Navy ships saw combat for the first time since the Revolutionary War. The French navy presence was modest but still provided the Americans with a legitimate military target. American naval assets staked out strong defensive positions around the Caribbean islands while seizing eighty-five French vessels.[96] This take of ships was not trivial, especially given the Caribbean trade route’s importance to French commerce.[97]

Meanwhile, a diplomatic dispute erupted over France’s control of Saint-Domingue (modern day Haiti), where rebelling slaves engaged in their own revolution.[98] As part of a subsequent and larger restriction package targeting France—which also annulled the Treaty of Alliance[99]—the Federalist government authored the “Touissant Clause,” which gave the President discretion to permit trade with select French colonies in the Caribbean.[100] Accordingly, American ships could supply the Haiti rebels with goods and weapons as a proxy in the Quasi War, which forced the French to commit more Caribbean resources without direct American involvement. Adams’ strategy wore down the French in the Caribbean. And in Europe, the French were suffering significant military losses.[101] The French effort at a global Revolution was stretched too thin and could not continue.[102] France chose to prioritize, and the Quasi-War with America was the first white flag.

The time bought by the Quasi-War was the diplomatic catalyst America needed. By 1799, the leaders of both nations were ready to move on. In France, Talleyrand realized that interfering with American politics was a quixotic error of judgment.[103] Further, the Directory was losing its grip on power: civil-military affairs in France were spiraling, with the government increasingly running to authoritarian means to stem a national surge in violent crime.[104] Private homes were raided, citizens were pummeled by soldiers, and a “fiscal crisis” ensued.[105] Failure ended the Revolution.

Meanwhile in America, Federalist wartime policies aimed at domestic activity chilled the people’s appetite for war.[106] To hamper domestic Republican resistance to the American defense effort, the Federalists passed the Alien and Sedition Acts. These laws limited anti-government speech, increased the residency requirement for citizenship from five to fourteen years, and gave the President increased authority to deport aliens.[107] Riots and militias formed in response.[108] Some Republican voters, mainly in Irish urban neighborhoods, were inspired to build more effective political machines, which gave the Federalists serious electoral competition.[109] Kentucky and Virginia passed resolutions arguing dissolution of the Union was better than living under the Alien and Sedition Act regime.[110] While there is little evidence the resolutions had teeth, the frustration they expressed concerned the national government and Adams in particular.[111]

Yet the High Federalists kept their unrelenting pressure on Adams to punish France.[112] Hamilton clamored for offensive operations against the French in Latin America, even though French troops posed little threat by this point.[113] He wanted an even larger provisional army formed, too.

But by early 1799, Adams believed France was ready to treat America as a “great, free, powerful, and independent nation.”[114] France had taken substantial steps at reconciliation, including restraining French privateers in the West Indies, halting condemnation of American ships, and dropping demands that Adams disavow his infamous speech before Congress in 1797. And, late in 1798, Elbridge Gerry—who had remained in Paris to the disappointment of John Adams—returned to the States to bring peace offerings directly from the Directory.[115] It was Adams’ turn to make an overture.

On February 19, 1799, Adams nominated William Vans Murray as minister to France, so the U.S. could restart diplomatic relations and engage in peace talks.[116] At the advice of the Senate, Adams added Oliver Ellsworth—the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court—and Patrick Henry to the delegation.[117] While the High Federalists supported Adams for much of his early Presidency, this announcement left them “thunderstruck” and ruptured the party entirely.[118] Under Hamilton’s advice, the High Federalists in Adams’ cabinet tried stopping the delegation. First, they cited impolitic language Talleyrand included in his official overtures to Adams as a reason for abandoning peace talks. Adams dismissed this. Then Charles Pickering, the Secretary of State, slow-walked preparation of the envoys’ instructions.[119] Further delay was caused by the toppling of the Directory, as the Federalists waited for it to be replaced by the new “Consulate” under Napoleon’s leadership.[120] Finally, when the delegation was ready to set sail, Hamilton himself led the cabinet in one final protest, which Adams again personally overruled toward the end of 1799.[121]

Upon arriving in Paris, the Murray envoy met right away with the new Bonaparte government. They were received “promptly and courteously,” but the Bonaparte government was sorting out its infancy and was “overwhelmed with business.”[122] The wheels of progress turned slowly, but turned: On September 30, 1800, the envoy agreed to a peace treaty—the Treaty of Mortefontaine—after negotiating with Napoleon’s brother, Joseph.[123] Under the Treaty, the United States and France agreed to an armistice. America’s military commitments in the Treaty of Alliance ended,[124] which freed the United States from the only “entangling” alliance in the first 173 years of its existence as a sovereign nation. In exchange, the United States discharged claims against French privateers, while also paying France partial damages as restitution.[125] These funds allowed the upstart Bonaparte regime to get control of its finances and ameliorate some of France’s economic angst.

By sending Murray to Paris against the wishes of the High Federalists, Adams “cracked the very foundations of the Federalist party” and “sealed his own political doom.”[126] Adams would soon lose the 1800 election to his Vice President, Thomas Jefferson. Nevertheless, the renewed French negotiations aligned with Adams’ personal belief in neutrality, his electoral mandate, and—most importantly—the interests of the American people. Adams regarded the Murray negotiations as “the most meritorious and disinterested action of his life,” and he wanted as “the sole epitaph” above his tombstone to read “here lies John Adams, who took upon himself the responsibility of the peace with France in the year 1800.”[127]

John Adams doesn’t get the same fanfare from the modern American public as Washington or Jefferson, but his leadership on foreign policy during his Presidency saved America from consequential war. He may not have used the terms, but Adams implemented peace through strength, strategic ambiguity, and realpolitik far before they entered the American lexicon. While his Presidency was shortened by domestic politics, the country owes him a debt for the security he achieved abroad.


[1]Stanley Elkins and Eric McKitrick, The Age of Federalism: The Early American Republic (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993),529.

[2]John J. Miller and Mark Molesky, Our Oldest Enemy (New York: Doubleday Publishing, 2004), 59; Thomas A. Bailey, A Diplomatic History of the American People (New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts, Inc., 1955), 18n20 (5th ed.).

[3]Samuel F. Bemis, “Washington’s Farewell Address: A Foreign Policy of Independence,” 39(2) The American Historical Review (1934): 262.

[4]George Washington, Farewell Address (September 19, 1796),

[5]Anson D. Morse, “The Politics of John Adams,” 4(2) The American Historical Review (1899): 302.

[6]Morse, “The Politics,” 302.

[7]John R. Howe, The Changing Political Thought of John Adams (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1966), xi, 84.

[8]Gordon S. Wood, The Creation of The American Republic 1776-1787 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1969), 472-83.

[9]Ralph A. Brown, The Presidency of John Adams (Lawrence: University of Kansas Press, 1975), 10, 24.

[10]John C. Miller, The Federalist Era (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1960): 199-200.

[11]Elkins and McKitrick, Age of Federalism, 312-13.

[12]Edward Handler, America and Europe in the Political Thought of John Adams (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1964), 129.

[13]Brown,The Presidency, 6.

[14]Elkins and McKitrick, Age of Federalism, 531.

[15]Brown,The Presidency, 10, 11-17.

[16]Miller,The Federalist Era, 199-200.

[17]Miller and Molesky, Our Oldest Enemy, 81.

[18]David McCullough, John Adams (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2001), 443-44.

[19]Brown, The Presidency, 16-17.

[20]Miller, The Federalist Era, 200.

[21]Brown, The Presidency, 10.

[22]While some historians dispute Hamilton’s intent in 1796, this is now the consensus viewpoint. Donald Heidenreich, Jr., “Conspiracy Politics in the Election of 1796,” 92(3) New York History (2011): 151.

[23]Brown, The Presidency,18.

[24]Heidenreich, “Conspiracy Politics,” 162; Elkins and McKitrick, Age of Federalism, 524.

[25]Elkins and McKitrick, Age of Federalism, 515.

[26]Brown, The Presidency, 38.

[27]William Safire, “On Language: Third Rail,” The New York Times (Feb. 8, 2007).

[28]Miller,The Federalist Era,199.

[29]Cf.Richard D. Parker, “Here, the People Rule: A Constitutional Populist Manifesto,” 27 Valaparaiso University Law Review (1993): 572.

[30]Forrest McDonald, The Presidency of George Washington(Lawrence: University of Kansas Press, 1974), 25.

[31]Elkins and McKitrick, Age of Federalism, 516;Willis Fletcher Johnson, 1 America’s Foreign Relations (New York: The Century Company, 1916), 3.

[32]Bradford Perkins, The First Rapprochement (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1967), 28, 58, 60; Johnson, America’s Foreign Relations, 207

[33]Brown, The Presidency, 36.

[34]Lucius Wilmerding, Jr., “The Vice Presidency,” 68(1) Political Science Quarterly (1953): 21.

[35]Stephen G. Kurtz, “The French Mission of 1799-1800: Concluding Chapter in the Statecraft of John Adams,” 80(4) Political Science Quarterly (1965): 545-47.

[36]Brown, The Presidency, 27.

[37]Ibid., 26.

[38]Kurtz, “The French Mission,” 545-46.

[39]George Best, American identity crisis, 1789-1815: Foreign affairs and the formation of American national identity (2015): 28,

[40]Adam Lebovitz, “Franklin Redivivus: The Radical Constitution, 1791-1799,” 57; American Journal of Legal History (2017): 40–41.

[41]Brown, The Presidency, 41.

[42]Lebovitz, “Franklin Redivivus,” 41.

[43]Brown, The Presidency, 41.

[44]Miller, The Federalist Era, 205.

[45]Ibid.; Best, Identity Crisis, 28.

[46]Joseph Charles, “The Jay Treaty: The Origins of the American Party System,” 12(4) The William and Mary Quarterly (1955): 614-15.

[47]Johnson, America’s Foreign Relations, 209.


[49]Best, Identity Crisis, 28.

[50]Miller and Molesky, Our Oldest Enemy, 80.

[51]Miller, The Federalist Era, 206.

[52]Brown, The Presidency, 39.

[53]McDonald, George Washington, 139-41.

[54]John Adams, Special Session Message to Congress (May 16, 1797),

[55]Miller, The Federalist Era, 206.

[56]Johnson, America’s Foreign Relations, 208.

[57]Miller, The Federalist Era, 206.


[59]Johnson, America’s Foreign Relations, 210.

[60]Brown, The Presidency,44; Miller, The Federalist Era, 206-07.

[61]John Bassett Moore, The Principles of American Diplomacy (New York: Harper & Bros., 1905), 12; McDonald, George Washington, 154.

[62]Brown, The Presidency, 37.

[63]Thomas Risse-Kappen, “Did Peace Through Strength End the Cold War?,” 16(1); International Security(1991): 162-188.

[64]Miller, The Federalist Era, 208.

[65]Johnson, America’s Foreign Relations, 210-211.

[66]Miller, The Federalist Era, 210.

[67]Johnson, America’s Foreign Relations, 211.

[68]Miller, The Federalist Era, 210-11.

[69]Brown, The Presidency, 49-51.

[70]Johnson, America’s Foreign Relations, 212-13.

[71]Miller, The Federalist Era, 212.

[72]Best, Identity Crisis, 30.

[73]Miller, The Federalist Era, 212.

[74]Brown, The Presidency, 53.

[75]Miller, The Federalist Era, 214.

[76]Brown, The Presidency, 53, 58.

[77]Letter from John Adams to the United States Congress (June 21, 1798),

[78]Miller, The Federalist Era, 213.

[79]Alex DeConde, The Quasi-War (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1966), 90.

[80]Ibid., 91.

[81]Miller, The Federalist Era, 212-14.

[82]DeConde, The Quasi-War, 90-91.

[83]Brown, The Presidency, 58-60, 62.

[84]Ibid., 63-65, 69.

[85]Michael Schellhammer, “Alexander Hamilton: Dangerous Man,” Journal of the American Revolution (June 5, 2013),

[86]DeConde, The Quasi-War, 97-98.

[87]Brown, The Presidency, 63-65, 69.

[88]DeConde, The Quasi-War, 97-98.

[89]Kurtz, “The French Mission,” 545-46.

[90]Manning J. Dauer, Adams Federalists (Baltimore: The John Hopkins Press, 1953), 168-69.

[91]DeConde, The Quasi-War, 104, 112.

[92]Henry Kissinger, Nuclear Weapons and Foreign Policy (New York: W.W. Norton, 1969), 141.

[93]DeConde, The Quasi-War, 104-05.

[94]Gregory E. Fehlings, “America’s First Limited War,” 53(3) Naval War College Review 101, 101 (2000).

[95]Miller, The Federalist Era, 217.


[97]Jeffrey B. Nickel, United States Foreign Policy During the Haitian Revolution (2001): 30,

[98]Ibid., 12-13.

[99]Best, Identity Crisis, 30.

[100]Nickel, Haitian Revolution, 37-38.

[101]Kurtz, “The French Mission,” 555.

[102]Miller, The Federalist Era, 219.

[103]DeConde, The Quasi-War, 177.

[104]Howard G. Brown, Ending the French Revolution (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2006), 15, 138.

[105]Brown, Ending the French Revolution, 137-38, 170, 199.

[106]DeConde, The Quasi-War, 176.

[107]Walter Berns, “Freedom of the Press and the Alien and Sedition Acts: A Reappraisal,” The Supreme Court Review (1970): 113.

[108]Howe, Changing Political Thought, 203.

[109]Best, Identity Crisis, 31.

[110]Howe, Changing Political Thought, 203.

[111]Kurtz, “The French Mission,” 549.

[112]Howe, Changing Political Thought, 203-04.

[113]Miller, The Federalist Era, 220.

[114]Letter from John Adams to the United States Congress (June 21, 1798)

[115]Miller, The Federalist Era, 243.

[116]Ibid., 244-45.

[117]Johnson, America’s Foreign Relations, 218.

[118]Timothy Pickering to Rufus King (February 19, 1799), quoted in Elkins and McKitrick, Age of Federalism, 618.

[119]Johnson, America’s Foreign Relations, 218.

[120]Alex DeConde, “The Role of William Vans Murray in the Peace Negotiations between France and the United States,1800,” 15(2) Huntington Library Quarterly (1952): 192.

[121]Johnson, America’s Foreign Relations, 219.


[123]DeConde, “Peace Negotiations,” 192.

[124]Johnson, America’s Foreign Relations, 219.

[125]DeConde, “Peace Negotiations,” 192.

[126]Ibid., 191.

[127]Johnson, America’s Foreign Relations, 219.

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