2nd President 1797-1801
John Adams was the first president to reside in the White
House, He moved in November 1800 while the paint was still
Learned and thoughtful, John Adams was more remarkable as a
political philosopher than as a politician. "People and
nations are forged in the fires of adversity," he said,
doubtless thinking of his own as well as the American
Adams was born in the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1735. A
Harvard-educated lawyer, he early became identified with the
patriot cause; a delegate to the First and Second
Continental Congresses, he led in the movement for
During the Revolutionary War he served in France and Holland
diplomatic roles, and helped negotiate the treaty of peace.
From 1785 to 1788 he was minister to the Court of St.
James's, returning to be elected Vice President under George
Adams' two terms as Vice President were frustrating
experiences for a man of his vigor, intellect, and vanity.
He complained to his wife Abigail, "My country has in its
wisdom contrived for me the most insignificant office that
ever the invention of man contrived or his imagination
When Adams became President, the war between the French and
British was causing great difficulties for the United States
on the high seas and intense partisanship among contending
factions within the Nation.
His administration focused on France, where the Directory,
the ruling group, had refused to receive the American envoy
and had suspended commercial relations.
Adams sent three commissioners to France, but in the spring
of 1798 word arrived that the French Foreign Minister
Talleyrand and the Directory had refused to negotiate with
them unless they would first pay a substantial bribe. Adams
reported the insult to Congress, and the Senate printed the
correspondence, in which the Frenchmen were referred to only
as "X, Y, and Z."
The Nation broke out into what Jefferson called "the X. Y.
Z. fever," increased in intensity by Adams's exhortations.
The populace cheered itself hoarse wherever the President
appeared. Never had the Federalists been so popular.
Congress appropriated money to complete three new frigates
and to build additional ships, and authorized the
raising of a provisional army. It also passed the Alien and
Sedition Acts, intended to frighten foreign agents out of
the country and to stifle the attacks of Republican editors.
President Adams did not call for a declaration of war, but
hostilities began at sea. At first, American shipping was
almost defenseless against French privateers, but by 1800
armed merchantmen and U.S. warships were clearing the
Despite several brilliant naval victories, war fever
subsided. Word came to Adams that France also had no stomach
for war and would receive an envoy with respect. Long
negotiations ended the quasi war.
Sending a peace mission to France brought the full fury of
the Hamiltonians against Adams. In the campaign of 1800 the
Republicans were united and effective, the Federalists badly
divided. Nevertheless, Adams polled only a few less
electoral votes than Jefferson, who became President.
On November 1, 1800, just before the election, Adams arrived
in the new Capital City to take up his residence in the
White House. On his second evening in its damp, unfinished
rooms, he wrote 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."
Adams retired to his farm in Quincy. Here he penned his
elaborate letters to Thomas Jefferson. Here on July 4, 1826,
he whispered his last words: "Thomas Jefferson survives."
But Jefferson had died at Monticello a few hours earlier.