26 August 2011

For Love and Country: John and Abigail Adams and the United States of America, part 12

1797 - 1801

I think of you and dream of you and long to be with you. But I Suppose this must not be yet.”
--John Adams to Abigail Adams from Philadelphia, January 11, 1797 (Adams Family Papers, Correspondence)

The country found out in December 1796 that John Adams had defeated Thomas Jefferson by a whisker for the office of President of the United States.  The highest office in the land now belonged to, arguably, the United States’ leading patriot.  The duty he performed in the name of his country, the sacrifices he had made since the 1770s, the many travels, propelled John to the position he had been aiming for, despite his writings to the contrary.  The victory for Adams meant that he would have to spend time away from Abigail once more, but she did not mind.

John was in Philadelphia, while Abigail remained in Quincy because she was in ill health.  In early January, John wrote home, “I am, with anxious desires to see you, which I fear cannot be gratified before July.”  Abigail wrote almost at the same time, “The Cold has been more severe than I can ever before recollect. It has frozen the ink in my pen, and chilld the Blood in my veins, but not the Warmth of my affection for Him for whom my Heart Beats with unabated ardor through all the changes and visisitudes of Life” (Adams Family Papers, Correspondence 14 Jan 1797, 15 Jan 1797).  The time away from each other affected John and Abigail as much as it did when John was in Europe.

On March 4, 1797, John Adams was inaugurated second President of the United States of America.  Abigail was not there, although she was no less proud of her husband.  Less than two weeks after the inauguration, John began writing to Abigail about how he missed her.  First, he wrote, “I can not live without you till October,” which was when Abigail was supposed to arrive in Philadelphia.  Days later, he wrote, “I never wanted your Advice and assistance more in my Life.”  At the beginning of April he became more desperate in his pleas.  “I have written you before and have only time now to repeat that I pray you to come on,” he wrote.  Two days later he urged her, “I pray you to come on immediately.  I will not live in this State of Separation.  Leave the Place[. . .]to any body or nobody.  I care nothing about it – But you, I must and will have” (qtd. in Gelles 128).  He continued with this request every few days in letters to Abigail. 

It would be late April before Abigail began her journey to Philadelphia.  She wrote to John from Springfield, Massachusetts as she was on her way, “I come to place my head upon your Bosom and to receive and give that consolation which sympathetick hearts alone know how to communicate.”  John responded to her before she arrived, without concealing what lay ahead, “You and I are now entering on a new Scene, which will be the most difficult, and least agreable of any in our Lives. I hope the burthen will be lighter to both of Us, when We come together” (Adams Family Papers, Correspondence 30 Apr 1797, 4 May 1797).  John would face many struggles over the next few years, and Abigail would be there beside him through the grueling times, defending her husband along the way.

In March 1798, John found out about the French attempts to bribe American diplomats.  The events, which became known as the XYZ Affair (the French agents were initially known as X, Y and Z), led to a quasi-war with France.  In May, with fear of a general war breaking out, Adams proposed the creation of a Department of the Navy to Congress.  Congress approved the plan, and the Navy became one of John’s proudest achievements.  The Affair and Adams’ response to it, however, created some animosity in the nation.  The press published scathing columns against Adams.  This angered both Abigail and John, who felt John should be above such commentary because of his patriotic track record.  Adams charged that French agents in the United States were behind such reports and that they were hoping to tear the new nation apart.  With Abigail’s support, John signed the Alien and Sedition Acts.  This decision was probably the worst made by Adams in his political life. 

The acts, intended to prevent criticism of the government, were seen by many as unconstitutional.  Most likely, the Acts cost Adams re-election to the Presidency in 1800.  Despite that, John and Abigail stood together behind the decision.  With Abigail back in Quincy for the winter, they exchanged letters on politics.  “With respect to what is past,” Abigail wrote at the end of the year,

all was intended for the best, and you have the Satisfaction of knowing that you have faithfully served your generation, that you have done it at the expence of all private Considerations and you do not know whether you would have been a happier Man in private, than you have been in publick Life. The exigencies of the times were such as call'd you forth. You considerd yourself as performing your duty. With these considerations, I think you have not any cause for regret. (Adams Family Papers, Correspondence 28 Dec 1798)

Abigail stood by John and his decisions until the end of his political career, which was fast approaching.

            Most of the years 1799 and 1800, John and Abigail would spend together, attending to the business of the President and First Lady.  On November 1, 1800, John Adams became the first President to live in the President’s House in the new city of Washington.  The word city is used lightly, as most of the federal buildings, including the President’s House were not yet completed, housing scarcely existed, and shacks housing workers were all over the city, including on the President’s front lawn.  Abigail joined John in the middle of November, but their time in Washington would be short-lived. 

In December, John found out that he had been defeated for the Presidency.  Thomas Jefferson won the election and Aaron Burr finished second in the voting, making him Vice President.  In a final controversial move, John appointed members of his party to judicial posts in January and February, before Jefferson came into office in March.  Four years later, Jefferson wrote Abigail that he considered those appointments “personally unkind.”  Abigail, as always, defended her husband by informing Jefferson that the appointments were perfectly legal and were “not intended to give any personal pain of offence” (Cappon, I. 270, 271).  John left Washington the night before Jefferson’s inauguration on March 4, 1801.  He and Abigail would finally get to spend time together, with John out of politics and able to concentrate his time and energy on his family and farm.  John, in fact, had written to her in January, “I must be farmer John of Stoneyfield [his farm] and nothing more (I hope nothing less) for the rest of my life” (qtd. in McCullough 559).  Despite some difficult times, John Adams had served his country for over twenty-five years. 

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