John Adams and Thomas Jefferson's Paths - What Distinguished the Founding Fathers of the US in Personal and Political Sphere – Term Paper Example
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Adams and Jefferson, Complex Collaborators
John Adams and Thomas Jefferson paths crossed at the most pivotal period in American history. The second and third presidents of the country shared a political and personal relationship second to no other. The two were close collaborators, colleagues, friends and bitter rivals. Together, they helped instigate and shape the bold new experiment of a republic in a time that monarchies were generally accepted as the only legitimate type of governance. It’s hardly arguable that without the influence of Adams and Jefferson, the history of America would be different if America existed in its present form at all.
Adams selected Jefferson to write the Declaration of Independence. Jefferson’s words, with the input of Adams and Benjamin Franklin, became the country’s most revered document. The famous pair, along with most notably Franklin, forged foreign alliances that would be essential in the formation of the new nation. Jefferson was Adam’s Vice President and the two exchanged what are today are among the most celebrated letters in American history. The second and third presidents also called each other friend. It is appropriate that these two most significant of Founding Fathers died on the same day, July 4, 1826, the 50th anniversary of the country’s independence. The main subject of this discussion is not what these men had in common but what divided them deeply, both personally and politically.
John Adams feared that it would define his presidency and it did. The four laws collectively known as the Alien and Sedition Acts signed into law by Adams in 1798 severely divided the country down ideological and political lines and are largely blamed for costing Adams a second term. The Acts inspired Jefferson to conspire against Adams while serving as his second in command. Adams considered Jefferson’s actions just short of treasonous, a personal insult and the betrayal of a longtime friendship. Jefferson was working against his president and friend but in support of the U.S. Constitution and the concept of liberty. (Hromatko, 2008)
Ironically and much to the disappointment of France, America’s first and most important ally, the new nation signed a treaty with England during George Washington’s administration. Washington knew an alliance with the most powerful military in the world and its leading trading partner was essential. By 1798, the U.S. and France were near war. Adams and most other members of his Federalist Party were concerned that France enjoyed much support among U.S. citizens including Thomas Jefferson and the Democratic-Republican Party. To the Federalists, the opposition party was publicly siding with a potential enemy of the state. The divide of loyalties severely weakened the security and very stability of the new nation. Therefore, Adams deemed it necessary to curb dissention by silencing those who would voice opposition to the state. The leaders of the Federalist Party in both houses of Congress passed four laws, the Naturalization Act, Alien Act, Alien Enemies Act and the Sedition Act. (Hamilton)
The Naturalization Act raised the minimum number of year’s residency to become a citizen from five to 14 years. The Alien Act and Alien Enemies Act dealt with deporting non-citizens for various offenses. The Sedition Act was intended to stifle critics of Adams, a clear violation of the First Amendment. The Act stated that it was a treasonous offense to “print, utter, or publish any false, scandalous and malicious writing” against the President or federal government. (Hamilton) More than two dozen newspapers sympathetic to Jefferson’s viewpoint were closed down by the government, its editors arrested. Including those charged with a federal crime under this Act was Benjamin Franklin’s grandson Benjamin Franklin Bache, editor of the Aurora, a Philadelphia newspaper.
The public and political backlash against the Adams’ administration was swift and extensive. Many citizens were rightfully outraged. The States of Virginia and Kentucky passed a resolution that asserted states had the right to proclaim all federal dictatorial laws unconstitutional. (Gragg, 1998) Jefferson drafted the Kentucky Resolves and James Madison the Virginia Resolves in 1799, “both expressing the views of the legislators in those states that the Alien and Sedition Acts were illegal and unenforceable.” (Leef, 2005) Madison would later become the nation’s fourth president.
Adams was able to avoid war with France but never overcame the political setback caused by the Sedition Act. Neither did the Federalist Party which would never again attain prominence in U.S. politics. Adams’ historic accomplishments are still today muffled by the shame brought upon his legacy by the Sedition Act. Jefferson, on the other hand, has been elevated to ‘Mount Rushmore’ status in the hearts and minds of readers of American history. The Democratic Party of today is known as ‘The Party of Jefferson.’ History shows that Adams did not intend for the Sedition Act to live past the conflict with France, that it was simply a precautionary, necessary and temporary phenomenon that would not diminish the liberty he and the other Founders and citizen soldiers sacrificed much to achieve. A Sedition Act was enacted during WWII and a similar Patriot Act in response to the 9-11 attacks. Still, Adams remains appropriately vilified by history for abusing executive powers. Jefferson remains appropriately admired for his courage to take a stand for what he believed was right, regardless of the consequences. For this reason it was Jefferson that provided the best leadership as President. To be fair, it was Adams that provided better leadership during the formation of the new nation.
Gragg, Larry “Order vs. Liberty” HistoryNet.com (October, 1998) February 7, 2009
Hamilton, Phil “Alien and Sedition Acts” Intercollegiate Studies Institute February 7, 2009
Leef, George “Reclaiming the American Revolution” The Future of Freedom Foundation (December 30, 2005) February 7, 2009
Hromatko, Wesley “John Adams” Unitarian Universalist Historical Society (2008)
February 7, 2009