John Adams's Presidency

Start Free Trial

What were some precedents set by John Adams during his presidency?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The greatest precedent that John Adams set during his presidency was his willingness to step down after the election of 1800. This election was one of the most contentious in history and it had the potential to split the United States. Adams admitted defeat and stepped down, thus allowing Thomas Jefferson to serve two terms in office. Adams retired to his farm in Massachusetts where he would also write many letters to Jefferson and other Founders. Adams was also the first to embrace the two-party system, running as a Federalist in 1796.

Adams also was the first president to occupy the White House. Adams also passed the controversial Alien and Sedition Act and fought an undeclared naval war with France during the Quasi-War. Adams negotiated an end to the conflict, thus also dissolving the military alliance which had existed with France since 1778. Adams also increased the size of the American navy. His successor, Jefferson, would benefit from this when he sent a naval force against the Barbary pirates during his first term.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

One of the precedents established by the Adams Administration was the expansion of the Federal government's power. Adams was an unabashed elitist, believing in the governance of a wise, educated political class exercising their authority on the basis of superior powers of reasoning and discernment. This underlying attitude helps to explain Adams's deep suspicion of anything that smacked of anarchy and disorder, the rule of the mob. Though initially somewhat reluctant, Adams eventually signed into law the hugely controversial and draconian Sedition and Alien Acts. To his Republican opponents, this smacked of the despotism of the British, which the Americans had just valiantly fought to remove from their soil. Despite their heated rhetoric, however, the Republicans did little to roll back the extent of the Federal government's powers when they captured the Presidency under Jefferson. The pattern continued under successive administrations and so, to this day, the powers of the Federal government continue to grow exponentially.

Adams's gracious relinquishing of power after his election defeat of 1800 was also an important precedent. In the feverish, highly partisan atmosphere of American politics at the time, this was by no means an inevitability. Indeed, many of Adams's opponents had persistently accused him of wanting to turn himself into another King George III. Yet Adams moved on, returning home to his farm to feed his cattle, tend the fruit trees and plant a potato yard with his own hands. In the midst of fierce political warfare between the emerging parties, Adams had managed to establish the precedent of an American Presidency as being above the fray, maintaining a degree of continuity and stability in periods of great turmoil.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

A precedent is an action that helps guide future actions or events. John Adams set some precedents during his presidency. John Adams was the first president to have the oath of office administered by a Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. The Chief Justice was Oliver Ellsworth.

John Adams was also the first president to sign legislation that limited the rights of the people. The Alien and Sedition Acts were designed to restrict the criticism of the Federalist Party that was coming from the Democratic-Republican Party. People could be jailed if they criticized the government. These laws also increased the time allowed before an immigrant could become a citizen. These laws were later ended before they could be tested in court.

John Adams was also the first president to live in the White House. All future presidents have made the White House their home.

John Adams was the first president to make some appointments just before his term ended. John Adams was known for his Midnight Appointments. He appointed several Federalist judges just before his term ended. This was controversial and led to a famous Supreme Court case known as Marbury Madison.

There were several precedents that were established by John Adams when he was president.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team