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The Presidency of John Adams

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Focus Question: How did problems with France
intensify the split between the Federalists and

John Adams, like Washington, struggled to reduce

the divisions within the country and keep relations
with foreign countries neutral.

Troubles with France

*The French were very angered by the lack of U.S.
support after they helped us win the
Revolutionary War.
*The French saw the U.S. treaty with England
(Jays Treaty) as putting them on the "other"
side. France snubbed a US diplomat and
continued attacking US merchant ships.
The XYZ Affair
*1797 - Adams sent three men to France. French
gov't agents demanded the U.S. pay a $250,000
bribe to speak with French officials. They also
wanted a loan of several million dollars for
*The Americans refused to given in to the
demands and were unable to meet with the
French officials in what came to be known as the
XYZ Affair because the names of the French
agents were kept secret.
War Fever
*After the XYZ incident, many Federalists in the
country began to call for war on France. As a
result, President John Adams (Federalist)
convinced Congress to increase the size of the
navy and army and to create a separate
department specifically for the navy.
*1798 1800 France and the U.S. fought an
undeclared naval war for the next two years.
Adams sent another mission to France to avoid
war. It eventually ended with French dictator
Napoleon Bonaparte of France agreeing to stop
seizing American ships.
*Adams had avoided full scale war with France,
but had angered other members of his own
political party, especially pro-British Hamilton,
which weakened his position.

The Alien and Sedition Acts

*The split between Federalists and Democratic-
Republicans widened further as Federalist fear of
revolutionary France turned into a fear of
immigrants and immigrant ideas being brought
into the U.S. Federalists worried that immigrants
would back Democratic-Republicans so they
passed laws in 1798 targeting immigrants and also
laws to target their opponent Democratic-
*The Alien (outsider from another country) Act
increased the time that someone had to live in the
U.S. before becoming a citizen from 5 to 14 years.
The President could also deport/imprison any
alien considered dangerous.
*The Sedition (activity designed to overthrow a
gov't) Act made it a crime for anyone to write or
say anything insulting or false about the President,
Congress, or the gov't. This was the harshest law
limiting free speech that was ever passed in the
US. Most of the ten people convicted were
Democratic-Republican editors and printers.

States' Rights
*The D-Rs denounced the Alien and Sedition Acts
saying they violated the Constitution (1st Amend.).
However, the ability of the Supreme Court to
strike down a law as unconstitutional was not
clearly established, so the opposition had to be
done through the state legislatures.

*The campaign was led by D-Rs James Madison

and Thomas Jefferson. Resolutions written by
these men attacking the acts were passed by both
the Virginia and Kentucky legislatures.
*The resolutions stated the Alien and Sedition Acts
were unconstitutional and that the states had the
right to declare laws passed by Congress
unconstitutional (i.e., states rights).
*No other states supported Virginia and Kentucky
so the resolutions had little impact. The Acts were
not in force for long and expired in 1801 (Sedition)
and 1802 (Alien). The waiting period for
immigrants was restored to five years.
*The impact of the legislation was important.
States could nullify (deprive of legal force; to
cancel its influence) a law passed by Congress.
*The idea of states' rights (that the union binding
the United States was an agreement between the
states and therefore the states could overrule federal
law) was established and in the future a number of
states would refuse to obey certain federal laws.

Arguments for States Rights:

*The federal govt gets its power from rights given
to it by the states.
*Since the states created the US, individual states
have the power to nullify/cancel a federal law.

Arguments for Federal Power:

*The federal govt gets its power from rights given
to it by the American people.
*States have no power to nullify federal laws.
*States cannot revoke/take back federal powers
stated in the Constitution.

Section 8-4 Review Questions

How did Adams settle differences with France?

He compromised to avoid war.

What did the Alien and Sedition Acts do?

They limited immigration and free speech.

Why did the issue of states' rights arise at this


Republicans opposed the Alien and Sedition Acts,

but Republican-backed state legislatures could do
nothing to overturn federal law.