THE administration of John Adams commenced under inauspicious circumstances. If relations with England were somewhat better because of Jay's treaty--inadequate as it was--those with France were considerably worse. A steady succession of French ministers had managed to keep the pot boiling furiously; first Genêt, then Fauchet, and now M. Adet, the last of a curious trio.
France, flushed with a series of victories over England and her allies, was pushing revolution into every nook and cranny of the Continent, and was not disposed to treat as an equal with the futile little republic across the seas. She dismissed American neutral rights as contemptuously as ever the British had done, and paid no heed to any protests. It was now the Federalists who breathed fiery demands for war against the transgressor. Hamilton, ill at ease in his retirement, joined the fray with a series of public papers, in which he demanded Adet's recall and roused the people against supineness in the face of French aggression.1
Jefferson was greatly alarmed over the situation. War even with England had been far from his thoughts; war with France was unthinkable. Yet the clamor grew; every eastern merchant, every shipowner and moneyed man joined in public meetings and memorials. And Hamilton had added his powerful pen.
However, Jefferson hoped that war could be avoided. "I do not believe," he had written Madison. "mr. A[dams] wishes war with France; nor do I believe he will truckle to England as servilely as has been done. If he assumes this front at once, and shews that he means to attend to self-respect & national dignity with both the nations, perhaps the depredations of both on our commerce may be amicably arrested. I think we should begin first with those who first begin with us, and, by an example on them, acquire a right to re-demand the respect from which the other party has departed." In other words, France had merely been following England's example; and if the United States was to become "tough," let it be with England first.
He was inclined at this time to blame everything on Washington, whom he sarcastically described as "fortunate to get off just as the bubble is bursting, leaving others to hold the bag." Any trouble that might arise would be attributed to the new administration; and Washington would have his "usual good fortune of reaping credit from the good acts of others, and leaving to them that of his errors."
In fact, Jefferson's letters of this period are extremely bitter against his