A Just and Politic Peace
THE BEGINNING AND THE END OF JOHN ADAMS' POLITICAL career are marked by two great decisions. In 1776 he was foremost among the handful of radicals who openly called for independence and a declaration of war against Great Britain, while in 1799 he dramatically broke with the Hamiltonians, lost their support for the presidency in 1800, and made peace with France. Historians in general have had far greater regard for Adams the revolutionary radical than for Adams the President and peace-maker.
John Adams' nomination of a new peace envoy in February, 1799, brought the wrath of the Hamiltonian faction down upon him, because it put an end to their dreams of political preponderance and military glory. It seemed to the Hamiltonians that Adams had deliberately cut them off from his thinking on this important decision and had committed political suicide by allowing the Republicans to come out of their eclipse to campaign actively for Jefferson's election in 1800. It has seemed as simple as this to most historians since.
The standard pro-Hamiltonian viewpoint is that Adams had little reason to reopen negotiations at the moment he did. The French government had not made a direct approach or any announcement concerning the XYZ affair that expressed regret or willingness to make amends. Talleyrand, in an injured tone, had stated that the American envoys had been taken in by a band of thieves and had left France before checking with his office on the standing of the three agents