The Age of Federalism

By Stanley Elkins; Eric McKitrick | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XIII
Adams and Hamilton

The year 1798 was for John Adams both the highest and lowest, the best and the worst, of his entire presidency. That year encompassed a cycle which took Adams from the depths of discouragement in the opening months to heights of exaltation and mastery by summer, then with the approach of winter pulled him down once again to abysses of gloom and humiliation. This paralleled very closely the course of sentiment in the country at large with regard to relations with the French Republic. It began in a state of partisan malaise and division of purpose, followed by a tremendous soaring of patriotic unity, in turn undermined by a steady intrusion of new discontents and an ebbing away once more of national feeling. This same period would see the return to public life of Alexander Hamilton, with consequences profoundly significant for the fortunes of Federalism.


I
Second Phase: The Fever of 1798

Whatever the degree of attention the French may have been paying to signals coming from America between the summer of 1797 and the beginning of March 1798, those signals could spell but a single message: disunity. Republican leaders from Jefferson on down had never had any sympathy with the President's policy, had steadily refused to accept his definition of the problem of France, and had done everything they could to frustrate his program. Even Adams's own cabinet had given him no end of trouble over the appointment of a commission to negotiate with the French. The special session of Congress he had called in May 1797 had given him next to no support. The regular session which met in November, and to which he repeated his appeal for measures of defense, gave him even less. His call for a naval force capable of protecting American commerce was rejected by the Republican majority in the House, and he himself was charged with delib-

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