THE PERSONAL RULE OF JOHN ADAMS
The narrow majority by which John Adams was elected did not accurately reflect the existing state of party strength. The electoral college system, by its nature, was apt to distort the situation. Originally the electors voted for two persons without designating their preference for President. There was no inconvenience on that account while Washington was a candidate, since he was the first choice of all the electors; but in 1796, with Washington out of the field, both parties were in the dilemma that, if they voted solidly for two candidates, the vote of the electoral college would not determine who should be President. To avert this situation, the adherents of a presidential candidate would have to scatter votes meant to have only vice-presidential significance. This explains the wide distribution of votes that characterized the working of the system until it was changed by the Twelfth Amendment adopted in 1804.
In 1796, the electoral college gave votes to thirteen candidates. The Federalist ticket was John Adams and Thomas Pinckney of South Carolina. Hamilton urged equal support of both as the surest way to defeat Jefferson; but eighteen Adams electors in New England withheld votes from Pinckney to make sure that he should not slip in ahead of Adams. Had they not done so, Pinckney would have been chosen President, a possibility which Hamilton foresaw because of Pinckney’s popularity in the South. New York, New Jersey, and Delaware voted solidly for Adams and Pinckney as Hamilton had recommended, but South Carolina voted solidly for both Jefferson and Pinckney, and moreover Pinckney received scattering votes elsewhere in the South. The action of the Adams electors in New England defeated Pinckney, and gave Jefferson the vice-presidency, the vote for the leading candidates being 71 for Adams, 68 for Jefferson, and 59 for Pinckney. The tendency of such conditions to inspire political feuds and to foster factional animosity is quite obvious. This situation must be borne in mind, in order to make intelligible the course of Adams’s administration.
Adams had an inheritance of trouble from the same source which had plagued Washington’s administration,—the efforts of revolutionary France to rule the United States. In selecting Monroe to succeed Morris, Washington knew that the former was as friendly to the French Revolution as Morris had been opposed to it, and hence he hoped that Monroe would be able to impart a more friendly feeling to the relations of the two countries. Monroe arrived in Paris just after the fall of Robespierre. The Committee of Public Safety then in possession of the executive authority hesitated to receive him. Monroe wrote to the President of the National Convention then sitting, and a decree was at once passed that the Minister of the United States should “be introduced in the