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The President Faces Tensions Abroad
Adams took office in March 1797, and his presidency was quickly taken up with foreign affairs. Britain and France were at war, which directly affected American trade. During his tenure, Washington had managed to maintain neutrality, but tensions had escalated by the time Adams became president. In 1797, he sent a delegation to France to negotiate a treaty but the French refused to meet with the delegates, and the French foreign minister, Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Perigord (1754-1838), demanded a large bribe. Adams refused to deal with the French on these terms, and the bribery scandal, which became known as the XYZ Affair, boosted Adams' popularity immensely. An undeclared naval war broke out between the U.S. and France in 1798 and lasted until 1800, when a peace treaty was signed.
Adams squandered his popularity by signing the Alien and Sedition Acts into law in 1798. Ostensibly written to protect American interests, the acts gave the government broad powers to deport "enemy" aliens and arrest anyone who strongly disagreed with the government. Jefferson and his allies, who called themselves the Democratic-Republicans, assailed these laws, declaring them unconstitutional. Many Americans, having shed one oppressive government, feared that their new government might resort to similar tactics. Although the laws were never abused and, in fact, had built-in expirations, they hurt Adams and helped cost him the election in 1800.
A Tireless Writer
After his presidency, Adams had a long and productive retirement. He and his wife lived in Quincy, Massachusetts, and the former president spent the next quarter-century writing columns, books and letters. In 1812, he was encouraged to begin exchanging letters with his old rival Thomas Jefferson, and their voluminous correspondence lasted the rest of their lives.
Abigail Adams died in 1818 but John Adams lived long enough to see his son John Quincy Adams (1767-1848) become America's sixth president in 1824. By that point, the elder Adams and Jefferson were among the last living signers of the Declaration of Independence. On July 4, 1826 (the Declaration's 50th anniversary), the 90-year-old Adams uttered his last words: "Thomas Jefferson still survives." He died later that day. What he did not know was that earlier that morning Jefferson, too, had passed away.
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Jefferson is an insightful 2-hour presentation on HISTORY which examines his many identities and asks viewers to answer for themselves: who was the real Thomas Jefferson, and what is his most lasting legacy in our world today?