Washington retired in 1797, firm- ly declining to serve for more than eight years as the nation’s head . Thomas Jefferson of Virginia (Re- publican) and John Adams (Federal- ist) vied to succeed him . Adams won a narrow election victory . From the beginning, however, he was at the head of a party and an administra- tion divided between his backers and those of his rival, Hamilton .

Adams faced serious internation- al difficulties . France, angered by Jay’s treaty with Britain, adopted its definition of contraband and began to seize American ships headed for Britain . By 1797 France had snatched 300 American ships and broken off diplomatic relations with the United States . When Adams sent three commissioners to Paris to ne- gotiate, agents of Foreign Minis- ter Charles Maurice de Talleyrand (whom Adams labeled X, Y, and Z in his report to Congress) informed the Americans that negotiations could only begin if the United States loaned France $12 million and bribed of- ficials of the French government . American hostility to France rose to an excited pitch . The so-called XYZ Affair led to the enlistment of troops and the strengthening of the fledg- ling U .S . Navy .

In 1799, after a series of sea bat-

tles with the French, war seemed inevitable . In this crisis, Adams re- jected the guidance of Hamilton, who wanted war, and reopened ne- gotiations with France . Napoleon, who had just come to power, re- ceived them cordially . The danger of conflict subsided with the nego- tiation of the Convention of 1800, which formally released the United States from its 1778 defense alliance with France . However, reflecting American weakness, France refused to pay $20 million in compensation for American ships taken by the French Navy .

Hostility to France had led Con- gress to pass the Alien and Sedition Acts, which had severe repercus- sions for American civil liberties . The Naturalization Act, which changed the requirement for citi- zenship from five to 14 years, was targeted at Irish and French immi- grants suspected of supporting the Republicans . The Alien Act, oper- ative for two years only, gave the president the power to expel or im- prison aliens in time of war . The Sedition Act proscribed writing, speaking, or publishing anything of “a false, scandalous, and mali- cious” nature against the president or Congress . The few convictions won under it created martyrs to the cause of civil liberties and aroused support for the Republicans .

The acts met with resistance . Jef- ferson and Madison sponsored the passage of the Kentucky and Virgin- ia Resolutions by the legislatures of these two states in November and




December 1798 . Extreme declara- tion of states’ rights, the resolutions asserted that states could “interpose” their views on federal actions and “nullify” them . The doctrine of nul- lification would be used later for the Southern states’ resistance to protec- tive tariffs, and, more ominously, slavery .

By 1800 the American people were ready for a change . Under Washington and Adams, the Feder- alists had established a strong gov- ernment, but sometimes failing to honor the principle that the Ameri- can government must be responsive to the will of the people, they had followed policies that alienated large groups . For example, in 1798 they had enacted a tax on houses, land, and slaves, affecting every property owner in the country .

Jefferson had steadily gathered behind him a great mass of small farmers, shopkeepers, and other workers . He won a close victory in a contested election . Jefferson en- joyed extraordinary favor because of his appeal to American idealism . In his inaugural address, the first such speech in the new capital of Wash- ington, D .C ., he promised “a wise and frugal government” that would preserve order among the inhabit- ants but leave people “otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of in- dustry, and improvement .”

Jefferson’s mere presence in the White House encouraged demo- cratic procedures . He preached and practiced democratic simplic- ity, eschewing much of the pomp

and ceremony of the presidency . In line with Republican ideology, he sharply cut military expenditures . Believing America to be a haven for the oppressed, he secured a lib- eral naturalization law . By the end of his second term, his far-sighted secretary of the treasury, Albert Gallatin, had reduced the national debt to less than $560 million . Wide- ly popular, Jefferson won reelection as president easily .

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