John Adams

John Adams Event Timeline

March 04, 1797

John Adams (2) Event Timeline

03/04/1797 – 03/04/1801




Electoral votes tabulated in Congress. Adams, the Federalist nominee, received 71 votes and became President. Jefferson, the Democratic-Republican nominee received 68 and became Vice-President. (The original language in Article II specified that the top vote-getter would be President, and second would be Vice-President.)


Notifies the Senate of his intent to take the Oath of Office in the House of Representatives.


Inaugural Address>. Adams retains Washington’s Cabinet, a decision he comes to regret because of their relationship to Alexander Hamilton. Hamilton and Adams contested for leadership of the Federalists.


Calls the first special session of Congress to begin 05/15/1797 to discuss mounting tensions with France.


Addresses a Joint Session of Congress on current conflicts with France and the difficulty of defending the long U.S. coastline and commercial shipping. In a reply from the Senate this speech was referred to as addressing the “state of the Union.”


Nominates three officials (Pinckney, Dana, Marshall) a peace commission to negotiate with France. The Senate confirms the three on 06/05/1797. After Dana declined on grounds of health, Adams nominated Gerry in his place 06/20/1797. The Senate concurred on 6/22/1797. The US commissioners in France were asked for bribes by three persons referred to in dispatches back to the U.S. as “X, Y, and Z.” This came to be called the “XYZ Affair.” (See below 04/03/1798).


Message to Congress recommending formation of “a government in the district of the Natchez”—later called the Mississippi Territory.


Signs an Act (1 Stat 522) authorizing the President to require state executives to organize, arm, and equip a militia force of 80,000, “in readiness to march at a moment’s warning.”


Proclamation 7:  Commencement of the US Mint. Foreign coins are no longer legal tender.


First Annual Address to Congress. “I hold it most certain that permanent tranquillity and order will not soon be obtained. . . . we should make every exertion to protect our commerce and to place our country in a suitable posture of defense. . . The national defense must be provided for as well as the support of Government; but both should be accomplished as much as possible by immediate taxes, and as little as possible by loans.”


Exchange of views with the Senate involves agreement on the need for a “mercantile marine and a military marine.”




The Eleventh Amendment to the Constitution is ratified, establishing the principle of state sovereign immunity in federal court.


Appoints commissioners to negotiate a treaty between the United States and the Cherokee Indians.


Special Message to Congress relaying a report of an attack by a French ship on an English ship at Charleston Harbor. He sends the information “to shew the propriety and necessity of enabling the Executive authority of the Government to take measures for protecting the citizens . . . “


Special Message relaying to Congress dispatches from France. [Link to text of the dispatch.] The message states that France will no longer consider to be neutral any ship with merchandise from England or that had “touched” at an English port.


Special Message reporting failure of negotiations with France. “I perceive no ground of expectation that the objects of their mission can be accomplished on terms compatible with the safety, the honor, or the essential interests of the nation.”


Informs Congress of the details of the XYZ affair, in which France requested bribes from American diplomats, resulting in increased tensions between the two countries. The documents concerning the XYZ affair are available at this link.


Signs Act (2 Stat 549) establishing the Mississippi Territory on land acquired from Spain through the Treaty of Madrid in 1795. The law prohibits importing slaves to the territory from outside the United States.


Signs “An Act (2 Stat 553) to establish an Executive department, to be denominated as the Department of the Navy.” The Secretary of the Navy will have responsibility (subject to Presidential direction) for “construction, armament, equipment and employment of vessels of war, as well as all other matters connected with the naval establishment of the United States.”


Signs “An Act (2 Stat 558) authorizing the President of the United States to raise a Provisional Army.” In the event of an invasion or “imminent danger of such invasion” the President may call into service up to 10,000 “non-commissioned officers, musicians and privates.” This refers to a Federal Army not the militia forces considered in June 1797.


The Senate consents to the nomination of Benjamin Stoddert as first Secretary of the Navy.


Nominates George Washington to be Lieutenant-General and Commander in Chief of the Army—but without first receiving Washington’s agreement. The Senate unanimously consents to the appointment on 07/03/1798.













Signs a series of acts known collectively as the “Alien and Sedition Acts” and set to expire on March 4, 1801.

1. Amendments to the Naturalization Act of 1795 (06/18/1798) among other things requires registration of resident aliens; failure to register can result in jail. No alien from a nation at war with the US can become a citizen. (2 Stat 566)

2. The “Act (2 Stat 571) concerning Aliens (06/25/1798) gives the President authority to deport “such aliens as he shall judge dangerous to the peace and safety of the United States.” 

3. The “Act (2 Stat 577) respecting Alien Enemies” (07/06/1798) stated that in the event of actual or threatened invasion, residents in the US from the threatening nation could be “apprehended, restrained, secured and removed, as alien enemies.” 

4. “An Act (2 Stat 596) for the punishment of certain crimes against the United States,” the Sedition Act. This makes it a crime to conspire “to impede the operation of any law” or to prevent an officer of the government from performing his duty; or “advise or attempt to procure any insurrection, riot, unlawful assembly or combination.” 


Signs an Act (2 Stat 578) of Congress abrogating treaties with France.


Signs an “Act (2 Stat 578) further to protect the Commerce of the United States,” authorizing US vessels “to subdue, seize and take any armed French vessel, which shall be found within the jurisdictional limits of the United States, or elsewhere, on the high seas. . .” This begins the two-year undeclared naval war called the Quasi-War.


In a letter to Adams, Washington accepts the appointment of Commander, to assume the duties when “the Army is in a situation to require my presence.” Adams transmits Washington’s letter to the Senate on 07/17/1798. Washington had previously informed Secretary of War McHenry that he would only accept certain major generals, foremost Alexander Hamilton (who was at odds with Adams).


Signs “An Act (2 Stat 597) to lay and collect a direct tax within the United States” taxing dwellings, land, and slaves. The was to be a temporary tax to raise funds for a war with France, which many believed to be coming. The administrative structure (2 Stat 578) to create lists and assess property, empowering commissioners to do the work had been signed on 07/09/1798. This tax generated widespread opposition.


Signs “An Act (2 Stat 609) to Augment the Army of the United States,”  authorizing and directing in detail the composition of the Army. 


Adams nominates 14 to be leading officers in the Army, foremost among them, Alexander Hamilton, to be Inspector General.


The Kentucky Resolution specifically attacks the Sedition Act as an unconstitutional invasion of power restricted to the States. This resolution was drafted primarily by Thomas Jefferson, and articulated a version of the “nullification doctrine.”


Second Annual Address to Congress. Remarks on the epidemics of yellow fever sweeping major cities and recommends an increase in Navy personnel.


The Virginia Resolution protests the Alien and Sedition Acts for various reasons including that it “is levelled against that right of freely examining public characters and measures. . . the only effectual guardian of every other right.” This Resolution was drafted by James Madison.




About this date, officials attempted to serve subpoenas to enforce the payment of taxes due in Bucks County, PA. and were met with resistance, eventually violence.


Nominates as new envoys to France: William Vans Murray, US ambassador to the Netherlands; Oliver Ellsworth, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court (who continues in that role); and Patrick Henry, former Governor of Virginia; as envoys to France. The Senate confirms on 02/27/1799. Henry declines and in June 1799 is replaced by William Richardson Davie. These envoys help to end the Quasi-War.


Proclamation 9: Calls forth military force to end an armed rebellion (“Fries Rebellion”) by Pennsylvania Dutch farmers in opposition to a new federal property tax. Violence had erupted on 03/06/1799 in Bucks County.


Thomas Cooper is convicted of libel under the Alien and Sedition Acts for publishing a broadside critical of Adams.


Third Annual Address to Congress. Reports that the rebellion in Pennsylvania has been contained. But notes that “On the one hand, the laws should be executed; on the other, individuals should be guarded from oppression. Neither of these objects is sufficiently assured under the present organization of the judicial department.” Advises that removal of the National government to Washington is now practicable.


Refers to Congress aTreaty of Amity” signed between the United States and Prussia on 07/11/1799.


George Washington dies at Mount Vernon and is buried four days later. Adams officially notifies the House and Senate on 12/19/1799 and receives official condolences from both bodies on 12/23/1799. Link to an account of Washington’s Death at the National Library at Mount Vernon.




Signs “Act (1 Stat 6) for the preservation of peace with the Indian Tribes” providing for punishment for any person resident in the US who communicates with Indian Tribes with the intent of disturbing the peace and tranquillity of the United States.


Signs an Act (1 Stat 7) suspending further enlistment in the Army pursuant to the act of 07/16/1798, “unless war shall break out between the United States and the French Republic.” 


The House is informed of a naval defeat of the French frigate La Vengeance by the US frigate Constellation on 02/91/1860.


Signs the Bankruptcy Act of 1800 (1 Stat 19), which is repealed by Congress in 1803.


Signs an act (1 Stat 56) providing for the removal of the government from Philadelphia to the city of Washington. This includes an allocation of $5,000 to purchase “such books as may be necessary for the use of Congress—presaging the founding of the Library of Congress. 


Federalist Caucus renominates Adams for President and Charles Cotesworth Pinckney for Vice-President. Shortly thereafter the Republicans select Jefferson and Burr.


Begins what has been called a “cabinet purge.” Secretary of War McHenry resigns 05/06/1800. Secretary of State Pickering is dismissed effective 05/12/1800, the first instance of presidential dismissal of a department head. Treasury Secretary Wolcott resigns effective 12/31/1800.


Signs an Act (1 Stat 58) dividing the territory northwest of the Ohio River (“Northwest Territory”) defining a new part to be called the Indiana Territory. 


Signs Act (1 Stat 85) specifying that the next session of Congress will be in the City of Washington in the District of Columbia, starting November 17, 1800. 


Proclamation:  Pardons the leaders of the Fries Rebellion. Against the advice of every member of his Cabinet, rescuing them from the death sentence of their treason conviction. This angers his fellow Federalists and the Pennsylvania Germans, contributing to Adams’s loss of electoral support.


The Convention of 1800, also known as the Treaty of Mortefontaine, is signed under Napoleon’s rule, transmitted to Senate on 12/15/1800, receiving Senate concurrence (12/18/1800) after modifications to assure compensation for US merchant ships that had been seized.


Chief Justice Oliver Ellsworth resigns due to poor health.


Adams becomes first president to reside in the President’s House (later known as "The Executive Mansion" and "The White House").


Elections. Actual voting occurred on multiple days in different jurisdictions. Jefferson and his running mate Aaron Burr defeat Adams in the presidential election. Despite Jefferson’s fear that Adams was trying to establish a monarchy.


Fourth Annual State of the Union Address to Congress. The first in Washington D.C. “May this territory be the residence of virtue and happiness!” There is hope for successful negotiations with France.


Presidential Electors cast ballots.




Nominates John Marshall to the Supreme Court (replacing Ellsworth). He is confirmed 01/27/1801. The Marshall Court goes on to establish the principle of judicial review and consistently confirmed federal supremacy over the states.


Electoral votes counted in Congress; Jefferson and Burr tie because ballots do not distinguish between votes for the offices of president and vice president. Thus, the election is determined in the House of Representatives, one vote per state.


Signs the Judiciary Act of 1801 (2 Stat 89) passed by the outgoing Federalist Congress, reorganizing the federal judiciary.


Jefferson is elected by the House on the 36th ballot after a six-day impasse. This was a major constitutional crisis for the still-young United States.

Last edited:  03/23/2024

John Adams, John Adams Event Timeline Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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