Do you remember a few years ago when HBO presented the series of John and Abigail Adams? The Adams were portrayed as leaders and saviors of our fledging US democracy. HBO attempted to change the story of Adams presidency. What really happened is this:

In 1796, President John Adams and his wife Abigail brought a take-no-prisoners politics to Washington D.C. This brought fear and division into the new country. It also brought out the worst behavior in Adams’ Federalist (Republican) supporters.

In 1798, under the Presidency of John Adams (second president of USA) the Federalist Party (Republicans) passed laws similar to the Patriot Act. These laws were called the Alien and Sedition Acts.

The vote in the House of Representatives was narrow—44 to 41. The only way this law would pass was to include the provision that the law would expire the last day of John Adams’s first term of office, March 3, 1801.

This all began when Benjamin Franklin Bache, grandson of Benjamin Franklin and editor of the Philadelphia newspaper The Aurora, spoke out against John Adams’ policies. Bache supported Vice President Thomas Jefferson’s Democratic-Republican Party (today called the Democratic Party).

Bache called President Adams “old, querulous, bald, blind, crippled, toothless Adams.”

About 20 independent newspapers ridiculed Adams’ policies and his lifestyle of formality and grandeur. Bache was jailed and died of yellow fever while awaiting trial. Editors of seventeen of the twenty Democratic-Republican-affiliated newspapers were arrested. Ten were jailed and their newspapers went out of business.

John Adams knew that Jefferson would challenge him in the next presidential election. Therefore, Adams and the Federalists planned to pass secret legislation that would have a “disputed presidential election decided in secret and behind closed doors.”

William Duane had taken over the newspaper of Bache and continued to criticize President Adams. Duane published news of Adams’ secret plot and that was too much for Adams. Duane was arrested on Sedition Act charges. Thomas Jefferson intervened and got Duane out of prison.

Meanwhile, John and Abigail Adams lived like royalty. They traveled in elegant style—“in fancy carriages as part of a parade, with each city they passed through firing cannons and ringing church bells.” As John and Abigail Adams traveled through each city, the soldiers chanted “Behold the chief who now commands.” This was a mandated chant

Take-no-prisoners politics is shown in this event: Vermont’s congressman Matthew Lyon spoke on the floor of the House against “the malign influence of Connecticut politicians.” He said that the Adams and Federalists served the rich and the well born.” Two weeks later, Federalist Connecticut congressman Roger Griswold attacked Lyon on the House floor with a hickory cane.

Anyone daring to speak out against Adams and the Federalists was shouted down or threatened by Federalist-controlled police and militia. Lyon had served in the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War. Two weeks after his caning, Lyons wrote an article about Adams’s “continual grasp for power.”

Lyon was led through the town of Vergennes, Vermont in shackles. He ran for re-election in 1800 from his twelve-by-sixteen-foot Vergennes jail cell and easily won his seat. He wrote from his jail cell: “It is quite a new kind of jargon to call a Representative of the People an Opponent of the Government because he does not, as a legislator, advocate every proposition that comes from the Executive.”

Several states had gone over to President Adams’ side, one being Massachusetts which was full of preachers wanting theocracy established in America. Connecticut also supported Adams because the state was filled with rich people. Massachusetts talked of seceding from the nation because it was too liberal and secular.

Thomas Jefferson said: “This is not new. It is the old practice of despots, to use part of the people to keep the rest in order, but our present age is not a natural one.” Jefferson knew that Adams had been using divide and conquer politics and fear mongering.

Jefferson continued: “It the game runs sometimes against us, we must have patience till luck turns and then we shall have an opportunity of winning back the principles we have lost. For this is a game where principles are at stake.”

Two hundred years later we still struggle against despotic forces. Let us remember Jefferson’s words, “We must have patience and win back the principles we have lost.”

Source: Threshold by Thom Hartmann