im john adams,mr. Hamilton
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Alexander Hamilton vs. John Adams
Adams lacked the loyal base of party support that Jefferson enjoyed. Alexander Hamilton, the Federalists’ leading political strategist, did not like or trust President Adams. Hamilton determined to try to replace Adams with his vice presidential running mate, Charles Cotesworth Pinckney. To accomplish that feat, Hamilton campaigned far harder than either of the presidential candidates.
Hamilton, wary and calculating by nature, had his own sense of honor. He did not trust Adams. Adams was doubtless aware of the maneuverings of Hamilton and enraged by what he regarded as the complicity of his Cabinet. The president moved quickly and emotionally to respond. A week after the congressional meeting of Federalists that designated both Adams and Pinckney, Adams picked a fight with Hamilton’s allies in the cabinet – forcing out both Secretary of War James McHenry and Secretary of State Timothy Pickering. First, he requested Pickering’s resignation, which Pickering refused. Adams then fired him. As McHenry recalled his parting interview with the president, Adams said: “Hamilton has been opposing me in New York. He has caused the loss of the election No head of Department shall be permitted to oppose me.” Adams went on to denounce Hamilton as a “an intriguant,” “a bastard” and a “foreigner.” He charged that McHenry was “subservient to Hamilton who ruled Washington, and would still rule if he could.” For his part, Pickering wrongly blamed his dismissal on an agreement that Adams had made with Jefferson.
Adams was unquestionably injured by the efforts of Hamilton, with whom Adams had repeatedly clashed as president – most recently over the Administration’s policy toward France. The Adams foreign policy eventually bore fruit but word of a new treaty with France reached America after most states had already chosen their electors and after Hamilton created a diatribe against Adam’s presidency and personality. Unquestionably, it was not Hamilton’s finest hour. John Ferling wrote that “Hamilton, driven by his hatred of Adams to the point that his customary highly sensitive political skills were subsumed by his irrational passion, decided to publish an open philippic against the president.”
In the interim, Hamilton wrote President Adams directly to complain about Adams’s criticism of him and his influence on the Adams administration. On August , Hamilton wrote: “It has been repeatedly mentioned to me that you have, on different occasions, asserted the existence of a British Faction in this Country, embracing a number of leading or influential characters of the Foederal Party (as usually denominated) and that you have sometimes named me at other times plainly alluded to me as one of this this description of persons: And I have likewise been assured that of late some of your warm adherents, for electioneering purposes, have employed a corresponding language.” Hamilton then demanded whether these statements had been made and on what evidence.
President Adams was prudent in his response to Hamilton. Publicly, the president did nothing. However, in reply, Adams “drafted an eight-nine-page handwritten response to Hamilton’s allegations and included charges of his own,” wrote historian John Ferling. “He depicted the New Yorker as devious, duplicitous, calculating, and above all dangerous. But for all his hurt and vehemence, Adams in the end chose not to immediately publish his tract.” The damage had been done, but because few states chose their Electoral College electors by popular vote, its impact on the election was limited. Political manuevering would play a more important role in the outcome. The Hamilton-Adams feud had derailed any chance that Adams might win. Ferling wrote of Hamilton that “throughout the campaign he pursued a well-conceived three-pronged strategy. First, he sought to ensure that Adams would not win in the electoral college, and his pamphlet aimed at sowing sufficient doubts about the president’s character in the minds of electors that one or two would turn away from him. Second, Hamilton sought electoral votes for Pinckney.” Stanley Elkins & Eric McKitrick wrote: “The episode revealed…a good many things about the individual character of both John Adams and Alexander Hamilton, most of it less than attractive.”