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1796–1797 United States House of Representatives elections in Massachusetts

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  • ✪ John Adams: His Rotundity (1797 - 1801)
  • ✪ Worst 10 Senators in American History
  • ✪ George Washington: The Birth of a Nation (1789 - 1797)
  • ✪ John Marshall: The Man Who Made the Supreme Court
  • ✪ Federalist Party


Professor Dave here, let’s learn about John Adams. To follow George Washington would have been difficult for anyone, but it was especially so for John Adams, who was by his own admission, stubborn, disagreeable and unlikeable. Adams’ Administration managed to debilitate the Federalist Party and give the Jeffersonian Democratic-Republicans a forty-year reign. Like his political opponent Thomas Jefferson, many of Adams’ greatest contributions to the United States occurred before he became president. He first gained fame in 1765 as a fierce opponent of the Stamp Act, the tax on all paper that had been marked with a Royal Stamp, one of the flashpoints of the Revolution. Adams wrote that the Act violated two fundamental tenets of British Law: the right to be tried in a jury of one’s peers, and the right to be taxed only by consent. With the passage of the Stamp Act, the British Admiralty Courts, which had no juries, had been given the jurisdiction to preside over Colonial disputes, even though they were widely viewed as corrupt and unfair. Five years later, a crowd of Bostonians taunted a group of British soldiers who then fired into the crowd, killing five colonialists. This event became known in the colonies as the “Boston Massacre”. The soldiers found it difficult to get legal representation, but Adams agreed to try their case, believing that everyone was entitled to legal representation, even though it was an extremely unpopular decision. In his arguments, Adams famously said, “Facts are stubborn things and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.” Adams won an acquittal for six of the soldiers while just two were convicted of manslaughter. In the 1770’s, Adams’ home state of Massachusetts was quickly becoming the seat of the rebellion in the British colonies. Adams and his cousin Sam were becoming well-known firebrands. Adams felt that separation from Great Britain was inevitable, and was selected as the Massachusetts representative at the First Continental Congress in 1774. After the battles of Concord and Lexington in 1775, more colonial leaders came to share his perspective, and the voices calling for independence grew stronger. At the Second Congress that June, Adams nominated George Washington to lead the Continental Army. His influence had grown so great and his arguments for a republic were so persuasive that friends convinced him to write down his thoughts. The ensuing pamphlet, “Thoughts on Government,” was his most eloquent argument for separation and had a major impact on the American public and the Congress. In it he argued for a republic, stating, “There is no good government but what is republican. That the only valuable part of the British constitution is so because the very definition of a republic is an empire of laws, and not of men.” He also came out strongly in favor of a bicameral government, similar to the British House of Lords and Commons. “Thoughts on Government” became hugely influential in every colony contemplating a state Constitution and remains Adams’ most important contribution to American political thought. Throughout the convention, Adams agitated for independence and on July 2nd, such a resolution was passed. A Committee of Five comprised of Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, Robert R. Livingston, and Roger Sherman was given the task of drafting a written declaration of independence from Britain. After discussing the general outline that it should follow, it was decided that Jefferson would write the first draft. Jefferson objected, saying to Adams, “You ought to do it”, but Adams replied, “First, you are a Virginian, and a Virginian ought to appear at the head of this business. Reason second, I am obnoxious, suspected, and unpopular. You are very much otherwise. Reason third, you can write ten times better than I can.” Said Jefferson, “I will do as well as I can.” Although the first draft was written primarily by Jefferson, Adams contributed to its completion. After editing the document and removing its condemnation of slavery, Congress approved it on July 4th. Years later, Jefferson would hail Adams as a pillar of support and its ablest defender on the Congress. Adams was a tireless worker in the Board of War and Ordinance, and at the war’s conclusion he became the first minister to Great Britain. Returning home, Adams was elected the first Vice President under Washington. Among his duties was to act as President of the Senate, where he was allowed to vote as a tiebreaker when required, and he voted a historic 31 times to break such ties. At the start his tenure, Adams became involved in a month-long Senate debate over the official Presidential title, with Adams favoring such grandiose titles as “His Majesty the President” or “His High Mightiness, the President of the United States and Protector of Their Liberties.” Adams’ pomposity, along with his obesity, earned him the nickname, “His Rotundity.” Though Washington seldom sought his counsel, Adams was the presumed nominee for President after Washington declared his intention not to seek a third term. Opposing him was Jefferson, who had resigned from Washington’s Cabinet because of his endless disagreements with Alexander Hamilton. Jefferson and James Madison had formed the Democratic-Republican Party as a counterweight to the Federalist Party. It resisted a strong Federal government, and promoted the virtues of States’ Rights, those that the Constitution had granted to the State governments. It was largely a Southern Party, while the Federalists were Northern; it leaned more towards the common man while the Federalists were elitist, it was agrarian while the Federalists were urban, it resisted standing armies and navies while the Hamiltonians felt these were imperative; it opposed the National Bank that the Federalists had chartered; it was pro-French while the Federalists leaned towards Britain; and so on. Adams defeated Jefferson in the 1796 election, so Jefferson became Adams’ Vice President, as at the time, the runner-up in the election became Vice President. The Jay Treaty, which the Federalists negotiated with the British the year before, had averted war with the British Empire and established a trading policy that resulted in a decade of prosperity for the new nation. However, Revolutionary France was enraged. It saw the two Anglo-speaking nations in collusion and began attacking US ships. At first, public sentiment was with the French for their assistance during the Revolution, but Jefferson and the Democratic-Republicans were embarrassed when the French began demanding bribes from the U.S. This led to Quasi-War in 1798, in which American ships began harassing the French. To pay for the Navy, Adams imposed a Direct Tax on Property, which caused an uprising, and Hamilton was put in charge of the Army created to deal with it. During the Quasi-War, Federalists in Congress passed the Alien and Sedition Acts, which were one of the blackest marks in American History and a stain on the Adams Administration. The four measures included the Naturalization Act, the Alien Friends Act, the Alien Enemies Act, and the Sedition Act. The Naturalization Act increased the period of residence required for an immigrant to attain American citizenship to fourteen years. The Alien Friends Act and the Alien Enemies Act allowed the president to deport any foreigner from any nation considered dangerous to the country. And the Sedition Act made it a criminal offense to publish “false, scandalous, and malicious writing” against the government or its officials, punishable by fines and jail time. Although Adams had not promoted any of these acts, he signed them into law, even though they violated the First Amendment’s protection of Free Speech. There was much outcry among the public against the Alien and Sedition Acts; one anti-Federalist journalist was imprisoned and fined for writing that President Adams was “A hideous hermaphroditical character, which has neither the force and firmness of a man, nor the gentleness and sensibility of a woman.” Starting with Congressman Matthew “Spitting” Lyon of Vermont, a total of twelve people were convicted under the law, including a man in a New Jersey tavern who was arrested and prosecuted for drunkenly saying that Adams had a “big ass.” The judge fined him $150, decreeing the truth was not an adequate defense under the Sedition Act. The Federalists’ attempt at suppressing dissent was considered a grave assault on the liberties guaranteed by the Constitution and generated considerable ill will towards the Federalists, providing further evidence that the Jeffersonians had been correct about their monarchist leanings. Jefferson and Madison wrote the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions in response to the Federalist attempt to suppress free speech, and in it they argued that because the Constitution was a pact between the states, the states had the right to nullify laws that were unconstitutional. Jefferson even wanted to include an argument for secession but Madison talked him out of it. In only the second Presidency, Adams’ actions had already imperiled the Union. The Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions would be cited as legal justification for secession by South Carolina during the Civil War. Adams was able to negotiate a Peace Treaty with Napoleon, which ended the Quasi-War, but the damage had been done. He was defeated for re-election by Jefferson and running mate Aaron Burr, after just moving into the still unfinished White House a few months prior. The Federalist Party had lost Washington in 1799, its great unifier, and Hamilton, its other leading figure, would die in a duel with Vice President Aaron Burr five years later. The Federalist Party would soon fade away, though the Whig Party, and later, Abraham Lincoln’s Republican Party, would contain elements of its ideals. Perhaps Adams’ greatest presidential legacy was his appointment of John Marshall to the Supreme Court. During his 34 years as Chief Justice, Marshall’s rulings would help establish a strong central government, insuring the Federalist ideology remained enshrined, even as the party itself collapsed. One of the most important cases decided by the Marshall Court was over Adams’ attempt at stacking the Judicial Circuit with Federalist judges just before his term expired. Originally, Supreme Court justices had to travel around the country, resolving cases. The Federalists’ Judicial Act of 1801 reorganized the circuit courts, doubling them in number and creating new judgeships for each circuit. He appointed 16 Federalist circuit judges and 42 Federalist justices of the peace in an attempt to put a brake on the incoming Administration’s plans to dismantle the Federalist agenda. Purportedly, he was signing new appointments until midnight of his final day in office. These “Midnight Judges” appointments were to be delivered by Marshall himself, though several failed to get out in time. Incoming President Jefferson ordered the remainder to be cancelled by the new Secretary of State, James Madison. One Federalist appointee, William Marbury, sued Madison for his revoked appointment. With Marshall presiding as Chief Justice, the Court found that Madison’s refusal to deliver the commission was illegal. However, it also ruled that the provision enabling Marbury to bring his claim was unconstitutional, since it attempted to extend the Court’s jurisdiction beyond what Article III permitted. Therefore, the petition was denied. Marbury vs. Madison was a landmark ruling where the Supreme Court established the basis of judicial review under Article III of the Constitution and helped to define the boundaries between the executive and judicial branches. Adams would live for another quarter of a century and he and Jefferson eventually reconciled, carrying on a lengthy correspondence. He died on the 4th of July 1826, the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. His final words were, “Thomas Jefferson still lives.” But Jefferson had died just a few hours earlier.


Massachusetts's results by district
Massachusetts's results by district
Maine District of Massachusetts's results by district
Maine District of Massachusetts's results by district

Massachusetts law required a majority for election, necessitating additional trials in three districts.

District Incumbent Party First
Result Candidates
Massachusetts 1
Known as the 1st Western District
Vacant Incumbent representative-elect Theodore Sedgwick (Federalist) resigned sometime in June 1796 to become U.S. Senator.
Democratic-Republican gain.
Thomson J. Skinner (Democratic-Republican) 56.4%
Ephraim Williams (Federalist) 43.6%
Massachusetts 2
Known as the 2nd Western District
William Lyman Democratic-Republican 1792 Incumbent lost re-election.
New member elected.
Federalist gain.
First ballot (November 7, 1796):
William Shepard (Federalist) 46.3%
Sam Hinshaw 23.9%
William Lyman (Democratic-Republican) 21.4%
John Williams 4.0%
Nahum Park 2.0%
Scattering 2.4%

Second ballot (January 16, 1797):
William Shepard (Federalist) 100%
Massachusetts 3
Known as the 3rd Western District
Samuel Lyman Federalist 1794 Incumbent re-elected. Samuel Lyman (Federalist) 83.3%
Daniel Bigelow (Democratic-Republican) 16.7%
Massachusetts 4
Known as the 4th Western District
Dwight Foster Federalist 1792 Incumbent re-elected. Dwight Foster (Federalist) 80.8%
Levi Lincoln Sr. (Democratic-Republican) 19.2%
Massachusetts 5
Known as the 1st Southern District
Nathaniel Freeman Democratic-Republican 1794 Incumbent re-elected. Nathaniel Freeman (Democratic-Republican) 82.1%
Peleg Coffin Jr. (Federalist) 17.9%
Massachusetts 6
Known as the 2nd Southern District
John Reed Sr. Federalist 1794 Incumbent re-elected. John Reed Sr. (Federalist) 78.8%
Edward H. Robbins (Federalist) 21.2%
Massachusetts 7
Known as the 3rd Southern District
George Leonard Federalist 1788
Incumbent retired.
New member elected.
Federalist hold.
First ballot (November 7, 1796):
Elisha May (Federalist) 45.3%
Stephen Bullock (Federalist) 28.3%
Laban Wheaton (Federalist) 26.4%

Second ballot (January 16, 1797):
Stephen Bullock (Federalist) 35.8%
Laban Wheaton (Federalist) 32.7%
Elisha May (Federalist) 31.5%

Third ballot (April 3, 1797):
Stephen Bullock (Federalist) 56.7%
Elisha May (Federalist) 28.3%
Laban Wheaton (Federalist) 15.1%
Massachusetts 8
Known as the 1st Middle District
Fisher Ames Federalist 1788 Incumbent retired.
New member elected.
Federalist hold.
Harrison Gray Otis (Federalist) 57.0%
James Bowdoin (Democratic-Republican) 43.0%
Massachusetts 9
Known as the 2nd Middle District
Joseph Varnum Democratic-Republican 1794 Incumbent re-elected. Joseph Varnum (Democratic-Republican) 69.0%
Ebenezer Bridge (Federalist) 16.8%
Samuel Dexter (Federalist) 14.3%
Massachusetts 10
Known as the 3rd Middle District
Vacant Predecessor Benjamin Goodhue (Federalist) resigned sometime in June 1796 to become U.S. Senator.
New member elected.
Federalist gain.
Winner was also elected to finish the current term, see below.
Samuel Sewall (Federalist) 67.9%
Loammi Baldwin (Federalist) 22.1%
Massachusetts 11
Known as the 4th Middle District
Theophilus Bradbury Federalist 1794 Incumbent re-elected. Theophilus Bradbury (Federalist) 100%
Massachusetts 12
Known as the 1st Eastern District of the District of Maine
Henry Dearborn Democratic-Republican 1792 Incumbent lost re-election.
New member elected.
Federalist gain.
First ballot (November 7, 1796):
Isaac Parker (Federalist) 40.5%
Henry Dearborn (Democratic-Republican) 31.7%
John Bowman 27.8%

Second ballot (January 16, 1797):
Isaac Parker (Federalist) 48.2%
Henry Dearborn (Democratic-Republican) 33.8%
John Bowman 18.0%

Third ballot (April 3, 1797):
Isaac Parker (Federalist) 52.6%
Henry Dearborn (Democratic-Republican) 47.5%
Massachusetts 13
Known as the 2nd Eastern District of the District of Maine
Peleg Wadsworth Federalist 1792 Incumbent re-elected. Peleg Wadsworth (Federalist) 100%
Massachusetts 14
Known as the 3rd Eastern District of the District of Maine
George Thatcher Federalist 1788 Incumbent re-elected. George Thatcher (Federalist) 100%

See also

This page was last edited on 5 June 2019, at 00:42
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