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Tag: John adams

On display: The Senate Journal of the First Congress

The first Senate Journal is on display from April 1 to April 16, 2014, in the East Rotunda Gallery of the National Archives Building. Today’s post comes from Martha Grove, archivist in the Center for Legislative Archives in the National Archives.

“Each House shall keep a Journal of its Proceedings, and from time to time publish the same . . .” U.S. Constitution, Article I, Section 5

This year marks the 225th anniversary of the First Congress. On March 4, 1789, the Congress of the United States met for the first time. It was arguably the most important Congress in U.S. history. To this new legislature fell the responsibility of passing laws needed to implement a brand new system of government, defining the rules and procedures of the House and Senate, and establishing the precedents that set constitutional government in motion.

The First Congress opened on March 4, 1789, in New York City. However, when the Representatives and Senators gathered that day, not enough members of either body were present to constitute a quorum. Elected members were delayed by bad roads and harsh weather. Some states had not yet held elections, while others had not yet determined the winning candidates when the First Congress convened. The House finally reached a quorum on April 1, and the Senate followed on April 6.

One of the … [ Read all ]

Taking the Constitution for a Test Drive

Today’s Constitution Day guest post was written by Jim Zeender, senior registrar in exhibits at the National Archives in Washington, DC.

The Constitution of the United States turned 226 this year and continues to be the oldest and longest-serving written constitution in the world. It consists of exactly 4,543 words and has been amended only 27 times.

At the conclusion of the Constitutional Convention in September 1787, the attendees had various opinions on the result of the Convention. Benjamin Franklin has probably been quoted most often from his speech that day, “I confess that I do not entirely approve this Constitution at present, but Sir, I am not sure I shall never approve it.”

John Adams was not present in Philadelphia.  He was in London, serving as the U.S. envoy to Great Britain. Adams received a copy of the new constitution from Massachusetts delegate Elbridge Gerry, and he later praised the Convention’s work in a letter to Jefferson, who was in Paris.

It seems to be admirably calculated to preserve the Union, to increase Affection, and to bring us all to the same mode of thinking. They have adopted the Idea of the Congress at Albany in 1754 of a President to nominate officers and a Council to Consent: but thank heaven they have adopted a third Branch, which that Congress did not. I think

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Happy July 2, John Adams!

There wasn’t supposed to be a Fourth of July celebration in the vision of John Adams, one of our Founding Fathers and our second President.

But in that Philadelphia summer of 1776, having successfully argued for the Second Continental Congress to declare the United States independent of Great Britain, Adams was excited.

The day after the Congress approved the resolution declaring independence on July 2,  Adams penned one of the many letters he wrote home to his wife, Abigail. He wrote, in part:

The Second Day of July 1776, will be the most memorable Epocha, in the History of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance by solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.

Adams got his pomp and parade and his bells and bonfires—and from one end of the continent to the other—but he was off by two days.

The Congress did indeed declare the United States independent on July 2, and Adams played no small part in it. The delegates debated Thomas Jefferson’s draft of the Declaration … [ Read all ]

In their own words: Franklin, Adams, and Vergennes make peace (IId)

This is part of a series, written by Jim Zeender, devoted to letters written by the Founding Fathers in their own words and often in their own hand. Jim is a senior registrar in Exhibits.

Shortly after the diplomatic break between John Adams and Count de Vergennes, Adams left for Amsterdam. Once there, he worked diligently to obtain loans from Dutch bankers in the hope of making the United States less dependent on France, a task that took almost two years. Meanwhile, the Adams-Vergennes controversy was playing out in Congress.

Upon instruction from Vergennes, the French ambassador Luzerne appealed to Congress for Adams’s recall. Different factions in Congress also demanded the recall of Adams and Franklin. Fortunately for them, they also had their supporters and they retained their positions. Congress named Adams, Franklin, John Jay, Henry Laurens, and Thomas Jefferson as co-commissioners and issued the following instructions on June 15, 1781:

. . .you are to make the most candid & confidential communications to the ministers of our generous Ally the King of France to undertake nothing in the Negotiations for Peace or truce without their knowledge & concurrence & ultimately to govern yourselves by their advice & opinion endeavouring in your whole Conduct to make them sensible how much we rely upon his majestys influence for effectual support in every Thing that may be

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In their own words: Adams, Franklin, and Vergennes (part IIc)

In the last post, we brought the Adams-Vergennes story up to their abrupt break in late July 1780. Adams departed for the Netherlands, where he hoped to raise additional funds for the United States war effort and make the United States less dependent on France.

Meanwhile, Vergennes appealed to Franklin and through Franklin to Congress, requesting that Adams be relieved of his ambassadorial duties. Vergennes supplied Franklin with the Adams correspondence, and Franklin forwarded it to Congress. Vergennes also made France’s wishes known to Congress through Ambassador Anne-Cesar, Chevalier de la Luzerne, in Philadephia.

In this letter, Franklin makes clear to Vergennes that Adams was not speaking for him or Congress:

It was indeed with very great Pleasure that I received the Letter . . . communicating that of the President of Congress and the Resolutions of that Body relative to the Succours then expected: For the Sentiments therein express’d are so different from the Language held by Mr Adams, in his late Letters to your Excellency as to make it clear that it was from his particular Indiscretion alone, and not from any Instructions received by him, that he has given such just Cause of Displeasure, and that it is impossible his Conduct therein should be approved by his Constituents. I am glad he has not admitted me to any Participation in those

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