Adams was well qualified to be president, having played a crucial role in American politics from the time of the Revolutionary War. He was an intellectual, and a historical scholar, well versed in the art of government. However, though he was a brilliant idealist, he had trouble relating to people. He could not instill the unwavering personal loyalty that George Washington had so naturally commanded, and he could not prevail in the emotional political debates often spawned by his contemporary statesmen. A reserved, intelligent man, he failed to inspire the nation as a whole, and could not unify the rapidly splitting electorate.

Adams was aided by the surging support for Federalism that followed the XYZ Affair. The Federalist gains in the midterm elections of 1798 gave Adams and his party far greater freedom to pursue their goals. While the XYZ Affair no doubt hurt the reputation of the notoriously pro-French Republicans, they further injured themselves politically by refusing to condemn the actions of the French. Federalists, on the other hand, were quick to condemn, and thus rallied patriotic support to their cause. In 1798, by voting overwhelmingly Federalist, the nation called for retaliation against France, which it got in the form of the Quasi-war.

Despite the rising tide of anti-Republican sentiment, Federalists continued to fear the advances of political opposition. While the augmentation of troops in 1798 and the maintenance of these higher numbers into the future was easily explained by the possibility of war with France, historians point to a possible ulterior motive for fortifying the army. The combination of American and British attacks on French naval forces meant that by 1799, the French navy was not a serious threat. However, the army remained vigilant. The unspoken reason for this vigilance was the fear of a civil war begun by the nation's growing numbers of Irish and French immigrants. It was well known that the French government had made frequent overtures to Americans, pleading with them to support the French cause. The French had, it was known, even gone so far as to suggest that Americans who supported the French secede from the US and form a separate nation. It was in fear of trouble from this group of French supporters that Federalists in Congress maintained increased numbers in the army. Suspicion of treasonous undercurrents throughout the nation ran high.

Popular pages: The First Years of the Union (1797-1809)