Bridging The Gap- President John Adams’ Leadership, 1797–1801 (XYZ Affair)

Fun Fact about John Adams: He was a prolific letter writer and a exceptionally good pen pal. Because he spent a substantial amount of time away from home, he wrote many letters to his wife, Abigail and friends. It is said that he wrote 1000+ letters to Abigail.

Welcome back everyone. I hope you enjoyed my story about George Washington, the first President of the United States of America. You were able to see and imagine how the four leadership attributes- Healthy Identity (self-worth), Effective Communication, Team Building, and Strategic Management positioned him to appoint the first President’s Cabinet, who empowered him to make stronger executive decisions with several expertise inputs outside of his own. Like him, you should be able to see how the four attributes can help you drive the right value for your customers and or constituents.

Let us see how the second United States President, John Adams- 1797–1801, managed a project that added value to the American people during his term. Because he was the Vice President to President George Washington, one would think he was thoroughly groomed to be the President. Not so, as I researched and found that he was excluded from the Cabinet’s planning and discussions with the President. I know…it does not make any sense, as these discussions were critical to America’s wellbeing and health. They started and stopped initiatives that would remain long after President Washington left office. So, John Adams started his presidency with a unique learning curve in front of him. Now, this does not mean he was unqualified and ignorant to the State of America. If this were the case, he would not have been voted in as the second President. It does, however, share who he was as a man and a leader to the people. All his experience as an attorney, the Massachusetts Delegate to Congress; United States minister to Great Britain; the author of the Massachusetts State Constitution; and more groomed him for the Office.

As the President, John Adams confronted many problems that had the potential to cause harm to America. One that was close to him was his disconnect with his Cabinet. For some reason, they did not respond to him, as they did for President Washington. Instead, they listened to Alexander Hamilton, the Secretary of Treasurer, who did not care for President Adams for various reasons. For this story, I will not delve deeper into this unhealthy exchange. Just know that he had this on his plate, plus the problem I will go into some detail-the X, Y, Z affair/Quasi-war with France.

To set this up, France had a problem with the Jay’s Treaty with Great Britain and America. They saw it as a violation with the 1778 Franco-American Mutual Defense Alliance. Therefore, France pushed back by suspending diplomatic relations with America; commandeering 300 American ships; and harassing naval trade routes in the Caribbean. This unhealthy diplomatic behavior triggered a Presidential decision to send three diplomats to France to negotiate a resolve with them. While there, they met three French Agents, given the initials X, Y, Z, who would not negotiate with them, unless they paid a bribe and loaned money to the French Government. Their answer was a resounding no to the agents, and two of them returned to Washington, D.C. to share their report, while the third diplomat, Elbridge Gerry, stayed behind to continue to strategically work with the Foreign Minister without honoring his unethical demand. Of course, the news outraged the United States Federal Government and excited decisions that led to an undeclared Quasi-War between France and America from 1798 to 1800.

President Adams’ strategic objective was to keep diplomatic channels open with France. Though they were strained in this moment, he would not stop trying to work with them until he was successful in negotiating peace. This is where Elbridge Gerry became instrumental, as he was able to open negotiations with the Foreign Minister and together, agreements were made to reestablish diplomatic relations and cease all military disharmony. Finally, the Quasi-war ended with the Treaty of Mortefontaine or the Convention of 1800 with France. It opened negotiations with the countries; ended the Franco-American Mutual Defense Alliance; returned the 300 American ships; and compensated merchants for any ship damage. This was a successful project where both countries won.

Per the four leadership attributes for this Project, I rated President Adams’, accordingly, as shown in the table. His team worked with him, but there were challenges that impacted their growth.

President Adams’ successful leadership approach to solving the X, Y, Z affair/Quasi-War problem with France can be equated to a problem you are experiencing at your level. Through the attributes, you are empowered to steer your team to solve problems and use the appropriate resources to achieve a healthy product and or service for your customer.

As a leader, we are not always dealt the best hand. We, however, are expected to use what we have with the intention of giving our best every day, so that we never give our customer and or constituents our problems. We must understand why the disharmony exists; isolate it; and determine the best course of action to solve or reduce it (if it cannot be solved). So, take an inventory of your leadership toolbelt and assess your position on the four attributes. Add them if they are missing; Adjust them if they are unhealthy; Sustain them if they are solid; and Improve them for growth.

[1] The White House Historical Association. “John Adams.” The White House Historical Association Website, 16 January 2019, President John Adams

[2] The Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia. “Quasi-War Treaty of Mortefontaine.” Ken Albers / Roy Rosenzweig, Center for History and New Media, 2013–14, Treaty of Mortefontaine

[3] Mintz, S. & McNeil, S. (2018). Digital History, 2021.Convention of 1800

[4] Wikipedia contributors. (2020, December 22). XYZ Affair. In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 21:57, February 17, 2021, XYZ Affair

[5] Foreign and Domestic Crisis. “Lumen Learning.” Lumen Boundless US History, France and Jay’s Treaty

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