The original minutes of the Senate from that day, signed by Samuel Otis
The popular outcry against the Jay Treaty in 1795 strengthened Washington’s resolve to retire at the end of his second term, and he announced his intentions in September 1796. Although the majority of the Federalists considered Adams the logical choice to succeed Washington, and nominated him for president, Alexander Hamilton preferred the...
The popular outcry against the Jay Treaty in 1795 strengthened Washington’s resolve to retire at the end of his second term, and he announced his intentions in September 1796. Although the majority of the Federalists considered Adams the logical choice to succeed Washington, and nominated him for president, Alexander Hamilton preferred the Federalists’s more pliant vice-presidential candidate, former minister to Great Britain Thomas Pinckney. The opposition Republican candidates were Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr. Once again Hamilton proved a greater threat to Adams than the opposition candidates. Repeating the tactics he had used to diminish Adams’s electoral count in the 1788-9 election, Hamilton tried to persuade South Carolina’s Federalist electors to withhold enough votes from Adams to ensure Thomas Pinckney’s election to the presidency. This time, however, the New England Federalist electors learned of Hamilton’s plot and withheld sufficient votes from Pinckney to compensate for the lost South Carolina votes. These intrigues resulted in the election of a president and vice president from opposing parties, with president-elect Adams receiving 71 electoral votes to 68 for Thomas Jefferson.
A position of great trust and responsibility, the Senate secretaryship has been held by a long line of distinguished individuals. Samuel Allyne Otis, the first secretary of the Senate, had previously been speaker of the Massachusetts legislature and a member of the Continental Congress. Otis held the post of secretary for twenty-five years, never missing a day that the Senate was in session. It was Adams who recommended his close friend Otis for Secretary of the Senate. It was Samuel’s bother James Otis Jr.’s 1761 legal argument challenging the legality of British Writs of Assistance, allowing the British to search a home without notice or reason, that inspired Adams to the cause of the American colonies.
Vice President Adams addressed the Senate for the last time on February 15, 1797. He thanked current and former members for the “candor and favor” they had extended to him during his eight years as presiding officer. Despite the frustrations and difficulties he had experienced as vice president, Adams left the presiding officer’s chair with a genuine regard for the Senate that was in large part mutual. He expressed gratitude to the body for the “uniform politeness” accorded him “from every quarter,” and declared that he had “never had the smallest misunderstanding with any member of the Senate.” Notwithstanding his earlier pronouncements in favor of a hereditary Senate, Adams assured the members that the “eloquence, patriotism, and independence” that he had witnessed had convinced him that “no council more permanent than this…will be necessary, to defend the rights, liberties, and properties of the people, and to protect the Constitution of the United States.” The Senate’s February 22 message expressing “gratitude and affection” and praising his “abilities and undeviating impartiality” evoked a frank and emotional response from Adams the following day. The Senate’s “generous approbation” of his “undeviating impartiality” had served to “soften asperities, and conciliate animosities, wherever such may unhappily exist,” for which the departing vice president offered his “sincere thanks.”
These are the minutes from that meeting of the Senate, in which they considered Adams’ retirement and drafted their own.
Document signed, “Congress of the United States,” in Senate, February the 22nd 1797, signed by Otis.
“The Senate took into consideration the report of the committee in answer to the address of the Vice President on his retiring from the Senate; and the report being amended was adopted.
“Ordered, that the Committee who drafted the address wait on the Vice President with the answer of the Senate.”
The Senate’s response said in part: “In your future course, we entertain no doubt that your official conduct will be measured by the Constitution, and directed to the public good; you have, therefore, a right to entertain that you will be supported, as well by the people at large, as by their constituted authorities…”
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