Historical Almanac of the U.S. Senate

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Author: Robert J. Dole  | Date: April 23, 1789

John Adams on the Vice Presidency

On April 25, 1789, John Adams, the first vice president of the United States, rose from his seat as presiding officer of the Senate and delivered a speech in which he cataloged his distress with the job that he had held for only four days. His lament was prompted by the business of the hour: the consideration of the report of the committee appointed to propose a time, place, and procedure by which Congress would administer the oath to the first president of the United States.

Among those in Adams’ audience that day was the irascible Senator William Maclay of Pennsylvania, who each night poured out into his diary his displeasure with his colleagues and his impatience with the new government. Maclay regarded Adams as a pompous Federalist and saved some of his harshest words for the vice president. Although he mocked Adams, Maclay faithfully recorded his words on April 25. Bemoaning the uncertainties of his position, Adams complained:

Gentlemen, I do not know whether the framers of the Constitution had in view the two kings of Sparta or the two consuls of Rome when they formed it; one to have all the power while he held it, and the other to be nothing. Gentlemen, I feel great difficulty how to act. I am possessed of the two separated powers. I am vice President. In this I am nothing, but I may be everything. But I am president also of the Senate, when the President comes into the Senate, what shall I be? I cannot be [president] then. No, gentlemen, I cannot, I cannot. I wish gentlemen to think what I shall be.

Adams’ listeners, some sympathetic, some derisive, could offer little solace. Maclay recorded his own reaction. He wrote, "God forgive me, for it was involuntary, but the profane muscles of my face, were in Tune for laughter, in spite of my indisposition."

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Chicago: Robert J. Dole, "John Adams on the Vice Presidency," Historical Almanac of the U.S. Senate: A Series of Bicentennial Minutes Presented to the Senate During the One Hundredth Congress (Washington, D.C.: U.S Government Printing Office, 1989), in Original Sources, accessed February 7, 2023, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=8FHGNQPCCBHYMHB.

MLA: Dole, Robert J. "John Adams on the Vice Presidency." Historical Almanac of the U.S. Senate: A Series of Bicentennial Minutes Presented to the Senate During the One Hundredth Congress, Washington, D.C., U.S Government Printing Office, 1989, in , Original Sources. 7 Feb. 2023. http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=8FHGNQPCCBHYMHB.

Harvard: Dole, RJ 1989, 'John Adams on the Vice Presidency' in Historical Almanac of the U.S. Senate: A Series of Bicentennial Minutes Presented to the Senate During the One Hundredth Congress, U.S Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C.. cited in , . Original Sources, retrieved 7 February 2023, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=8FHGNQPCCBHYMHB.