HOW IT ALL WENT WRONG
"Then Make Them Exist."
-Vice President Alexander Hamilton on the non-existent US Army and Navy
The first international crisis to hit Adams when he first took office in 1797 was something that had been going on for a decade in Europe and that George Washington had tried to distance himself from as far as possible. The French Revolution had toppled the out-of-touch Bourbon King Louis XVI and beheaded him and his family in the most glaring act of regicide to ever sweep Europe. The whole of Europe was engulfed in war as the French tried to imitate their American cousins across the Atlantic, only they added more blood and much, much more beheading. Guilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette, French Hero of the American War for Independence, had taken it upon himself to return to his homeland to be the George Washington of France. He seemed, however, to go off track fairly soon, and after 1790 and the Feast of the Federation (which was the establishment of the constitutional monarchy), Washington's adopted son lost power to much more radical men, like Maximilien François Marie Isidore de Robespierre, who turned around and beheaded Louis. It wasn't long after that Lafayette was deemed an enemy of the French Republic and a monarchist and executed, severely damaging ties with the USA even further.
After Robespierre's own execution a short while after that, the Committee of Public Safety which had long governed France lost power, and was succeeded by the less-radical Directory. Less-radical or not, the American public loathed the French Republicans and Washington and Adams' diplomats told them that the war debts were owed to the Bourbon French Crown, not to the Directory. France became enraged and citizens burned American flags and effigies of American politicians in the streets.
What followed was known as the R.S.T. Affair. The R.S.T. Affair took its name from the letters R, S, and T, which were used instead of the French ambassadors' real names in documents released by Adams' administration. In the documents, the oily and infamous Monsieur Talleyrand, French Foreign Minister, demanded that America stop following the Madison Treaty of 1794, which made Great Britain America's chief trading partner. France was furious over the treaty, and as French and British ships seized trading vessels dealing with their enemies, 300 American ships were captured or sunk and their crews held for ransom or pressed into service. Talleyrand demanded not only money to pay that ransom, but also money to even begin bargaining in the first place, and then more money to pay off the now legendary war debts from the American Revolution. Adams, thinking the same way as most all of the American public, was massively insulted, and refused to kowtow to the Directory. Adams was willing to accept the imprisonment of the sailors, thanks to Hamilton discussing it with him. Hamilton promised that the sailors, as neutrals, would remain in prison until the next French government took power and tried to get in the USA's good graces ("and they always do"). This, however, was very much a rock-and-hard-place for Adams, as he looked strong to France while looking weak for not getting American boys back by force if need be.
Not agreeing to play Talleyrand's game incensed the Directory even further. On July 4, 1798, off the coast of southern Ireland, the USS Trenton was sunk and the USS Charleston was captured by 12 French Republican Navy warships after some sort of insult shouting match grew out of control. The French had killed much of the crews, and among the dead was US Ambassador to France and devout Federalist, Charles Cotesworth Pinckney. His brother Thomas would later be a part of the Friends of the Union group under Adams.
The American public cried out for war, but Adams hesitated. If he declared war, it would likely entail an Anglo-American Alliance, something which made him and many other people uncomfortable, to say the least. The Madison Treaty had already made them appear a British satellite. Hamilton was not sure what to do, for once, and simply sent the Directory an order to hand over every hostage and forget America's war debts and the Pinckney Affair would be forgiven. France bluntly refused and guillotined the captain of the USS Charleston as a response.
Finally, he and the Congress opened discussions with the British Empire for a possible alliance to punish France. King George III, growing more wild and insane every day, suddenly broke the deal, much to the disdain of his ambassadors. They said if he was of his right mind, he would have agreed, but his insanity did not void his orders as monarch. Britain was not going to ally itself to the USA, that was now clear to the government in New York. Adams fumbled day after day as public outcry grew against his bungling of the RST and Pinckney Affairs and his own growing human rights violations, like his imprisoning of Worthington the newspaperman for simply mocking him in print "during a time of national crisis."
Hamilton had a new strategy. If America would be preoccupied fighting off the French, the people would be less inclined to quarrel over "petty politics." Adams retorted by saying the US Army and Navy was almost nonexistent. Hamilton replied simply: "Then make them exist." Adams smarted back again, saying that there were no young officers to lead them after they "are made to exist." Hamilton answered that old Revolutionary War officers could be called out of retirement, and that France's star general, Napoleone di Buonaparte, was entrenched in an Egyptian adventure, surrounded by Lord Nelson's British fleet. Hamilton went on, formulating crazy ideas as he spoke, telling Adams that it was now a "perfect" time to seize Louisiana from the Spanish, allied to France by the Treaty of San Ildefonso. Adams couldn't believe what he was hearing, at least at first. Then, he brought the elderly Washington out of retirement and told him to prepare to invade Louisiana and told Admiral John Paul Jones to ready the "fleet" to combat the French Republican Navy. Washington and Jones couldn't believe what they were hearing either. Hamilton was having a go at being the American Talleyrand, and it would end in one of the biggest disasters in history.
And so, on January 1, 1799, the US government rang in the New Year by declaring war on the Republic of France and the Kingdom of Spain. The Downfall had begun.
Thomas Jefferson and his Anti-Federalists said the war was utterly and reprehensibly stupid, and that Adams had been brainwashed by Hamilton into thinking the tiny USA could become a military giant overnight. As for Hamilton himself, they said he was simply an egotistical incompetent who had lost his mind playing some feverish game of wits with the French Foreign Minister who outclassed him in every regard. Some arrests were made of Jeffersonians for "seditious speech and slander against the President of the United States in Congress Assembled." More outrage followed. Adams just locked himself up in the Presidential Mansion with his advisers and stayed there, far from the public eye. Hamilton continued directing affairs, becoming the real power in the government and assuming a vast amount of power under the guise of "wartime security matters."
On March 5, 1799, the US Army crossed the border into Louisiana, the men eager to fight under the Great Washington, and most expected quick victories. They weren't disappointed when, at what the Americans called the Battle of Alligator Ridge, a "Spanish" force was absolutely dismantled by Washington's "genius." In reality, it had been only a small detachment of scouts, most not even Spanish but native Creoles and Indians, who had been making camp and were simply slaughtered in their sleep in a surprise attack. Washington marched his men into the mouth of Hell at the Battle of Boggy Swamp (March 20), where the Spanish were defeated but still handed the Americans an ungodly amount of casualties, followed by the Battle of Port Richelieu (March 28) in which the attempted sacking of the Spanish port ended after several failed artillery barrages and infantry attacks (the Battle of Port Richelieu also entailed a minor naval debacle on the American side). If the US command had had any sense, they would have either attempted a landing near New Orleans, which, if conquered, would have meant the end of Spanish rule. Another option would have been an attack on the sparsely-populated north, which would have eventually resulted in American rule everywhere but New Orleans (which would enable an easy capture of the city at a later date).
Instead, as Jefferson put it, the war was an unmitigated military disaster consisting of American soldiers wandering around swamps, getting shot at by Spanish scouts, and having dysentery. The elderly Washington said they just "needed to show some gumption. If we do that, Louisiana is ours." 2500 American soldiers had been killed. 1800 Louisiana Royal conscript troops had died, mostly militia, and made the formerly friendly Francophone population hate the Americans. Not helping matters was the continual breakdown of the chain of command, as soldiers from some states refused to follow orders from officers of others. A particularly nasty episode involved the raping of some twenty women by several "Green Mountain Boys" from Vermont. They had refused to stop raiding a small village upon being told to do so by a Virginia officer. Shortly thereafter, the Virginia officer had them executed. Vermont was up in arms over the matter, and Virginia refused to reprimand their man for enforcing the code of conduct. This was merely foreshadowing events that would happen years later.
The final nail in the Louisiana Invasion coffin came in December, 1799, when the legendary George Washington was shot and killed by an Indian scout. An ironic death, considering Indian scouts in the French and Indian War had shot his commander and deliberately spared him at Braddock's Defeat. The nation wept bitterly as their hero's casket was marched home and buried at his Mount Vernon estate. The Invasion was over, the exalted commander and revolutionary icon was dead, and massacres of several towns by fuming American soldiers exiting the Spanish colony left the Louisianans bitter and wanting revenge.
Meanwhile, Admiral Jones had proven himself a genius at avoiding sending the pitiful "US Navy" to the bottom of the drink. A series of naval retreats and then long-distance rocketry attacks had harassed and annoyed the French and saved American ships and souls. He was the only naval commander during the Franco-American War who actually won battles.
Hamilton was not happy though. He demanded Jones pick an "easy" target and attack outright. The disastrous Battle of Port Richelieu had just occurred at that point, and the public needed something to cheer about. Protesting vehemently, Jones refused to go on a suicide binge. Hamilton had him removed and replaced with the pitiful Admiral Nathanael Butterworth. Butterworth followed orders and attacked a French fleet south-west of the English Channel and lost half his ships. The US Navy drifted back to New York Harbor beaten and bloodied, and it was announced that it wouldn't be a seaworthy fleet in a year. Adams and Hamilton were horrified.
The American public was furious with the Adams Administration and open calls for impeachment became commonplace in everyday life. Thomas Jefferson's support reached new heights, and James Madison began referring to Hamilton as "Alexander the Ungreat." Napoleone di Buonaparte had, on October 9, returned to France and shortly thereafter set himself up as dictator of the country, and he was not pleased with the nascent Americans being a pain in country's rear. Buonaparte did not even consider it an actual war or campaign worth fighting and thought more of the United States as a small child that needed a whipping to behave.
The election of 1801 was fast approaching, and the Federalists knew they were going to lose in an unimaginable landslide. But they would win thanks to voting fraud, said Hamilton, just like the first time. This time, though, the citizens were suspicious. Minutemen announced they would make sure the election was on the up-and-up. Adams sank into a deep depression, and just before the campaigning season announced to friends he was dropping out to make room for Hamilton and Rufus King to run. Hamilton panicked and barely convinced him to stay on board, as Hamilton was so unpopular that if he won by any percentage the people would know it was fraud.
And here they both were now, rotting in the Sugar House.
"Damn it, Hamilton," moaned Adams while trying to find a clean spot on the floor to sit down. "This is all your fault. I could be back in Braintree by now retired and enjoying my family. Instead you dragged me into this game of yours. I hate my life and I hate you and I hate this godforsaken country. We should have just stayed under King George instead of dealing with this... this shite."
Suddenly, a ruckus could be heard out the single barred window of their cell. A crowd was gathering outside. Adams figured they were coming to jeer at them in their cell. However, the President noticed they were all going on about something else.
"He's done it! Andrew Jackson has done it!" yelled one citizen, holding a newspaper high over his head out on the cobblestone street in front of the Sugar House. "Andy Jackson is leading the Carolinas into secession! The whole bloody country is falling apart! The paper says Vermont and Virginia are next!"
The crowd reacted with shock and anger. Almost immediately, they turned to the Sugar House and began pelting it with rocks and hissing and booing. They all knew two men were to blame for everything unfolding. And they would have their necks.