As George Washington made his plans to leave the presidency and return to private life, Americans turned their attention to choosing a new president. In the election of 1796 the Federalists backed John Adams. Adams was a respected lawyer from Massachusetts who had devoted his life to politics. He had been a delegate to the First and Second Continental Congress and was a leader in the patriot movment. He was a member of the committee chosen to draft the Declaration of Independence. In the years following the Revolution, Adams served as U.S. ambassador to Great Britain. He returned to serve for eight years as Vice President under George Washington.
The Republicans put their support behind their leader, Thomas Jefferson. Even though Jefferson was very popular, the Federalists were very powerful. When the votes were counted in the electoral college, John Adams was elected as our 2nd President. Under the election system that was in use at that time, Jefferson became the Vice President. The Federalists also won a majority of the seats in both houses of Congress, and thus controlled the government.