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The Three US Presidents Comparison Research Paper

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Updated: Jan 14th, 2022


Abraham Lincoln, James Madison, and John Adams are all well esteemed in America for having served as presidents in the American state at some point in time. Abraham Lincoln and James Madison served the nation as presidents for two terms, while John Adams served the nation for just one term. There existed various issues that were evident during the assumption of power and the reign of each of the aforementioned presidents. In order to understand these important issues, we shall discuss several aspects, including the president’s backgrounds, campaigns and elections; domestic and foreign affairs.

Some factors, which affect how presidential candidates conduct their activities, include prior experience in campaigning for lower offices before seeking for the presidency and the mode of office occupancy. By the mode of office occupancy, I mean, whether the candidate assumed the office by the virtue of being the vice president at the time of the president’s death or whether the candidate was actually engaged in active politics so as to win the seat by means of his active and fruitful efforts.

When presidents assume their offices, they encounter numerous domestic and foreign issues. Some of these issues could have been prevalent even during their campaigns while others emerge during their rule. For the prevalent issues, it is most likely that the leader had laid down policies on how to tackle them, in form of manifestos, during the campaigns. Hence, the leader needs to follow his policies so as to gain his electorate’s trust. For the emerging issues, the leader has to structure new policies of handling them.

Taking all the aforesaid into consideration, I will note that in my work I have the primary purpose to research what makes a good president taking into account the facts from John Adams, James Madison and Abraham Lincoln presidency, their backgrounds, election campaigns, domestic and foreign affairs in particular.


In order to understand how these three men became presidents, I did a lot of research on their backgrounds. I think that all of them started to develop their individual characteristics, which helped them to get to the top of their live performance, during childhood and early career life. From the research, I learned that a person should be a leader to become a president. Leadership is a very important characteristic that can be developed and strengthened, or be naturally part of the personality. First of all, to become a president of the United States, a person should be native-born. Adams, Madison and Lincoln were born on the territory of the United States, but at different times. All of them spent their childhood years at the farm. Then life was harsh and dangerous, and they had to face tough challenges. Accordingly, they learned to be independent and face problematic times from a very young age. Their minds were more imaginative and more interested in building a better life, especially, when they got to the president’s office. During their childhood, James Madison was growing not a healthy boy. He stayed close to his mother’s side. He was painfully shy. John Adams growing up was frustrated internally most of the time. But he was very honest in his feelings and thinking.

He was very much human. Abraham Lincoln, probably, had a more tough childhood than both James Madison and John Adams. He had to work constantly to support his family. Lincoln was very determined in his goals. With limited resources and despite hard work, he was self-educated. Abraham’s love for reading books made some people think that he wanted to avoid manual labor. His stepmother encouraged his reading and always pushed him to improve his knowledge. As Abraham Lincoln had a hunger for knowledge so did John Adams and James Madison. James Madison reportedly read books from his father’s library. All three were successful students and had many interests in studying history, philosophy, languages, theology, and law. For instance, James Madison had a big interest in history and government, but he was well-read in law. With his academic background in history and government, Madison played a significant role in his work as author of the Constitution. John Adams was a writer at heart. In his early years, his diaries were full of various events and happenings in his world. He was always doing battle with his own failures. That was a base for Adams’ later memoirs, recollections, and arguments. Lincoln mastered the Bible in his early life, but later Lincoln quoted from the Bible in his speeches, which made him popular. Growing up on the farms and plantations, their young minds were terrified by slavery. Eventually, theirs views on the horrors of slavery were reflected in their political careers. In Lincoln’s example, who hated all aspects of slavery, it became the greatest goal of his life to destroy it. The youthful experiences of Adams, Madison, and Lincoln are credited with shaping them as leaders. Being able to take on the great responsibilities of running an entire country without leadership skills, would be impossible. Lincoln is a fantastic example of leadership. He was very persistent in his life, and it helped Lincoln lead the country during the hardest time. He was strong in his ideas and believed they are good for the nation. James Madison gave up his military career for the sake of a political one due to his weak health. Madison was present at the relentless persecution of Baptist preachers that had been arrested as they preached without authorization that Anglican Church was in charge of. The issues that he witnessed, provided a basis for his understanding of religious freedom. His desire to see a strong central government and just legislative system came out in his work as author of the Constitution. Also, Madison’s leadership led to the creation of the Republican Party that we see today. John Adams developed a sense of patriotism early in his life. He was always persistent in his own views and never lost this ability. I learned that Adams was a charismatic person and this ability helped him to lead the nation despite his pride and authoritarianism. He wished independence to all people of his country. I believe that he sincerely loved the country. Before they became very active in political fields, Adams, Madison and Lincoln obtained a good education. They practiced a wide range of occupations and pursued more than one career concurrently. Adams worked as a teacher before he became a lawyer. Lincoln worked at the store while studying law. In fact, his motivations to become a lawyer were so strong that he walked to law school twenty miles back and forth, as there were no books in the town of his residence. So, they were lawyers or had benefited from legal training. As lawyers, all three became very successful. Their extensive knowledge of the American political system, being very honest and persistent prepared them for the political field. Lincoln was popular for his agile mind and strong humor. During the Black Hawk war, he was elected captain by the men. Once, Lincoln became involved in local politics as a supporter of the Whig Party. Adams began his political career when he became the leader of the Massachusetts Whigs. James Madison gave his life to politics. He was considered a legislative workhorse.

Adams, Madison and Lincoln took different steps in their political career but they were enthusiastic about their work. They had open minds and were willing to question traditional values and the new ways of doing things. They were passionate and dedicated to the ideas, and we’re not afraid of rolling up their sleeves and getting dirty. It seems that they were functioning in an orderly manner in situations of uncertainty. It is very important for a leader that people were confident in his/her leadership abilities. Indeed, all presidents are human and they have their personal opinions on different things, emotions and feelings. However, a leader should keep a cool head during crises. Lincoln, for example, was very firm and clear in his stand. Adams was known to be an impulsive, intense, and often vehement person. James Madison was reserved and shy. Even so, they tried to commit to excellence in their work. If they did not try, they would be never leading their careers to the president’s office.

Campaigns and Elections

Winning the American presidential elections is not an easy task. It requires good planning and service of the right strategies. Some factors which affect how presidential candidates conduct their activities include previous experience in campaigning for lower offices before seeking for the presidency and the style of office occupancy. By the style of office occupancy, I mean whether the candidate expected the office by the virtue of being the vice president at the time of the president’s death, or whether the candidate was involved in active politics to win the presidential seat.

Abraham Lincoln ruled the American nation for two terms; I mean that he participated in two elections and campaigns. During the presidential election of 1860, the subject of slavery had strongly hit the country. Following Abraham Lincoln’s loss in the competition for the United States Senate, he used the following sixteen months talking and wondering in the entire Northern part of the country directing campaign speeches for various Republican candidates. His method avoided the wordy expressions of the opponents in support of clear and plain logic. Lincoln was triumphant in laying the foundation for his candidature. By the spring of 1860, several politicians were grateful to Lincoln for his support. Most significantly, Lincoln had set up a solid group of campaign managers and supporters, who joined the Republican convention, ready to deal, plot, and arrange votes for Lincoln. His front runner-position proved to be his greatest obstacle because it exposed him to political criticism even earlier than the conference delegates had assembled. When the campaigns were at their peak levels, Lincoln in the keeping of his campaign traditions remained at home to receive visitors who came to give their respect. The impact of the 1860 election is Lincoln, who missed on the ballot in all Southern states, took all of the North in popular vote except in a single state. During the final Electoral College score, Lincoln defeated his main competitor Breckinridge, by 102 votes.

The astounding truth about the election of 1864 is that it happened at the center of a distressing Civil War. However, the United States carried out its presidential election without considering any options. In spite of rumors about rescheduled elections, the election dates were not delayed, though Lincoln felt that he would be beaten. The second notable truth regarding this election is that Lincoln emerged the first with vast Electoral College triumph and a significant popular vote of 55%. Lincoln thought he would lose due to the increasing discontent inside his own party by radical Republicans, who disbelieved Lincoln’s dedication to ensuring political party for the once enslaved when the war had finished.

In a real sense, Lincoln’s probability of winning the election was higher than anyone could think. His campaign made logic to numerous voters, as they also believed that slavery was against the main assertion of the Declaration of Independence that all humans are equal.

John Adams took part in the election campaigns of 1796 and 1800. In his first campaign of 1796, Adams did not conduct a vigorous campaign at that time. However, his followers campaigned strongly. During that time, Adams’s opponents depicted him as an anglophile and a monarchist. Eventually, Adams came first by a three-vote scope.

In 1800, Adams experienced a hard re-election campaign. The Federalist Party became intensely divided over his foreign policy and his position in rejecting war with France in particular, as well as over his Alien and Sedition Acts. (If to compare it with the 1864 election when Lincoln had failed first effort to get the Republican nomination and was at high risk not to be nominated again because of his position as to Wade-Davis Reconstruction bill. The conclusion can be made that Lincoln was able to succeed in being elected for the second term despite opposition in his party only due to his state-level political support being well-organized and the military situation improved in September 1864). In 1799, several people disregarded Adam’s decision to propel diplomats to Paris. In addition, Adams discharged two affiliates of his cabinet for their decline to back up his party, the disparities amid the Republicans and Federalists turn out to be harmful. Adams was defeated by the Republicans because of was better organized. James Madison ruled the American nation for two terms. He participated in the campaigns and elections of 1808 and 1812. In the four years duration, Madison’s popularity swung among extreme lows and unlikely highs, influenced by the state of relations with Britain. Britain’s continued violation of America’s impartial rights at the sea. Despite his many endeavors, none of them seemed to please his opponents. Fifteen days before his war memorandum to Congress, Madison’s nomination for another term happened. His reelection was dramatic. James Madison acquired the support of congressional Democratic-Republicans in their election convention. However, about one-third of Republican parliamentarians boycotted the convention in sum, swearing not to contribute to the re-nomination of the president. Anyway, Madison won the southern states, as well as Pennsylvania, Ohio and Vermont. Also, the War of 1812 amounted to a second war of independence for the new republic, which quickly helped Madison’s popularity. Comparing Adams with Lincoln and Madison, a conclusion can be made that the reason for his failure to be reelected is in his policy as to war with France which contradicted greatly with the vision of his party comrades and his inability to find the compromise whereas Lincoln and Madison succeeded to do so and not only within the party but within the society also.

All the three presidents contended for the presidential seats for more than one time, but only Lincoln and Madison succeeded while Adams suffered defeat during his second time. All three presidents also had experiences in campaigning for lower offices before they competed for the presidential seats: Adams was VP during Washington’s presidency, under Thomas Jefferson Madison served as secretary of state establishing foreign policy, Lincoln was placed in nomination for vice president but failed to win. Although the campaign strategies employed by the presidents were not identical, each president had supporters and managers of the campaigns. Finally, all the three presidents received their main support from the North of the country.

The campaign strategies of Lincoln, however, were different from Adams and Madison’s. For instance, he was staying at his house to receive delegations whereas his opponents were busy campaigning during his second term. Lincoln, also, campaigned for the Republican contenders in the North. In addition, while Lincoln and Madison won their second term, Adams lost in his second term elections. Furthermore, while other elections happened during peaceful times, Lincoln’s election of 1864 happened at the center of a distressing Civil War and this enlarged his winning chances as the voters saw him as a successful leader able to end up with this sad event in the country’s history. Taking into consideration the fact that Lincoln had severe opposition within his own party before the 1864 election campaign and even failed the first effort to be nominated, I think that his actions during the Civil War became the major reason for his victory. Consequently, while Lincoln and Madison were the U.S. congressmen prior to their presidential campaigns, John Adams was a vice-president.

Reputation is very important in campaigns. A leader needs to appear confident as a person, keep a cool head and think analytically. All the presidents during history were criticized and blamed for the difficulties. For instance, James Madison was often criticized for difficulties stemming from the war, but despite the challenges he encountered during his presidency, Madison was respected as a great thinker, communicator and statesman.

Domestic Affairs

When presidents accept offices, they face numerous domestic issues. Some of these issues could have been prevalent even during their campaigns, while others emerge during their rule. For the prevalent issues, the leader would have placed down policies on how to challenge them, in form of proposals or programs, or guidelines, in most of the cases during the campaigns. Later, the leader needs to follow his policies so as to gain his voter’s trust. For the emerging issues, the leader has to arrange new policies in order to handle them.

All three presidents dealt with issues related to economics, slavery, domestic wars, regionalism, and sectionalism. While his presidency, Lincoln faced two major domestic issues: preserving the Union in the Civil War and the problem of slavery. Taking into consideration all the hardships the Civil War brought, it is clear that navigating the Civil War was the greatest problem an American President ever had. Lincoln played a dramatic role in American people’s lives, no matter what it cost him, he eventually maintained the state’s integrity and established a proper course in overthrowing slavery. There can be no questions about Lincoln’s hatred to enthrallment, that he believed that it opposed the Declaration of Independence and that it threatened the State Union, he opposed to people bondage as a moral evil which cannot be tolerated. John Adams antislavery position was also very distinguished, similar to Lincoln, he found nothing appealing in human bondage; but at his time, he could do almost nothing about this burning problem – if he had openly opposed slavery Adams would have never been elected president, more than this, Adams had an understanding that at his time uniting the colonies was more important than solving slavery problems. As to Madison’s position, he, as the two mentioned presidents, had a great desire to overthrow slavery and put a lot of effort into his time but achieved no big success. Madison put a lot into keeping a direct reference to the word “slave” out of the Constitution, but he failed to do so as it would have derailed the project of creating a new Constitution. A conclusion can be made that in solving one of the most difficult issues in American and World history which is slavery all three presidents put in a lot of work, but Lincoln’s achievement is outstanding.

For James Madison, the fight over the re-releasing of the Bank of the United States was one of the most important domestic concerns. This quest met rigid opposition from three sources: founding Republicans who regarded the bank as illegal and a stranglehold of Hamiltonian influence; anti-British Republicans who disagreed on the considerable holdings of bank hoard by Britons; and nation’s banking interest groups against the U.S. bank’s supremacy to manage the state’s financial trade (Boller 57). After the anti-Bank powers murdered the re-charter drive, the U.S. faced the British devoid of the means to back war loans or to effortlessly attain government acclaim. With Madison’s backing, another bank was leased with a twenty-year phase in 1816. Madison’s opponents claimed that his backing for the bank deal exposed his pro-Federalist empathy. The significance of this Madison’s achievement is hard to overestimate as it let the country feel independence in the world financial market. Lincoln was also aware of the importance of renovating the banking system and did so while his presidency. A conclusion can be made concerning the key role of good financial management of the country by presidents.

There existed several negative reactions toward the French while Adams presidency. Recognizing this mood in the public and identifying a chance to compress the pro-French Democratic-Republican Party, the Federalist congress drew and approved the Alien and Sedition Acts (Smith 57). President Adams approved the bill into law. The Alien Enemies Act authorized the President to extradite foreigners whom he considered risky to the state’s safety. Madison and Jefferson asserted that because the constitution was formed by a compact amid the nations, the natives, talking through their state parliaments, had the power to arbitrate the authenticity of federal procedures. For this reason, they regarded the Sedition and Alien Acts as invalid and unsound. Seen in this light, Adams has been justifiably censured for approving the acts (it is important to mention that he himself did not implement them) and faced with populists’ defiance. Noteworthy in his conduct is the fact that Hamilton called Adams for a strong show of federal force to the rebels, but he pardoned them exercising outstanding tolerance. Adams’ position in trying to maintain peace and balance is of great importance during his presidency. Lincoln (for example, in the case with Wade-Davis Reconstruction bill) and Madison (for example, while working on new Constitution) also showed their great tolerance and compromise-finding ability.

Analyzing the three men presidency, it is important to mention that the way the president handles domestic affairs greatly affects winning the electorate support. In the case of Abraham Lincoln, his outstanding ability to balance within the interests of the majority in solving the most difficult issues as slavery, for example, helped him to have great success and good remembrance through centuries; while John Adams uncertain and unclear position as with the Alien and Sedition Acts robbed him out of influence within his own party and the society in general and thus became the reason of his failure to be the president for the second term.

Foreign Affairs

During the presidency of the three men, numerous wars were led and their success among the electorate was due to their wise foreign politics. Lincoln’s decisions in the Independence war were of great importance for his victory during elections. A major element of Abraham Lincoln’s martial plan rested on an efficient barricade of the South’s main ports and almost two hundred bays and traversable rivers. This was a virtually impractical task for a state with only a few naval ships. The concern of the barricade’s efficiency became the key foreign policy query in the initial years of the fighting. The union confidently anticipated England to lead ally cotton vessels or to propel British trade and battleships to southern harbors to pick up crucially required cotton. To speed up this active intercession, the confederacy unceremoniously cut off the main cotton exports. Astoundingly, England took no bureaucratic action to break the barricade and even bore the attack off by the British ships dealing with the union. England did not extend diplomatic appreciation to the union legitimately.

Madison’s clever strategy during the second war of sovereignty also brought him success. Congress agreed to military provisions followed by a ninety-day impediment. When Madison appeared in the congress with his record of complaints in opposition to the British, which incorporated the persistent impressments of sailors, the business boundaries formed by the British council, and the support of Indians who assaulted American immigrants with armaments, the house recommended a war in June (Boller 98). The Senate, nevertheless, argued for a long time and did not authorize a war pending two weeks after Congress had approved the war. Despite everything, congress announced a war on Britain the subsequent day. In light of Madison, the announcement meant the second war of sovereignty. It also offered a chance to thrust the Indian rebellion in the Northwest, grab Canada, coerce the Spanish to evacuate west Florida, and safeguard maritime sovereignty. The U.S. moved swiftly to escalate an offensive in opposition to Canada. The arrangement was aimed at dividing Ontario, therefore ending pro-British people from British backing. Unluckily, the move resulted in tragedy for the American armed forces.

As to the presidency of John Adams, it was filled with issues that were instigated by the French revolution. Cries for war with Britain were widespread. This led to a foreign crisis that continued for the duration of Adams’s office. At first, Adams tried diplomacy; he assigned three commissioners to Paris for negotiation, but Talleyrand humiliated the diplomats by initial refusal to receive them. Talleyrand started talks for peace, however, he had put in a claim for a $250,000 bribe and a $10 million credit for his country. This case, named “the XYZ affair”, met hot response in the country. Adams reacted by requesting Congress to correct funds for protective measures. These entailed the expansion of the Navy; enhancement of defensives at the coast and the formation of the interim army; and power for the President to convene more military men to dynamic duty (Smith 110). Congress formed the navy division, approved the Sedition and Alien Acts to control the rebellion, structured the Marine Corps, and called off the pacts of alliance and trade with France, which had been agreed upon in the war of sovereignty. John Adams’ biggest achievement was avoiding war with France. Between the years 1798 and 1799, Adams received confirmation that the French were ready to negotiate. When Talleyrand confirmed France’s readiness for negotiation, Adams sent another diplomatic mission to France. After a few weeks, Napoleon signed the Treaty of Mortefontaine which brought the Quasi-War to an end. Adams considered this peace arrangement his greatest achievement during his office.

Taking all the aforesaid into consideration, it can be said that Lincoln’s and Madison’s successful foreign affair policies led to their success among the electorate and party mates, while Adam’s success was ambivalent, and thus robbed him of influence within his party and of electorate support. On the one hand, most historians agree that Adams’ position was wise in not starting an exhausting war with France as the state was yet very young and not strong enough for such conflicts, on the other hand, his position as to the Alien and Sedation Acts in connection with the war was unwise, and he failed to win the second elections and thus, did not get a chance to leave a different trace in history.


After all, things were concluded, it is necessary, to sum up, that the president’s performance is often a measure by which people judge the performance of the country. A president should be able to make his people feel that the nation can succeed. In addition, it is also important that people understood the role of the president’s performance in world history.

I consider Lincoln to be a good president as he succeeded to attain unattainable, he was able to save the state unity and conquer the terrible slavery problem despite numerous hardships he had. Adams, to my mind, is a mediocre president as his office was somehow out of his people – he did what he seemed to be right and did not spend much time and effort to find a compromise in the society. If to evaluate Madison’s presidency, I would say that he is also a good president and he achieved a lot for the country’s well-being even though many historians say he was much more successful as the constitution writer and legislator but rather a weak person to lead the nation as a president. He established, once and for all, respect for American rights on the high seas and emerged from the war with more support than he had when he was first inaugurated. I consider it to be a great success. Madison was possibly the most successful and the most influential of all the Founding Fathers of the young nation, as he solved many important issues (the National Bank issue, the issue of handling the war, etc).

Taking into consideration all mentioned above, I believe that great men make the times, but sometimes circumstances of the times make men great. For me, it is evident in Lincoln’s case – he was a great man who made himself great due to his unbelievable diligence and hard work, he went on a long journey and was able to attain unattainable. His greatness of character and the personal qualities he developed through his long and very challenging way helped him to get such great results. I have also understood that a particular person presidency and his success depend on his supporters and popularity in Congress, as it is evident with John Adams, for example, had he had more support in Congress, he would have been able to stay for the second term and leave a better trace in American people history.

Works Cited

  1. Boller, Paul. Presidential Diversion: American Presidents at Play. Orlando, FL: Harcourt Books, 2007. Print.
  2. Smith, Carter. Presidents: Every Question Answered. Irvington, NY: Hylas Publishing, 2004. Print.
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