Also, I’ve long doubted that Adams was “pompous ass.” It fits none of the things we know about the man. Contrast him to Jefferson and Adams was a pauper. Adams had a comfortable home and had periodically expanded his land holdings as his personal fortune increased, but there was no sprawling mansion for himself and he never showed any interest in establishing one either.
Adams had long been a man of principle, and he gave all of his considerable legal abilities to the defense of the British soldiers involved in the Boston massacre, eventhough this could have been disastrous for his political career.
Adams was almost everything that we in the modern day want from a politician. He was principled, and he did not engage in double-speak, he said what he thought and meant what he said, and he said so forcefully and coercively. This may be why many have considered him in a negative light, in the 18th century speaking your mind openly wasn’t the behavior of a proper gentleman.
A prime example of the Adams character would be his appointment to deal with Great Britain to negotiate a treaty of peace. Adams was immediately unpopular in France because, in his negotiations with Great Britain he did not meaningfully include France. In Adams mind, as a sovereign state, kowtowing to the French, or asking for their assent or concurrence in the terms of the peace treaty made no sense whatsoever.
When Franklin and John Jay made it over to France Franklin supported the idea of effectively giving France veto power over the treaty, Adams and Jay overruled him and America negotiated its peace treaty with Great Britain not as a French protectorate but as a sovereign state. And I’m sure he came off as “unpleasant” to Ben Franklin in the process.
As for Adams having trouble in his cabinet, that’s more a reflection of the times than anything. Washington didn’t have very good control over his cabinet either, with Hamilton and Jefferson going at each other like children. The idea of the supremacy of the Presidency in the executive branch wasn’t so clear-cut as it was today. The earliest Presidents (Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, Monroe) effectively left their cabinet members to their own devices. For long stretches of time these Presidents may not have even been familiar on a day-to-day basis with what their cabinet officers were doing.
The fact that a President’s VP in those days was the guy he beat in the presidential election also wasn’t a great thing, as Adams VP was the troublesome Jefferson and Jefferson’s VP was the extremely troublesome Aaron Burr.
Adams took unpopular but necessary actions. For example he kept America out of war with France eventhough in the process he upset some of the members of his own party. Adams also made a very important political appointment, that of John Marshall to the Supreme Court (as Chief Justice.) If not for that, who knows what our country would look like today.
Giving Jefferson big applause over the Louisiana Purchase is, in my opinion, akin to giving Richard Nixon great credit for the moon landing. The situation fell in Jefferson’s lap, and almost any man who was President or who sought to be President in Jefferson’s time would have agreed to the land purchase. Jefferson in fact may have been the one person least likely to go through with the deal.