John Adams was born October 30, 1735 in Braintree, Massachusetts He
Died July 4, 1826, in Quincy, Massachusetts
He was the 2nd President
of the United States, serving from March 4, 1797 – March 3, 1801.
He was the first Vice President under Abraham Lincoln. Adams' Vice President
was Thomas Jefferson who succeeded him in the office. He
was a major sponsor of the American Revolutionary War and a key diplomat
in the 1770s. He was one of the Founding Fathers
Rutland concludes, "Madison was the great intellectual ... Jefferson
the ... unquenchable idealist, and Franklin the most charming and versatile
genius... but Adams is the most captivating founding father on most
counts." [Ellis p 230].
Learned and thoughtful,
John Adams was more remarkable as a political philosopher than as a
politician. "People and nations are forged in the fires of
John Adams was the
oldest of three brothers. His father was a farmer, John (1690-1761),
a fourth-generation descendant of Henry Adams, who emigrated from England,
to Massachusetts Bay Colony in about 1636. His parents had been honored
members of the community and his father was influential in town business,
and his mother, Susanna Boylston Adams, was devoted to family and church.
In spite of an inclination
to farming, Adams' schooling prepared him for a career in the ministry.
He had special tutoring in Latin from a local scholar, and John passed
his entrance examinations for Harvard College in 1751. These four years
of absorbing study excited his imagination. "I was a mighty metaphysician,
at least I thought myself such"; he was considered a scientist,
debater, and orator, as well. As he examined career possibilities, the
ministry appeared less interesting than law, medicine, and public service.
He had an early habit of writing descriptions of events and impressions,
which provides a wealth of insight into his personality and the early
history of the USA.
At graduation in
1755, he accepted a teaching position in Worcester. The career of a
schoolmaster was unsatisfying, and Adams referred to his pupils as "little
runtlings" who barely knew their ABC's. His students noted he was
preoccupied with other matters, too. However, his position enabled him
to meet the intellectuals of Worcester and Adams finally decided on
a law career. He was intense and wanted to be more than a country lawyer,
so he returned in 1758 to Braintree, where family connections helped
with introductions to the Boston bar.
On his travels he
would visit Abigail Smith, daughter of a congregational minister. John
and Abigail were married on Oct. 25, 1764, and he loved her deeply throughout
their long marriage. Their children were Abigail Amelia (1765-1813);
future president John Quincy (1767-1848); Susanna Boylston (1768-70);
Charles (1770-1800); Thomas Boylston (1772-1832); and Elizabeth, stillborn
Adams was a Unitarian
who rejected Calvinism and predestination. He expressed his religious
views in a 1813 letter to Thomas Jefferson: The Love of God and
His creation, delight, joy, triumph, exultation, in my own existence…are
my religion” .
In Boston he became
well acquainted with James Otis, Jr., and his distant cousin Samuel
Adams, and founded a club called the "Sodalitas", a group
of lawyers who engaged in scholarly discussions and law debates. Out
of these meetings came Adams' anonymous articles, August 1765, in which
he traced the origin and rise of freedom. The rights of Englishmen,
he wrote, were derived from God, not from king or Parliament, and would
be secured by the study of history, law, and tradition. He
argued that opposition of the colonies to the Stamp Act was part of
a never-ending struggle between individualism and corporate authority.
In December 1765 he delivered a speech in which he pronounced the Stamp
Act invalid as Massachusetts was without representation in Parliament,
had not assented.
Adams rose to influence
due to these ideas. He additionally created the basis for a model for
other towns in instructing their representatives. Adams
didn't enjoy the most popular leadership, but his influence emerged
from his work on constitutional law. His impetuous, intense and often
vehement and contentious actions handicapped his political career, and
these over-zealous qualities were particularly manifest during his term
In 1768 Adams moved
to Boston. Though Adams was always ready to speak out for liberty, he
maintained his political independence and offered his talents to anyone
in trouble. After the Boston Massacre in 1770, several British soldiers
were charged with the murder of four colonists. Adams joined Josiah
Quincy II in defending them. For taking the case Adams was sharply rebuked
in the patriot newspapers, yet he was privately congratulated on winning
this case for liberty.
In 1771 he decided
to leave public life, but after 16 months of semiretirement, traveling
and bathing in mineral springs and partly in farming, he returned to
The radicals were
happy to have Adams available for consultation and as a writer for the
newspapers and they elected him to the Governor's Council in May 1773,
only to have him ejected by the governor for his partisanism. He was,
indeed, involved in patriotic maneuvers, and he rejoiced when Bostonians
dumped the hated tea into the harbor in the Boston Tea Party of 1773.
Britain's retaliation drew him into full partnership with the radicals,
and he became a delegate to the First Continental Congress in 1774.
In June 1775, in
efforts to promote the union of the colonies, he nominated George Washington
as commander-in-chief of the army. His influence in Congress was great,
and he sought permanent separation from Great Britain.
On October 5, 1775,
Congress created the first committee to study naval matters, which Adams
championed. His work in the establishment and strengthening of an American
Navy has earned him a title of father of the United States Navy.
On June 7, 1776,
Adams seconded a resolution that "these colonies are, and of a
right ought to be, free and independent states," and urged adoption
of these resolutions, which occurred on July 2, 1776.
He was appointed
on a committee to draft a Declaration of Independence with Thomas Jefferson,
Benjamin Franklin, and others. While that document was largely drafted
by Jefferson, John Adams occupied the foremost place in the debate on
its adoption. Many years later Jefferson hailed Adams as, "The
Colossus of that Congress--the great pillar of support to the Declaration
of Independence, and its ablest advocate and champion on the floor of
John Adams negotiated
a treaty of peace and of commerce with Great Britain and was sent to
Europe in September 1779. The French government wanted Benjamin Franklin,
Thomas Jefferson, John Jay and Henry Laurens to cooperate with Adams.
Jefferson did not participate, but Jay, Adams and Franklin played the
major part in the negotiations, and Jay and Adams overruled Franklin’s
vote, dealing directly with the British and ignoring the French ministers.
With the aid of
a Dutch patriot, Adams secured recognition of the United States as an
independent government at The Hague on April 19, 1782. Adams held several
ambassadorial posts; including minister to The Netherlands from 1781
As president of
the Senate, Adams cast many tie-breaking votes, some of which protected
the president's sole authority over the removal of appointees, and influenced
the location of the national capital. He frequently lectured the Senate
on procedural and policy matters and his political views and active
role made him a target for critics
Washington did not
seek another term and Adams was the "heir apparent". During
the presidential campaign of 1796, Jefferson secretly tried to substitute
Thomas Pinckney for Adams and thus divided the party. As a result, the
election was extremely close: Adams won the presidency by three electoral
votes (71-68) over the Republican Jefferson, who, under the electoral
system then in use, became the vice president.
Adams entered office
on March 4, 1797. Fully aware of his slender victory, he sought political
harmony. His inaugural address, tracing the progress of the nation,
declared his faith in republicanism and called upon the people to end
partisan politics. He tried to reach an accord with Jefferson, conciliate
the Hamiltonians, and steer a peaceful course through the controversy
with France over Jay's Treaty. But he encountered supreme difficulties.
that even the presidency was being reduced to the level of human passions
and party objectives. According to his philosophy, the position should
seek the man, and knowledge as well as virtue should qualify the man,
without regard to partisanship. Unlike Washington, Adams had rivals
for the presidency, and he should have been more flexible. Instead,
he permitted Alexander Hamilton to assume leadership of the Federalist
party, while he tried to remove himself from partisan politics by associating
even with his party's critics.
four years as president (1797–1801) were marked by intense disputes
over foreign policy. Britain and France were at war; Adams and the Federalists
favored Britain, while Jefferson and the Democratic-Republicans favored
France. The Nation experienced great opposition to the French, which
was increased by the intensity of Adams's exhortations. He enjoyed popularity
at appearances during this time.
An undeclared naval
war between the US and France, broke out in 1798. Adams and the moderate
Federalists were able to avoid a war through various unpopular measures.
They built up the army, built warships, raised taxes, cracked down on
political immigrants and domestic opponents with the Alien and Sedition
Acts, signed by Adams in 1798. While rarely invoked they increased strong
opposition to the Federalists.
Adams was a poor
negotiator and never fully controlled his Cabinet. For long periods,
Adams sequestered himself at home in Massachusetts. In February 1799,
Adams surprised the country by sending a diplomat on a peace mission
to France. Napoleon was in power in Paris and Adams realized animosity
was not effective so he showed readiness for friendly relations and
brought the US back from the brink of war. This deeply split his own
On November 1, 1800,
just before the election, Adams arrived in the new Capital City to take
up his residence in the White House. In
the election, Adams received only a few less electoral votes than Jefferson.
this 1800 defeat, Adams retired into private life and returned to farming
in the Quincy area.
In 1812 Adams decided
to reconcile with Jefferson, and sent a brief note to Jefferson, which
resulted in a resumption of their friendship. their correspondence lasted
the rest of their lives.
Sixteen months before
his death, his son, John Quincy Adams, became the sixth President of
the United States (1825–1829).
On July 4, 1826,
the 50th anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence,
Adams died at Quincy, after (allegedly) uttering the famous last words
"Thomas Jefferson still survives." Unbeknownst to Adams, Jefferson
had died a few hours earlier.
Note: Adams' term
as Vice President is sometimes listed as starting on either March 4
or April 6. March 4 is the official start of the first vice presidential
term. April 6 is the date on which Congress counted the electoral votes
and certified a Vice President. April 21 is the date on which Adams
took the oath of office.
diaries, letters, and books provide invaluable information about the
politics and his writings reveal an astute observer and very human philosopher
whose warmth, wit, and playfulness captivate the reader. His reputation
as an intelligent and courageous statesman endures.