John Adams was born October 30, 1735.
Birthplace: Braintree, Mass.
Adams studied Law at Harvard.
Admitted to Massachusetts Bar in 1761.
Was elected to the Massachusetts Assembly in 1770.
Adams married in 1766.
Signed the Declaration of Independence in 1776.
Elected first Vice President in 1789, then became the President in 1796.
John Adams Biography:
John Adams (October 30, 1735 - July 4, 1826) was an American politician. He was elected second President of the United States (1797-1801) after serving as America's first Vice President (1789-1797) for two terms. He is regarded as one of the most influential Founding Fathers of the United States. Adams came to prominence in the early stages of the American Revolution. As a delegate from Massachusetts to the Continental Congress, he played a leading role in persuading Congress to adopt the United States Declaration of Independence in 1776. As a representative of Congress in Europe, he was a major negotiator of the eventual peace treaty with Great Britain, and chiefly responsible for obtaining important loans from Amsterdam. Adams's revolutionary credentials secured him two terms as George Washington's vice president and his own election as the second president. During his one term as president, he was frustrated by battles inside his own Federalist party against a faction led by Alexander Hamilton, and he signed the controversial Alien and Sedition Acts. The major accomplishment of his presidency was his peaceful resolution of the Quasi-War crisis with France in 1798. After Adams was defeated for reelection by Thomas Jefferson, he retired to Massachusetts. He and his wife Abigail Adams founded an accomplished family line of politicians, diplomats, and historians now referred to as the Adams political family. His achievements have received greater recognition in modern times, though his contributions were not initially as celebrated as other Founders'.
John Adams, Jr., the elder of two brothers, was born on October 30, 1735 (October 19, 1735 by the Old Style, Julian calendar), in Braintree, Massachusetts, to John and Susanna Boylston Adams. The location of Adams's birth, North Braintree, became the town of Quincy, Massachusetts in 1792 and is now part of Adams National Historical Park. His father, also named John (1690-1761), was a fourth-generation descendant of Henry Adams, who emigrated from Braintree, England to Massachusetts Bay Colony in about 1636. The town was named Braintree after the town from which they had emigrated. He is descended from a Welsh male line called Ap Adam. His father was a farmer, a Congregationalist (that is, Puritan) deacon, a lieutenant in the militia and a selectman, or town councilman, who supervised schools and roads. His mother, Susanna Boylston Adams, was a descendant of the Boylstons of Brookline. Adams was born to a modest family, but he felt acutely the responsibility of living up to his family heritage: the founding generation of Puritans, who came to the American wilderness in the 1630s and established colonial presence in America. By the time of John Adams's birth in 1735, Puritan tenets such as predestination were no longer as widely accepted, and many of their stricter practices had mellowed with time, but John Adams considered them bearers of freedom, a cause that still had a holy urgency. Young Adams went to Harvard College at age sixteen (in 1751). His father expected him to become a minister, but Adams had doubts. After graduating in 1755, he taught school for a few years in Worcester, allowing himself time to think about his career choice. After much reflection, he decided to become a lawyer and studied law in the office of James Putnam, a prominent lawyer in Worcester. In 1758, Adams was admitted to the bar. From an early age, he developed the habit of writing descriptions of events and impressions of men which are scattered through his diary. He put the skill to good use as a lawyer, often recording cases he observed so that he could study and reflect upon them. His report of the 1761 argument of James Otis in the superior court of Massachusetts as to the legality of Writs of Assistance is a good example. Otis’s argument inspired Adams with zeal for the cause of the American colonies. In 1764, Adams married Abigail Smith (1744-1818), the daughter of a Congregational minister, Rev. William Smith, at Weymouth, Massachusetts. Their children were Abigail (1765-1813), future president John Quincy (1767-1848), Susanna (1768-1770); Charles (1770-1800), Thomas Boylston (1772-1832), and the stillborn Elizabeth (1775). Adams was not a popular leader like his second cousin, Samuel Adams. Instead, his influence emerged through his work as a constitutional lawyer and his intense analysis of historical examples, together with his thorough knowledge of the law and his dedication to the principles of republicanism. Adams often found his inborn contentiousness to be a constraint in his political career.
Adams first rose to prominence as an opponent of the Stamp Act of 1765, which was imposed by the British Parliament to assuage British war debts as well as the expense of keeping a standing army in the American colonies against possible Indian revolt. Popular resistance, he later observed, was sparked by an oft-reprinted sermon of the Boston minister, Dick Mayhew, interpreting Romans 13 so as to elucidate the principle of just insurrection. In 1765, Adams drafted the instructions which were sent by the inhabitants of Braintree to its representatives in the Massachusetts legislature, and which served as a model for other towns to draw up instructions to their representatives. In August 1765, he anonymously contributed four notable articles to the Boston Gazette (republished in The London Chronicle in 1768 as True Sentiments of America and also known as A Dissertation on the Canon and Feudal Law). In the letter he suggested that there was a connection between the Protestant ideas that Adams's Puritan ancestors brought to New England and the ideas behind their resistance to the Stamp Act. In the former he explained that the opposition of the colonies to the Stamp Act was because the Stamp Act deprived the American colonists of two basic rights guaranteed to all Englishmen, and which all free men deserved: rights to be taxed only by consent and to be tried only by a jury of one's peers. The "Braintree Instructions" were a succinct and forthright defense of colonial rights and liberties, while the Dissertation was an essay in political education.
Adams was elected to the Massachusetts General Court (the colonial legislature) in June 1770.
In 1772, Massachusetts Governor Thomas Hutchinson announced that he and his judges would no longer need their salaries paid by the Massachusetts legislature, because the Crown would henceforth assume payment drawn from customs revenues. Boston radicals protested and asked Adams to explain their objections. In "Two Replies of the Massachusetts House of Representatives to Governor Hutchinson" Adams argued that the colonists had never been under the sovereignty of Parliament. Their original charter was with the person of the king and their allegiance was only to him. If a workable line could not be drawn between parliamentary sovereignty and the total independence of the colonies, he continued, the colonies would have no other choice but to choose independence. In Novanglus; or, A History of the Dispute with America, From Its Origin, in 1754, to the Present Time Adams attacked some essays by Daniel Leonard that defended Hutchinson's arguments for the absolute authority of Parliament over the colonies. In Novanglus Adams gave a point-by-point refutation of Leonard's essays, and then provided one of the most extensive and learned arguments made by the colonists against British imperial policy. It was a systematic attempt by Adams to describe the origins, nature, and jurisdiction of the unwritten British constitution. Adams used his wide knowledge of English and colonial legal history to show the provincial legislatures were fully sovereign over their own internal affairs, and that the colonies were connected to Great Britain only through the King.
Massachusetts sent Adams to the first and second Continental Congresses in 1774 and from 1775 to 1778. In June 1775, with a view of promoting the union of the colonies, he nominated George Washington of Virginia as commander-in-chief of the army then assembled around Boston. His influence in Congress was great, and almost from the beginning, he sought permanent separation from Britain.
On May 15, 1776 the Continental Congress, in response to escalating hostilities which had commenced thirteen months earlier at the battles of Lexington and Concord, urged that the colonies begin constructing their own constitutions, a precursor to becoming independent states. The resolution to draft independent constitutions was, as Adams put it, "independence itself." Over the next decade, Americans from every state gathered and deliberated on new governing documents. As radical as it was to actually write constitutions (prior convention suggested that a society's form of government needn't be codified, nor should its organic law be written down in a single document), what was equally radical was the nature of American political thought as the summer of 1776 dawned.
At that time several Congressmen turned to Adams for advice about framing new governments. Adams tired of repeating the same thing, and published the pamphlet Thoughts on Government (1776), which was subsequently influential in the writing of many state constitutions. Many historians argue that Thoughts on Government should be read as an articulation of the classical theory of mixed government. Adams contended that social classes exist in every political society, and that a good government must accept that reality. For centuries, dating back to Aristotle, a mixed regime balancing monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy, or the monarch, nobles, and people was required to preserve order and liberty. Using the tools of Republicanism in the United States, the patriots believed it was corrupt and nefarious aristocrats, in the British Parliament and stationed in America, who were guilty of the British assault on American liberty. Unlike others, Adams thought that the definition of a republic had to do with its ends, rather than its means.
On June 7, 1776, Adams seconded the resolution of independence introduced by Richard Henry Lee that "these colonies are, and of a right ought to be, free and independent states," and championed the resolution until it was adopted by Congress on July 2, 1776. He was appointed to a committee with Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, Robert R. Livingston and Roger Sherman, to draft a Declaration of Independence. Although that document was written primarily by Jefferson, Adams occupied the foremost place in the debate on its adoption. In 1777, Adams resigned his seat on the Massachusetts Superior Court to serve as the head of the Board of War and Ordnance, as well as many other important committees.
Congress twice dispatched Adams to represent the fledgling union in Europe, first in 1777, and again in 1779. Accompanied by his ten-year-old eldest son, John Quincy, Adams sailed for France aboard the Continental Navy frigate Boston on February 15, 1778. Although chased several times by British warships, the only action seen during the voyage was the bloodless capture of a British privateer. His first stay in Europe, between April 1, 1778, and June 17, 1779, was largely unproductive, and he returned to his home in Braintree in early August 1779. Between September 1 and October 30, 1779, he drafted the Massachusetts Constitution together with Samuel Adams and James Bowdoin. He was selected in September 1779 to return to France and, following the conclusion of the Massachusetts constitutional convention, left on November 15 aboard the French frigate Sensible. On the second trip, Adams was appointed as Minister Plenipotentiary charged with the mission of negotiating a treaty of peace and a treaty of commerce with France. The French government, however, did not approve of Adams's appointment and subsequently, on the insistence of the French foreign minister, the Comte de Vergennes, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, John Jay and Henry Laurens were appointed to cooperate with Adams, although Jefferson did not go to Europe and Laurens was posted to Holland (the Netherlands). In the event Jay, Adams, and Franklin played the major part in the negotiations. Overruling Franklin and distrustful of Vergennes, Jay and Adams decided not to consult with France. Instead, they dealt directly with the British commissioners. Throughout the negotiations, Adams was especially determined that the right of the United States to the fisheries along the Atlantic coast should be recognized. The American negotiators were able to secure a favorable treaty, which gave Americans ownership of all lands east of the Mississippi, except Florida, which was transferred to Spain as its reward. The treaty was signed on November 30, 1782. After these negotiations began, Adams had spent some time as the ambassador in the Netherlands, then the only other well-functioning Republic in the world. In July 1780, he had been authorized to execute the duties previously assigned to Laurens. With the aid of the Dutch patriot leader Joan van der Capellen tot den Pol, Adams secured the recognition of the United States as an independent government at The Hague on April 19, 1782. During this visit, he also negotiated a loan of five million guilders financed by Nicolaas van Staphorst and Wilhelm Willink. In October 1782, he negotiated with the Dutch a treaty of amity and commerce, the first such treaty between the United States and a foreign power following the 1778 treaty with France. The house that Adams purchased during this stay in The Netherlands became the first American embassy on foreign soil anywhere in the world. For two months during 1783, Adams lodged in London with radical publisher John Stockdale. In 1784 and 1785, he was one of the architects of far-going trade relations between the US and Prussia. The Prussian ambassador in The Hague, Friedrich Wilhelm von Thulemeyer, was involved, as were Jefferson and Franklin, who were in Paris In 1785, John Adams was appointed the first American minister to the Court of St. James's (ambassador to Great Britain). When he was presented to his former sovereign, George III, the King intimated that he was aware of Adams's lack of confidence in the French government.
Adams's British residence, a house off London's Grosvenor Square, still stands and is commemorated by a plaque. He returned to the United States in 1788 to continue his domestic political life.
Massachusetts's new constitution, ratified in 1780 and written largely by Adams himself, structured its government most closely on his views of politics and society. It was the first constitution written by a special committee and ratified by the people. It was also the first to feature a bicameral legislature, a clear and distinct executive with a partial (2/3) veto (although he was restrained by an executive council), and a distinct judicial branch. While in London, Adams published a work entitled A Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the United States (1787). Adams never bought a slave and declined on principle to employ slave labor. Abigail Adams opposed slavery and employed free blacks in preference to her father's two domestic slaves. He spoke out against a bill to emancipate slaves in Massachusetts, opposed use of black soldiers in the Revolution, and tried to keep the issue out of national politics.
While Washington won unanimously in the popular vote and won 69 votes in the electoral college, Adams came in second in the electoral college with 34 votes and became Vice President in the presidential election of 1789. He played a minor role in the politics of the early 1790s and was re-elected in 1792. Washington seldom asked Adams for input on policy and legal issues during his tenure as vice president. Adams's main task while in office was presiding over the Senate. Subsequent Vice Presidents were also generally not powerful or significant members of their President's administrations until after the Second World War. In the first year of Washington's administration, Adams became deeply involved in a month-long Senate controversy over what the official title of the President would be. Adams favored grandiose titles such as "His Majesty the President" or "His High Mightiness" over the simple "President of the United States" that eventually won the debate. The pomposity of his stance, along with his being overweight, led to Adams earning the nickname "His Rotundity." As president of the Senate, Adams cast 29 tie-breaking votes a record that only John C. Calhoun came close to tying, with 28. His votes protected the president's sole authority over the removal of appointees and influenced the location of the national capital. On at least one occasion, he persuaded senators to vote against legislation that he opposed, and he frequently lectured the Senate on procedural and policy matters. Adams's political views and his active role in the Senate made him a natural target for critics of the Washington administration. Toward the end of his first term, as a result of a threatened resolution that would have silenced him except for procedural and policy matters, he began to exercise more restraint. When the two political parties formed, he joined the Federalist Party, but never got on well with its dominant leader Alexander Hamilton. Because of Adams's seniority and the need for a northern president, he was elected as the Federalist nominee for president in 1796, over Thomas Jefferson, the leader of the opposition Democratic-Republican Party. His success was due to peace and prosperity; Washington and Hamilton had averted war with Britain with the Jay Treaty of 1795.
During the presidential campaign of 1796 Adams was the presidential candidate of the Federalist Party and Thomas Pinckney, the Governor of South Carolina, was also running as a Federalist (at this point, the vice president was whoever came in second, so no running mates existed in the modern sense). The Federalists wanted Adams as their presidential candidate to crush Thomas Jefferson's bid. Most federalists would have preferred Hamilton to be a candidate. Although Hamilton and his followers supported Adams, they also held a grudge against him. They did consider him to be the lesser of the two evils. However, they thought Adams lacked the seriousness and popularity that had caused Washington to be successful, and also feared that Adams was too vain, opinionated, unpredictable, and stubborn to follow their directions. Adams's opponents were former Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson of Virginia, who was joined by Senator Aaron Burr of New York on the Democratic-Republican ticket. As was customary, Adams stayed in his home town of Quincy rather than actively campaign for the Presidency. He wanted to stay out of what he called the silly and wicked game. His party, however, campaigned for him, while the Democratic-Republicans campaigned for Jefferson. It was expected that Adams would dominate the votes in New England, while Jefferson was expected to win in the Southern states. In the end, Adams won the election by a narrow margin of 71 electoral votes to 68 for Jefferson (who became the vice president).
When Adams entered office, he realized that he needed to protect Washington’s policy of staying out of the French and British war. Because the French helped secure American independence from Britain, they had greater popularity with America. After the Jay Treaty, the French became angry and began seizing American merchant ships that were trading with the British in what became known as the "Quasi-War." Adams sent a commission to negotiate an understanding with France. However, Adams urged the Congress to augment the navy and army in case of diplomatic failure.
As President Adams followed Washington's lead in making the presidency the example of republican values, and stressing civic virtue, he was never implicated in any scandal. Adams's 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. An undeclared naval war between the U.S. and France, called the Quasi-War, broke out in 1798. The humiliation of the XYZ Affair, in which the French demanded huge bribes before any discussions could begin, led to serious threats of full-scale war with France and embarrassed the Jeffersonians, who were friends to France. The Federalists built up the army under George Washington and Alexander Hamilton, built warships, such as USS Constitution, and raised taxes. They cracked down on political immigrants and domestic opponents with the Alien and Sedition Acts, which were signed by Adams in 1798. These Acts were composed of four separate and distinct units:
The Naturalization Act, passed on June 18
The Alien Act, passed on June 24
The Alien Enemies Act, passed on July 6
The Sedition Act, passed on July 14
These four acts were brought about to suppress Republican opposition. The Naturalization Act doubled the period required to naturalize the foreign born to American citizenship to 14 years. Since most immigrants voted republican they thought by initiating this act it would decrease the proportion of people who voted republican. The Alien Friends Act and the Alien Enemies Act allowed the president to deport any foreigner that he thought was dangerous to the country. The Sedition Act criminalized anyone who publicly criticized the federal government. Some of the punishments included 2-5 years in prison and fines of $2,000 to $5,000. Adams had not designed or promoted any of these acts but he did sign them into law. Those acts, and the high-profile prosecution of a number of newspaper editors and one Congressman by the Federalists, became highly controversial. Some historians have noted that the Alien and Sedition Acts were relatively rarely enforced, as only 10 convictions under the Sedition Act have been identified and as Adams never signed a deportation order, and that the furor over the Alien and Sedition Acts was mainly stirred up by the Democratic-Republicans. However, other historians emphasize that the Acts were highly controversial from the outset, resulted in many aliens leaving the country voluntarily, and created an atmosphere where opposing the Federalists, even on the floor of Congress, could and did result in prosecution. The election of 1800 became a bitter and volatile battle, with each side expressing extraordinary fear of the other party and its policies. The deep division in the Federalist party came on the army issue. Adams was forced to name Washington as commander of the new army, and Washington demanded that Hamilton be given the second position. Adams reluctantly gave in. Major General Hamilton virtually took control of the War department. The rift between Adams and the High Federalists (as Adams's opponents were called) grew wider. The High Federalists refused to consult Adams over the key legislation of 1798; they changed the defense measures which he had called for, demanded that Hamilton control the army, and refused to recognize the necessity of giving key Democratic-Republicans (like Aaron Burr) senior positions in the army (which Adams wanted to do in order to gain some Democratic-Republican support). By building a large standing army the High Federalists raised popular alarms and played into the hands of the Democratic-Republicans. They also alienated Adams and his large personal following. They shortsightedly viewed the Federalist party as their own tool and ignored the need to pull together the entire nation in the face of war with France. For long stretches, Adams withdrew to his home in Massachusetts. In February 1799, Adams stunned the country by sending diplomat William Vans Murray on a peace mission to France. Napoleon, realizing the animosity of the United States was doing no good, signaled his readiness for friendly relations. The Treaty of Alliance of 1778 was superseded and the United States could now be free of foreign entanglements, as Washington advised in his own Farewell Letter. Adams avoided war, but deeply split his own party in the process. He brought in John Marshall as Secretary of State and demobilized the emergency army.
The death of Washington, in 1799, weakened the Federalists, as they lost the one man who symbolized and united the party. In the presidential election of 1800, Adams and his fellow Federalist candidate, Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, went against the Republican duo of Jefferson and Burr. Hamilton tried his hardest to sabotage Adams's campaign in hopes of boosting Pinckney's chances of winning the presidency. In the end, Adams lost narrowly to Jefferson by 65 to 73 electoral votes. Just before his loss, he became the first President to occupy the new, but unfinished President's Mansion on November 1, 1800. Among the causes of his defeat were distrust of him by "High Federalists" led by Hamilton, the popular disapproval of the Alien and Sedition Acts, the popularity of his opponent, Thomas Jefferson, and the effective politicking of Aaron Burr in New York State, where the legislature (which selected the electoral college) shifted from Federalist to Democratic-Republican on the basis of a few wards in New York City controlled by Burr's machine.
As his term was expiring, Adams appointed a series of judges, called the "Midnight Judges" because most of them were formally appointed days before the presidential term expired. Most of the judges were eventually unseated when the Jeffersonians abolished their offices. But John Marshall remained, and his long tenure as Chief Justice of the United States represents the most lasting influence of the Federalists, as Marshall refashioned the Constitution into a nationalizing force and established the Judicial Branch as the equal of the Executive and Legislative branches. Following his 1800 defeat, Adams retired into private life. Depressed when he left office, he did not attend Jefferson's inauguration. He went back to farming at his farm, Peacefield, in the Quincy area. In 1812, Adams reconciled with Jefferson. Their mutual friend Benjamin Rush, who had been corresponding with both, encouraged Adams to reach out to Jefferson. Adams sent a brief note to Jefferson, which resulted in a resumption of their friendship, and initiated a correspondence that 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), the only son of a former President to hold the office until George W. Bush in 2001. His daughter Abigail ("Nabby") was married to Congressman William Stephens Smith. She died of cancer in 1813. His son Charles died as an alcoholic in 1800. Abigail, his wife, died of typhoid on October 28, 1818.
On July 4, 1826, the 50th anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence, Adams died at his home in Quincy. His last words are often quoted as "Jefferson lives." Only the word "Jefferson" was clearly intelligible, however. Adams was unaware that Jefferson, his compatriot in their quest for independence, then great political rival, then later friend and correspondent, had died a few hours earlier on the very same day. His crypt lies at United First Parish Church (also known as the Church of the Presidents) in Quincy.
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