John Adams (October 30, 1735 – July 4, 1826) was an American statesman, attorney, diplomat, writer, and Founding Father who served as the second president of the United States from 1797 to 1801. Before his presidency, he was a leader of the American Revolution that achieved independence from Great Britain and served as the first vice president of the United States.
Adams was a dedicated diarist and regularly corresponded with many important figures in early American history, including his wife and adviser Abigail Adams, and Thomas Jefferson. His letters and other papers serve as an important source of historical information about the era.
A lawyer and political activist prior to the revolution, Adams was devoted to the right to counsel and presumption of innocence. As a delegate from Massachusetts to the Continental Congress, Adams played a leading role in persuading Congress to declare independence.
He assisted Thomas Jefferson in drafting the Declaration of Independence in 1776, and was its primary advocate in Congress. Later, as a diplomat in Europe, he helped negotiate the eventual peace treaty with Great Britain, and was responsible for obtaining vital governmental loans from Amsterdam bankers. Adams was the primary author of the Massachusetts Constitution in 1780, which influenced the United States’ own constitution, as did his earlier Thoughts on Government.
What was John Adams’ early life and education?
John Adams was born on October 30, 1735, in Braintree, Massachusetts Bay. His father was John Adams Sr., a farmer, deacon, and town councilman, and his mother was Susanna Boylston Adams. Adams was the oldest of three brothers. As a young boy, Adams studied Latin and Greek in Braintree under Joseph Marsh before entering Harvard College at age 16.
At Harvard, Adams graduated in 1755 with an A.B. degree. He then taught school for several years in Worcester, Massachusetts while pondering his career. In 1758, he decided to pursue law and studied under lawyer James Putnam in Worcester. In 1759, Adams earned an A.M. from Harvard and was admitted to the Massachusetts bar the following year.
What was John Adams’ career before the American Revolution?
After being admitted to the bar, John Adams built his legal career in Braintree and Boston. In 1764, Adams married Abigail Smith, a minister’s daughter from Weymouth, Massachusetts with whom he went on to have six children, three daughters and three sons.
As conflict with Great Britain intensified in the 1760s over the colonies’ rejection of Parliament’s authority to tax them, Adams rose to prominence as a critic of British policy. He published influential essays and letters arguing that the British taxation was illegal.
In 1770, Adams agreed to represent the British soldiers accused in the Boston Massacre, believing in their right to a fair trial. His decision to defend the British was unpopular but Adams felt morally obligated to uphold the right to counsel. He secured acquittals of six of the soldiers and reduced charges against four others.
Throughout the 1770s, Adams continued to support American independence from Britain. He served in the First and Second Continental Congresses and advocated forcefully for independence.
What was John Adams’ role in the American Revolution?
As a delegate to the Continental Congress, John Adams was one of the most influential and articulate proponents of American independence. He forcefully argued for independence and pressed other delegates to vote for a break with Great Britain. Adams was chosen to draft the preamble to the Declaration of Independence and served on the committee that drafted the declaration, along with Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, Robert Livingston and Roger Sherman.
While Jefferson was assigned to write the first draft, Adams insisted that changes be made, including cutting Jefferson’s anti-slavery language condemning the British promotion of slavery. After edits and debate, Congress approved the final Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776.
During the Revolutionary War, Adams served in the Congress and helped oversee the war effort. He pressed for a formal alliance with France that resulted in French military support that proved crucial to defeating the British.
In 1778, Adams was sent to Paris to negotiate an alliance with France. The resulting Treaty of Alliance brought France into the war on the American side. Adams then spent most of the war serving as a diplomat in Europe, seeking recognition and support for the fledgling United States.
What role did John Adams play in the early United States government?
After the Revolutionary War, John Adams returned to the United States and was elected to two terms as vice president under George Washington, serving from 1789 to 1797. As vice president, Adams played a largely ceremonial role, presiding over the Senate and breaking ties.
In 1796, Adams ran for president as the candidate of the Federalist Party against Democratic-Republican Thomas Jefferson. Adams won the close election with 71 electoral votes to Jefferson’s 68.
As president from 1797-1801, Adams faced growing conflict with France and dissent at home in the split between Federalists and Jefferson’s Democratic-Republicans. Legislation like the Alien and Sedition Acts restricting immigration and criticism of the government proved highly controversial.
In the election of 1800, Jefferson defeated Adams in a bitter partisan contest. Adams lost support due to fallout from the controversial Alien and Sedition Acts and a bitter split in the Federalists. Adams became the first president to be voted out after one term, setting an important precedent for peaceful transfer of power.
What were John Adams’ major accomplishments?
Some of John Adams’ most important accomplishments and contributions include:
- Early proponent of American independence: Adams was an early and forceful voice for American independence from Great Britain. He pressed the Continental Congress towards declaring independence.
- Drafting the Declaration of Independence: Adams served on the five-man committee that drafted the Declaration and persuaded changes to Jefferson’s draft.
- Diplomatic role in Revolution: As a diplomat in Europe, Adams helped gain French support during the war and negotiated the crucial Treaty of Alliance.
- First vice president of the U.S.: Adams served two terms as George Washington’s vice president and helped establish the role.
- Second president of the U.S.: As president from 1797-1801, Adams led the country through significant turmoil with France.
- ** Father of the U.S. Navy:** As president, Adams authorized the creation of the United States Navy to protect American merchant ships.
- Avoided war with France: Though embroiled in a Quasi-War at sea, Adams prevented a full war with France during his tenure.
- Peaceful transition of power: Adams was voted out of office after one term but ensured the first peaceful transfer of power between opposing parties.
What was John Adams’ role in drafting the U.S. Constitution?
Though absent representing the U.S. abroad, John Adams had an important influence on the drafting of the U.S. Constitution in 1787.
In 1779, Adams drafted the Massachusetts Constitution, which served as a model for the later U.S. Constitution. It provided for separation of powers among branches of government and checks on power.
While in London, Adams published “Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America” (1787), a major treatise that advocated for balanced government and analyzing various forms of government. The book proved highly influential in the Constitutional Convention debates.
Adams also carried on a lengthy correspondence with delegates that helped shape the debate, arguing strongly for separation of powers, a bicameral legislature, and other features adopted in the final Constitution.
So while not present at the Convention himself, Adams’ ideas and writings were influential in framing the U.S. Constitution and balancing governmental power.
What was John Adams’ family and personal life?
In 1764, John Adams married Abigail Smith, who became his trusted adviser and confidante throughout his political career. They wrote over 1,000 letters to each other that provide insight into early American history.
John and Abigail had six children:
- Abigail “Nabby” Adams (1765–1813)
- John Quincy Adams (1767–1848) – 6th President of the United States
- Susanna Adams (1768–70)
- Charles Adams (1770–1800)
- Thomas Boylston Adams (1772–1832)
- Elizabeth Adams (stillborn in 1777)
After his presidency, Adams retired to his family farm in Quincy, Massachusetts. He reconciled with Jefferson through an extended correspondence and both died on July 4, 1826 – the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence.
What were John Adams’ greatest character strengths?
John Adams possessed many qualities that enabled his rise to leadership in the American Revolution and young United States. Some of his greatest strengths of character included:
- Principled stance: Adams held strong principles about liberty, justice, and governance that he applied consistently, even representing unpopular clients like the British soldiers accused in the Boston Massacre. His moral compass guided him.
- Perseverance: Adams displayed remarkable perseverance for the causes he championed, tirelessly advocating American independence and negotiating crucial alliances in Europe during the long Revolutionary War
John Adams led an extraordinary life and career that left a profound impact on the United States. As an early champion of independence, he played a pivotal role in the American Revolution, from advocating for the break with Britain to negotiating crucial French support. His contributions continued during the formative years of the new nation as its first vice president and second president.
Though at times controversial and unpopular, Adams remained steadfastly committed to the principles of liberty, justice, and responsible government he helped enshrine in the Declaration of Independence and Constitution. Along with Washington, Jefferson, Franklin, and the other Founding Fathers, Adams’ courage, intellect, and leadership were instrumental to the American experiment in democracy.
The story of John Adams is central to understanding the beginnings of the United States and the forging of its system of government and ideals. As president, he led the nation through significant challenges to emerge as a respected world power.
Adams’ own words proved fitting regarding his legacy: “I am a revolutionary, so my son can be a farmer, so his son can be a poet.” Through his sacrifice and vision, Adams helped secure American independence and plant the seeds for its future growth and success as a beacon of freedom.
FAQs about John Adams
Who was John Adams?
John Adams (1735-1826) was an American statesman and Founding Father who served as the second president of the United States from 1797 to 1801. He was a leader of the American Revolution and helped draft the Declaration of Independence.
Where is John Adams from?
Adams was born in Braintree, Massachusetts Bay, on October 30, 1735. He grew up on the family farm in Braintree.
What family did John Adams come from?
He was one of three brothers born to John Adams Sr. and Susanna Boylston Adams. Adams married Abigail Smith in 1764 and they had six children together.
How did John Adams die?
John Adams died at the age of 90 on July 4, 1826 – the 50th anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence. He died only hours after his colleague and rival Thomas Jefferson also passed away.
What was John Adams’ occupation?
Adams practiced law in colonial Massachusetts before getting involved in politics. He also served as a diplomat in Europe during the Revolutionary War and afterwards. Later, he served as vice president and president.
What was John Adams’ role in the American Revolution?
John Adams was an early and leading proponent of American independence. He served in the Continental Congress and argued passionately for independence. Adams helped draft the Declaration of Independence and rally support for its signing.
What presidential accomplishments is John Adams known for?
As president, Adams is known for avoiding war with France, authorizing the creation of the U.S. Navy, and appointing John Marshall as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.
What was John Adams’ relationship with Thomas Jefferson?
Initially friends, Adams and Jefferson became political rivals. As president, Adams was criticized by Jefferson’s Democratic-Republicans. But they later reconciled through letters and both died on the same day – July 4, 1826.