|Date of Birth:||October 30, 1735|
|Death||July 4, 1826|
|Presidential Term||March 4, 1797 – March 4, 1801|
Second President of the United States John Adams was born in the Massachusetts Bay Colony (in what is now called Quincy, Massachusetts), to a family descended from the founding Puritans who colonized the region starting in 1638. His father, John Adams Sr. was a Congregationalist deacon, farmer, and lieutenant in the militia, who had community political duties serving as a town councilman.
Adams attended Harvard College, receiving his bachelor of arts degree in 1755. He returned to Harvard after a few years of teaching, deciding to become a lawyer and receiving his master's in 1758. In 1764, Adams married Abigail Smith, and the two had six children, including future US president, John Quincy.
When the Stamp Act was introduced in 1765, Adams's vocal opposition to the act was one of the first steps toward American independence from Britain. Adams wrote the famous Braintree Instructions and articles that appeared anonymously in the Boston Gazette, which defended the rights of the colonies to trial by a jury of peers and also that taxation required consent. Later that year Adams gave a speech in front of government officials. These were the first steps in John Adams's political journey, which guided him to become one of the Founding Fathers of the United States as leader during the fight for independence.
After the Boston Massacre, John Adams was asked to represent several colonial soldiers who had participated in the event. Adams was successful in defending the accused, and most of them were soon freed.
Contribution to the American Revolution
John Adams was at the forefront of American Revolution: he was part of the First Continental Congress, and was instrumental in drafting the Declaration of Independence.
"Liberty, according to my metaphysics is a self-determining power in an intellectual agent. It implies thought and choice and power."
John Adams-who later became the second president of the United States-is known as the major thought-leader behind the American Revolution. He was part of the Continental Congress, and on the Committee of Five that drafted the Declaration of Independence. A renowned constitutional lawyer, Adams personified the core values of Liberalism, and was a passionate student of history and politics. John Adams influenced the direction of the Revolution well before it became a full-fledged rebellion. When the Stamp Act (1765) was put in place without considering any representation of the colonies, they revolted against the unfair legislation. John Adams drafted a set of instructions, known as the Braintree Instructions, which was sent to the representatives of Massachusetts to address the Stamp Act.. The instructions later spread to other legislatures and served to establish a strong and organized opposition. A short time later, Adams anonymously contributed newspaper articles, criticizing the Stamp Act for violating the fundamental rights of the people.
When a dispute arose between the Governor of Massachusetts and the House of Representatives, Adams wrote to the Governor and asserted that the colonists could not conceive of being under the British parliament, as they were only ruled by the king, and that the ideals of sovereignty and independence were inseparable.
As Part of the Continental Congress
John Adams represented Massachusetts in Continental Congress, which later urged the colonies to form their own constitutions. Right from the start, Adams believed it was necessary to break free from British control. This set in motion a mass movement to begin the process of forming a new government, a development that had far-reaching consequences in keeping the Revolution on fast-track.
The most important document John Adams published was Thoughts on Government (1776), which was his advice to the nation on how to form governments. He said that the only acceptable form of governance was that which worked toward the greater good:
"There is no good government but what is republican. That the only valuable part of the British constitution is so; because the very definition of a republic is 'an empire of laws, and not of men.' "
This document was also responsible for introducing the concept of a bicameral legislature.
Adams was part of the committee elected to draft the Declaration of Independence. While he was not directly involved in writing it, he strongly supported the declaration throughout the process. He was also part of the peacemaking delegation after the Battle of Long Island.
While the Revolutionary War was still on, John Adams was chosen to represent American interests in Europe. He successfully negotiated with the British authorities, and America successfully gained the rights to the Atlantic coast and much of the land.
Adams represented Massachusetts in the First Continental Congresses in 1777, and the second from 1775 to 1777. Though many who fought in the war initially sought reconciliation with Britain, Adams knew independence was the answer.
His legal background made him the go-to guy for laying the foundations for the new government. He published (with the help of Richard Henry Lee) “Thoughts on Government” in April of 1776, which highly influenced later state constitutions. He argued for Republicanism and bicameralism, and outlined the separation of powers in the three branches of government.
In 1789, John Adams became the first Vice President of the United States under the administration of George Washington and was reelected along with Washington in 1792. He was viewed by the public as pompous, and earned the nickname "His Rotundity". He joined the Federalist Party when it was formed and became their nominee for president in the 1796 election.
Presidency (1797-1801) :
Adams ran as the Federalist Party nominee for President, along with Thomas Pinckney, another Federalist candidate, and was opposed by the Democratic-Republican Party's Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr. Adams won narrowly, with 71 electoral votes to Jefferson's 68, making Jefferson his vice president.
Adams continued many of Washington's policies, keeping his cabinet members, but often acting independently. Despite being a member of the Federalist Party, Adams was not in line with many other members.
The presidential move Adams seemed to be most proud of (even having it engraved on his tombstone) was pushing for peace with France when much of the country were against it. Though it probably led to the loss of his reelection campaign, Adams was decisively against being involved in the conflicts of Europe, following the example and advice of his predecessor, Washington.
Adams, along with other Federalists in Congress, signed the Alien and Sedition Acts, which set new rules for naturalization and deportation of immigrants as well as making publishing anti-government false and malicious a crime. This move was controversial and hurt interactions between members of Congress.
Adams lost his reelection campaign in 1800, and was defeated by rival Thomas Jefferson, attributed in part to the three-fifths compromise in the South. Before he left office, in an effort to keep some lasting power, Adams appointed several judges to the newly created courts, who became known as the Midnight Judges for their last-minute appointments.
Adams was one of four presidents who chose not to attend the inauguration of his successor, Thomas Jefferson. Instead, Adams returned home to Quincy, Massachusetts and began working on his autobiography.
Though initially bitter about his defeat, Adams and Jefferson reconciled in 1812, once Jefferson had finished serving his two terms in office. Letters between the two Founding Fathers, including discussions on the role of government, have become important pieces of US history, providing insight into the political climate of Revolutionary and newborn America as well as their personalities.
John Quincy Adams, the son of John Adams, was elected President in 1825, just over a year before John Adams died. Sixteen months later, on the Declaration of Independence's 50th anniversary, Adams reflected on the historic day remarking, “It is a great day. It is a good day.” Later that day, at 90 years old Adams died. His last words are frequently reported to have been “Thomas Jefferson survives,” though the final word may not have been spoken. Coincidentally, Thomas Jefferson, fellow signer of the Declaration, and his friend, had died a few hours prior, unbeknownst to Adams.
Last Updated : October 26, 2013