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John Adams

                             Order:           2nd President
                             Term of Office:  March 4, 1797 - March 4, 1801
                             Followed:        George Washington
                             Succeeded by:    Thomas Jefferson
                             Date of Birth    October 30, 1735
                             Place of Birth:  Quincy, Massachusetts
                             Date of Death:   July 4, 1826
John Adams (October 30, 1735 Place of Death:  Quincy, Massachusetts
- July 4, 1826) was the      First Lady:      Abigail Smith
first (1789-1797) Vice
President of the United      Occupation:      lawyer
States, and the second       Political Party: Federalist
(1797-1801) President of the
United States.               Vice President:  Thomas Jefferson

Adams was born on October 30, 1735 in what is now the town of Quincy,
Massachusetts. His father, a farmer, also named John, was a fourth
generation descendant of Henry Adams, who emigrated from Devon, England, to
Massachusetts about 1636; his mother was Susanna Boylston Adams.

Young Adams graduated from Harvard College in 1755, and for a time taught
school at Worcester and studied law in the office of Rufus Putnam. In 1758,
he was admitted to the bar. From an early age he developed the habit of
writing descriptions of events and impressions of men. The earliest of these
is his report of the argument of James Otis in the superior court of
Massachusetts as to the constitutionality of writs of assistance. This was
in 1761, and the argument inspired him with zeal for the cause of the
American colonies. Years later, when he was an old man, Adams undertook to
write out, at length, his recollections of this scene; it is instructive to
compare the two accounts.

John Adams had none of the qualities of popular leadership which were so
marked a characteristic of his second cousin, Samuel Adams; it was rather as
a constitutional lawyer that he influenced the course of events. He was
impetuous, intense and often vehement, unflinchingly courageous, devoted
with his whole soul to the cause he had espoused; but his vanity, his pride
of opinion and his inborn contentiousness were serious handicaps to him in
his political career. These qualities were particularly manifested at a
later period---as, for example, during his term as president.


He first made his influence widely felt and became conspicuous as a leader
of the Massachusetts Whigs during the discussions with regard to the Stamp
Act of 1765. In that year he drafted the instructions which were sent by the
town of Braintree to its representatives in the Massachusetts legislature,
and which served as a model for other towns in drawing up instructions to
their representatives; in August, 1765 he anonymously contributed four
notable articles to the Boston Gazette (republished separately in London in
1768 as A Dissertation on the Canon and Feudal Law), in which he argued that
the opposition of the colonies to the Stamp Act was a part of the
never-ending struggle between individualism and corporate authority; and in
December, 1765 he delivered a speech before the governor and council in
which he pronounced the Stamp Act invalid on the ground that Massachusetts
being without representation in parliament, had not assented to it.

In 1768 Adams moved to Boston. In 1770, two years later, with that degree of
moral courage which was one of his distinguishing characteristics, he, aided
by Josiah Quincy, Jr., defended the British soldiers who were arrested after
the "Boston Massacre," charged with causing the death of four persons,
inhabitants of the colony. The trial resulted in an acquittal of the officer
who commanded the detachment, and most of the soldiers; but two soldiers
were found guilty of manslaughter. These claimed benefit of clergy and were
branded in the hand and released. Adams's upright and patriotic conduct in
taking the unpopular side in this case met with its just reward in the
following year, in the shape of his election to the Massachusetts House of
Representatives by a vote of 418 to 118.

John Adams was a member of the Continental Congress from 1774 to 1778. In
June, 1775, with a view to promoting the union of the colonies, he seconded
the nomination of Washington as commander-in-chief of the army. His
influence in congress was great, and almost from the beginning he was
impatient for a separation of the colonies from Great Britain. On June 7,
1776 he seconded the famous resolution introduced by Richard Henry Lee
(q.v.) that "these colonies are, and of a right ought to be, free and
independent states," and no man championed these resolutions (adopted on
July 2, 1776) so eloquently and effectively before the congress.

On June 8, 1776 he was appointed on a committee with Jefferson, Franklin,
Livingston and Sherman to draft a Declaration of Independence; and although
that document was by the request of the committee written by Thomas
Jefferson, it was John Adams who occupied the foremost place in the debate
on its adoption. Before this question had been disposed of, Adams was placed
at the head of the Board of War and Ordinance, and he also served on many
other important committees.

In 1778 John Adams sailed for France to supersede Silas Deane in the
American commission there. But just as he embarked that commission concluded
the desired treaty of alliance, and soon after his arrival he advised that
the number of commissioners be reduced to one. His advice was followed and
he returned home in time to be elected a member of the convention which
framed the Massachusetts constitution of 1780, still the organic law of that
commonwealth. With James Bowdoin and Samuel Adams, he formed a sub-committee
which drew up the first draft of that instrument, and most of it probably
came from John Adams's pen.

Before this work had been completed he was again sent to Europe, having been
chosen on September 27, 1779 as minister plenipotentiary for negotiating a
treaty of peace and a treaty of commerce with Great Britain. Conditions were
not then favourable for peace, however; the French government, moreover, did
not approve of the choice, inasmuch as Adams was not sufficiently pliant and
tractable and was from the first suspicious of Vergennes; and subsequently
Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, John Jay and Henry Laurens were
appointed to co-operate with Adams. Jefferson, however, did not cross the
Atlantic, and Laurens took little part in the negotiations. This left the
management of the business to the other three. Jay and Adams distrusted the
good faith of the French government. Outvoting Franklin, they decided to
break their instructions, which required them to "make the most candid
confidential communications on all subjects to the ministers of our generous
ally, the king of France; to undertake nothing in the negotiations for peace
or truce without their knowledge or concurrence; and ultimately to govern
yourself by their advice and opinion"; and, instead, they dealt directly
with the British commissioners, without consulting the French ministers.

Throughout the negotiations Adams was especially determined that the right
of the United States to the fisheries along the British-American coast
should be recognized. Political conditions in Great Britain, at the moment,
made the conclusion of peace almost a necessity with the British ministry,
and eventually the American negotiators were able to secure a peculiarly
favourable treaty. This preliminary treaty was signed on November 30, 1782.
Before these negotiations began, Adams had spent some time in the
Netherlands. In July, 1780 he had been authorized to execute the duties
previously assigned to Henry Laurens, and at the Hague was eminently
successful, securing there recognition of the United States as an
independent government (April 19, 1782), and negotiating both a loan and, in
October, 1782, a treaty of amity and commerce, the first of such treaties
between the United States and foreign powers after that of February, 1778
with France.

In 1785 John Adams was appointed the first of a long line of able and
distinguished American ministers to the court of St James's. When he was
presented to his former sovereign, George III, the King intimated that he
was aware of Mr Adams's lack of confidence in the French government.
Replying, Mr Adams admitted it, closing with the outspoken sentiment: "I
must avow to your Majesty that I have no attachment but to my own country"
-- a phrase which must have jarred upon the monarch's sensibilities. While
in London Adams published a work entitled A Defence of the Constitution of
Government of the United States (1787). In this work he ably combated the
views of Turgot and other European writers as to the viciousness of the
framework of the state governments. Unfortunately, in so doing, he used
phrases savouring of aristocracy which offended many of his countrymen -- as
in the sentence in which he suggested that "the rich, the well-born and the
able" should be set apart from other men in a senate.

Partly for this reason, while Washington had the vote of every elector in
the first presidential election of 1789, Adams received only thirty-four out
of sixty-nine. As this was the second largest number he was declared
vice-president, being inaugurated 9 days before Washington himself (on April
21, 1789), but he served in that office (1789- 1797) with a sense of
grievance and of suspicion of many of the leading men. Differences of
opinion with regard to the policies to be pursued by the new government
gradually led to the formation of two well-defined political groups -- the
Federalists and the Democratic-Republicans -- and Adams became recognized as
one of the leaders, second only to Alexander Hamilton, of the former.

His Presidency

In 1796, on the refusal of Washington to accept another election, Adams was
chosen president, defeating Thomas Jefferson; though Alexander Hamilton and
other Federalists had asked that an equal vote should be cast for Adams and
Thomas Pinckney, the other Federalist in the contest, partly in order that
Jefferson, who was elected vice-president, might be excluded altogether, and
partly, it seems, in the hope that Pinckney should in fact receive more
votes than Adams, and thus, in accordance with the system then obtaining, be
elected president, though he was intended for the second place on the
Federalist ticket.

Adams's four years as chief magistrate (1797-1801) were marked by a
succession of intrigues which embittered all his later life; they were
marked, also, by events, such as the passage of the Alien and Sedition Acts,
which brought discredit on the Federalist party. Moreover, factional strife
broke out within the party itself; Adams and Hamilton became alienated, and
members of Adams's own cabinet virtually looked to Hamilton rather than to
the president as their political chief. The United States was, at this time,
drawn into the vortex of European complications, and Adams, instead of
taking advantage of the militant spirit which was aroused, patriotically
devoted himself to securing peace with France, much against the wishes of
Hamilton and of Hamilton's adherents in the cabinet.

In 1800, Adams was again the Federalist candidate for the presidency, but
the distrust of him in his own party, the popular disapproval of the Alien
and Sedition Acts and the popularity of his opponent, Thomas Jefferson,
combined to cause his defeat. He then retired into private life. On July 4,
1826, on the fiftieth anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration of
Independence, he died at Quincy. Jefferson died on the same day. In 1764
Adams had married Miss Abigail Smith (1744-1818), the daughter of a
Congregational minister at Weymouth, Massachusetts. She was a woman of much
ability, and her letters, written in an excellent English style, are of
great value to students of the period in which she lived. John Quincy Adams,
who later served as President and in the House of Representatives, was their
eldest son.

AUTHORITIES.--C. F. Adams, The Works of John Adams, with Life (10 vols.,
Boston, 1850-1856); John and Abigail Adams, Familiar Letters during thc
Revolution (Boston, 1875); J. T. Morse, John Adams (Boston, 1885: later
edition, 1899), in the ``American Statesmen Series; and Mellen Chamberlain,
John Adams, the Statesman of the Revolution; with other Essays and Addresses
(Boston, 1898). (E. CH.)

The basis of the above text was a public domain encyclopedia from the early
twentieth century published in 1911 in the United States.

Supreme Court appointments

   * Bushrod Washington - 1799
   * Alfred Moore - 1800
   * John Marshall - Chief Justice - 1801
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