John Adams (1735-1826) was the second president of the United States. But how much does an average person know about him? In the following paragraphs, we will explore his early years, his involvement in the American Revolution, his diplomatic missions to Europe, his presidency, and his writings.
The second president was born in Massachusetts in the city of Braintree (now Quincey) on October 30th, 1735 to John and Susanna Boylston Adams. He was the eldest of three sons, and his father was a shoemaker and farmer who was also a congregational deacon and a part of the local government (History).
Young Adams was an excellent student and graduated from Harvard College in 1755. After graduating, he was a teacher for numerous years, while also studying law with an attorney in Worcester, Massachusetts. In 1758, Adams started his law career, and rose through the ranks to become a well-known attorney (History).
Every successful man has got to marry, as they say. Adams got married to Abigail Smith (1744-1818) in 1764. She was a minister’s daughter, and they eventually had six children together. Through letters sent back and forth between the couple while Adams was travelling in Europe, it is known that Abigail was a prudent adviser of Adams and that she shaped his career (History).
Adams was an early challenger of British rule over colonial America. He saw how the British imposed taxes and tariffs as oppression, and concluded that America should stand on its own. He was an outspoken critic of the Stamp Act in 1765, which forced a tax on legal documents, newspapers, and playing cards. In addition, Adams was against the Townshend Acts of 1767, which imposed tariffs on various goods that were imported to America (History).
Fast forward to 1774, and Adams was a delegate in the First Continental Congress in Philadelphia. In the following year, Adams was also a delegate for the Continental Congress, and he nominated George Washington to be the commander of the colonial forces in the American Revolutionary War (1775-83). Also important, as a delegate, he nominated Thomas Jefferson to draft the Declaration of Independence (History).
Starting from 1778, Adams was sent to Paris to retrieve aid for the colonists. In the next year, he came back to America to work on the Massachusetts Constitution, which some say is the oldest surviving constitution that is written down. Another highlight of his diplomatic career was in 1783, when he helped to negotiate the Treaty of Paris, which put in paper the end of the attacks between U.S. and British forces. Backtracking a bit, Adams also served as the American minister to France in 1776 (History). Another key note in his resume is that he was the first ambassador to Britain, from 1785 to 1788.
After coming back to America after his role as ambassador to Britain had ended, he nominated George Washington to be the first U.S. president. Furthermore, he lobbied to be the first vice president, as in those times, the race for president and vice president was done separately. However, Adams did little from 1789 to 1797, and noted that the role of vice president was mostly ceremonial. Yet, when Washington retired in 1796, Adams vied for the presidency and won against Thomas Jefferson, who in turn became the vice president (History).
Unlike Washington, who was not concerned about foreign affairs, Adams’ presidency began in March of 1797 with issues with foreign powers. In particular, American trade was getting affected by the war between France and Britain. Though Adams sent a delegation to France in 1797, France refused to see them and instead asked for a huge bribe. Adams declined to pay the bribe, and from this act, Adams’ popularity as president grew. However, tensions between France and the U.S. expanded, and a naval war between the two countries went on for two years starting from 1798. A peace treaty was signed on 1800, though (History).
In the last portion of his presidency, he passed controversial acts called the Alien and Sedition Acts in 1798. They were laws that demanded enemy aliens to be deported and that allowed people who showed signs of vehemently disagreeing with the government to be arrested. Thomas Jefferson, and people tied to him, strongly attacked the law, and so did the general population. They feared they were going to be put under the grip of another oppressive government. This cost Adams his reelection in 1800 (History).
Following Adams’ presidency, he wrote many books, articles, and letters for the next 25 years. Though his wife died in 1818, he saw his son, John Quincy Adams, rise to the presidency in 1824. John Adams passed away on July 4th, 1826, with these last words, “Thomas Jefferson still survives,” not knowing that Jefferson passed away earlier that morning (History).
Now that you know his basic timeline, here are some interesting facts about his life that is not well-known. During the Boston Massacre in March of 1770, Adams represented the British soldiers who murdered five colonists as an attorney to ensure that they would receive a fair trial. Another interesting point is that Adams had written over 1,000 letters, which are preserved to this day. Many of them are written to his wife, however many are also written to Thomas Jefferson, who was his rival, but they later started to communicating regularly in their senior years. Of further interest, Adams was the first president to live in the White House, as it was not built yet in George Washington’s time (History Stories).
I hope this has been an intriguing and informative look into America’s second president. His political career was controversial, but with his principled actions and no-nonsense approach to foreign policy, he paved great roads into the American way as we know it today.
Adams, P. (2017). John Adams – U.S. Presidents – HISTORY.com. [online] HISTORY.com. Available at: http://www.history.com/topics/us-presidents/john-adams [Accessed 9 Oct. 2017].
Adams, 1. and Adams, P. (2017). 10 Things You May Not Know About John Adams. [online] HISTORY.com. Available at: http://www.history.com/news/10-things-you-may-not-know-about-john-adams [Accessed 9 Oct. 2017].
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