Biography of John Adams

Read Biography of John Adams John Adams was born on October 30, 1735 in Quincy, Massachusetts (then called the “north precinct” of Braintree, Massachusetts) & died on July 4, 1826 Quincy, Massachusetts, was an American statesman, diplomat and political theorist. A leading champion of independence in 1776, he was the second President of the United States (1797–1801). A New England Yankee, he was deeply read and represented Enlightenment values promoting republicanism. A conservative Federalist, he was one of the most influential Founding Fathers of the United States.

Born to John Adams, Sr., and Susanna Boylston Adams. The location of Adams’s birth is now part of Adams National Historical Park. His father, also named John (1691–1761), was a fifth-generation descendant of Henry Adams, who emigrated from Braintree, Essex, in England to Massachusetts Bay Colony in about 1638. 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 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 declare independence, and assisted Thomas Jefferson in drafting 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 bankers. A political theorist and historian, Adams largely wrote the Massachusetts state constitution in 1780, but was in Europe when the federal Constitution was drafted on similar principles later in the decade. One of his greatest roles was as a judge of character: in 1775, he nominated George Washington to be commander-in-chief, and 25 years later nominated John Marshall to be Chief Justice of the United States.

Adams’ revolutionary credentials secured him two terms as George Washington’s vice president and his own election in 1796 as the second president. During his one term, he encountered ferocious attacks by the Jeffersonian Republicans, as well as the dominant faction in his own Federalist Party led by his bitter enemy Alexander Hamilton. Adams signed the controversial Alien and Sedition Acts, and built up the army and navy especially in the face of an undeclared naval war (called the “Quasi War”) with France, 1798-1800. The major accomplishment of his presidency was his peaceful resolution of the conflict in the face of Hamilton’s opposition.

In 1800 Adams was defeated for reelection by Thomas Jefferson and retired to Massachusetts. He later resumed his friendship with Jefferson. He and his wife, Abigail Adams, founded an accomplished family line of politicians, diplomats, and historians now referred to as the Adams political family. Adams was the father of John Quincy Adams, the sixth President of the United States. His achievements have received greater recognition in modern times, though his contributions were not initially as celebrated as those of other Founders.

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. The Puritans of the great migration “believed they lived in the Bible. England under the Stuarts was Egypt; they were Israel fleeing … to establish a refuge for godliness, a city upon a hill.” 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.” It was a value system he believed in, and a heroic model he wished to live up to.

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 John 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.

On October 25, 1764, five days before his 29th birthday, Adams married Abigail Smith (1744–1818), his third cousin and 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 (1777).

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.