Born on October 30, 1735, Adams was the first Vice President of the United States and the second President of the United States. His son, John Quincy Adams , was the sixth President of the United States.
Adams was born in the town of Quincy, Massachusetts, to John Henry Adams and Susanna Boylston Adams. He graduated from Harvard College in 1755, taught at Worcester and studied law with Rufus Putnam, to be admitted to the bar in 1758.
A writer at heart, Adams often wrote about various events and happenings in his world. In his early years his writings included a report of the argument of James Otis in the superior court of Massachusetts, and in his later years he wrote several memoirs, recollections and arguments based on his earlier writings.
Adams was practically the opposite of George Washington in terms of personality. Where Washington was outgoing and community minded, Adams was known to be impetuous, intense and often vehement.
Adams political career began when he was became the leader of the Massachusetts Whigs, during which time he drafted what would become the instructions from towns to their state representatives. In 1765, he penned a series of controversial articles in which he argued that the opposition of the colonies to the Stamp Act was part of the never ending struggle between individualism and corporate authority.
In 1768, Adams moved to Boston and in 1770 he helped defend several British soldiers who were arrested after the Boston Massacre. His outstanding defense of the soldiers – which resulted in their acquittal – was a key to his being elected to the Massachusetts House of Representatives.
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.
Furthering his colonial ambitions, Adams seconded a resolution that “these colonies are, and of a right ought to be, free and independent states. As a direct result he was appointed the next day – on June 8, 1776, to a committee with Jefferson, Franklin, Livingston and Sherman to draft the Declaration of Independence. In fact, Adams became the most vocal member of the committee and pushed the hardest for its adoption.
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.
Adams next became heavily involved in the negotiations of peace with Great Britain, working alongside Franklin, Jefferson, Jay and Henry Laurens. Circumstances were such that ultimately the only two negotiators, of the 5, that were present were Adams and the pliant John Jay. As a result, Adams’ belief that the United States should receive certain favorable allowances, such as rights to the fisheries along the British-American coast, was well received. In fact, the negotiations went so well that the treaty was signed well ahead of schedule, on November 30, 1782.
While in Europe, Adams argued convincingly for the rights of the state governments. In the process, he offended many of his countrymen back home with sentences such as “the rich, the well-born and the able” should be set apart from other men in a senate. As a result, while Washington received every electoral vote, Adams received only 34 out of 69 – thus making him the second most popular candidate and therefore the Vice President.
In 1796, after Washington refused to seek another term, Adams was elected president, defeating Thomas Jefferson – who became the Vice President by virtue of having the second most electoral college votes. Adams's four years as president (1797-1801) were marked by a succession of intrigues which embittered all his later life. The passage of the Alien and Sedition Acts eventually 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.
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.
Later Life and Legacy
Adams was, at his core, an author, communicator and defender – often arguing unpopular opinions merely to see if he could bend his mind to the task in such a way as to unnerve his opponents and ultimately win the day. While these traits served him well in his state roles and his representation of the United States during the British peace treaties they were ultimately his downfall as a President.
On July 4, 1826, on the fiftieth anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence, he died at Quincy, after uttering the famous last words "Thomas Jefferson still survives." (Unbeknownst to Adams, Thomas Jefferson had died a few hours earlier).