John Adams (October 30, 1735 – July 4, 1826) served as America’s first Vice President (1789–1797) and as its second President (1797–1801). He was defeated for re-election in the “Revolution of 1800” by Thomas Jefferson.

Adams was a sponsor of the American Revolution in Massachusetts, and a diplomat in the 1770s. He was a driving force for independence in 1776; in fact, he was the “Colossus of Independence” in Jefferson’s understanding. As a statesman and author, he helped define a set of core republican ideals that became central to America’s political value system: the rejection of hereditary monarchy in favor of rule by the people, hatred of corruption, and devotion to civic duty. As President, he was frustrated by battles inside his own Federalist party against a faction led by Alexander Hamilton, but he broke with them to avert a major conflict with France in 1798, during the Quasi-War crisis. He became the founder of an important family of politicians, diplomats and historians, and in recent years his reputation has been good. Historian Robert Rutland concluded, “Madison was the great intellectual … Jefferson the … unquenchable idealist, and Franklin the most charming and versatile genius… but Adams is the most captivating founding father on most counts.”[1]

Early life

John Adams was born the oldest of three brothers on October 22, 1735 (October 19, 1735 by the Old Style, Julian calendar), in Braintree, Massachusetts, though in an area which became part of Quincy, Massachusetts in 1792. His birthplace is now part of Adams National Historical Park. His father, a farmer, also named John (1690-1761), was a fourth-generation descendant of Henry Adams, who immigrated from Barton St. David, Somerset, England, to Massachusetts Bay Colony in about 1696. His mother was Susanna Boylston Adams.[2]

Young Adams went to Harvard College at age fifteen. Instead of getting a degree in theology, as his father desired, he studied to became a lawyer. [3] After graduating in 1755, he taught school for a few years in Worcester, and then practiced law in the office of James 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 known example of these is his report of the 1761 argument of James Otis in the superior court of Massachusetts as to the legality of Writs of Assistance. Otis’s argument inspired Adams with zeal for the cause of the American colonies.[4]

In 1764, Adams married Abigail Smith (1744–1818), the daughter of a Congregational minister, 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 Elizabeth (1775) who died at birth.

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,[5] 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 restraint in his political career.

Adams wanted to secure approval from the public, and he saw his chance in the British/colonial conflict. He became well known for his essays and energetic resolutions against British taxation and regulation. In 1774 he entered the Continental Congress. In 1775 war broke out between the colonies and the British empire. Adams was one of the first few delegates to recognize that a compromise with the British was pointless. In 1776 he worked hard to break away from Britain by using a formal declaration of independence. On July 2, 1776 Congress voted to accept the Declaration of Independence.

Politics

Opponent of Stamp Act 1765

Adams first rose to prominence as an opponent of the Stamp Act of 1765. In that year, he drafted the instructions which were sent by the inhabitants of Braintree to its representatives in the Massachusetts legislature, and which served as a model for other towns to draw up instructions to their representatives. In August 1765, he anonymously contributed four notable articles to the Boston Gazette (republished in The London Chronicle in 1768 as True Sentiments of America and also known as A Dissertation on the Canon and Feudal Law), in which he explained that the opposition of the colonies to the Stamp Act was because the Stamp Act deprived the American colonists of two basic rights guaranteed to all Englishmen by Magna Carta: rights to be taxed only by consent and to be tried only by a jury of one’s peers. The “Braintree Instructions” were a succinct and forthright defense of colonial rights and liberties, while the Dissertation was an essay in political education.

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.[6]

Boston Massacre: 1772

In 1772, Massachusetts Governor Thomas Hutchinson announced that he and his judges would no longer need their salaries paid by the Massachusetts legislature, because the Crown would henceforth assume payment drawn from customs revenues. Boston radicals protested and asked Adams to explain their objections. In “Two Replies of the Massachusetts House of Representatives to Governor Hutchinson” Adams argued that the colonists had never been under the sovereignty of Parliament. Their original charter was with the person of the king and their allegiance was only to him. If a workable line could not be drawn between parliamentary sovereignty and the total independence of the colonies, he continued, the colonies would have no other choice but to choose independence.

In Novanglus; or, A History of the Dispute with America, From Its Origin, in 1754, to the Present Time Adams attacked some essays by Daniel Leonard that defended Hutchinson’s arguments for the absolute authority of Parliament over the colonies. In Novanglus Adams gave a point-by-point refutation of Leonard’s essays, and then provided one of the most extensive and learned arguments made by the colonists against British imperial policy. It was a systematic attempt by Adams to describe the origins, nature, and jurisdiction of the unwritten British constitution. Adams used his wide knowledge of English and colonial legal history to show the provincial legislatures were fully sovereign over their own internal affairs, and that the colonies were connected to Great Britain only through the King.

Continental Congress

Massachusetts sent Adams to the Continental Congress from 1774 to 1778.[7] In June 1775, with a view of promoting the union of the colonies, he nominated George Washington of Virginia as commander-in-chief of the army then assembled around Boston. His influence in Congress was great, and almost from the beginning, he sought permanent separation from Britain. On October 5, 1775, Congress created the first of a series of committees to study naval matters. .[8][9]

On May 15, 1776 the Continental Congress, in response to escalating hostilities which had climaxed a year prior at Lexington and Concord, urged that the states begin constructing their own constitutions.

Today, the Declaration of Independence is remembered as the great revolutionary act, but Adams and most of his contemporaries saw the Declaration as a mere formality. The resolution to draft independent constitutions was, as Adams put it, “independence itself.”[10]

Over the next decade, Americans from every state gathered and deliberated on new governing documents. As radical as it was to actually write constitutions (prior convention suggested that a society’s guiding principles should remain uncodified), what was equally radical was the nature of American political thought as the summer of 1776 dawned.[11]

Thoughts on Government

At that time, Adams penned his Thoughts on Government (1776), which was subsequently influential in the writing of many state constitutions. Thoughts on Government stood as the clearest articulation of the classical theory of mixed government and, in particular, how it related to the emerging American situation. Adams contended, with remarkable force and persuasion, the necessary existence of social estates in any political society, and the need to precisely mirror those social estates in the political structures of the society. For centuries, dating back to Aristotle, a mixed regime balancing monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy, or the monarch, nobles, and people was required to preserve order and liberty.[12]

Adams, viewing the world through an Enlightenment mind-set, thought all American state constitutions needed to exhibit a wise balance much like the ancient English Constitution had for so long. What was problematic with the English version, and indeed what plagued the entire ancient regime, was its understanding of the hereditary aristocracy. Adams and his fellow American political thinkers strongly rejected any hereditary nobility holding political power by virtue of birth. Such people lacked the necessary virtue to balance the people in the legislature, Adams thought, and were prone to corruption.[13]

Using the tools of Republicanism in the United States the patriots believed it was corrupt and nefarious aristocrats, in the English Parliament and stationed in America, who were guilty of the British assault on American liberty. Unlike others, Adams thought that the definition of a republic had to do with its ends, rather than its means. He wrote in Thoughts on Government, “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.'” Thoughts on Government defended bicameralism, but in place of an inherited aristocracy based on birth, a “natural aristocracy” based on merit and talent would suffice. It would not be hereditary and its political power depended on the votes of the people. A distinguished group of independent, virtuous gentlemen, as Adams put it, could adequately balance the passions of the people represented in the lower house of the legislature. Thoughts on Government’s new rendition of the classical theory of mixed government was enormously influential and was referenced as an authority in every state-constitution writing hall.

Declaration of Independence

On June 7, 1776, Adams seconded the resolution introduced by Richard Henry Lee that “these colonies are, and of a right ought to be, free and independent states,” acting as champion of these resolutions before the Congress until their adoption on July 2, 1776.[14]

He was appointed on a committee with Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, Robert R. Livingston and Roger Sherman, to draft a Declaration of Independence. Although that document was largely drafted by Jefferson, Adams occupied the foremost place in the debate on its adoption. He deferred the writing to Jefferson believing it would be better received having been written by him. Adams believed Jefferson wrote ten times better than any man in Congress, and he himself was “obnoxious and disliked.” Many years later, Jefferson hailed Adams as, “The Colossus of that Congress—the great pillar of support to the Declaration of Independence, and its ablest advocate and champion on the floor of the House.”[15] In 1777, Adams resigned his seat on the Massachusetts Superior Court to serve as the head of the Board of War and Ordinance, as well as many other important committees.[16]

In Europe

Congress chose Adams as minister plenipotentiary for negotiating a treaty of peace and a treaty of commerce with Great Britain; he went in September 1779. The French government, however, did not approve of Adams’ appointment and subsequently, on Charles Gravier, Comte de Vergennes’ insistence, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, John Jay and Henry Laurens were appointed to cooperate with Adams. In the event Jay, Adams and Franklin played the major part in the negotiations. Overruling Franklin, Jay and Adams decided not to consult with France; instead, they dealt directly with the British commissioners.[17]

Throughout the negotiations, Adams was especially determined that the right of the United States to the fisheries along the Atlantic coast should be recognized. The American negotiators were able to secure a favorable treaty, which gave Americans ownership of all lands east of the Mississippi, except Florida, which was transferred to Spain as its reward. The treaty was signed on November 30, 1782. Before these negotiations began, Adams had spent some time in the Netherlands (the Netherlands were then the only other well-functioning Republic in the world). In July 1780, he had been authorized to execute the duties previously assigned to Laurens. With the aid of the Dutch patriot leader Joan van der Capellen tot den Pol, Adams secured the recognition of the United States as an independent government at The Hague on April 19, 1782 (in February 1782 the Frisian states were the first that recognized the United States). The Netherlands was the first European country to grant diplomatic recognition to the U.S., which appointed Adams as the first minister (ambassador). During this trip, he also negotiated a loan and, in October 1782, a treaty of amity and commerce, the second such treaty between the United States and a foreign power (after the 1778 treaty with France). The house that Adams purchased during this stay in The Netherlands became the first American embassy on foreign soil anywhere in the world.

In 1785, John Adams was appointed the first American minister to the Court of St. James’s (that is, ambassador to Great Britain). When he was presented to his former sovereign, George III, the King intimated that he was aware of Adams’ lack of confidence in the French government. Adams admitted this, stating: “I must avow to your Majesty that I have no attachment but to my own country.”

Queen Elizabeth II of Great Britain referred to this episode in July 7, 1976 at the White House. She said, “John Adams, America’s first Ambassador, said to my ancestor, King George III, that it was his desire to help with the restoration of “the old good nature and the old good humor between our peoples.” That restoration has long been made, and the links of language, tradition, and personal contact have maintained it.”[18]

Constitutional ideas

Massachusetts’ new constitution, ratified in 1780 and written largely by Adams himself, structured its government most closely on his views of politics and society.[19] While in London, Adams published a work entitled A Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the United States (1787)[2]. In it he repudiated the views of Turgot and other European writers as to the viciousness of the framework of state governments. He made the controversial statement that “the rich, the well-born and the able” should be set apart from other men in a senate. Wood (2006) has maintained that Adams had become intellectually irrelevant by the time the Federal Constitution was ratified. By then, American politic thought, transformed by more than a decade of vigorous and searching debate as well as shaping experiential pressures, had abandoned the classical conception of politics which understood government as a mirror of social estates. Americans’ new conception of popular sovereignty now saw the people-at-large as the sole possessors of power in the realm. All agents of the government enjoyed mere portions of the people’s power and only for a limited period of time. Adams had completely missed this concept and revealed his continued attachment to the older version of politics.[20]

Adams never bought a slave and declined on principle to employ slave labor.[21] Abigail Adams opposed slavery and employed free blacks in preference to her father’s two domestic slaves. He spoke out against a bill to emancipate slaves in Massachusetts, opposed use of black soldiers in the Revolution, and tried to keep the issue out of national politics.[22]

Vice Presidency

While Washington was the unanimous choice for president, Adams came in second in the electoral college and became Vice President in the presidential election of 1789. He played a minor role in the politics of the early 1790s and was reelected in 1792. Washington never asked Adams for input on policy and legal issues.[23]

In the first year of Washington’s administration, Adams became deeply involved in a month-long Senate controversy over what the official title of the President would be, favoring grandiose titles such as “His Majesty the President” or “His High Mightiness” over the simple “President of the United States” that won the issue. The pomposity of Adams’s stance, and his being overweight, led to the nickname “His Rotundity.”

As president of the Senate, Adams cast 31 tie-breaking votes—a record that only John C. Calhoun came close to tying, with 28.[24] His votes protected the president’s sole authority over the removal of appointees and influenced the location of the national capital. On at least one occasion, he persuaded senators to vote against legislation that he opposed, and he frequently lectured the Senate on procedural and policy matters. Adams’ political views and his active role in the Senate made him a natural target for critics of the Washington administration. Toward the end of his first term, as a result of a threatened resolution that would have silenced him except for procedural and policy matters, he began to exercise more restraint. When the two political parties formed, he joined the Federalist Party, but never got on well with its dominant leader Alexander Hamilton. Because of Adams’ seniority and the need for a northern president, he was elected as the Federalist nominee for president in 1796, over Thomas Jefferson, the leader of the opposition Democratic-Republican Party. His success was due to peace and prosperity; Washington and Hamilton had averted war with Britain by the Jay Treaty of 1795.[25]

Election of 1796

Main article: United States presidential election, 1796

During the presidential campaign of 1796 Adams was the presidential candidate of the Federalist Party and Thomas Pinckney, the Governor of South Carolina, his running mate. The federalists wanted Adams as their presidential candidate to crush Thomas Jefferson’s bid. Most federalists would have preferred Hamilton to be a candidate but since he was born outside the country, he was ineligible for the presidency. Although Hamilton and his followers supported Adams, they also held a grudge against him. They did consider him to be the lesser of the two evils. However, they thought Adams lacked the seriousness and popularity that had caused Washington to be such a great president, and also feared that Adams was too vain, opinionated, unpredictable, and stubborn to follow their directions. Adam’s opponents were former Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson of Virginia, who was joined by Senator Aaron Burr of New York on the Democratic-Republican ticket.

Adams stayed in his home town of Quincy because he wanted to be a silent spectator who had no direct involvement in the campaign. He wanted to stay out of what he called the silly and wicked game. His party, however, campaigned for him, while the Republicans campaigned for Jefferson.

It was expected that Adams would dominate the votes in New England, while Jefferson was expected to win in the Southern states. In the end, Adams won the election by a narrow margin of 71 electoral votes to 68 for Jefferson(who became the vice president).

Presidency: 1797-1801

Foreign PolicyWhen Adams entered office, he realized that he needed to protect Washington’s policy of staying out of the French and British war. Because the French helped secure American independence from Britain they had greater popularity with America. After the Jay treaty with Great Britain the French became angry and began seizing American merchant ships that were trading with the British. In order for Adams to avoid war he sent a commission to negotiate an understanding with France. In case the negotiation did not work Adams urged congress to augment the navy and army.

Policies

See also: John Adams’ First State of the Union Address

As President Adams followed Washington’s lead in making the presidency the example of republican values and stressing civic virtue, he was never implicated in any scandal. Some historians consider his worst mistake to be keeping the old cabinet, which was controlled by Hamilton, instead of installing his own people, confirming Adams’ own admission he was a poor politician because he “was unpractised in intrigues for power.”[26] Yet, there are those historians who feel that Adams retention of Washington’s cabinet was a statesman-like step to soothe worries about an orderly succession. As Adams himself explained, “I had then no particular object of any of them.”[27] That would soon change. Adam’s combative spirit did not always lend itself to presidential decorum, as Adams himself admitted in his old age: “[As president] I refused to suffer in silence. I sighed, sobbed, and groaned, and sometimes screeched and screamed. And I must confess to my shame and sorrow that I sometimes swore.”[28]

Adams’ four years as president (1797–1801) were marked by intense disputes over foreign policy. Britain and France were at war; Adams and the Federalists favored Britain, while Jefferson and the Democratic-Republicans favored France. An undeclared naval war between the U.S. and France, called the Quasi-War, broke out in 1798. The humiliation of the XYZ Affair, in which the French demanded huge bribes before any discussions could begin, led to serious threats of full-scale war with France and embarrassed the Jeffersonians, who were friends to France. The Federalists built up the army under George Washington and Alexander Hamilton, built warships, such as the USS Constitution, and raised taxes. They cracked down on political immigrants and domestic opponents with the Alien and Sedition Acts, which were signed by Adams in 1798.

These Acts were composed of four separate and distinct units:

The Naturalization Act, passed on June 18
The Alien Act, passed on June 24
The Alien Enemies Act, passed on July 6
The Sedition Act, passed on July 14

These 4 acts were brought about to suppress Republican opposition. The Naturalization Act doubled the period required to naturalize the foreign born to American citizenship to 14 years. Since most immigrants voted republican they thought by initiating this act it would decrease the amount of people who voted republican. The Alien Friends Act and the Alien Enemies Act allowed the president to deport any foreigner that he thought was dangerous to the country. The Sedition Act criminalized anyone who publicly criticized the federal government. Some of the punishments included 2-5 years in prison and fines of $2,000 to $5,000. Adams had not designed or promoted any of these acts but he did sign them into law because he had no problem punishing those who abused the government.

Those Acts, and the high-profile prosecution of a number of newspaper editors and one Congressman by the Federalists, became highly controversial. Some historians have noted that the Alien and Sedition Acts were relatively rarely enforced, as only 10 convictions under the Sedition Act have been identified and as Adams never signed a deportation order, and that the furor over the Alien and Sedition Acts was mainly stirred up by the Democratic-Republicans. However, other historians emphasize that the Acts were highly controversial from the outset, resulted in many aliens leaving the country voluntarily, and created an atmosphere where opposing the Federalists, even on the floor of Congress, could and did result in prosecution. The election of 1800 became a bitter and volatile battle, with each side expressing extraordinary fear of the other party and its policies.[29]

The deep hiatus in the Federalist party came on the army issue. Adams was forced to name Washington as commander of the new army, and Washington demanded that Hamilton be given the #2 position. Adams reluctantly gave in. Major General Hamilton virtually took control of the War department. The rift between Adams and the High Federalists (as Adams’ opponents were called) grew wider. The High Federalists refused to consult Adams over the key legislation of 1798; they changed the defense measures which he had called for, demanded that Hamilton control the army, and refused to recognize the necessity of giving key Democratic-Republicans (like Aaron Burr) senior positions in the army (which Adams wanted to do in order to gain some Democratic-Republican support). By building a large standing army the High Federalists raised popular alarms and played into the hands of the Democratic-Republicans. They also alienated Adams and his large personal following. They shortsightedly viewed the Federalist party as their own tool and ignored the need to pull together the entire nation in the face of war with France.[30]

For long stretches, Adams withdrew to his home in Massachusetts. In February 1799, Adams stunned the country by sending diplomat William Vans Murray on a peace mission to France. Napoleon, realizing the animosity of the United States was doing no good, signaled his readiness for friendly relations. The Treaty of Alliance of 1778 was superseded and the United States could now be free of foreign entanglements, as Washington advised in his own Farewell Letter. Adams avoided war, but deeply split his own party in the process. He brought in John Marshall as Secretary of State and demobilized the emergency army.[31]

Re-election campaign 1800

Main article: United States presidential election, 1800

The death of Washington, in 1799, weakened the Federalists, as they lost the one man who symbolized and united the party. In the presidential election of 1800, Adams ran and lost the electoral vote narrowly. Among the causes of his defeat was distrust of him by “High Federalists” led by Hamilton, the popular disapproval of the Alien and Sedition Acts, the popularity of his opponent, Thomas Jefferson, and the effective politicking of Aaron Burr in New York State, where the legislature (which selected the electoral college) shifted from Federalist to Republican on the basis of a few wards in New York City controlled by Burr’s machine.[32]

In the election of 1800 John Adams and his running mate, Charles Cotesworth Pinckney went against the Republican duo of Jefferson and Burr. Hamilton tried his hardest to sabotage Adams campaign in hopes of boosting Pinckney’s chances of winning the presidency. In the end, Adams lost narrowly to Jefferson by 65 to 73 electoral votes.

Midnight Judges

As his term was expiring, Adams appointed a series of judges, called the “Midnight Judges” because most of them were formally appointed days before the presidential term expired. Most of the judges were eventually unseated when the Jeffersonians abolished their offices. But John Marshall remained, and his long tenure as Chief Justice of the United States represents the most lasting influence of the Federalists, as Marshall refashioned the Constitution into a nationalizing force and established the Judicial Branch as the equal of the Executive and Legislative branches.[33]

Major presidential actions

  • Built up the U.S. Navy
  • Fought the Quasi War with France
  • Signed Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798
  • Ended war with France through diplomacy

Speeches

Inaugural Addresses
Inaugural Address (March 4, 1797)

State of the Union Address

First State of the Union Address (November 22, 1797)
Second State of the Union Address, (December 8, 1798)
Third State of the Union Address, (December 3, 1799)
Fourth State of the Union Address, (November 22, 1800)

Administration and Cabinet

The Adams Cabinet

OFFICE NAME TERM
President John Adams 17971801
Vice President Thomas Jefferson 17971801
Secretary of State Timothy Pickering 17971800
John Marshall 18001801
Secretary of Treasury Oliver Wolcott, Jr. 17971801
Samuel Dexter 1801
Secretary of War James McHenry 17961800
Samuel Dexter 18001801
Attorney General Charles Lee 17971801
Postmaster General Joseph Habersham 17971801
Secretary of the Navy Benjamin Stoddert 17981801

Supreme Court appointments

Adams appointed the following Justices to the Supreme Court of the United States:

Bushrod Washington – 1799
Alfred Moore – 1800
John Marshall (Chief Justice) – 1801

States admitted to the Union

None

Post Presidency

Following his 1800 defeat, Adams retired into private life. Depressed when he left office, he did not attend Jefferson’s inauguration. He went back to farming in the Quincy area.

In 1812, Adams reconciled with Jefferson. Their mutual friend Benjamin Rush, who had been corresponding with both, encouraged Adams to reach out to Jefferson. Adams sent a brief note to Jefferson, which resulted in a resumption of their friendship, and initiated a correspondence which lasted the rest of their lives. Their letters are rich in insight into both the period and the minds of the two Presidents and revolutionary leaders.[34]

Sixteen months before his death, his son, John Quincy Adams, became the sixth President of the United States (1825–1829), the only son of a former President to hold the office until George W. Bush in 2001.

His daughter Abigail (“Nabby”) was married to Congressman William Stephens Smith and died of cancer in 1816. His son Charles died as an alcoholic in 1800. His son Thomas and his family lived with Adams and Louisa Smith (Abigail’s niece by her brother William) to the end of Adams’ life.[35]

Famous quotations

  • “People and Nations are forged in the fires of adversity.”
  • “Children should be educated and instructed in the principles of freedom.”
  • “I must study politics and war that my sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy. My sons ought to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history, naval architecture, navigation, commerce, and agriculture, in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry, and porcelain.”
  • “Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide.”
  • “Modesty is a virtue that can never thrive in public.”
  • “I pray Heaven to bestow the best of blessings on this house and all that shall hereafter inhabit it.”
  • “The people, when they have been unchecked, have been as unjust, tyrannical, brutal, barbarous, and cruel, as any king or senate possessed of uncontrollable power. The majority has eternally, and without one exception, usurped over the rights of the minority.”
  • “If national pride is ever justifiable or excusable it is when it springs, not from power or riches, grandeur or glory, but from conviction of national innocence, information and benevolence….”
  • “The history of our Revolution will be one continued lie from one end to the other. The essence of the whole will be that Dr. Franklin’s electrical rod smote the earth and out sprang General Washington. That Franklin electrified him with his rod – and thenceforward these two conducted all the policies, negotiations, legislatures, and war.”
  • “The balance of power in a society accompanies the balance of property in land.”
  • “My country has in its wisdom contrived for me the most insignificant office that ever the invention of man contrived or his imagination conceived.” (Upon being elected as the first Vice President)
  • “May none but honest and wise men ever rule under this roof.” (Upon moving into the White House)
  • Death

    On July 4, 1826, the 50th anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence, Adams died at his home in Quincy. His last words are often quoted as “Thomas Jefferson survives.” Only the words “Thomas Jefferson” were clearly intelligible among his last, however.[36] Adams was unaware that Jefferson, his great political rival — and later friend and correspondent — had died a few hours earlier on that same day.

    His crypt lies at United First Parish Church (also known as the Church of the Presidents) in Quincy. Until his record was broken by Ronald Reagan in 2001, he was the nation’s longest-living President (90 years, 247 days) maintaining that record for 175 years. The record is currently held by former President Gerald Ford, who served less than one term, and who died December 26, 2006 at 93 years, 165 days.

    John Adams remains the longest-lived person ever elected to both of the highest offices in the United States government.

    Religious views

    Adams was raised a Congregationalist, becoming a Unitarian at a time when most of the Congregational churches around Boston were turning to Unitarianism. Everett (1966) argues that Adams was not a deist, but he used deistic terms in his speeches and writing. He believed in the essential goodness of the creation, but did not believe in the divinity of Christ or that God intervened in the affairs of individuals. Although not anti-clerical, he advocated the separation of church and state. He also believed that regular church service was beneficial to man’s moral sense. Everett concludes that “Adams strove for a religion based on a common sense sort of reasonableness” and maintained that religion must change and evolve toward perfection.[37]

    Adams often railed against what he saw as overclaiming of authority by the Catholic church.[38]

    In 1796, Adams denounced the deism of political opponent Thomas Paine, saying, “The Christian religion is, above all the religions that ever prevailed or existed in ancient or modern times, the religion of wisdom, virtue, equity and humanity, let the Blackguard Paine say what he will.”[39]

    The Unitarian Universalist Historical Society sheds some light on Adams’ religious beliefs.[40] They point out that Adams was clearly no atheist by quoting from his letter to Benjamin Rush, an early promoter of Universalist thought, “I have attended public worship in all countries and with all sects and believe them all much better than no religion, though I have not thought myself obliged to believe all I heard.” The Society also relates how Rush reconciled Adams to his former friend Thomas Jefferson in 1812, after many bitter political battles. This resulted in correspondence between Adams and Jefferson about many topics, including philosophy and religion. In one of these communications, Adams told Jefferson, “The Ten Commandments and the Sermon on the Mount contain my religion.” In another letter, Adams reveals his sincere devotion to God, “My Adoration of the Author of the Universe is too profound and too sincere. The Love of God and his Creation; delight, Joy, Tryumph, Exaltation in my own existence, tho’ but an Atom, a molecule Organique, in the Universe, are my religion.” He continues by revealing his Universalist sympathies, rejection of orthodox Christian dogma, and his personal belief that he was a true Christian for not accepting such dogma, “Howl, Snarl, bite, Ye Calvinistick! Ye Athanasian Divines, if You will. Ye will say, I am no Christian: I say Ye are no Christians: and there the Account is ballanced. Yet I believe all the honest men among you, are Christians in my Sense of the Word.” The Society also demonstrates that Adams rejected orthodox Christian doctrines of the trinity, predestination, yet equated human understanding and the human conscience to “celestial communication” or personal revelation from God. It is also shown that Adams held a strong conviction in life after death or otherwise, as he explained, “you might be ashamed of your Maker.”

    Trivia

    • Adams was the first President to live in the White House.
    • Adams was one of three presidents who died on the Fourth of July, along with Jefferson and Monroe (1831). He and Jefferson both died on July 4, 1826, the fiftieth anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence.
    • The Adams Memorial is proposed in Washington, D.C. for John Adams and his family.
    • Benjamin Franklin‘s description of Adams: “He means well for his country, is always an honest man, often a wise one, but sometimes, in some things, absolutely out of his senses.”[41]
    • His inaugural address on March 4, 1797 included a 727-word long sentence.
    • Due to the loss of several teeth in middle age, by the time Adams became president he spoke with a lisp.
    • Was the longest lived president at 90 years 253 days, until Ronald Reagan broke Adams’s record on October 13, 2001. Reagan lived until June 5, 2004 to 93 years 119 days. President Gerald Ford, who served less than one term, became the longest living president in history on November 11, 2006 at 93 years, 120 days. Ford passed away on December 26, 2006, setting the new record at 93 years 165 days.
    • John Adams retains the record as longest-lived person elected to both of the two highest offices in the United States government’s executive branch.
    • One of two presidents to have a son to become President, the other president being George H. W. Bush.
    • According to David McCullough‘s biography, the only slave to have ever stayed in John Adams’ household was Thomas Jefferson‘s reputed longtime mistress Sally Hemings while Adams was the ambassador to the United Kingdom and Jefferson was the ambassador to the Kingdom of France. Hemings was passing through London with her charge, Mary Wayles Jefferson, en route to Jefferson’s post in Paris. (372)
    • John Adams will be the second president on the Presidential $1 Coin Program. His coin is set to be released on May 18, 2007.

    John Adams in popular culture

  • William Daniels played John Adams in the Broadway musical (as well as the 1972 movie adaptation) 1776.
  • Brent Spiner played John Adams in the 1997 revival of 1776 on Broadway.
  • George Grizzard played John Adams in the highly acclaimed WNET/13 (PBS New York City) produced mini-series The Adams Chronicles (1976). The series has never been released on DVD or on VHS.
  • Hal Holbrook played John Adams in the 1984 U.S. mini-series George Washington.
  • Peter Donaldson played John Adams in two PBS miniseries: Liberty! The American Revolution in 1996 and Benjamin Franklin in 2002.
  • Pat Hingle played John Adams in the 1976 short film Independence.
  • Simon Russell Beale portrayed John Adams in a 2006 episode of American Experience entitled John and Abigal Adams: America’s First Power Couple.
  • Paul Giamatti plays John Adams in the 2007 HBO TV mini-series of the same name, scheduled to be aired May, 2007.
  • In a humorous fashion, John Adams was featured in a segment of the movie How High, starring Method Man and Redman.
  • Notes

    1. ^ Ellis (1993) p 230
    2. ^ Ferling (1992) ch 1
    3. ^ McCullough (2001) p 37
    4. ^ Ferling (1992) ch 2
    5. ^ Ferling (1992) p 117
    6. ^ Ferling (1992) pp 53-63
    7. ^ In 1775 he was also appointed the chief judge of the Massachusetts Superior Court.
    8. ^ Steve Bansbach. “Reservists Honor the Father of the Navy“, Navy NewsStand, 200511-02. Retrieved on 200610-09.
    9. ^ John Adams 1735-1826: Second President, 1797-1801. National Museum of American History. Retrieved on 200610-09.
    10. ^ Ferling (1992) ch 8 p 146
    11. ^ Wood, The Radicalism of the American Revolution (1993)
    12. ^ Ferling (1992) pp 155-7, 213-5
    13. ^ Wood, Revolutionary Characters: What Made the Founders Different (2006) pp 173-202
    14. ^ Ferling (1992) ch 8. An 1813 letter by Adams, in which he said that one-third of the people supported the revolution, refers to the French revolution in the 1790s.[1]
    15. ^ Lipscomb & Bergh, eds. Writings of Thomas Jefferson (1903), vol 13, p xxiv
    16. ^ Marquis 1607-1896
    17. ^ Ferling (1992) ch 11-12
    18. ^ See http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=6193
    19. ^ Ronald M. Peters. The Massachusetts Constitution of 1780: A Social Compact (1978) p 13 says Adams was its “principal architect.”
    20. ^ Wood, Revolutionary Characters: What Made the Founders Different (2006) pp 173-202; see also Wood, The Radicalism of the American Revolution (1993).
    21. ^ Littlefield, Daniel C. “John Jay, the Revolutionary Generation, and Slavery.” New York History 2000 81(1): p 91-132. ISSN 0146-437X
    22. ^ Ferling (1992) pp 172-3
    23. ^ Ferling (1992) ch 15
    24. ^ Ferling (1992) p 311
    25. ^ Ferling (1992) pp 316-32
    26. ^ Ferling (1992) ch 16, p 333.
    27. ^ McCullough p 471
    28. ^ Ellis (1998) p 57
    29. ^ Ferling (1992) ch 17
    30. ^ Kurtz (1967) p 331
    31. ^ Ferling (1992) ch 18
    32. ^ Ferling (1992) ch 19; Ferling (2004)
    33. ^ Ferling (1992) p 409
    34. ^ Cappon (1988)
    35. ^ Ferling (1992) ch 20
    36. ^ Jefferson Still Survives. Retrieved on 200612-26.
    37. ^ Robert B. Everett, “The Mature Religious Thought of John Adams,” Proceedings of the South Carolina Historical Association (1966), p 49-57; [ISSN 0361-6207].
    38. ^ See http://teachingamericanhistory.org/library/index.asp?documentprint=43
    39. ^ The Works of John Adams (1854), vol III, p 421, diary entry for July 26, 1796.
    40. ^ Unitarian Universalist Historical Society Biography
    41. ^ Van Doren, Carl Benjamin Franklin (Viking Press, 1938) p 695

    References

  • Brown, Ralph A. The Presidency of John Adams. (1988). Political narrative.
  • Chinard, Gilbert. Honest John Adams. (1933). short life
  • Elkins, Stanley M. and Eric McKitrick, The Age of Federalism. (1993), highly detailed political interpretation of 1790s
  • Ellis, Joseph J. Passionate Sage: The Character and Legacy of John Adams (1993), interpretative essay by Pulitzer prize winning scholar.
  • Ferling, John. Adams vs. Jefferson: The Tumultuous Election of 1800. (2004), narrative history of the election .
  • Ferling, John. John Adams: A Life. (1992), full scale biography
  • Grant, James. John Adams: Party of One.(2005), short biography
  • Haraszti, Zoltan. John Adams and the Prophets of Progress. (1952). Adams’s political comments on numerous authors
  • Knollenberg, Bernard. Growth of the American Revolution: 1766-1775,(2003). Online edition.
  • Kurtz, Stephen G. The Presidency of John Adams: The Collapse of Federalism, 1795-1800 (1957). Detailed political narrative.
  • McCullough, David. John Adams. (2002). Best-selling popular biography, stressing Adams’s character and his marriage with Abigail over his ideas and constitutional thoughts. Winner of the 2002 Pulitzer Prize in Biography.
  • Miller, John C. The Federalist Era: 1789-1801. (1960). Thorough survey of politics in decade.
  • Ryerson, Richard Alan, ed. John Adams and the Founding of the Republic (2001). Essays by scholars: “John Adams and the Massachusetts Provincial Elite,” by William Pencak; “Before Fame: Young John Adams and Thomas Jefferson,” by John Ferling; “John Adams and the ‘Bolder Plan,'” by Gregg L. Lint; “In the Shadow of Washington: John Adams as Vice President,” by Jack D. Warren; “The Presidential Election of 1796,” by Joanne B. Freeman; “The Disenchantment of a Radical Whig: John Adams Reckons with Free Speech,” by Richard D. Brown; “‘Splendid Misery’: Abigail Adams as First Lady,” by Edith B. Gelles; “John Adams and the Science of Politics,” by C. Bradley Thompson; and “Presidents as Historians: John Adams and Thomas Jefferson,” by Herbert Sloan.
  • Sharp, James. American Politics in the Early Republic: The New Nation in Crisis. (1995), detailed political narrative of 1790s.
  • Smith, Page. John Adams. (1962) 2 volume; full-scale biography, winner of the Bancroft Prize
  • Thompson, C. Bradley. John Adams and the Spirit of Liberty. (1998). Analysis of Adams’s political thought; insists Adams was the greatest political thinker among the Founding Generation and anticipated many of the ideas in The Federalist.
  • White, Leonard D. The Federalists: A Study in Administrative History (1956), thorough analysis of the mechanics of government in 1790s
  • Gordon S. Wood. ‘’ Revolutionary Characters: What Made the Founders Different’’ (2006)
  • Primary sources

  • Adams, C.F. The Works of John Adams, with Life (10 vols., Boston, 1850-1856)
  • Butterfield, L. H. et al., eds., The Adams Papers (1961- ). Multivolume letterpress edition of all letters to and from major members of the Adams family, plus their diaries; still incomplete [3].
  • Cappon, Lester J. ed. The Adams-Jefferson Letters: The Complete Correspondence Between Thomas Jefferson and Abigail and John Adams (1988).
  • Carey, George W., ed. The Political Writings of John Adams. (2001). Compilation of extracts from Adams’s major political writings.
  • Diggins, John P., ed. The Portable John Adams. (2004)
  • John A. Schutz and Douglass Adair, eds. Spur of Fame, The Dialogues of John Adams and Benjamin Rush, 1805–1813 (1966) ISBN 978-0-86597-287-2
  • C. Bradley Thompson, ed. Revolutionary Writings of John Adams, (2001) ISBN 978-0-86597-285-8
  • John Adams, Novanglus; or, A History of the Dispute with America (1774) online version
  • Brinkley, Alan, and Davis Dyer. The American Presidency. Boston: Houghton Mifflin company, 2004.
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    Adams in Patriotic Mode

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