John Adams

John Adams by John Trumbull, c. 1792-93

John Adams by John Trumbull, c. 1792-93

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.

Early Life

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 Washingtonas 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.

John Adams by Asher B. Durand

John Adams by Asher B. Durand

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 Washingtonreceived 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.

John Adams by Gilbert Stuart, 1826

John Adams by Gilbert Stuart, 1826

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).

John Adams Facts

  • John Adams’ President No.: 2nd
  • John Adams Served: 4th March 1797 to 4th March 1801
  • Age when he became president: 61
  • John Adams’ Party: Federalist
  • John Adams was from: Massachussets
  • John Adams Married: Abigail Adams (1744-1818), they married in 1764
  • Maiden Name of Abigail Adams: Abigail Smith
  • John Adams’ Children: Abigail Amelia Adams (1765-1813), John Quincy Adams (1767-1848), Susanna Adams (1768-1770), Charles Adams (1770-1800), Thomas Boylston Adams (1772-1832)
  • John Adams was born on: October 30 1735
  • John Adams was born at: Braintree, Norfolk, Massachusetts
  • John Adams Died on: July 4, 1826
  • John Adams Died at: Quincy, Massachusetts
  • John Adams Burial Site: First Unitarian Church, Quincy, Massachusetts
  • John Adams’s Religion: Unitarian
  • John Adams’ Education: Harvard University B.A. in 1755.
  • John Adams’ Jobs Before President: Farmer, Teacher, Lawyer
  • John Adams’ Political Career: represented Massachusetts in the Continental Congress, Ambassador to the Netherlands, France and Great Britain, Vice President
  • John Adams’ Height: 5 feet, 7 inches
  • Population at time John Adams was president: 5,308,483
  • John Adams’ Pets: Horse named Cleopatra
  • John Adams’ Transportation: Horse and carriage
  • John Adams’s Communication Methods: Letter


1735: Born in Braintree, Norfolk, Massachusetts on October 30th
1755: Begins work as a Grammer school teacher
1756: Starts studying law
1758: Ends his teaching career
1758: Becomes a lawyer by being admitted to the Massachusetts Bar
1773: Serves in Massachusetts’ State Legislature
1774: Delegate to the First Continental Congress
1775: Delegate to the Second Continental Congress
1779: Elected to the Constitutional Congress of Massachusetts where he writes the state constitution
1780-85: Envoy to France and the Netherlands where he negotiates the Treaty of Paris, 1783, which ends the War of Independence
1785-88: Minister to Britain
1796-1801: U.S. President
1826: Passes away.


John Adams Inaugural Address

John Adams State of the Union Addresses

Other John Adams Speeches

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