John Adams


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Adams, JOHN, served as second President of the United States; from 1797 to 1801; Federalist; born in Braintree (near Quincy), Massachusetts, October 30, 1735. He received a degree from Harvard College in 1755, and immediately afterwards taught school at Worcester, where he began studying law. His father was in moderate circumstances - a selectman and a farmer. Beginning the profession of law in Braintree in 1758, he soon acquired a good practice; and, when he was twenty-nine years old, he married Abigail Smith, an accomplished woman who was very intelligent. His first appearance in the political arena was as author of Instructions of the Town of Braintree to its Representatives on the Subject of the Stamp Act, which was adopted by over forty towns. Associated with Gridley and Otis in supporting a memorial addressed to the governor and council, praying that the courts might proceed without the use of stamps, Adams opened the case by declaring that the Stamp Act was void, as Parliament had no right to make such a law. He began early to write political essays for the newspapers; and, in 1768, he went to Boston, when the town was greatly excited by political disturbances. There he was counsel for Captain Preston in the case of the "Boston Massacre", and in the same year (1770) he was elected to the General Court. From that time Adams was a leader among the patriots in Massachusetts. He was a delegate to the first Continental Congress (1774), where he was recognized as a leader. Returning, he was elected a member of the Provincial Congress. He was a good orator and most useful committee-man in the Continental Congress until he was appointed commissioner to France late in 1777. He advocated, helped to frame, voted for, and signed the Declaration of Independence, and he was a most efficient member of the Board of War from June, 1776, until December, 1777. He arrived in Paris on April 8, 1778, where he found a feud between Benjamin Franklin and Lee, two other commissioners. He advised intrusting that mission to one commissioner, and Franklin was made sole ambassador. He was appointed minister (1779) to treat with Great Britain for peace, and sailed for France in November. He did not serve as commissioner there, but, in July, 1780, he went to Holland to negotiate a loan. He was also received by the States-General as United States minister, April 19, 1782. He obtained a loan for Congress of $2,000,000, and made a treaty of amity and commerce. He returned to Paris in October, and assisted in negotiating the preliminary treaty of peace. With Franklin and John Jay, he negotiated a treaty of commerce with Great Britain; and, in the following winter, he negotiated for another Dutch loan.

In 1785 he went as minister to the English Court, and there he prepared his Defense of the American Constitution. Being coldly received, he returned home, and, in 1788, was elected Vice-President of the United States under the national Constitution. He sustained the policy of George Washington through the eight years of his administration, opposed the French Revolution, and was a strong advocate for the neutrality of the United States. In 1796 he was chosen President by a small majority over Jefferson, and his administration was vehemently opposed by the new party known as Republicans, led by the latter, its real founder. Adams had much trouble with the French Directory throughout his entire administration, and drew upon himself great blame for favoring the Alien and Sedition Law. In his eagerness for reelection Adams offended a powerful faction of his party, and was beaten by Thomas Jefferson at the election in 1800. Then he retired to private life, where he watched the course of events with great interest for twenty-five years longer, dying July 4, 1826. His death occurred on the same day, and at almost the same hour, as that of Jefferson, his colleague on the drafting committee and in signing of the Declaration of Independence, fifty years before.

While he was teaching school at Worcester, in 1755, he wrote a letter to Nathan Webb, in which he remarked: "Mighty states and kingdoms are not exempted from change. . . . Soon after the Reformation, a few people came over into this new world for conscience' sake. This apparently trivial incident may transfer the great seat of empire to America. . . . If we can remove the turbulent Gaines, our people, according to the exactest calculations, will, in another century, become more numerous than in England itself. The united force of Europe will not be able to subdue us. The only way to keep us from setting up for ourselves is to disunite us." Less than thirty years afterwards the prophet stood before the monarch of England as the representative of an American republic, where, only ten years before, were flourishing English colonies. And just a century after that prophecy was uttered the number and strength of the people here exceeded the his calculation. The population then was more than double that of England; and, while his country was fiercely torn by civil war, its government defied the power of Great Britain, France, Spain, and the Papal States, whose rulers were enemies of republican government.

On June 1, 1785, Adams was introduced by the Marquis of Carmarthen to the King of Great Britain as ambassador extraordinary from the United States of America to the Court of London. The inexecution of the treaty of peace on the part of Great Britain had threatened an open rupture between the two nations. Adams was sent with full powers to arrange all matters in dispute. His mission was almost fruitless. He found the temper of the British people, from the peasant up to the monarch, very unfriendly to the United States. He was never insulted, but the chilliness of the social atmosphere and the studied neglect of his official representations often excited hot indignation in his bosom. But his government, under the old confederation, was so weak and powerless that he was compelled to endure the hauteur of British officials in silence. They gave him to understand that they would make no arrangements about commercial relations between the two governments; and when he proposed to his own government to pass countervailing navigation laws for the benefit of American commerce, he was met by the stern fact that it possessed no power to do so. At length, believing his mission to be useless, and the British government sturdily refusing to send a minister to the United States, he asked and obtained permission to return home.

Mr. Adams saw with alarm the contagion of revolution that went out from Paris, in 1789, affecting England, and, in a degree, his own country. It was different, in form and substance, from that which had made his own people free. With a view to avert its evil tendencies, he wrote a series of articles for a newspaper, entitled Discourses on Davila. These contained an analysis of Davila's History of the Civil War in France, in the sixteenth century. In those essays he maintained that, as self-esteem was the great spring of human activity, it was important in a popular government to provide for the moderate gratification of a desire for distinction, applause, and admiration. He therefore advocated a liberal use of titles and ceremonial honors for those in office, and an aristocratic Senate. He proposed a popular Assembly on the broadest democratic basis to counteract any undue influence; and to keep in check encroachments upon each other, he recommended a powerful executive. The publication of these essays at that time was unfortunate, when jealousy was rife in the public mind concerning the national Constitution. His ideas were so cloudily expressed that his meaning was misunderstood by many and misinterpreted by a few. He was charged with advocating a monarchy and a hereditary Senate. The essays disgusted Jefferson, who for a time cherished the idea that Hamilton, Adams, Jay, and others were at the head of a conspiracy to overthrow the republican institutions of the United States.

Also See:

John Adams Speech to Congress on the Relationship Between United States and France

John Adams Letter Written on the Eve of the Signing of the Declaration of Independence




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