John Adams (October 30, 1735 – July 4, 1826) -
Politician, philosopher, lawyer, and one of the Founding Fathers of our country,
Adams served as George Washington's Vice President for two terms
before he became the second President of the United States.
Described as learned and thoughtful, John Adams was
more remarkable as a political philosopher than as a politician.
"People and nations are forged in the fires of adversity," he said,
doubtless thinking of his own as well as the American experience.
Adams was born
in present-day Quincy, Massachusetts on October 30, 1735, the eldest of
three sons to John Adams, Sr. and Susanna Boylston Adams. His Puritan
family was modest and he was raised with strong values. At the age of just
sixteen, he went to Harvard College in 1751.
Though his father wanted him to become a
minister, he taught school for a few years after he graduated in 1755.
then decided to become a lawyer, studied with James Putnam in
Worcester and was admitted to the bar in 1758. In 1764, he married his
third cousin, Abigail Smith, and the couple would eventually have five
children including future president, John Quincy Adams.
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
Early on, he became involved in the patriot cause,
acting as a delegate to the First and Second Continental Congresses,
he led in the movement for independence. During the Revolutionary War
he served in France and Holland in diplomatic roles, and helped
negotiate the treaty of peace. From 1785 to 1788 he was minister to
the Court of St. James's, returning to be elected Vice President under
Adams' two terms as Vice President were frustrating experiences for a
man of his vigor, intellect, and vanity. He complained to his wife
Abigail, "My country has in its wisdom contrived for me the most
insignificant office that ever the invention of man contrived or his
When Adams became President (1797), the war between the French and British
was causing great difficulties for the United States on the high seas
and intense partisanship among contending factions within the Nation.
His administration focused on France, where the Directory, the ruling
group, had refused to receive the American envoy and had suspended
Adams sent three commissioners to France, but in the spring of 1798
word arrived that the French Foreign Minister Talleyrand and the
Directory had refused to negotiate with them unless they would first
pay a substantial bribe. Adams reported the insult to Congress, and
the Senate printed the correspondence, in which the Frenchmen were
referred to only as "X, Y, and Z."
The Nation broke out into what
Thomas Jefferson called "the XYZ
fever," which was increased in intensity by Adams's actions and
encouragement. Congress appropriated money to complete three new
frigates and to build additional ships, and authorized the raising of
a provisional army. It also passed the Alien and Sedition Acts,
intended to frighten foreign agents out of the country and to stifle
the attacks of Republican editors. Though President Adams did not call
for a declaration of war, hostilities began at sea anyway. At first,
American shipping was almost defenseless against French privateers,
but by 1800, armed merchantmen and U.S. warships were clearing the
sea-lanes. Despite several brilliant naval victories, the war fever