“People and nations are forged in the fires of adversity.” His ancestors were among those who landed at Plymouth Rock in 1620. He began smoking when he was 8 years old and preferred hunting and fishing to attending school, although he did love to read. He was born before the United States became an independent nation and, out of the first five presidents, he was the only one not born in Virginia. He is John Adams, Jr., 2nd President of the United States, serving from March 4, 1797, until March 4, 1801. John was born October 30, 1735, in Braintree, Massachusetts, which has since been renamed Quincy. As the eldest child, it was important to his parents that John receive a formal and quality eduction, which resulted in John, at the age of 16, attending Harvard College. John eventually chose to become a lawyer, against his father’s wishes, which were for him to become a minister. John was descend from Puritans, however, John himself, later in life, became a Unitarian, dropping most of the Calvinist beliefs of his Puritan ancestors. John married his wife, Abigail, on October 25, 1764, and had five children with her, including future president John Quincy Adams.
John obtained his law license in 1758 by reading the law and studying under another lawyer. He then began publishing essays, under a pseudonym in Boston newspapers, his first foray into politics. In 1765, John wrote a piece in opposition to the Stamp Act, which was well received in the colonies. In 1770, John used his law degree to defend eight British soldiers charged with murdering five civilians in what is now known as the Boston Massacre. During the trial, John made his legendary comment, “Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts or evidence.” Only two of the eight were convicted of any crime. Three months later, John filled a vacancy on the Massachusetts legislature.
John played an instrumental part in helping the United States gain its freedom from Great Britain. He used his knowledge of the law to provide extensive arguments against many of Britain’s policies on the colonies. He supported the efforts of the Boston Tea Party and attended the First and Second Continental Congress, helping to draft the Declaration of Independence. He supported the nomination of George Washington as the commander-in-chief of the army. If the United States had lost the Revolutionary War, John would likely have been hanged as a traitor for his activities. John represented the fledgling nation in France and other European nations. He eventually became the first American ambassador to Great Britain and worked to restore the relationship between the two nations.
In 1779, after returning to America, John helped write the Massachusetts Constitution, along with his cousin Samuel Adams and James Bowdoin. It was the first constitution written by a special committee, the first ratified by the people, and the first to feature a bicameral legislature, with distinct and restraining powers. John also included in the constitution a Declaration of Rights, which led to the abolishment of slavery in Massachusetts in 1780. John did oppose slavery, although he was not extremely vocal about his views, partially to keep from offending Southerns. He had never owned a slave.
In 1789, George Washington unanimously won the first presidential election. John was named vice president, with the second most electoral votes. At the time, each member of the electoral college cast two votes. The person with the most votes became president, while the person with the second most votes become vice president. All 69 members of the electoral college voted for Washington. John received 34 votes. The next closest candidate, John Jay, received just 9 votes.
John’s first issue upon being elected vice-president was a battle in the Senate over the official title of the President. John favored grandiose titles, similar to those of the monarch in Great Britain, such as “His Majesty the President” and “His High Mightiness, the President of the United States and Protector of Their Liberties.” Eventually, the moniker we know today, “President of the United States” won out.
John was re-elected vice president in 1792. As vice-president, John did not have a defined role, other than president of the Senate, and was rarely sought out by President Washington for advice. As president of the Senate, John cast a record 31 tie-breaking votes, which often protected the powers of the Presidency. John was frustrated with his limited role, complaining to his wife, “My country has in its wisdom contrived for me the most insignificant office that ever the invention of man contrived or his imagination conceived.”
In the election of 1796, John Adams ran against and narrowly defeated Thomas Jefferson for the presidency, making Thomas his vice-president. From 1797 to May of 1800, John and his family resided in the President’s House in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, before moving into the Presidential Mansion (White House) in Washington, DC. Some claim that the paint was still wet while he was moving in! John continued in the direction of the Washington Administration, expanding the army and the navy. He also continued Washington’s policy of staying out of European conflicts.
France’s help during the Revolutionary War lead to many American wanting to support France in their war with Britain, however France began seizing American ships, believing America to be equal partners with Britain. Additionally, the French refused to discuss anything with the American unless they were first payed huge bribes. This upset many Americans, leading them to call for war with France. John knew that the new nation could not afford another war so soon. Despite losing popularity, John managed to avoid war with France, a success of which he was extremely proud. In 1799, John was able to establish friendly relations with France, sending a diplomat to Napoleon on a peace mission.
While president, John signed into law several unpopular acts, including the Direct Tax of 1798, which caused rebellions to break out in Pennsylvania. The Alien Friends Act and the Alien Enemies Act gave the president authority to deport any foreigner he thought was dangerous to country. John also increased the period of residence required for American citizenship from seven years to 14 years. The Sedition Act made it a crime to publish “false, scandalous, and malicious writing” against he government and its officials. Under the Sedition Act, a Congressman and a number of newspaper editors were prosecuted, which began shortly before the 1800 election. Opponents of John argued that these acts were for political targeting. Nearly all of these unpopular acts expired by 1800.
In 1800, John, as a Federalist, once again faced off for the presidency with Thomas Jefferson, a Republican. John’s unpopular actions as President allowed Thomas to become the narrow victor by a vote of 65 to 73. However, John actually came in third in the election. Aaron Burr, also a Republican, received the same number of votes as Thomas, leaving the decision of who was to become president to the House of Representatives.
John did not attend the inauguration of his successor, making him one of four surviving presidents to not attend their successor’s inauguration. Although John and Thomas were famous for not getting along, part of the reason for his absenteeism was due to his recently deceased son. John was anxious to return to his wife’s side, as she had remained in Massachusetts.
John retired from public life after being president and worked on an autobiography which he never finished, despite having ample time to do so. John also later defended his conduct and character, which was attacked by Alexander Hamilton in 1800. In 1812, John and Thomas put aside their past differences and resumed their friendship, maintaining it through letters until their deaths. In 1825, 16-months before his death, John’s son, John Quincy Adams, became the 6th President of the United States. Only one other father and son have both become president (George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush).
On July 4, 1826, the 50th anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence, at approximately 6:20 pm, John Adams died at his Quincy, Massachusetts home. Relatives at his bedside report that his last words were “Jefferson survives.” Unbeknownst to John or his family with him, Thomas Jefferson had died earlier that day. John and Thomas are the only two presidents to have died on the same day. John was also one four presidents who enjoyed a retirement longer than 25 years, and one of the longest living presidents. John was 90 years of age at his death.
Happy Birthday Mr. President!