Early Life and Pre-presidency
John Adams Portrait by Asher Durand
- Born on October 30, 1735 in Braintree (now Quincy), Massachusetts.
- Parents: John Adams, Sr. and Susanna Boylston Adams; Brothers: Samuel and Elihu.
- Entered Harvard College in 1751 at age 16 and became a teacher after graduating.
- Earned a Master’s degree from Harvard in 1758 and was admitted to the bar in the same year.
- Elected to the Massachusetts Assembly in 1770 and represented the colony (one of five) to the First Continental Congress in 1774 and the Second Continental Congress from 1775 to 1777.
- Married Abigail Smith (1744–1818) on October 25, 1764. Children: Abigail (1765–1813), John Quincy (1767–1848), Susanna (1768–1770), Charles (1770–1800), Thomas Boylston (1772–1832), and Elizabeth (1777).
- Served as Minister Plenipotentiary to France in 1779, ambassador to the Netherlands in 1780 and to the Court of St. James in 1785. He returned to the U.S. in 1788.
- Was accompanied by his 10-year-old son John Quincy on his missions to France. John Quincy would later become the 6th President of the United States.
- Was the primary author of Massachusetts’ constitution.
- Wrote “Thoughts on Government,” published as a pamphlet in April 1776 that greatly influenced the creation of state constitutions.
Wrote the preamble to a resolution proposing, which each of the 13 colonies adopt independent governments. The resolution was approved on May 16, 1776.
- One of the five men appointed to draft the Declaration of Independence.
- In 1781, he was one of the delegates sent to France to negotiate the Treaty of Paris, which brought an end to the Revolutionary War.
- Served two terms as Vice President under George Washington, a position he found frustrating.
- As Vice President and, consequently, the President of the Senate, Adams holds the record for most tie-breaking votes at 29.
Lithograph from Gilbert Stuart painting, ca. 1828
- Took his oath of office on March 4, 1797 at the Congress Hall in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
- Vice President 1797–1801: Thomas Jefferson.
- Became the first President to occupy the Executive Mansion (later White House) in Washington, D.C. Work was still ongoing when he moved in on November 1, 1800, a few days prior to the election, while he was running for a second term.
- Signed the Alien and Sedition Acts in 1798 to counter calls for secession from those who supported France and refused to honor American laws.
- Spent much of his Presidency at the President’s House in Philadelphia (1797-1800) while the White House was being built.
- Sent diplomats to France in July 1797 to seek peace with the newly formed French republic. Upon arrival, these diplomats were met with demands for bribes before any formal negotiations would be granted. The Americans were insulted and the event became known as the “XYZ affair.”
- His term was marked by political conflict, resulting in the first two political parties in the United States: the Federalist Party, to which he belonged, and the Democratic–Republican Party, lead by Thomas Jefferson.
- Adams built up the Navy and Army in preparation for an impending war with France. He named George Washington Commander-in-chief and Alexander Hamilton second-in-command.
- When French privateers were causing difficulties for American sea-going merchants, Adams responded by sending navy ships to fight the French. This lead to the Quasi-War from 1798 to 1800.
- From 1799 to 1800, Pennsylvania Dutch farmers revolted against a direct tax imposed by Congress to pay for the expansion of the Navy and Army. This became known as Fries’s Rebellion.
- In 1800, he sent a commission to France to negotiate an end to the Quasi-War. The Convention of Montefontaine terminated the Treaty of Alliance of 1778 between the two countries, creating a neutral United States in its dealings with the warring British and French.
- His peace negotiations with France caused disunity in his own Federalist Party and a decline in his popularity with the public.
When Congress enacted the Judiciary Act of 1801, Adams used this Act to appoint “Midnight Judges” who were loyal to the Federalist Party.
- Appointed John Marshall as the fourth Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Marshall worked to establish the Judicial branch as equal to the Executive and Legislative branches of government.
- Lost his bid for a second term to Thomas Jefferson by 73 to 65 electoral votes.
Portrait by Samuel Morse, ca. 1816
- Retired to his home, Peacefield, in Quincy, Massachusetts.
- Did not attend the inauguration of his successor, Thomas Jefferson, leaving the Capital due, in part, to bitterness from his loss, the death of his son Charles, and his desire to rejoin his wife at Peacefield.
- At Peacefield, he pursued farming, which he loved, and enjoyed spending time with his family and visitors.
- Wrote a series of letters to the Boston Patriot newspaper from 1809 to 1812 to defend his conduct and character from previous attacks by Alexander Hamilton.
Although political rivals, at the urging of a mutual friend, he renewed his friendship with Thomas Jefferson in 1812. Their friendship was conducted through letters until their deaths.
- His wife, Abigail Smith, died of typhoid fever at their home in 1818.
- In 1824, he was elected President of a convention to reform the Massachusetts constitution but declined due to health issues.
- His correspondence with Jefferson resulted in 158 letters in a span of 14 years. They were later published as the Adams–Jefferson Letters.
- He lived to see his son John Quincy become the sixth President of the United States in 1825.
- Died on July 4, 1826 at Peacefield on the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence.
- His last words were “Thomas Jefferson survives” not knowing that Jefferson had died hours earlier.
- His epitaph reads: “Here lies John Adams, who took upon himself the responsibility of Peace with France in the year 1800.”
- His body is interred at the family crypt of the United First Parish Church in Quincy along with his wife, Abigail, his son, John Quincy and his wife, Louisa.
- Peacefield is now managed by the National Park Service as the Adams National Historical Park.
- Although one of the Founding Fathers, there are no memorials or monuments of him, unlike his predecessor, who has the Washington Monument, and his successor, who has the Jefferson Memorial.