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John Adams Research Papers

John Adams (1735-1826) was the Second President of the United States. One of the Founding Fathers, Adams had a long and distinguished political and diplomatic career. He first came to prominence in 1770, when he served as the defense attorney for the British soldiers accused in the Boston Massacre, securing acquittal.

  • John Adams was born in Braintree, Massachusetts or what is now called Quincy, Massachusetts on October 30, 1735. 
  • His parents, John and Susanna Boylstown Adams, were considered founding members of the town of Braintree. 
  • His father was an officer in the community’s militia and served as a selectman while his Susanna was a devout church member and devoted wife and mother. 
  • His great-grandparents John and Priscilla Adams, were part of the Pilgrims that landed on Plymouth Rock in 1620.

He studied Latin in his early schooling and prepared for college and a life in the ministry even though he wanted to be a farmer.  His Latin tutored, Joseph Marsh played a key role in preparing him for the entrance exams to Harvard College which he adequately passed in 1751 at the age of sixteen.  This gave him four years of exhilarating study that enticed his imagination.  He became an excellent debater, a distinct scientist, and a capable orator. 

As time progressed he looked more towards the career paths of law, medicine, and public service rather than the ministry.  When John Adams graduated in 1755 from Harvard College, he was still undecided as to a career so he began teaching at Worcester.  This gave him time to determine what career path he would pursue.

Teaching did not satisfy John Adams very well since he had little patience with his students.  There was an equal amount of dissatisfaction between schoolmaster and student body considering Adams thought they could hardly recite their ABC’s, and the students felt their teacher was preoccupied with something other than teaching.  His position at Worcester did allow him to meet influential intellectuals such as James Putman, a very accomplished lawyer.  This association with the very distinguished Putman earned Adams an apprenticeship with him.  In 1758, he returned to Braintree without any interest in becoming a country lawyer but instead a very high profile lawyer.  Adams hoped that his family’s connections could get him into the Boston Bar.  They did, and he started his legal profession.

Adams grew up in Quincy, Massachusetts, studied at Harvard, and became a layer. He was vocal opponent of the Stamp Act of 1765, and author of the “Braintree Instructions,” a defense of colonial liberties. John AdamsFollowing the Boston Massacre trial, Adams was a delegate to the First and Second Continental Congress, where he sat on the committee that wrote the Declaration of Independence, although the bulk of the writing was left to his friend Thomas Jefferson.

In 1778, Adams was named Minister to France and spent much of the next few years in both Paris and Holland, where he participated in the negotiations that led to the 1783 Treaty of Paris, which ended the Revolutionary War. In 1785, he was appointed as America’s first minister to Great Britain.

In 1789, John Adams was elected as the first Vice President of the United States, serving during the two terms of George Washington. He became President in 1797, but was defeated by Thomas Jefferson in the election of 1800, retiring to his farm in Massachusetts. He and Jefferson both died on July 4, 1826.

While being a lawyer in Braintree, he started out as most lawyers of his time did.  He wrote up wills and deeds, taking particular interest in local affairs.  As he progressed in his profession, though, he found himself getting farther and farther away from his hometown.  About this time, Adams started courting Reverend Mr. William Smith’s daughter, Abigail Smith.  When he traveled to Plymouth, the young lawyer would stop at Weymouth and visit with his betrothed.  Finally, on October 25, 1764, they were married and had a long and loving marriage.  They would come to have five children.  His son, John Quincy, would also share his father’s later position as president of the United States.

John Adams was traveling to Boston more and more on legal trips.  During these pilgrimages, he often felt lonely.  He soon became very good friends with James Otis, Jr. and Samuel Adams, his distant cousin.  Together they joined a club called the “Sodalitas”.  Adams was a founding member of this group of lawyers who would get together and discuss current events.  They would debate the latest tariffs put upon them by the tyranny of England.  The Stamp Act of 1765 compelled Adams to write several anonymous articles for the Boston Gazette.  These articles would eventually be reprinted as A Dissertation on Canon and Feudal Law, which would assert the rights of the English to be from God, not a monarchy.  This would thrust Adams into the political arena of the birth of a young nation. 
John Adams’s distinct political views would start his popularity in Massachusetts as a prominent political figure.  He was elected as a selectman in his hometown of Braintree just as his father before him, but eventually resigned due to his heavy workload in Boston.  He would move his family to Boston in 1768.

Despite his views on liberty, John Adams sustained his political independence.  He continually offered his ability to anyone in trouble with the law.  In 1770, John Adams and his associated Josiah Quincy probably took on the most dramatic case of the century.  They were to defend the British soldiers involved in the Boston Massacre.  Adams and Quincy defended their clients with unbiased professionalism and in the end, the real lawbreakers were found to be the Boston mob that provoked the assault.  Publicly, Adams was reprimanded by the patriot newspapers for taking such a case that was against his beliefs, while privately, he was applauded by his colleagues.

While being a representative in the legislature in 1770, Adams conversed with men deeply overwhelmed with the problems of liberty daily.  These problems weighed upon his consciousness heavily, and in 1771 he semi-retired.  John Adams soon found that early retirement was not for him.  After sixteen months, the restless Adams returned to Boston to vigorously pursue a political career.

Adams was elected to the Governor’s Council in 1773, but his bias towards the Federalists caused his ejection and he became a delegate to the First and Second Continental Congress.  This made him a leader in the progression for Independence.

Adams returned to Quincy, Massachusetts after his term as United States President.  He took up causes that reflected back on his farming heritage with the Massachusetts Society for Promoting Agriculture as well as other Social committees.  He continued to write articles for the Boston Patriot of political, philosophical, religious, and historical nature. 

John Adams died on the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, on July 4, 1826.  His longtime adversary, Thomas Jefferson, who succeeded him as president of the United States, died on the same day.

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