Friday, January 18, 2013

The Presidents: John Adams

John Adams was born on (October 30th, 1735 and passed away on July 4th, 1826. He was the second President of the United States from 1797 to 1801, having earlier served as the first Vice President of the United States under George Washington. An American Founding Father, he was a statesman, diplomat, and a leader of American independence from Great Britain. Well educated, he was an Enlightenment political theorist who promoted republicanism and wrote prolifically about his often seminal ideas, both in published works and in letters to his wife and key adviser Abigail as well as to other Founding Fathers.

Adams came to prominence in the early stages of the American Revolution. A lawyer and public figure in Boston, as a delegate from Massachusetts to the Continental Congress, he played a leading role in persuading Congress to declare independence. He assisted Thomas Jefferson in drafting the Declaration of Independence in 1776, and was its primary advocate in the Congress. Later, as a diplomat in Europe, he helped negotiate the eventual peace treaty with Great Britain, and was responsible for obtaining vital governmental loans from Amsterdam bankers. A political theorist and historian, Adams largely wrote the Massachusetts Constitution in 1780, which together with his earlier Thoughts on Government, influenced American political thought. One of his greatest roles was as a judge of character: in 1775, he nominated George Washington to be commander-in-chief, and 25 years later nominated John Marshall to be Chief Justice of the United States.

Adams' revolutionary credentials secured him two terms as George Washington’s vice president and his own election in 1796 as the second president. During his one term, he encountered ferocious attacks by the Jefferson Republicans, as well as the dominant faction in his own Federalist Party led by his bitter enemy Alexander Hamilton. Adams signed the controversial Alien and Sedition Acts, and built up the army and navy especially in the face of an undeclared naval war (called the “Quasi-War”) with France, 1798 - 1800. The major accomplishment of his presidency was his peaceful resolution of the conflict in the face of Hamilton's opposition.

In 1800, Adams was defeated for re-election by Thomas Jefferson and retired to Massachusetts. He later resumed his friendship with Jefferson. He and his wife, Abigail Adams, founded an accomplished family line of politicians, diplomats, and historians now referred to as the Adams political family. Adams was the father of John Quincy Adams, the sixth President of the United States. His achievements have received greater recognition in modern times, though his contributions were not initially as celebrated as those of other Founders.

John Adams, the eldest of three sons, was born in what is now Quincy, Massachusetts (then called the “north precinct” of Braintree, Massachusetts), to John Adams Sr. and Susanna Boylston Adams. Adams birthplace is now part of Adams National Historical Park. His father (1691-1761) was a fifth-generation descendant of Henry Adams, who emigrated from Somerset in England to Massachusetts Bay Colony in about 1638. The elder Adams, the descendant of Puritans, continued in this religious tradition by serving as a Congregationalist deacon; he also farmed and served as a lieutenant in the militia. Further he served as a selectman, or town councilman, and supervised the building and planning of schools and roads. Adams commonly praised his father and indicated that he and his father were very close when he was a child.

Susanna Boylston Adams was a member of one of the colony's leading medical families, the Boylstons of Brookline.

Though raised in materially modest surroundings, Adams felt acutely that he had a responsibility to live up to his family heritage: he was a direct descendent of the founding generation of Puritans, who came to the American wilderness in the 1630s, established colonial presence in America, and had a profound effect on the culture, laws, and traditions of their region. Journalist Richard Brookhiser, drawing on the relevant historiography, has written that these Puritan ancestors of Adams's believed they lived in the Bible. England under the Stuarts was Egypt; they were Israel fleeing ... to establish a refuge for godliness, a city upon a hill. By the time of John Adams' birth in 1735, Puritan tenets such as predestination were no longer as widely accepted, and many of their stricter practices had mellowed with time, but John Adams considered them bearers of freedom, a cause that still had a holy urgency. It was a value system he believed in, and a heroic model he wished to live up to.

Young Adams went to Harvard College at age sixteen in 1751. His father expected him to become a minister, but Adams had doubts. After graduating in 1755 with an A.B., he taught school for a few years in Worcester, allowing himself time to think about his career choice. After much reflection, he decided to become a lawyer, writing his father that he found among lawyers noble and gallant achievements, but among the clergy, the pretended sanctity of some absolute dunces. He later became a Unitarian, and dropped belief in predestination, eternal damnation, the divinity of Christ, and most other Calvinist beliefs of his Puritan ancestors. Adams then studied law in the office of John Putnam, the leading lawyer in Worcester.

In 1758, after earning an A.M. from Harvard, Adams was admitted to the bar. From an early age, he developed the habit of writing descriptions of events and impressions of men which are scattered through his diary. He put the skill to good use as a lawyer, often recording cases he observed so that he could study and reflect upon them. His report of the 1761 argument of James Otis in the Massachusetts Superior Court as to the legality of Writs of Assistance is a good example. Otis's argument inspired Adams with zeal for the cause of the American colonies.

On October 25th, 1764, five days before his 29th birthday, Adams married Abigail Smith (1744-1818), his third cousin and the daughter of a Congregational minister, Rev. William Smith, at Weymouth, Massachusetts. Their children were Abigail (1765-1813); future president John Quincy (1767-1848); Susanna (1768-1770); Charles (1770-1800); Thomas Boylston (1772-1832); and Elizabeth (1777).

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 career.

Adams first rose to prominence as an opponent of the Stamp Act 1765, which was imposed by the British Parliament without consulting the American legislatures. Americans protested vehemently that it violated their traditional rights as Englishmen. Popular resistance, he later observed, was sparked by an oft-reprinted sermon of the Boston minister, Jonathan Mayhew, interpreting Romans 13 to elucidate the principle of just insurrection.


In 1765, Adams drafted the instructions which were sent by the inhabitants of Braintree to its representatives in the Massachusetts legislature, and which served as a model for other towns to draw up instructions to their representatives. In August 1765, he anonymously contributed four notable articles to the Boston Gazette. In the letter he suggested that there was a connection between the Protestant ideas that Adams' Puritan ancestors brought to New England and the ideas behind their resistance to the Stamp Act. In the former he explained that the opposition of the colonies to the Stamp Act was because the Stamp Act deprived the American colonists of two basic rights guaranteed to all Englishmen, and which all free men deserved: rights to be taxed only by consent and to be tried only by a jury of one's peers.
The “Braintree Instructions” were a succinct and forthright defense of colonial rights and liberties, while the Dissertation was an essay in political education. In December 1765, he delivered a speech before the governor and council in which he pronounced the Stamp Act invalid on the ground that Massachusetts, being without representation in Parliament, had not assented to it.

In 1772, Massachusetts Governor Thomas Hutchinson announced that he and his judges would no longer need their salaries paid by the Massachusetts legislature, because the Crown would henceforth assume payment drawn from customs revenues. Boston radicals protested and asked Adams to explain their objections. In “Two Replies of the Massachusetts House of Representatives to Governor Hutchinson” Adams argued that the colonists had never been under the sovereignty of Parliament. Their original charter was with the person of the king and their allegiance was only to him. If a workable line could not be drawn between parliamentary sovereignty and the total independence of the colonies, he continued, the colonies would have no other choice but to choose independence.

Massachusetts sent Adams to the first and second Continental Congresses in 1774 and from 1775 to 1777. In June 1775, with a view of promoting union among the colonies, he nominated George Washington of Virginia as commander-in-chief of the army then assembled around Boston. His influence in Congress was great, and almost from the beginning, he sought permanent separation from Britain. Over the next decade, Americans from every state gathered and deliberated on new governing documents. As radical as it was to write constitutions (prior tradition suggested that a society's form of government need not be codified, nor its organic law written down in a single document), what was equally radical was the revolutionary nature of American political thought as the summer of 1776 dawned.

On May 10, 1776 Adams seconded Richard Henry Lee’s resolution calling on the colonies to adopt new (presumably independent) governments. Adams then drafted a preamble to this resolution which elaborated on it, and which congress approved on May 15. The full document was, as Adams put it, “independence itself” and set the stage for the formal passage of the Declaration of Independence. Once the combined document passed in May, independence became inevitable, though it still had to be declared formally. On June 7th, 1776, Adams seconded the resolution of independence introduced by Richard Henry Lee which stated, “These colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent states,” and championed the resolution until it was adopted by Congress on July 2nd, 1776.

Congress twice dispatched Adams to represent the fledgling union in Europe, first in 1777, and again in 1779. He was accompanied, on both occasions, by his eldest son, John Quincy (who was ten years old at the time of the first voyage).

In 1785, John Adams was appointed the first American minister to the Court of St. James’s (ambassador to Great Britain).

While Washington won the presidential election of 1789 with 69 votes in the electoral college, Adams came in second with 34 votes and became Vice President. According to David McCullough, what he really might have wanted was to be the first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. He presided over the Senate but otherwise played a minor role in the politics of the early 1790s; he was reelected Vice President in 1792. Washington seldom asked Adams for input on policy and legal issues during his tenure as vice president. 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 imagination conceived.”

As President, Adams followed Washington's lead in making the presidency the example of republican values, and stressing civic virtue; he was never implicated in any scandal. Adams continued not just the Washington cabinet but all the major programs of the Washington Administration as well. Adams continued to strengthen the central government, in particular by expanding the navy and army. His economic programs were a continuation of those of Hamilton, who regularly consulted with key cabinet members, especially the powerful Secretary of the Treasury, Oliver Wolcott, Jr. Historians debate his decision to keep the Washington cabinet. Though they were very close to Hamilton, their retention ensured a smoother succession. He remained quite independent of his cabinet throughout his term, often making decisions despite strong opposition from it. It was out of this management style that he avoided war with France, despite a strong desire among his cabinet secretaries for war. The Quasi-War with France resulted in the disentanglement with European affairs that Washington had sought. It also, like other conflicts, had enormous psychological benefits, as America saw itself as holding its own against a European power.

Following his 1800 defeat, Adams retired into private life. Depressed when he left office, he did not attend Jefferson's inauguration, making him one of only four surviving presidents (i.e., those who did not die in office) not to attend his successor's inauguration. Interestingly, one of the other three was his son, John Quincy Adams. Adams' correspondence with Jefferson at the time of the transition suggests that he did not feel the animosity or resentment that later scholars have attributed to him. He left Washington before Jefferson's inauguration as much out of sorrow at the death of his son Charles. (due in part to the younger man's alcoholism) and his desire to rejoin his wife Abigail, who had left for Massachusetts months before the inauguration. Adams resumed farming at his home, Peacefield, in the town of Quincy (formerly a part of the town of Braintree, as it was earlier in his life). He began to work on an autobiography (which he never finished), and resumed correspondence with such old friends as Benjamin Waterhouse and Benjamin Rush. He also began a bitter and resentful correspondence with an old family friend, Mercy Otis Warren, protesting how in her 1805 history of the American Revolution she had, in his view, caricatured his political beliefs and misrepresented his services to the country. Primarily, this revolved around a dispute about whether Adams was sufficiently republican in Warren's view, instead of monarchical, and was related to the Federalist/Republican political divide.

On July 4th, 1826, the fiftieth anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence, Adams died at his home in Quincy. Told that it was the Fourth, he answered clearly, “It is a great day. It is a good day.” His last words have been reported as “Thomas Jefferson survives” (Jefferson himself, however, had died hours before he did). His death left Charles Carroll of Carrollton as the last surviving signatory of the Declaration of Independence. John Adams died while his son John Quincy was president.













Source: Wikipedia


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