A portrait by John Singleton Copley of John Adams when he was Washington’s vice president.


2nd President, 1797–1801 Party Affiliation: Federalist

Chief 1800 Opponent: Thomas Jefferson (Democratic-Republican)


Where and when was John Adams born?

John Adams was born in Braintree, Massachusetts, to John and Susanna Boylston Adams on October 30, 1735.

Did John Adams have any siblings?

Yes, John Adams had two younger brothers—Peter Boylston Adams and Elihu Adams. Both Peter and Elihu served in the Revolutionary War. Peter lived into his mid-eighties, passing away in 1823. Elihu died from dysentery while fighting in the Revolutionary War as a captain of the militia in 1775.

What was John Adams’s father’s occupation?

John Adams Sr. worked as a farmer and at various civic offices in Braintree, Massachu- setts, including as a tax collector and selectman. He also served as a church deacon. He impressed upon his son John the importance of working hard on his studies. If young John failed to perform his studies, his father would give him extra duties on the farm.

What famous cousin of John Adams was a prominent leader during the Revolutionary War period?

Adams’s famous second cousin was Samuel Adams, a prominent politician in Massachusetts,  where he first served in the state assembly in  1765.  He strongly advocated against British taxation and other policies he deemed harmful to colonial interests. Samuel Adams later became a member of the Continental Congress and signed the Declaration of Independence.

What was Adams’s schooling?

His father, John—a farmer, constable, and deacon—tutored his son in his early years. Young John then attended area schools until he entered Harvard at age fifteen in 1751. His favorite instructor at Harvard was astronomer John Winthrop.

Did he marry?

Adams married Abigail Smith in October 1764, in Weymouth, Massachusetts. She was an extremely intelligent person who handled the job of the first lady with aplomb and grace. She often accompanied her husband on diplomatic missions. She was an early advocate for women’s rights.

Did he have any children?

Adams had five children: Abigail Amelia, John Quincy, Susanna, Charles, and Thomas Boylston. Susanna died at only two years of age and Charles only lived to age thirty. His other three children lived much longer. His second child, John Quincy Adams, later became the sixth president of the United States.


Upon college graduation, what did Adams do?

Adams taught school in Worcester after graduating from Harvard. In August 1756, Adams signed a contract to learn law under attorney James Putnam in Worcester. He was admitted to the Massachusetts bar in November 1759.

What types of law cases did Adams take?

He handled all types of cases, ranging from property law to criminal law to admiralty law. He became well known for some of his criminal defense work. In 1769 he successfully defended several American sailors who were charged with murdering a British naval officer who had come upon their ship. Pleading that his clients acted out of self-defense, Adams obtained a not guilty verdict from the jury.

In a more famous case, in 1770 Adams defended several British soldiers who fired upon a growing mob of people on a Boston street. The tragic event became known as the Boston Massacre. Adams successfully defended the British captain, Thomas Prescott, who was in charge of the troops who fired upon the crowd. Adams earned a not guilty verdict for Prescott. Adams also defended eight other British soldiers tried for their alleged role in the Boston Massacre. He earned six not guilty verdicts and reduced charges of manslaughter for the other two.

Who were some of Adams’s mentors and heroes in his early legal career?

Adams studied law under the tutelage of Jeremiah Gridley. He also looked up to James Otis, a lawyer and writer, who was a magnificent advocate in the courtroom. Otis is best known for fighting against the use of writs of assistance, search warrants that allowed British naval officials to conduct roving searches without any semblance of probable cause.

What writings did Adams publish during his early career?

Adams wrote an essay entitled “A Dissertation on the Canon and the Federal Law.” It spoke about the rights of Americans and how these rights should be respected by British law. He also drafted “The Braintree Instructions,” which talked about the unfairness of taxes imposed on Americans without their consent.


What political offices did Adams hold before the presidency?

Adams was elected in 1770 to the Massachusetts legislature, where he served for four years. He served as a member of the Continental Congress in 1774. He also served as a member of the Second Continental Congress from 1775 to 1778. He then served as ambassador to the Netherlands in 1782. Three years later, in 1785, Congress appointed Adams to become the country’s first ambassador to Great Britain. In 1789, he began his two terms as the nation’s first vice president under President George Washington.

What famous document did Adams help create and sign as a member of the Continental Congress?

The Continental Congress formed a committee of five men to draft what became known as the Declaration of Independence. These men were John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Robert R. Livingston, and Roger Sherman. The committee eventually selected Thomas Jefferson to write the Declaration. Adams and Jeffer- son were the only presidents to sign the Declaration.

What other famous document did Adams draft in 1776?

Adams published a short essay on the proper form of government for colonial governments entitled Thoughts on Government. He advocated for a bicameral legislative body, writing that “a people cannot belong free, nor ever happy, whose government is in one assembly.” He also wrote that the judicial branch must be independent of the legislative and executive branches: “[The] judicial power ought to be distinct from both the legislative and executive, and independent upon both, that so it may be a check upon both.”

What did Adams accomplish when he served as U.S. ambassador to the Dutch Republic?

He managed to convince the Dutch to recognize the United States and he helped to create the first American embassy in any foreign country in 1782 in the Dutch Republic. He negotiated a treaty of commerce with the Dutch later that year. Adams also managed to convince Dutch leaders to lend considerable sums of money to his new country.

Did Adams enjoy the vice presidency?

Adams did not think much of the office of vice president. He referred to it as “the most insignificant office that ever the imagination of man contrived.” Part of this was due to the fact that Adams and Washington were not particularly close. Washington rarely consulted Adams on questions of policy or political importance. Adams did cast numerous deciding votes, as the vice president casts the deciding vote when the Senate is tied. Adams cast the deciding vote against a bill that would have given the Senate the power to remove officials from the presidential cabinet.


Whom did Washington endorse as his successor?

President George Washington endorsed his vice president, John Adams. Washington had had a falling out a few years earlier with Thomas Jefferson, his former secretary of state, so he did not choose him.

Whom did Adams defeat to win the presidency?

Adams captured the presidency by only three electoral votes, defeating Thomas Jeffer- son by a vote of seventy-one to sixty-eight. Because the vice president went to the person with the second most electoral votes, Jefferson ironically became Adams’s vice president even though Jefferson was a member of a different political party. Adams ran as a Federalist, while Jefferson was a Democratic-Republican. It was the only time in American history that a president and vice president came from two different parties because Congress changed the voting procedure in the Twelfth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Who finished third in the election?

Thomas Pinckney of South Carolina finished third in the election with fifty-nine electoral votes. Alexander Hamilton used his political influence to try to get many Federalists to support Adams instead of Pinckney.

Which member of Adams’s cabinet served in multiple positions?

Samuel Dexter served as Adams’s secretary of war from May 1800 to January 1801. Upon Oliver Wolcott’s resignation as secretary of the treasury, Dexter assumed that position for the remainder of President Adams’s term as president. Like Adams, Dexter came from Massachusetts, where he served in both the U.S. House of Representatives and later the Senate. He also graduated from Harvard like President Adams.

Where did Adams reside as president?

Adams initially resided in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. However, in November 1800, Adams moved to the White House, becoming the first president to live in the new capital of Washington, D.C. He only lived there for four months, however, as he lost in his reelection bid to his vice president, Jefferson. gress and Adams wanted this branch of the armed forces to deal with the serious threat of French vessels on the seas.

What series of laws passed by Congress and signed by President Adams caused great controversy?

The Alien and Seditions Act, passed in 1798, caused great controversy. This legislation consisted of four laws: 

(1) the Naturalization Act, which increased the required period of residence for would-be citizens from five to fourteen years; 

(2) the Alien Friends Act, which gave the president the power to remove from the country outsiders he deemed “dangerous”; 

(3) the Alien Enemies Act, which gave the president the power to deport those aliens who were from countries at war with the United States; and 

(4) the Sedition Act, which made it a crime to make “false, scandalous and malicious” writings against the government. Many—including Vice President Thomas Jeffer- son—opposed these laws as an invasion of state rights and a violation of individual freedoms. For example, many believed that the Sedition Act of 1798 violated the First Amendment rights of freedom of speech and press.

Who was prosecuted under the Sedition Act?

For the most part, the Sedition Act was used to prosecute editors of Democratic-Republican newspapers. These editors published newspapers that criticized President Adams and his foreign policy towards France. Men such as Benjamin Franklin Bache, editor of the General Advertiser in Philadelphia (also known as the Aurora), and Anthony Haswell, editor of the Vermont Gazette, were arrested for their sharp criticism of Federalists.

Who were Adams’s U.S. Supreme Court appointees?

Adams nominated three men to the U.S. Supreme Court during his tenure: Bushrod Washington, Alfred Moore, and John Marshall. Washington, a nephew of former President George Washington, served for nearly thirty years on the court. Moore, the shortest man ever to serve on the court, only served four years. Marshall became the court’s fourth chief justice in the history of the U.S. Supreme Court, where he served for thirty-four years. Many consider John Marshall to be the greatest jurist in Supreme Court history.

What other role did John Marshall play in Adams’s presidency?

John Marshall served as President Adams’s secretary of state for most of Adams’s last year in office. Marshall replaced Timothy Pickering, who had been working more for Federalist Party leader Alexander Hamilton than Adams. Part of the problem was that Adams did not appoint many of his own people to serve in his cabinet. Instead, he kept four people from Washington’s cabinet, including Pickering as secretary of state, Oliv- er Wolcott as secretary of the treasury, James McHenry as secretary of war, and Charles Lee as attorney general.

What was the Quasi-War?

The Quasi-War was the name given to the conflict between France and the United States between 1798 and 1800. French and American vessels fought at sea for much of that time, though there never was a formal declaration of war.

What was the XYZ Affair?

The XYZ Affair refers to a failed peace mission between three American envoys (Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, John Marshall, and Elbridge Gerry) and three agents of the French foreign minister Talleyrand (Jean Conrad Hottinger, Pierre Bellamy, and Lucien Hauteval). Talleyrand instructed his three envoys to refuse negotiations with the American envoys unless Talleyrand received a personal payment (in actuality, a bribe) of $25,000 and a loan of $10 million to France. The three Americans refused and negotiations ended, exacerbating tensions between the two countries. Adams later referred to the three French agents as X, Y, and Z.

Did Adams seek a second term?

Yes, President Adams sought a second term as the Federalist Party leader. However, Jefferson once again ran as the Democratic-Republican nominee. This time Jefferson obtained more electoral votes, defeating Adams seventy-three to sixty-five. More of the country had supported Democratic-Republicans than the Federalists. Democratic-Republicans had more seats in both Houses of Congress for the first time in American history.


Where did Adams reside after leaving office?

Adams returned to his native Massachusetts, living on his farm in Quincy, Massachu- setts. He spent much of his time reading and writing.

When did Adams and Jefferson reconcile?

The two former political rivals reconciled in 1812 after exchanging friendly letters. A mutual friend, Dr. Benjamin Rush—also a signer of the Declaration of Independence—prevailed upon his two friends to make peace. Adams and Jefferson exchanged regular correspondence after that time.

When did Adams die?

Adams died on July 4, 1826—ironically the same day as rival and friend Thomas Jeffer- son. Legend has it that on his deathbed he uttered the words: “Thomas Jefferson still lives.” However, unknown to Adams, Jefferson had died a few hours earlier. Only four presidents lived to be nonagenarians—Adams, Herbert Hoover, Gerald Ford, and Ronald Reagan.

Previous Post Next Post