John Adams
Painting of John Adams
Political party: Federalist
Alma mater: Harvard University
Born October 30, 1735
Died July 4, 1826 (aged 90)
Predecessor George Washington
Successor Thomas Jefferson

John Adams was the second President of the United States and the first Vice President. His Vice President was his best friend and rival, Thomas Jefferson.

He generally was a Federalist, but was not an official member, making him the only president from the Federalist party.

As a Founding Father, he was a hero and as president, he is remembered for keeping American out of war with England and France, but power went through his head and became one of the most overlooked presidents.

From Revolutionary to President

Before Politics

Before being a delegate to the First Continental Congress, Adams worked as a trial lawyer in Boston, Massachusetts, where he gained notoriety for successfully defending the British soldiers in the Boston Massacre, which Adams had been nearby when it happened. He persuaded the jury that "law should be deaf to the clamors of the populace." Many angry conservatives at the time were very ticked at this, because they thought that law wasn't real or that Americans shouldn't defend their oppressors. He married Abigail Adams, and had three children, one of them who would become the sixth U.S. president, John Quincy Adams.

American Revolution

When the American Revolution erupted, John Adams and his cousin Samuel Adams were appointed as Massachusetts delegates to the First and Second Continental Congress. In 1775, most of the Congress' priority was reconciliation with Britain. The Massachusetts delegation, having witnessed the blood shed in their colony at Lexington and Concord, had no interest in negotiating with Britain unless it was on their terms, but independence wasn't yet the main agenda. Adams clashed with the leader of the reconciliation faction, Pennsylvania's John Dickinson. Massachusetts, along with the New England colonies, voted no against Dickinson's Olive Branch Petition to King George III. The motion was passed and was sent to London on July 5, 1775.

Benjamin Franklin mentored Adams to curb his brashness. In attempts to court the wealthy vote of the Virginian delegation, Franklin introduced Adams to them, which included French and Indian War veteran Colonel George Washington and a lanky and tall gingered man from Virginia, Thomas Jefferson. Washington told Adams that an attack on Massachusetts was an attack on the all the other colonies and offered to raise troops, at his own expense, to assist Massachusetts militia in Boston. Adams left the meeting with the impression of Washington as a national leader.

After the Battle of Bunker Hill, Adams proudly reported that while the Massachusetts militia had lost the battle, they inflicted over 1,000 British casualties with only 400+ causalities of their own, having only fled the high ground advantage when they ran out of ammunition. Adams made two motions to form a Continental Army and to nominate Colonel Washington as Commander-in-Chief of the Army. Dickinson warned against this, not wanting to escalate hostilitie3s while they awaited a royal response to the Oliver Branch petition. Adams persisted. Both motions passed. The newly promoted General Washington later told Adams that while he felt unworthy of such a command, he would do his duty.

In one Congress session, Adams was asking that Congress to pay and resupply the Continental Army, an aide gave a letter to John Hancock, the President of the Continental Congress. It was King George III's response to the Olive Branch petition. The letter said King George not only rejected the petition (didn't even read it), but declared the colonies to be in a state of rebellion and had ordered the Royal Army and Navy to suppress the rebellion and arrest and hang the leaders of it, being the Congress. Now there was no turning back for the American Revolutionaries. Independence was the only way out.

The Continental Army's liberation of Boston from the British convinced Virginia to support the idea of independence. Having secured the Virginia delegations' support, Adams and his faction pushed for independence. The influential Dr. Benjamin Franklin, who had voted for the Olive Branch Petition, rose to voice support for Adams' idea of both independence and reaching out to France as allies in the war.

Adams requested a committee to write out a Declaration of Independence if the vote for Independence scheduled for July 1776 passed. With no opposition given, Congress President Hancock allowed it. The committee consisted of Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Robert Livingston, and Roger Sherman. During the congress, Adams sat on ninety committees, chairing twenty-five, including the Marine and Board of War committees.

Thomas Jefferson was did most of the writing of the Declaration of Independence, chosen because his talent as a writer. The Committee approved of the draft but were concerned about a passage condemning King George III for allowing slavery in teh colonies. While the non-slave owners Franklin and Adams technically agreed with this sentiment, they knew that the other Southern delegates (and even some Northern ones as slavery was still legal in some northern states at that time) would not agree to independence if slavery was going to be abolished. Despite being a slave owner, Jefferson proclaimed "Slavery is an abomination and must be loudly proclaimed as such." But he also admitted that no man had a solution to deal with it. Unfortunately, the anti-slavery clause was removed to ensure a unanimous passage of the Declaration. While eventually the Independence faction gained the majority, Adams was insistent that the vote be unanimous. Adams and Franklin talked the other delegates and persuaded them to vote for independence, even cutting deals in some cases. They even persuaded hardline loyalist John Dickinson to simply not attend so he wouldn't have to vote against the resolution.

The motion for independence was passed on July 2, with almost unanimous consent; New York abstained, claiming having not yet received instructs from their constituent assembly. After the resolution was declared passed, there was a moment of silence as the Founders began to fathom what they had just done. All having been born British subjects, they had just committed the final and ultimate act of treason. There was absolutely no turning back now. If the war was lost and the delegates were captured, there was no doubt they would all be hanged.

The Declaration was ratified two days later on July 4, 1776.

By 1777, the British had taken Philadelphia and the Congress moved to New York City.


In 1781, Adams was commissioned by Congress to be the US Ambassador to the Dutch Republic to secure a hefty loan of five million guilders ($2.1 million then, $150 billion in 2016). Securing a Dutch loan would increase American independence from France and pressure Britain into peace. The Dutch granted the loan, which stabilized the American economy. Adams also personally negotiated a treaty of amity and commerce. He learned of the victory at the Siege of Yorktown while in Amsterdam.

In 1785, Adams received a commission from Congress to be the first Ambassador to Great Britain. While he made a good impression with King George III, who complimented his mannerism and diplomacy. The British press however were not as polite to Adams, one paper accusing him of vanity.

Vice Presidency

John Adams took part in the Ratification of the Constitution after returning from his time as an Ambassador. After encouragement from his allies, he ran for President in 1788.

During the system of the time, during a presidential election, the person who received the most votes became President, while the runner-up was named the Vice President. Who knows why...

General George Washington obviously won the election with 69 votes, Adams was second with 34. The start of the term was set for March 4, but given this was the 1780s, travel from Massachusetts to New York City (the capital at the time) was particularly slow. On April 21, 1789, he was sworn in as the First Vice President of the United States, 9 days before Washington was sworn in. At the start of his time in office, he frequently lectured the body on procedural and policy matters.

On July 18, 1789, as President of the Senate, he cast his first tie-breaking vote. The motion before the Senate was whether the President would have to require the advice and consent of the Senate for the removal of Cabinet officers as to the same as to the appointment. What would become the Federalist faction, the faction Adams supported opposed this bill as they felt it endured the president to the Senate's will. The faction that would become the Democratic-Republicans, who favored restriction on the President's power, felt the president already had enough power. Adams actually persuaded a few senators to oppose the bill. The final vote came to 9 in favor, 9 against. Adams voted against the measure, defeating it. In a response letter, Adams was accused of casting his vote with the presidency "only because [he] looked up to the same goal". Adams responded, "I am forced to look up to it and bound by duty to do so, sir, as there is only one breath of one mortal between me and it."

He cast 29 tie-breaking votes in total, more than any vice president besides John C. Calhoun who holds the record at 31.

1796 election

President Washington indicated he would retire after his second term would expire on March 4, 1797. Vice President Adams was seen as Washington's obvious successor.

Adams won the election with 71 Electoral College votes. His Democratic-Republican rival, former Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson came in second with 68 votes. Under the stupid aforementioned election rules at the times, Jefferson was elected Vice President, the first time a President and Vice President were elected from two opposing tickets.

Many in Europe commented at how remarkable the 1796 election was where a man in power (Washington) willingly relinquished power to another without violence.


Adams's successfully avoided a war with France and England. This was one of his most notable achievements as President. At that time, many Republicans favored the French, including his frenemy, vice president and successor, Thomas Jefferson. Adams stood by principle. However, he has taken critique for his signing the Alien and Sedition Acts, which was perceived by some people to be in violation of the First Amendment (and the Due Process clause). It is interesting for Adams's conservative critics to fly at Adams for this when George W. Bush was basically violating the entire Constitution and Bill of Rights. (see USA PATRIOT Act )

First President To Lose Re-Election

In 1800, President Adams and Vice President Jefferson faced off each other in a rematch. It was not a polite campaign. Slanderous accusations were levied against each other, ranging from harsh to personal to ridiculous.

Adams came in third in the election with 65 votes, with Jefferson and former NY Senator Aaron Burr winning 73. The tie was broken and favored Jefferson in the House of Representatives. Adams became the first incumbent president to lose re-election to the Presidency.

He died shortly after his son, John Quincy Adams, was elected President. We can all agree that this father-son pair was way better than the two Bushes.

Pros and Cons


  • Founding Father.
  • First Vice President.
  • First US Ambassador to Britain
  • Build up the military to respectable proportions.
  • Appointed John Marshall as Chief Justice.
  • One of the leaders of Independence
  • Help negotiate the Treaty of Paris in 1783
  • Created the United States Navy
  • First president to live in the White House, which was originally called the “Executive Mansion”
  • Never owned slaves, unlike several slave owners like George Washington and Thomas Jefferson
  • Help negotiate the Continental Congress to nominate George Washington as general of the Continental Army
  • Opposed slavery
  • Author of the Massachusetts State Constitution of 1780
  • Avoided the European Wars
  • Help suppress the Fries's Rebellion
  • Signed an Act for the Relief of Sick and Disabled Seamen
  • Peace negotiations with France that ended the Quasi War
  • Helped Jefferson edit the Declaration of Independence
  • Didn't try to overthrow the government when he lost re-election.


  • Supported the monarchal Britain over republican France, despite supporting neutrality.
  • Appointed Federalist "midnight judges" as lame-duck president to make Thomas Jefferson's administration difficult.
  • The military buildup was a bit excessive


  • Passed the Alien and Sedition Acts
  • Was criticized by both the Federalists and the Jeffersonian Republicans
  • Known for his rage outbursts
  • Was more aristocratic than his peers, even wanting the President to be called "His Highness".
  • Although Adams is certainly to be commended for stopping short at the brink of war, it was him who led the country so dangerously close to disaster. If he didn't overreacted to relatively minor French provocations, the war hysteria would never have gotten started. Actually, he seems to have been more interested in discrediting his pro-French, Republican opponents than in conducting a sensible and consistent foreign policy.

External links