Born on October 30, 1735 in Braintree, Massachusetts (now Quincy, Massachusetts) to John Adams Sr. and Susanna Boylston, John Adams was the oldest of three sons. His parents were highly involved in their community, his mother a socialite from a leading medical family in Brookline, MA, and his father a deacon, farmer, lieutenant in the militia, and town selectman. The Adams family could trace their American lineage back to 1638, when John Adams’s great-great-grandfather, Henry Adams, immigrated to Massachusetts from Essex, England.
Although Adams encountered some issues with his education at a young age, often skipping classes as a result for his disdain toward his teacher, he changed his tune later on, attending Harvard College in 1751 at the age of 16. While pursuing an education at Harvard, Adams became determined to seek and attain honor and respect. To further this goal, he began studying law at Harvard and was admitted to the bar in 1759. Once admitted, he continued studying and even wrote political publications throughout Boston, ridiculing Colonial elites’ thirst for power.
His rise to national prominence began with his publications opposing the Stamp Act of 1765, which required a payment of a direct tax by the colonies to Britain and was imposed without any consultation of the American legislatures. Two years later, setting aside his disdain for British tyranny, Adams defended the British soldiers responsible for the Boston Massacre. Although his personal interests and national allegiance sided with the massacred citizens, he would not let such views stand in the way of affording these soldiers a fair trial.
Adams solidified his personal stance on the Colonies’ opposition to British rule when he was chosen as one of four delegates from Massachusetts to the First Continental Congress in 1774. Adams was selected to a Grand Committee of 23 members, tasked with drafting a letter of grievances to King George III regarding the Intolerable Acts. During the Second Continental Congress, Adams, now the leader of the Massachusetts delegation, took the stance that independence from Britain was inevitable and that such a declaration of Colonial intentions should be made as soon as possible. As such, Adams organized the Committee of Five, consisting of himself, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, Robert Livingston, and Roger Sherman, to draft the Declaration of Independence. Adams was regarded as the busiest man of the Congress, sitting on 90 separate committees and chairing 25 of them.
With independence from British rule now achieved, Adams pivoted his focus toward maintaining positive relationships, particularly economic relationships, abroad. He was named the United States Commissioner to France in 1777, the Ambassador to the Dutch Republic in 1781, and the Ambassador to Great Britain in 1785. Upon his return to the United States, Adams was elected as Vice President in 1789, garnering 34 Electoral College votes to George Washington’s 69. Adams became very involved in matters in front of the Senate, casting 29 tie-breaking votes, which is the most cast by a Vice-President in U.S. history. Unsatisfied by the powers bestowed upon him as Vice President, Adams ran for President in 1796 under the Federalist Party, running against the Republican Thomas Jefferson. Adams emerged victorious in the hotly contested election, receiving 71 electoral votes to Jefferson’s 68.
Adams’s presidency was dominated by conflicts abroad. The British and French were at war with one another, resulting from the French Revolution. Fearing an attack by the French, Adams increased American defenses and attempted to resolve any threat of war with France peacefully. When what became known as the XYZ Affair failed to bring about peace, the French and the U.S. became entangled in an undeclared naval war known as the Quasi-War from 1798-1800. With his own party becoming split over his dealings with France, Adams had lost too much key support to win re-election to the presidency in 1800, losing to Jefferson.
Although still involved with political affairs as an advisor and friend, Adams spent the last years of his life at his home in Quincy, Massachusetts with his family. On July 4, 1826, on the 50th anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence, John Adams passed away in his home. His body resides in a crypt at the United First Parish Church in Quincy, alongside his wife, Abigail, his son and future-President, John Quincy-Adams, and his son’s wife, Louisa Adams.
John Adams, one of the Founding Fathers of our nation, left behind an incredible legacy. He is a Founding Father of the United States. He is hailed as the “father of the American Navy” due to his leadership on naval defense against the French. He established the Library of Congress in 1800. He was the first President to live in the President’s Mansion, now known as the White House. He authored the Massachusetts State Constitution in 1780. His most famous publication, Thoughts on Government, published in 1776, criticized all forms of monarchical governance and serves as the baseline for American government today, advocating for a separation of powers between the Executive, Legislative, and Judicial branches, as well as calling for the establishment of a bicameral legislature in order to best represent the interests of all American people.
Our Adams School here in Everett is one of the countless memorials throughout our nation honoring this American great.