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John Adams

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Adams, John (1735–1826), second president of the United States and father of the sixth president, John Quincy Adams. Adams was a brilliant political thinker who helped lead the nation's struggle for independence.

Early life

Adams grew up on a small farm and attended Harvard University, graduating in 1755. He taught school briefly and then became a lawyer, moving to Boston in 1768. In 1764, he married Abigail Smith, the daughter of a minister.

Revolutionary leader

Adam's opposition to the British Parliament's Stamp Act of 1765 first brought him to political prominence. The Act, which imposed taxes on all printed materials, was Britain's first attempt to tax the colonies directly. Adams and others argued that the taxes were illegal since the colonists had no representation in Parliament. Adams risked political disfavor in 1770 when he acted as defense lawyer for the British captain and 8 soldiers accused of firing into the crowd in the Boston Massacre. But many admired him for his fairness, and in 1771 the people of Boston elected him to the colonial legislature.

In 1774 the First Continental Congress met in Philadelphia to protest the Intolerable Acts, further harsh laws enacted by the British government. Adams, representing Massachusetts, helped draft a declaration of rights and a petition to the king.

The following year, during the Second Continental Congress, he recommended the creation of the Continental Army, nominating George Washington as its commander-in-chief. In 1776 he served on the committee that prepared the Declaration of Independence.


From 1778 to 1788, with the exception of a brief return home in 1779–80, Adams lived abroad, serving the new United States in various diplomatic posts. In 1782 he helped negotiate the Treaty of Paris, which marked formal British recognition of the former colonies' independence.


In 1789 Adams became the nation's first vice president, serving under President George Washington for 2 terms. In 1796 he was elected president. Adams was a leader of the Federalist party, which supported strong central government. But many members of Adams's own cabinet were more loyal to another Federalist leader, Alexander Hamilton, than they were to Adams.

A split developed within Adams's administration over foreign policy. After the French Revolution, Britain and France were at war. Some U.S. leaders, including Vice President Thomas Jefferson, wanted the United States to join the war on the side of France. Others, led by Hamilton, wanted to go to war against France. In 1799 President Adams sent ministers to France in a successful attempt to negotiate a peace accord. Adams lost the support of his own party by seeking peace with France, and he angered the opposing Democratic-Republicans by allowing passage of the Alien and Sedition Acts, which limited the rights of both foreigners and U.S. citizens. As a result, Adams lost the 1800 election and was succeeded by Thomas Jefferson as president. A few weeks before the end of his term, in what proved to be one of his most important acts, Adams appointed John Marshall as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Adams lived for another 26 years. In 1825 his son, John Quincy Adams, became the nation's sixth president. John Adams died on July 4th, 1826—the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence.


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