John Adams (1735-1826) was a leader of the American Revolution, and served as the second U.S. president from 1797 to 1801. The Massachusetts-born, Harvard-educated Adams began his career as a lawyer. Intelligent, patriotic, opinionated and blunt, Adams became a critic of Great Britain's authority in colonial America and viewed the British imposition of high taxes and tariffs as a tool of oppression. During the 1770s, he was a delegate to the Continental Congress. In the 1780s, Adams served as a diplomat in Europe and helped negotiate the Treaty of Paris (1783), which officially ended the American Revolutionary War (1775-83). From 1789 to 1797, Adams was America's first vice president. He then served a term as the nation's second president. He was defeated for another term by Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826).
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On this day in 1775, John Hancock is elected president of the Second Continental Congress. John Hancock is best known for his large signature on the…
Get to know the leaders of the United States, from George Washington to Barack Obama.
George Washington served two terms as the first U.S. president, from 1789 to 1797.
During the American Revolution, Great Britain's 13 American colonies rose up in insurrection and won their independence.
Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) authored the Declaration of Independence and served as America's third president from 1801 to 1809.
Did You Know?
In November 1800, John Adams became the first president to reside in the White House. Construction of the presidential home, which was designed by Irish-born architect James Hoban, began in 1792. President Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919) officially named it the White House in 1901.
Born in Braintree (present-day Quincy), Massachusetts, on October 30, 1735, John Adams was the oldest of John and Susanna Boylston Adams' three sons. The elder Adams was a farmer and shoemaker who also served as a Congregationalist deacon and an official in local government.
A strong student, Adams graduated from Harvard College in 1755. He then taught school for several years and studied law with an attorney in Worcester, Massachusetts. Adams began his law career in 1758 and eventually became one of Boston's most prominent attorneys.
In 1764, he married Abigail Smith (1744-1818), a minister's daughter from Weymouth, Massachusetts, with whom he went on to have six children. Abigail Adams would prove to be her husband's trusted confidant. Well-read and possessed of her own intellectual gifts, she corresponded regularly with Adams, especially when he was away in Europe for long periods of time. Surviving letters show her to be a pragmatic thinker and influential in her husband's career.
A Rising Figure in the American Revolution
During the 1760s, Adams began challenging Great Britain's authority in colonial America. He came to view the British imposition of high taxes and tariffs as a tool of oppression, and he no longer believed that the government in England had the colonists' best interests in mind. He was a critic of the Stamp Act of 1765, in which the British levied a tax on legal documents, newspapers and playing cards in the North American colonies. Adams also spoke out against the Townshend Acts of 1767, which levied tariffs on goods such as paper, glass and tea that were imported to America.
Despite his objection to what he thought was unfair taxation by the British, Adams, a principled man, represented the British soldiers accused of murder in the Boston Massacre of March 1770. Adams wanted to ensure that the soldiers--who were charged with firing into an unruly crowd of civilians in Boston and killing five people--received a fair trial.
In 1774, Adams attended the First Continental Congress in Philadelphia as a Massachusetts delegate. (The Continental Congress served as the government of the 13 American colonies and later the United States, from 1774 to 1789.) In 1775, as a delegate to the Second Continental Congress, Adams nominated George Washington (1732-99) to serve as commander of the colonial forces in the American Revolutionary War (1775-83), which had just begun. As a congressional delegate, Adams would later nominate Thomas Jefferson to draft the Declaration of Independence.
Diplomatic Missions to Europe
In 1778, Adams was sent to Paris, France, to secure aid for the colonists' cause. The following year, he returned to America and worked as the principal framer of the Massachusetts Constitution (the world's oldest surviving written constitution). By the early 1780s, Adams was in Europe again, serving in a diplomatic capacity. In 1783, he, along with John Jay (1745-1829) and Benjamin Franklin (1706-90) helped negotiate the Treaty of Paris, which officially ended hostilities between America and Britain. Franklin had served as the American minister to France since 1776, and while Adams often felt that he worked harder than Franklin, it was the older man's charm that opened diplomatic doors for his blunter, more combative colleague.
Adams remained in Europe after the war, and served as the United States' first ambassador to Britain, from 1785 to 1788. After returning to America, he was a participant in the Constitutional Convention that nominated Washington to serve as the nation's first president. Adams lobbied for the vice presidency and won. (In early elections, the president and vice president were elected separately.)
Although Washington and Adams shared many political views, the vice president's role seemed primarily ceremonial, and Adams spent the next eight years, from 1789 to 1797, in frustration. Adams once remarked: "My country has in its wisdom contrived for me the most insignificant office that ever the invention of man contrived or his imagination conceived." When Washington retired in 1796, Adams ran for the presidency and won over Thomas Jefferson, who became vice president.
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Jefferson is an insightful 2-hour presentation on HISTORY which examines his many identities and asks viewers to answer for themselves: who was the real Thomas Jefferson, and what is his most lasting legacy in our world today?