John Adams (1735 – 1826) has the distinction of being the very first vice president and the second president of the United States. He was instrumental in forming our new country and its laws. Although not necessarily a very popular president because of his stubbornness and bold manner of speaking, he was dedicated to his country and oftentimes took the unpopular route that hurt him politically but was good for the U.S. He lived a very long life and enjoyed a close friendship, as well as a rivalry, with Thomas Jefferson, who would become the next president.
Adams was born on October 30, 1735 in Quincy, Massachusetts. His father was a farmer and shoemaker and the family could trace their ancestry back to the first generation of Puritan settlers in New England. In 1755, he graduated from Harvard College and taught grammar school for the next three years in Worcester. Although his father had wanted Adams to pursue a career in ministry, he chose instead to study law and then began practicing it in Boston. In 1764, he married a minister’s daughter, Abigail Smith, and via their letters throughout their years of marriage, we have been able to gain a lot of insight about the times as well as their relationship.
John and Abigail had five children: three boys and two girls. One of the girls did not survive infancy, but the others reached adulthood, including John Quincy Adams, who would follow in his father’s footsteps and become president.
Adams was fiercely against England’s power over the colonies but was a man of honor and integrity. In 1770, he agreed to defend the British soldiers who were being charged with murder in what is known as the Boston Massacre. Although the soldiers had fired on a crowd and killed five people, Adams argued that they had been provoked.
In 1774, Adams became a representative of the First Continental Congress, and he and his cousin, Samuel Adams, argued for leaving England’s rule. After the Second Continental Congress the following year, Adams nominated George Washington to serve as commander of the Continental Army and he chose Thomas Jefferson to draft the Declaration of Independence.
For the next several years Adams played a vital role in creating peace treaties and was even chosen to join Benjamin Franklin in Paris to conduct negotiations. In 1784, Jefferson replaced Franklin in Paris as the American minister at the French court and Adams’ and Jefferson’s friendship began in earnest.
President John Adams
During the first presidential election, Adams came in second to George Washington and was elected Washington’s vice president. After Washington’s term, Adams ran again and barely won over his good friend Jefferson, receiving 71 of the electoral votes to Jefferson’s 68. Adams was the new president and Jefferson became vice president, though, unfortunately, the two friends had differing political views that eventually drove their relationship apart.
Adams made a few unpopular decisions that didn’t go over well with the public, but were the right thing to do for the country in his opinion. One example is when America tried to trade with France, the French government demanded a bribe in advance. Adams recalled the delegates and began building up a naval military. Instead of going to war, which would have been the popular action, he instead tried one more time for a peaceful resolution – and succeeded.
The presidential election of 1800 had Adams losing to Jefferson and the second president immediately went home, where he planned to retire and write. As time went on, Adams started regretting the loss of his friendship and reached out to Jefferson so that they could reconcile before it was too late. “You and I ought not to die, before We have explained ourselves to each other,” he wrote.
At the age of 91, Adams died on July 4, 1826. His last words were, “Thomas Jefferson survives,” however, ironically, Jefferson had passed away just a few hours earlier.