John Adams

From Conservapedia
Jump to: navigation, search
John Adams
John adams.gif
2nd President of the United States
From: March 4, 1797 – March 4, 1801
Vice President Thomas Jefferson
Predecessor George Washington
Successor Thomas Jefferson
1st Vice President of the United States
From: April 21, 1789 – March 4, 1797
President George Washington
Predecessor (none)
Successor Thomas Jefferson
Former United States Ambassador to the Netherlands
From: April 19, 1782 – March 30, 1788
President (none)
Successor Charles Dumas
Party Federalist
Spouse(s) Abigail Smith Adams
Religion Unitarian

John Adams (October 30, 1735 - July 4, 1826) was an American Founding Father, diplomat, and the second President of the United States from 1797–1801. Adams was a prominent figure of the American Revolution. His numerous accomplishments include involvement in the drafting of the Declaration of Independence, writing the constitution for the state of Massachusetts, serving as a diplomat to England, France, and the Netherlands, negotiating the Treaty of Paris, and serving as the first Vice President of the United States under President George Washington. Adams changed the spelling of Jefferson's elegant "inalienable" rights to a disfavored "unalienable" rights, leaving that clumsy spelling in the most famous sentence in the English language.[1]

Adams was a big supporter of law and order, to the point of even defending the British soldiers who shot protesters at the Boston Massacre. Adams signed legislation against aliens and critics of himself known as the Alien and Sedition Acts, which is considered one of the most unconstitutional bills ever enacted.

In the presidential election of 1796, Adams, on the ticket of the Federalist Party, defeated the Democratic-Republican nominee Thomas Jefferson and became the second President of the United States. He broke with Hamilton and the High Federalists, leaving him in a weak position as president. Adams lost to Jefferson by a wide margin of 61-39% in a bitter rematch in 1800 (the Electoral College vote was a closer 73-65), and Adams was a sore loser for a long time.

Adams' presidency was marked by the Quasi-War between the United States and France, the XYZ Affair, the founding of the U.S. Navy, the passage of Alien and Sedition Acts, building a new national army, and an unexpected peace with France; as he left office he appointed numerous judges, most notably John Marshall as Chief Justice.

Adams founded one of the great families in American history, with numerous politicians, diplomats and historians. Adams reputation was long in the doldrums, since Franklin quipped in 1783: "He means well for his Country, and is always an honest Man, often a Wise One, but sometimes and in some things, absolutely out of his senses." Historians much admire his independence, patriotism and realism, but his self-righteousness and vanity represented a critical weakness.

Early life and political career

John Adams was born on October 30, 1735, in Braintree (now Quincy), Massachusetts. His father was also named John, his mother was Susanna Adams and one of his sons was John Quincy Adams, a later president in his own right.

Adams attended Harvard and, after a stint as a schoolmaster in Worchester, Massachusetts, took up the practice of law in Boston. In 1765, Adams wrote tracts such as the Braintree Instructions, which argued against the British Stamp Act. His cousin, Samuel Adams, attracted far more notice during the Stamp Act crisis, leading demonstrations and using far more colorful language (there would later be some confusion regarding John and Samuel. When John was sent to France by the Continental Congress on a diplomatic mission, the French initially thought he was the "famous Adams," that is, Samuel Adams).

In the wake of the Boston Massacre in 1770, Boston's leaders prevailed on Adams to represent the British troops. He did so, arguing that all Englishmen deserved a vigorous defense. He pleaded self-defense, and won the case. He argued that Boston would be better served if many guilty persons escaped unpunished than if one innocent one suffered. It was, he maintained, of more importance to the community “that innocence should be protected, than...that guilt should be punished.”

In 1774, after the crisis brought on by the Boston Tea Party and the resulting Coercive Acts, Adams became an advocate for American independence. Adams was one of Massachusetts's representatives to the Continental Congress. He attracted the notice of other delegates at the Second Continental Congress as one of the first to argue for independence.

Declaring Independence

Adams served a Massachusetts delegate in both the First and the Second Continental Congresses. He was a leading advocate of declaring independence and in June 1776 was assigned, along with Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin, to draft a Declaration of Independence. Adams realized that Jefferson was a much more gifted writer and recognized the importance that the document should be composed mostly by a Virginian. However, Adams did have some input, looking over drafts of the document. While Jefferson worked on the Declaration, Adams worked on the Model Treaty.

Jefferson later remarked that Adams was the Declaration of Independence's "pillar of support on the floor of Congress, its ablest advocate and defender." Though Adams in principle opposed the practice of slavery, he remained silent when Jefferson was pressured to strike out a provision in the Declaration that condemned slavery. Indeed, he never took a major role in opposing slavery, unlike most Federalists.

After Independence was declared, Adams served as the head of the Board of War and Ordinance.


Treaty of Paris, Painting by Benjamin West (never completed). The painting depicts from left to right, John Jay, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Henry Laurens, and William Temple Franklin.

Adams served the Continental Congress as a diplomat, remaining abroad for a decade, from 1778 to 1788. Originally posted to France, he served in Paris with Benjamin Franklin. Franklin felt that Adams' blunt style and lack of understanding of European diplomatic process harmed the American effort. After France, Adams was posted to the Netherlands, where he secured a large war loan to help the patriot cause. Adams chaired the American delegation that drew up the Treaty of Paris in 1783, which formally ended the American Revolution.

Vice President (1789-1797)

In the first Presidential election under the new Constitution, Adams was recalled from being ambassador to Great Britain to serve as Washington's Vice-President. The role of Vice President was not an easy one for Adams; he told Abigail, "My country has in its wisdom contrived for me the most insignificant office that ever the invention of man contrived or his imagination conceived". His only job was to serve as presiding officer ("president") of the Senate, in which his only duty was to cast tie-breaking votes. Even in this role, he was far out of place; he was so flustered at the Senate's first meeting that he asked their advice about whether he should sit or stand on Washington's entrance. (This was later seized upon by Democratic-Republicans eager to cast Adams as an aristocrat.) His relationship with President Washington was friendly, but Washington rarely asked him for his counsel. All of this was frustrating to Adams, who was a man of action and not shy about letting his opinions be known. Adams cast 29 tie-breaking votes, a record that still stands today.

Presidency (1797-1801)

Washington's decision to retire from public life set the stage for the first partisan presidential election. Alexander Hamilton was the dominant leader of the Federalists. However he made many political enemies during his tenure as Secretary of the Treasury. The Federalists decided to run Adams as their presidential candidate and Thomas Pinckney for the office of vice-president. The Republicans of course favored Jefferson for president; they ran Aaron Burr of New York as vice-President. Adams won the mildly contested election of 1796, garnering 71 electoral votes to Jefferson's 68, and became president in his own right. Since electors did not indicate which office they were voting for, by coming in second to Adams, Jefferson became his vice-president. Their friendship had ended and they now struggled for control of the national agenda.

Adam's faced the challenge of having to succeed George Washington. He retained all of Washington's original cabinet members. Although some historians consider it a mistake, he believed that government officials should not be removed except for cause. Adams spent much of his term in Massachusetts, ignoring the details of patronage and communication that are essential to build a political base.

Foreign Affairs

Adams continued the Washington's policy of neutrality in the ongoing war between Britain and France, selling supplies to both sides. Federalists were pushing for a war against France and closer ties to Britain. Adams wanted peace, but was caught up in the storm of events.

The French were openly seizing American ships, leading to an undeclared war known as the Quasi-War of 1798–99. Adams sent diplomats to meet with the French Directory, only to be refused an audience and commercial relations were suspended. In 1798, the French demanded American diplomats pay huge bribes in order to see the French Foreign Minister Talleyrand, which the diplomats rejected. The Jeffersonian Republicans, suspicious of Adams, demanded the documentation, which Adams released using X, Y and Z as codes for the names of the French diplomats. A wave of nationalist sentiment overwhelmed the U.S. Congress approved Adams' plan to organize the navy. Adams reluctantly signed the Alien and Sedition Act as a wartime measure.

The Federalists made major gains in the 1798 election, and Congress passed a law for a much-enlarged army. Nominally it was under the control of Washington; in reality Hamilton controlled the new army, and Adams was left a byestander.

In 1799, Adams moved to end the war with France. This angered hardline Federalists such as Alexander Hamilton, leading to an intraparty battle. Hamilton attacked Adams for his "ungovernable indiscretion" and "distempered jealousy". This, plus the unpopularity of the new taxes and perhaps also the Aliens and Sedition acts, weakened Adams.

Running for reelection

Jefferson spent much of his time as vice-president attacking Adams, even hiring journalists to write scurrilous editorials about the president. Federalists fought back by passing the Alien and Sedition Acts. The Alien Act was designed to prevent immigrants, who supported Jefferson, from gaining citizenship, and the right to vote; the Sedition Act was designed to stifle critics of Adams. However, the attempts backfired; when Congressman Matthew Lyons was prosecuted under the Sedition Act, he and the Republicans became national heroes. In the election of 1800, Jefferson overwhelmingly beat Adams.

While a lame duck president, Adams tried to stack the courts with Federalist judges so that his party could maintain some control of the government. One such appointment led to the landmark Supreme Court case of Marbury v. Madison.

The Adamses were the first residents of the White House. They moved there in the month of November, 1800. At the White House, President John Adams was said to be the first to display fireworks there.


After Jefferson left office in 1809 he and Adams resumed their cordial friendship, and exchanged a series of highly insightful letters.

He died July 4, 1826 at the age of 90 in Quincy, Massachusetts only a few hours after the death of Jefferson. The day marked the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Only one signatory of the Declaration (Charles Carroll of Carrollton) outlived him.[2]


In an October 2000 survey of 132 prominent professors of history, law, and political science, President John Adams was grouped in the "Above Average" group, ranked 13th, with a mean score of 3.36 out of 5.00.[3]

It was John Adams whose quote has been inscribed upon the mantle in the White House dining room:
"I Pray Heaven to Bestow the Best Blessings on this house and on all that shall hereafter inhabit it. Let none but honest and wise men ever rule under this roof." [4]

Adams views of Islam have become a more noted topic of debate since 9/11, considering his view of Mohammed as a "military fanatic" along the lines of Napoleon. Adams believed that Mahomet was a usurper, lawless, and arrogated everything to himself by the force of arms.[5][6] John Adams, like Thomas Jefferson, owned a copy of the Koran. Adams' Koran still exists,[7] and is part of the John Adams collection at the Boston Public Library.[8]

Notable Quotes

  • “We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. Avarice, ambition, revenge or gallantry would break the strongest cords of our Constitution as a whale goes through a net. Our Constitution is designed only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate for any other.”[9]
  • "Those who trade liberty for security have neither."[10]
  • John Adams also said another time "Ask me not whether I am Protestant, Calvinistic or Arminian, as far as they are Christians, I wish to be a fellow disciple with them all." [11]
  • "Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence."[12]
  • "Great is the guilt of an unnecessary war." [13]
  • "Property must be secured, or liberty cannot exist." - Discourses on Davila
  • "Will Mr. Taylor profess himself a downright leveller? Will he vote for a community of property? or an equal division of property? and a community of wives and women? He must introduce and establish both, before he can reduce all men to an equality of influence. It is, indeed, questionable, whether such laws would not produce greater inequalities than ever were seen in the world. These are not new projects, Mr. Taylor. They are not original inventions, or discoveries of philosophers of the eighteenth century." - John Adams to John Taylor, April 15, 1814[14]
  • "Power always thinks... that it is doing God's service when it is violating all his laws."
  • "Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide. "
  • "The only maxim of a free government ought to be to trust no man living with power to endanger the public liberty" [15]
  • "There are two ways to conquer and enslave a nation. One is by the sword. The other is by debt.” -1826
  • "Napoleon is a military fanatic like Achilles, Alexander, Caesar, Mahomet, Zengis, Kouli, Charles XII. The maxim and principle of all of them was the same.
"Jura negat sibi nata, nihil non arrogat armis."[16][17][18] ("He denies that laws were made for him; he arrogates everything to himself by force of arms")[19]
  • "Although I have never sought popularity by any animated speeches or inflammatory publications against the slavery of the blacks, my opinion against it has always been known, and my practice has been so conformable to my sentiments that I have always employed freemen, both as domestics and laborers, and never in my life did I own a slave. The abolition of slavery must be gradual, and accomplished with much caution and circumspection. Violent means and measures would produce greater violations of justice and humanity than the continuance of the practice."[20]
  • "If we fear God and repent of our sins" - Conversation with Benjamin Rush about the conflict with Great Britain.
  • "The general principles on which the fathers achieved independence were. . . . the general principles of Christianity."[21]

See also


  • Diggins, John Patrick. John Adams: The American Presidents Series(2003) excerpt and text search
  • Ellis, Joseph J. Passionate Sage: The Character and Legacy of John Adams (2001) excerpt and text search
  • Ferling, John. John Adams: A Life (1996) excerpt and text search
  • Paul Finkelman, Paul, ed. Encyclopedia of the New American Nation, 1754–1829 (2005), 1600 pp.
  • Larson, Edward J. A Magnificent Catastrophe: The Tumultuous Election of 1800, America's First Presidential Campaign. (2007). 333 pp. on 1800 online review
  • McCullough, David. John Adams (2001), 768pp; popular best seller and base of the 2008 TV miniseries excerpt and text search


  • Aldridge, A. Owen. "John Adams: Pioneer American Conservative," Modern Age Volume 44, Number 3; Summer 2002 online edition
  • Brown, Ralph A. The Presidency of John Adams. (1988). Political narrative.
  • Chinard, Gilbert. Honest John Adams. (1933). short life
  • Diggins, John Patrick. John Adams (2003) short interpretation by leading scholar excerpt and text search
  • Elkins, Stanley M. and Eric McKitrick, The Age of Federalism. (1993), most advanced political history of 1790s online edition
  • Ellis, Joseph J. Passionate Sage: The Character and Legacy of John Adams (1993), interpretative essay by Pulitzer prize winning scholar. online edition
  • Ferling, John. Adams vs. Jefferson: The Tumultuous Election of 1800. (2004), narrative history of the election online edition
  • Ferling, John. John Adams: A Life. (1992), full scale biography
  • Grant, James. John Adams: Party of One.(2005), short biography
  • Haraszti, Zoltan. John Adams and the Prophets of Progress. (1952). Adams's political comments on numerous authors
  • Kirk, Russell. "John Adams and Liberty under the Law" ch 3 of Kirk, The Conservative Mind: From Burke to Santayana (1953) online edition
  • Knollenberg, Bernard. Growth of the American Revolution: 1766-1775,(2003). Online edition.
  • Kurtz, Stephen G. The Presidency of John Adams: The Collapse of Federalism, 1795-1800 (1957). Detailed political narrative. online edition
  • McCullough, David. John Adams. (2002). Best-selling popular biography, stressing Adams's character and his marriage with Abigail over his ideas and constitutional thoughts. Winner of the 2002 Pulitzer Prize in Biography. excerpt and text search
  • Miller, John C. The Federalist Era: 1789-1801. (1960). Thorough survey of politics in decade.
  • Ryerson, Richard Alan, ed. John Adams and the Founding of the Republic (2001). Essays by scholars: "John Adams and the Massachusetts Provincial Elite," by William Pencak; "Before Fame: Young John Adams and Thomas Jefferson," by John Ferling; "John Adams and the 'Bolder Plan,'" by Gregg L. Lint; "In the Shadow of Washington: John Adams as Vice President," by Jack D. Warren; "The Presidential Election of 1796," by Joanne B. Freeman; "The Disenchantment of a Radical Whig: John Adams Reckons with Free Speech," by Richard D. Brown; "'Splendid Misery': Abigail Adams as First Lady," by Edith B. Gelles; "John Adams and the Science of Politics," by C. Bradley Thompson; and "Presidents as Historians: John Adams and Thomas Jefferson," by Herbert Sloan.
  • Scherr, Arthur. "James Monroe and John Adams: An Unlikely 'Friendship'". The Historian 67#3 (2005) pp 405+. online edition
  • Sharp, James. American Politics in the Early Republic: The New Nation in Crisis. (1995), detailed political narrative of 1790s.
  • Smith, Page. John Adams. (1962) 2 volume; full-scale biography, winner of the Bancroft Prize
  • Thompson, C. Bradley. John Adams and the Spirit of Liberty. (1998). Analysis of Adams's political thought; insists Adams was the greatest political thinker among the Founding Generation and anticipated many of the ideas in The Federalist.
  • White, Leonard D. The Federalists: A Study in Administrative History (1956), thorough analysis of the mechanics of government in 1790s
  • White, Morton. "Rights, Powers, and John Adams" in White, The Philosophy of the American Revolution (1978) pp 186+ online edition
  • Wood, Gordon S. Revolutionary Characters: What Made the Founders Different’’ (2006)

Primary sources

  • Adams, Charles F. The Works of John Adams, with Life (10 vols., Boston, 1850-1856) online edition vol 1; online edition vol 2;
  • Adams, Abigail, Adams, John, Shuffelton, Frank. The Letters of John and Abigail Adams. ISBN 0142437115
  • Butterfield, L. H. et al., eds., The Adams Papers (1961- ). Multivolume letterpress edition of all letters to and from major members of the Adams family, plus their diaries; still incomplete [1].
  • Cappon, Lester J. ed. The Adams-Jefferson Letters: The Complete Correspondence Between Thomas Jefferson and Abigail and John Adams (1988).
  • Carey, George W. ed. The Political Writings of John Adams. (2000). 748 pp. ISBN 9780895262929 Compilation of extracts from Adams's major political writings.
  • Diggins, John P., ed. The Portable John Adams. (2004)
  • John A. Schutz and Douglass Adair, eds. Spur of Fame, The Dialogues of John Adams and Benjamin Rush, 1805–1813 (1966) ISBN 978-0-86597-287-2
  • C. Bradley Thompson, ed. Revolutionary Writings of John Adams, (2001) ISBN 978-0-86597-285-8
  • John Adams, Novanglus; or, A History of the Dispute with America (1774) online version
  • Abigail Adams and John Adams. My Dearest Friend: Letters of Abigail and John Adams edited by Joseph J. Ellis, and Margaret A. Hogan (2007)


  3. Presidential Leadership: Rating the Best and the Worst in the White House (New York, Wall Street Journal Book, 2004)
  4. God and the Oval Office, by John C. McCollister, W Publishing Group, 2005.
  5. The Portable John Adams
  6. Ye Will Say I Am No Christian: The Thomas Jefferson/John Adams Correspondence on Religion, Morals, and Values
  7. The Koran : commonly called the Alcoran of Mahomet
  8. The John Adams Library at the BPL
  9. From John Adams to Massachusetts Militia, 11 October 1798
  11. God and the Oval Office by John C. McCollister, W Publishing Group, 2005.
  12. John Adams, Argument in Defense of the Soldiers in the Boston Massacre Trials, December 1770 The Quotations Page
  13. Quoted in Presidential Courage: Brave Leaders and How They Changed America, 1789-1989 by Michael Beschloss
  14. The Works of John Adams, vol. 6
  15. John Adams‎ - Page 70
  16. The Adams-Jefferson Letters: The Complete Correspondence Between Thomas Jefferson and Abigail and John Adams
  17. Horace: Satires, Epistles, and Ars Poetica
  18. The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, Retirement Series, Volume 7: 28 November 1813 to 30 September 1814
  19. The latin phrase "Jura negat sibi nata, nihil non arrogat armis." comes from Horace Ars Poetica, and generally translates to "He denies that laws were made for him; he arrogates everything to himself by force of arms."
  20. The Works of John Adams, Second President of the United States: With a Life of the Author, Notes and Illustrations, Volume 9, To George Churchman and Jacob Lindley, January 24th, 1801
  21. John Adams, The Works of John Adams, Second President of the United States, Charles Francis Adams, editor (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1856), Vol. X, pp. 45-46, to Thomas Jefferson on June 28, 1813.

External links