Second President of the United States, John Adams (1797-1801)

John Adams (1735-1826)

John Adams was the first Vice President of the United States and its second President following Washington. He was a brilliant scholar of Constitutional law

John Adams grew up in Braintree, Massachusetts. His father was a respected farmer. Although not wealthy Adams was very conscious of his ancestry which dated back to the 17th century in Massachusetts.

Adams’ Early Life

Born in 1835 his life was not so much different from other boys growing up in a semi-rural area near an emerging city, Boston. He was educated in a local school in the rudiments of language and mathematics.

John attended college at Harvard and would graduate in 1755. He father would have liked to see his son in the ministry, but young Adams was undecided. He spent several years teaching before pursuing a career in law.

Having studied with a local lawyer between 1756 and 1758, he embarked on his own practice. The first few years were very disappointing with few clients and it would be three years before he won a trial case.

In 1764, feeling he was sufficiently established he married Abigail Smith to whom he would be devoted to until her death more than a half-century later.

His most famous and controversial case came in 1770 when he defended eight British soldiers in the Boston Massacre case. Five civilians were killed in the action, and with the Revolutionary War approaching, Adams had misgivings about preparing a defense. While waiting for trial, his misgivings proved to be somewhat unfounded because he was elected to the Massachusetts Colonial Court, the colonial legislature. Six of the soldiers were acquitted and two had charges reduced to manslaughter.

Adams at the Continental Congresses

Adams would represent Massachusetts and both the First and Second Continental Congresses convened in Philadelphia in 1774 and 1775 respectively. Adams was influential at these meetings and also astute,

He nominated George Washington to be commander-in-chief of any forces raised following the hostilities at Lexington and Concord.

He later seconded the resolution introduced by Richard Henry Lee, “a resolution of independence” and championed the cause until the Declaration of Independence was signed.

War Years

Adams was to make two diplomatic trips to France, one in 1777 and the other in 1779, neither meeting with much success.

In 1781, together with John Jay, Benjamin Franklin, and Henry Laurens, Adams was part of diplomatic team that negotiated the Treaty of Paris, which brought an end to the American Revolution.

During the ensuing years he was involved in various diplomatic treaties and agreements with European governments. In one case, in 1784-85, he was involved while at The Hague in trade negotiations with Prussia. In another, in 1785 he was appointed the first American minister to the Court of St. James.

The Constitution and Formation of A National Government

During the chaotic years following the Treaty of Paris, years in which Adams spent trying to negotiate with foreign powers, it became apparent that the new United States would need a more unified front to present to the world.

The ideas and theories of a written Constitution enumerating organic law was an American invention.

With the acceptance of the United States Constitution by the several states the great American experiment was set to begin.

Election of 1788 and 1792

Adams returned home in 1778 from his last appointment in London and after an almost ten year absence to a new national government. He knew that there would be no question that George Washington would be elected President so he sought the election to the vice presidency. Both Washington and Adams were reelected respectively to their posts in 1792.

Differing political views over the course the nation should take during the years from 1789 until the end of Washington’s term and these views began to evolve into political parties.

Election of 1796

President George Washington announced in his Farewell address that he would not seek a third term. Adams who had patiently waited for eight years expected to be elected.

Political intrigue may be the best way of describing the election of 1796. Adams was favored by Washington to become his successor and was the candidate of the Federalists.. Alexander Hamilton had convinced Southern electors to support Thomas Pinckney. Thomas Jefferson was the candidate of the Democratic-Republicans. In the end, Adams became president and Jefferson vice president.

Presidency of John Adams

It can be best described as a time of transition to partisan politics with a capable leader unable to balance the needs of the new nation’s political spirit. The Alien and Sedition Act did not help Adams’s cause and neither did the peace treaty signed with France in 1800 which angered the anti-French element.

In 1800, he would go down to defeat to Thomas Jefferson.