Born: October 30 1735 in Braintree, Norfolk, Massachusetts
Died: July 4,
1826 in Braintree, Norfolk, Massachusetts
Married to Abigail Smith Adams
Learned and thoughtful, John Adams was more remarkable
as a political philosopher than as a politician. "People and nations
are forged in the fires of adversity," he said, doubtless thinking
of his own as well as the American experience.
Adams was born in the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1735. A Harvard-educated
lawyer, he early became identified with the patriot cause; a delegate
to the First and Second Continental Congresses, he led in the movement
During the Revolutionary War he served in France and Holland in diplomatic
roles, and helped negotiate the treaty of peace. From 1785 to 1788 he
was minister to the Court of St. James's, returning to be elected Vice
President under George Washington.
Adams' two terms as Vice President were frustrating experiences for
a man of his vigor, intellect, and vanity. He complained to his wife
country has in its wisdom contrived for me the most insignificant office
that ever the invention of man contrived or his imagination conceived."
When Adams became President, the war between the French and British
was causing great difficulties for the United States on the high seas
and intense partisanship among contending factions within the Nation.
His administration focused on France, where the Directory, the ruling
group, had refused to receive the American envoy and had suspended commercial
Adams sent three commissioners to France, but in the spring of 1798
word arrived that the French Foreign Minister Talleyrand and the Directory
had refused to negotiate with them unless they would first pay a substantial
bribe. Adams reported the insult to Congress, and the Senate printed
the correspondence, in which the Frenchmen were referred to only as "X,
Y, and Z."
The Nation broke out into what Jefferson called "the X. Y. Z. fever," increased
in intensity by Adams's exhortations. The populace cheered itself hoarse
wherever the President appeared. Never had the Federalists been so popular.
Congress appropriated money to complete three new frigates and to build
additional ships, and authorized the raising of a provisional army. It
also passed the Alien and Sedition Acts, intended to frighten foreign
agents out of the country and to stifle the attacks of Republican editors.
President Adams did not call for a declaration of war, but hostilities
began at sea. At first, American shipping was almost defenseless against
French privateers, but by 1800 armed merchantmen and U.S. warships were
clearing the sea-lanes.
Despite several brilliant naval victories, war fever subsided. Word
came to Adams that France also had no stomach for war and would receive
an envoy with respect. Long negotiations ended the quasi war.
Sending a peace mission to France brought the full fury of the Hamiltonians
against Adams. In the campaign of 1800 the Republicans were united and
effective, the Federalists badly divided. Nevertheless, Adams polled
only a few less electoral votes than Jefferson, who became President.
On November 1, 1800, just before the election, Adams arrived in the
new Capital City to take up his residence in the White House. On his
second evening in its damp, unfinished rooms, he wrote his wife, "Before
I end my letter, I pray Heaven to bestow the best of Blessings on this
House and all that shall hereafter inhabit it. May none but honest and
wise Men ever rule under this roof."
Adams retired to his farm in Quincy. Here he penned his elaborate letters
to Thomas Jefferson. Here on July 4, 1826, he whispered his last words: "Thomas
Jefferson survives." But Jefferson had died at Monticello a few