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John Adams.
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John Adams.
I

INTRODUCTION

John Adams (1735-1826), second president of the United States (1797-1801) and one of the great figures in American history. In the years before the American
Revolution (1775-1783) he joined with other patriots in resisting British rule. When the revolution began, Adams was among the first to propose American
independence. He served on the committee that drafted the Declaration of Independence and then helped persuade the Second Continental Congress to adopt the
declaration.
Adams served the patriot cause in Congress and in diplomatic missions abroad. Together with Benjamin Franklin and John Jay, Adams helped negotiate the treaty that
ended the American Revolution. When George Washington became the new nation's first president in 1789, Adams became the first vice president.
Adams ranks as one of the greatest of American political philosophers. His A Defense of the Constitutions of Governments of the United States of America (3 volumes,
1787-1788) and Discourses on Davila (1805) contributed profoundly to American political thought. In addition to his formal works, Adams wrote letters and papers that
provide a vivid account of his life and the events that led to the founding of the United States.

II

EARLY LIFE

John Adams was the eldest son of John Adams, a farmer, and Susanna Boylston Adams, whose Boston family included several noted physicians. Young Adams was born
on October 30, 1735, and raised in Braintree (now Quincy), Massachusetts, on the farmland his great-grandfather had cleared 100 years earlier. Throughout his life,
Adams felt a deep attachment for the Adams farm and for the town of Braintree.

A

Education

Adams attended school in Braintree, and at the age of 16 he entered Harvard College. After graduating in 1755, he took a teaching position in Worcester,
Massachusetts, and continued to study. Latin, history, and law were the subjects that particularly interested him, and he soon abandoned his early plans to become a
clergyman. He turned instead to the law. A disciplined scholar, he gained a knowledge of government and law that was probably unexcelled in colonial America.
In 1758 Adams began to practice law in Braintree. He slowly gained recognition as an able lawyer, first in Braintree, then in Boston. During this period, Adams also met
many influential men who would later join with him as leaders of the Massachusetts colony.

B

Marriage

In 1764 after a courtship of three years, Adams married Abigail Smith, daughter of a Weymouth, Massachusetts, minister. The couple had five children. One of them,
John Quincy Adams, became the sixth president of the United States.
The marriage lasted 54 years, until the death of Abigail Adams in 1818. Between 1774 and 1784 the Adamses saw very little of each other, because John Adams was
continuously serving the young nation, first in the Continental Congress and later abroad. But in 1784 Abigail joined her husband in Europe and thereafter remained at
his side, serving him as a confidante and offering him sound political advice.

III EARLY CAREER
A Adams and the American Revolution
Adams spent the early part of his career practicing law in Braintree and developing his interest in government.

A1

Stamp Act

At that time the American colonists were loyal subjects of Great Britain. Although there were political disputes and complaints, they were no more than the everyday
disagreements between government and the governed. There were laws regulating trade and imposing duties on imports to America, but they were rarely enforced.
All this changed, however, when the Seven Years' War ended in 1763. The war--actually a series of worldwide conflicts, some of which involved defending the American
colonies from the French and their Native American allies--had been costly for Britain, and its government was determined to make the colonies bear a portion of the
financial burden. Britain not only enforced the old trade laws more strictly, but also enacted a series of new laws in 1764 and 1765. One of these laws, the Stamp Act,
provoked bitter opposition among many colonists, including Adams.
The Stamp Act required a tax on all legal documents, licenses, contracts, newspapers, pamphlets and other papers, signifying the paid tax with a stamp. Adams drew
up a set of resolutions protesting the stamp tax. The resolutions were adopted by the Braintree town meeting and then, virtually without change, by 40 other towns in
Massachusetts.
Adams's argument against the Stamp Act was based on English law. He insisted that the act was not binding on the colonies because they were not represented in
Britain's Parliament and had not consented to the tax levy. Adams did not support separation or independence from Britain at this time. He only argued that British
subjects in the colonies were entitled to the rights guaranteed to British subjects elsewhere.
Almost overnight, John Adams became well known throughout the colonies. When the Boston town meeting drew up a petition against the Stamp Act, Adams was called
on for assistance. He was one of the three delegates who presented the petition to the lieutenant governor of Massachusetts.

A2

Townshend Acts

The colonists won a temporary victory in 1766, when the Stamp Act was repealed. In the following year, however, they were again aroused by a new series of laws,
called the Townshend Acts. One of the acts imposed duties, or import taxes, on glass, lead, tea, and other commodities. The colonists responded with a boycott of
British goods and with violence against British customs officials.
In 1768 Adams moved his family to Boston and busied himself with his growing law practice. He found time, nevertheless, to help the patriot cause. Adams drafted a
circular letter, sent by the Massachusetts legislature to the other colonies, protesting the Townshend Acts. He also gave legal assistance to Boston patriots who resisted

the British authorities.
The royal governor, aware of Adams's ability and growing influence, offered him the post of advocate general in the admiralty court. Adams declined the appointment,
recognizing it as a bribe to bring him over to the side of the British government.

A3

Adams and the Boston Massacre

Adams generally supported the popular resistance to the British government, but he did not condone violence or mob action. Adams was greatly disturbed by the
Boston Massacre of 1770, an incident in which five men were killed after unruly demonstrators provoked British troops into firing into the crowd. When Adams was
asked to defend the British soldiers who were charged with murder as a result of this clash, he promptly accepted. With the help of two other lawyers he won acquittal
for all but two of the men. His reputation as a patriot was such, however, that his defense of the British soldiers seems not to have damaged his political career. In June
1770 while he was preparing for the trial, the Boston town meeting elected him to the Massachusetts legislature.

A4

Temporary Retirement

Adams served in the legislature for only a few months. That winter, illness forced him to leave politics. After nearly three years in Boston, Adams returned with his
family to Braintree. He was determined to "throw off a great part of the load of business both public and private." He returned to Boston late in 1772 to look after his
law business but still intended to remain "disengaged from public affairs with a fixed resolution not to meddle with them."
Political events, however, soon brought Adams back into public life. In a series of articles in the Boston Gazette, Adams fought Britain's plan to place Massachusetts
judges in the pay of the king. He also opposed the royal governor, who challenged the power of colonial legislatures. As always, his arguments were founded on his sure
knowledge of the law, and they were still aimed at reconciliation with Britain. However, in December 1773, Adams supported what became known as the Boston Tea
Party, where patriots dumped British tea into Boston Harbor to protest tea tax and the monopoly on the importation of tea that Britain had given to the East India
Company. Thereafter he firmly supported the patriotic measures that led step by step to American independence.

A5

First Continental Congress

In 1774 Adams attended the First Continental Congress, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, as a member of the Massachusetts delegation. Twelve of the thirteen British
colonies from Massachusetts to Georgia were represented in the Congress. They met to respond to the British laws known as the Intolerable Acts, which placed even
greater restrictions on colonial life. Like most members of Congress, Adams was there to uphold the rights of the colonies but not to propose independence. Even the
most radical of the delegates, like his cousin Samuel Adams, were not ready for a complete break. "There is no man among us," John Adams told Congress, "that would
not be happy to see accommodation with Britain." Nevertheless, he urged Congress to take a strong stand in view of Britain's violations of citizens' rights in the colonies.
Although Congress made a united protest against British misrule, Adams was not satisfied. Congress had, by one vote, rejected a proposal known as the Galloway Plan,
which would have provided for a union of the colonies under one government. Adams returned to Braintree, still insisting that "an American Legislature should be set up
without delay."

A6

Second Continental Congress

When John Adams set out in May 1775 for Philadelphia and the opening of the Second Continental Congress, the American Revolution had begun with the battles at
Lex...


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