October 30th, 1735 John Adams was born on a farm in Braintree, Massachusetts. John Adams was the son of Puritan colonists who have immediate lineage to those that arrived here on the Mayflower. While growing up, he would often skip school to hunt and fish and had a great love for the outdoors. While he would have preferred to become a farmer, his father felt that John should have a formal education.
At the age of 16 he had enrolled as a student at Harvard and after graduating, Adams decided that he wanted to go on to practice law. To pay for his training in the law, Adams taught at a Latin school in Worcester, Mass. from 1756 to 1758 while he studied the law with a prominent Worcester attorney. Adams became an attorney in Boston in 1758, it took him quite a few years to establish his legal practice in Boston and did not win his first case until three years later.
By 1770, Adams was the most prominent attorney in Boston carrying a very heavy caseload. He was married to Abigail , he had four children with a fifth on the way. On March 5, 1770, a large gathering of Bostonians were protesting British troops living in the city and taxes being laid by the British government. The crowd began to throw snowballs, ice and rocks at the British soldiers when shots rang out. after the shots five members of the crowd were dead or dying, three others were injured. While Adams had his own feelings against the British rule, he volunteered to defend the British officer and soldiers along with his friend and fellow attorney Josiah Quincy.
Despite public pressure from his fellow Bostonians including his own relative Samuel Adams, John Adams and Josiah Quincy mounted a heavy and calculated defense of the officer and soldiers involved. The strongest part of that defense was John Adams summation in the closing arguments of the trial. Because of Adams strong defense, none of the accused faced jail time. (I strongly suggest reading the summation that is linked, though it is longer than this article, it is profoundly articulate and gives a great look at John Adams not only as an attorney, but as a statesman and a man.)
Adams had strong feelings against the imposed British Taxes and the continued oppression of British rule. He was reluctant however to play a large role in the gathering protest against British rule fearing reprisal on his legal practice and his family. He had some distrust for many of the local leaders of the Sons of Liberty, including his own cousin Samuel Adams. However as the pressure of British rule increased, Adams began to anonymously write articles and essays against the British taxes and oppressive rule. Adams began to see that the British were trying to eliminate the autonomy of the colonies and began to openly speak out against British rule.
In 1774, Adams along with three other delegates from Massachusetts attended the First Continental Congress. John Adams worked to negotiate a peace between more conservative members of the congress and the more radical members. The Conservative members wanted to negotiate with Britain to come to better terms for the colonies, the more radical members wanted to immediately separate from Britain. What came out of the First Continental Congress was the Suffolk Resolves, an agreement that was a boycott of all goods from Britain, Ireland and some items from the West Indies. This boycott led to the repeal of the Intolerable Acts. The congress also resolved that the colonies “never ceded to any sovereign power a right to dispose of their rights to life, liberty and property without their consent”, in a statement that they sent to King George.
Adams was elected to attend the Second Continental Congress which convened in May of 1775 just days after Britain had began to fight colonial soldiers at Lexington and Concord. In June of 1775, after the congress created the Continental Army, Adams nominated George Washington to be the Commander. Adams would serve as the head of the committee of War and Ordinance, the group was in charge of supplying and outfitting the army. Adams served on 90 committees and was the chair of 20 of them. Adams would also become an outspoken leader for independence, he saw no way of mending the relationship with Britain while other members of the congress felt that they should work to repair the relationship.
Adams began to work with Thomas Jefferson, who despite many disagreements would become Adam’s lifelong friend. He also worked very closely with Benjamin Franklin whom he would travel to France with to negotiate French support for the revolution. Adams remained in France for much of the war to continue to court military aid and trade deals. In 1781, Adams worked with a team of Diplomats fro the Continental to negotiate the Treaty of Paris, which ended the American Revolution. In the four years he spent in France, Adams only returned once.
Adams was well know as an independent thinker and a prolific writer in the 1770s and 1780s. He wrote “Thoughts on Government” in 1776, Adams wrote about a system of government with three separate branches of government, Executive, Legislative and Judiciary. Adams felt that keeping the powers of the government separated that no single branch would have all the power and it would prevent tyranny. These ideas would be adopted as a part of the constitution. Adams also spoke strongly in defense of the constitution when it was being debated.
In 1785, Adams became the first ambassador to Britain. King George III and the members of his government did not particularly like being Adams, a man who spoke openly of rebellion against British rule was now sent to negotiate with that same government. After three years of uncomfortable negotiation, Adams returned home. The HBO- John Adams mini-series gives a rather impressive idea of how uncomfortable the situation was, you can view that here.
Adams returned home with a hope of obtaining a position in the newly forming government under the new U.S. Constitution. Adams was well aware of the popularity George Washington, and had no expectation of beating him in the countries first presidential election, Adams ran, with plans to be Washington’s Vice President, A position he took after coming in second in the first election. Adams remained Washington’s Vice president through both terms.
Adams would become the second President of the United States. His presidency, is definitely worth a post to itself, which will come at a future date.
For further reading, I strongly suggest the follow sites and readings:
“Posterity! You will never know how much it cost the present Generation to preserve your Freedom! I hope you will make good use of it. If you do not, I shall repent in Heaven, that I ever took half the Pains to preserve it.”
– John Adams