John Adams was born in Braintree (now Quincy), Massachusetts, on October 30, 1735, the oldest son of John and Susanna Adams. After attending Harvard College, he taught school, studied law, and opened a successful law practice. During this time period, Adams famously defended the British soldiers charged in the Boston Massacre Trials, successfully winning acquittals for seven of the defendants and reducing sentences of manslaughter for the remaining two.
In 1774, he formally entered the world of colonial politics, serving in the Continental Congress until 1777. A strong proponent of colonial independence, Adams was on the committee appointed to draft the Declaration of Independence. Adams’s copy of Thomas Jefferson’s draft of the Declaration of Independence is the earliest known draft in existence. He also drafted the Massachusetts Constitution of 1780, the oldest written constitution in the world still in effect.
After the Revolutionary War, Adams served as an American ambassador, negotiating crucial treaties with Great Britain and the Netherlands, and then as George Washington’s vice president. He was elected president in 1796, and he and his wife, Abigail, became the first presidential couple to live in the White House. As president, he faced many difficulties in his one term: during the Adams Administration, the new nation faced the Quasi War with France, the XYZ Affair, and the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798. After years of public life, Adams retired to his farm in Quincy before his death on the fiftieth anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1826.
The Jack Miller Center has gathered a collection of resources recognizing John Adams’s influence in American political thought and as a founding father. Browse these resources or jump from section to section by clicking the links below:
Selected online resources on John Adams:
The Massachusetts Historical Society offers an electronic archive of the Adams family’s papers, including John Adams’s diary, correspondence between John and Abigail, and The Autobiography of John Adams.
“Jefferson, Adams, and Their Legacy”
The program “The Legacy of Thomas Jefferson and John Adams” took place on June 27, 2009, at Monticello as part of a two-week conference on the two founders. C-SPAN captured the panelists, including JMC fellow John Kaminski, speaking on John Adams and Thomas Jefferson’s friendship, legacies, and libraries. They also spoke about the social climate of the Founding Fathers and answered questions from members of the audience.
Drawing from the Adams Papers and Jefferson Papers, the National Archives has made both Adams’s letters to Jefferson and Jefferson’s letters to Adams available in an online format. Thomas Jefferson and John Adams worked closely together during the Revolution, but became political enemies after divisive arguments over the role of the new federal government. Following years of bitter silence, the two men reestablished their friendship from the years when they both served in the Continental Congress and together as ambassadors to France. Their correspondence then continued until they both died on July 4, 1826, the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence.
The Massachusetts Historical Society has an online family tree of John and Abigail Adams. Descendants include our sixth U.S. president, prominent politicians and lawyers, and several prolific writers.
*If you are a JMC fellow who’s published on John Adams or his political thought, and would like your work included here, send it to us at email@example.com.