John Adams (October 30, 1735 [O.S. October 19]  – July 4, 1826)  was an American patriot who served as the second President of the United States (1797–1801) and the first Vice President (1789–97).[1] He was a lawyer, diplomat, statesman, political theorist, and, as a Founding Father, a leader of the movement for American independence from Great Britain.[2] He was also a dedicated diarist and correspondent, particularly with his wife and closest advisor Abigail.

He collaborated with his cousin, revolutionary leader Samuel Adams, but he established his own prominence prior to the American Revolution. After the Boston Massacre, he provided a successful (though unpopular) legal defense of the accused British soldiers, in the face of severe local anti-British sentiment and driven by his devotion to the right to counsel and the "protect[ion] of innocence".[3]Adams was a delegate from Massachusetts to the Continental Congress, where he played a leading role in persuading Congress to declare independence. He assisted Thomas Jefferson in drafting the Declaration of Independence in 1776, and was its foremost advocate in the Congress. As a diplomat in Europe, he helped negotiate the eventual peace treaty with Great Britain, and acquired vital governmental loans from Amsterdam bankers. Adams was the primary author of the Massachusetts Constitution in 1780 which influenced American political theory, as did his earlier Thoughts on Government (1776).

Adams's credentials as a revolutionary secured for him two terms as President George Washington's vice president (1789 to 1797) and also his own election in 1796 as the second president. In his single term as president, he encountered fierce criticism from the Jeffersonian Republicans, as well as the dominant faction in his own Federalist Party, led by his rival Alexander Hamilton. Adams signed the controversial Alien and Sedition Acts, and built up the army and navy in the face of an undeclared naval "Quasi-War" with France. The major accomplishment of his presidency was a peaceful resolution of the conflict in the face of Hamilton's opposition. Due to his strong posture on defense, Adams is "often called the father of the American Navy".[4] He was the first U.S. president to reside in the executive mansion, now known as the White House.[5]

In 1800, Adams lost re-election to Thomas Jefferson and retired to Massachusetts. He eventually resumed his friendship with Jefferson upon the latter's own retirement by initiating a correspondence which lasted fourteen years.[6] He and his wife established a family of politicians, diplomats, and historians now referred to as the Adams political family. Adams was the father of John Quincy Adams, the sixth President of the United States. He died on the fiftieth anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence, and the same day as Jefferson. Modern historians in the aggregate have favorably ranked his administration.

Vice Presidency, 1789–96

When Washington won the presidential election of 1789 with 69 votes in the electoral college, Adams came in second with 34 votes and became Vice President; in that capacity, he became under the Constitution the President of the United States Senate. Due to a delay in the decision of the electoral college, Adams first presided over the Senate on April 21. Washington was officially sworn in and gave his inaugural address on April 30. Beyond Adams' nominal position in the Senate (he was allowed a vote as a tiebreaker when required), he otherwise played a minor role in the politics of the early 1790s. He was re-elected Vice President in 1792. Washington seldom asked Adams for advice on policy and legal issues during his tenure as Vice President.[58]

At the start of Washington's administration, Adams became deeply involved in a month-long Senate controversy over the official title of the President. Adams favored grandiose titles derived from British Crown tradition, such as "His Majesty the President" or "His High Mightiness, the President of the United States and Protector of Their Liberties." Jefferson described Adams' proposed titles as "superlatively ridiculous."[58] The plain "President of the United States" eventually won the debate. The perceived pomposity of his stance, along with his being overweight, led to Adams earning the nickname "His Rotundity."[67]

As president of the Senate, Adams cast a historic 31 tie-breaking votes. He thus protected the president's sole authority over the removal of appointees and influenced the location of the nation's capital. But his views did not always align with Washington, who joined Franklin as the object of Adams' ire, as shown in this quote: "The History of our Revolution will be one continued lie. . . . The essence of the whole will be that Dr. Franklin's electrical Rod smote the Earth and out sprung General Washington. That Franklin electrified him with his Rod—and henceforth these two conducted all the Policy, Negotiations, Legislatures and War." On at least one occasion, he persuaded senators to vote against legislation that he opposed, and he frequently lectured the Senate on procedural and policy matters. Adams' political views and his attempt to assume a more active role in the Senate made him a natural target for critics of the Washington administration. Toward the end of his first term, as a result of a threatened resolution that would have silenced him except for procedural and policy matters, he began to exercise more restraint. When the nation's first two opposing political parties formed, he joined the Federalist Party, though he was consistently in opposition to its dominant leader Alexander Hamilton.[58]

Adams' two terms as Vice President were frustrating experiences for him. He complained to his wife Abigail, "My country has in its wisdom contrived for me the most insignificant office that ever the invention of man contrived or his imagination conceived."[68]

Presidential Election of 1796

Main article: United States presidential election, 1796

The 1796 election was the premier contest under the First Party System. Adams was the presumptive presidential nominee of the Federalist Party; the other Federalist candidate was Thomas Pinckney, the Governor of South Carolina, considered electable as the vice-president. At that time there was no formal practice of naming a vice-presidential nominee–the result was left to the electoral college in determining the vice-president as the second-place winner of electoral votes.[69]

Adams' and Pinckney's opponents, of the Democratic-Republican Party, were former Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson of Virginia, who was joined by Senator Aaron Burr of New York as the party's second nominee. Many Federalists would have preferred Hamilton to be a candidate. Although Hamilton supported Adams, his more austere background made him somewhat resentful; some suspected Hamilton of supporting Pinckney over Adams, though this was later demonstrated to be false–Hamilton was more determined to defeat Jefferson. Hamilton and his supporters did however believe that Adams lacked the seriousness and popularity that had caused Washington to be successful, and feared that Adams was too vain, opinionated, unpredictable and stubborn to follow their directions.[70] Adams vowed he would resign if elected to the second place spot of vice-president under Jefferson.[69]

Burr was the only active campaigner in the group. In keeping with the current practice, Adams stayed in his home town (as did the others) rather than actively campaign for the Presidency. He specifically stated that he wanted to stay out of what he called the "silly and wicked game" of campaigning for office. The Federalist Party, however, campaigned for him, while the Democratic-Republicans campaigned for Jefferson. It was expected that Adams would dominate the votes in New England, while Jefferson was expected to win the Southern states. In the end, Adams won the election by a narrow margin of 71 electoral votes to 68 for Jefferson (who became the vice president). Adams's vote totals included one crucial vote from Jefferson's own Virginia and also one from North Carolina.[69]

Presidency, 1797–1801

See also: 1797 State of the Union Address

President's House, Philadelphia. Adams occupied this Philadelphia mansion from March 1797 to May 1800.

Adams followed Washington's lead in using the presidency to exemplify republican values and civic virtue; and his service was free of scandal. He continued to strengthen the central government by expanding the navy and army. In July 1798 Adams signed into law the Act for the Relief of Sick and Disabled Seamen, which authorized the establishment of a government-operated marine hospital service.[71]

Historians debate his decision to retain en masse the members of Washington's cabinet. Many felt he was oblivious to the political danger of such a decision, in light of the cabinet's loyalty to Hamilton. The "Hamiltonians who surround him," Jefferson soon remarked, "you are only a little less hostile to him than to me."[69] Although aware of the Hamilton factor, Adams was convinced their retention ensured a smoother succession.[72] Adams' economic programs maintained those of Hamilton, who indeed had regularly consulted with key cabinet members, especially the powerful Secretary of the Treasury, Oliver Wolcott, Jr.[73] Adams was in other respects quite independent of his cabinet, often making decisions despite strong opposition from it. Such self-reliance enabled him to avoid war with France, despite a strong desire among his cabinet secretaries for the conflict. The Quasi-War with France resulted in the detachment from European affairs that Washington had sought. It also had psychological benefits, allowing America to view itself as holding its own against a European power.[69]

Historian George Herring argues that Adams was the most independent-minded of the founders.[74] Though he aligned with the Federalists, he was somewhat a party unto himself, disagreeing with the Federalists as much as he did the Democratic-Republicans.[75] He was often described as "prickly", but his tenacity was fed by good decisions made in the face of universal opposition.[74] Adams was often combative, which diminished presidential decorum, as Adams himself admitted in his old age: "[As president] I refused to suffer in silence. I sighed, sobbed, and groaned, and sometimes screeched and screamed. And I must confess to my shame and sorrow that I sometimes swore."[76] Adams' resolve to advance peace with France, rather than to continue hostilities, especially reduced his popularity.[77] This played an important role in his reelection defeat, however he was so pleased with the outcome that he had it engraved on his tombstone. Adams spent much of his term at home in Massachusetts, ignoring the details of political patronage nursed by other office holders.[78]

Quasi-War and peace with France (1798–1800)

See also: XYZ Affair, Quasi-War, and Fries Rebellion

The president's term was marked by disputes concerning the country's role, if any, in the expanding conflict in Europe, where Britain and France were at war. Hamilton and the Federalists supported Britain, while Jefferson and the Democratic-Republicans favored France.[79] The French had supported Jefferson for president and became even more belligerent at his loss.[80] When Adams entered office, he decided to continue Washington's policy of staying out of the European war. The intense battle over the Jay Treaty in 1795 had previously polarized politics throughout the nation.[81] The French saw America as Britain's junior partner and began seizing American merchant ships that were trading with the British. Nevertheless, most Americans were initially pro-French due to France's assistance during the Revolutionary War, and would not have sufficiently rallied behind anyone to stop France.[82][83]

A political cartoon depicts the XYZ Affair – America is a female being plundered by Frenchmen. (1798)

Sentiments changed with the XYZ Affair, in which the French demanded huge bribes before any discussions could begin regarding American complaints; this substantially weakened popular American support of France. The pro-French Jeffersonians lost support and quickly became the minority as many began to demand full-scale war. The affair heightened fears of sedition by the administration's opponents and legislation was introduced in response. The president knew that America would be unable to win a conflict, as France at the time was dominating the fight in most of Europe. Adams therefore pursued a strategy whereby American ships harassed French ships in an effort sufficient to stem the French assaults on American interests. This was the undeclared naval war between the U.S. and France–the Quasi-War which broke out in 1798.[81]

There was danger of invasion from the more powerful French forces, so Adams and the Federalist congress built up the army, bringing back Washington as its commander. Washington wanted Hamilton to be his second-in-command and Adams reluctantly accommodated.[84] It became apparent that Hamilton was truly in charge due to Washington's advanced years. The angered president remarked at the time, "Hamilton I know to be a proud Spirited, conceited, aspiring Mortal always pretending to Morality," he wrote, but "with as debauched Morals as old Franklin who is more his Model than anyone I know."[81]

Adams also rebuilt the Navy, adding six fast, powerful frigates, most notably the USS Constitution. To pay for the military buildup, Congress imposed new taxes on property: the Direct Tax of 1798.[82][85] It was the first (and last) such federal tax. Taxpayers were angered, especially in southeast Pennsylvania, where the bloodless Fries's Rebellion broke out among rural German-speaking farmers who protested what they saw as a threat to their republican liberties and to their churches.[86][87]

Hamilton assumed control in the War department, and the rift between Adams' and Hamilton's supporters widened. Many sought to vest Hamilton with command authority over the army, and they also resisted giving prominent Democratic-Republicans positions in the army, which Adams wanted to do in order to gain bipartisan support. By building a large standing army, Hamilton's supporters raised popular alarms and played into the hands of the Democratic-Republicans. They also alienated Adams and his large personal following. They shortsightedly viewed the Federalist party as their own tool and ignored the need to pull together the entire nation in the face of war with France. Overall, however, patriotic sentiments and a series of naval victories, popularized the war as well as the president.[88]

In February 1799, Adams surprised many by sending diplomat William Vans Murray on a peace mission to France. Napoleon, realizing that the conflict was pointless, signaled his readiness for friendly relations. At the Convention of 1800 the Treaty of Alliance of 1778 was superseded and the United States was then free of foreign entanglements, as Washington had advised in his farewell address. Adams brought in John Marshall as Secretary of State and demobilized the emergency army.[89] Adams proudly avoided war, but deeply split his party in the process.[90]

Alien and Sedition Acts

Despite the discredit of the XYZ Affair, the Democratic-Republicans' opposition persisted. In the midst of war, which included the "reign of terror" during the French Revolution, political tensions were incendiary. Some pro-French Democratic-Republicans even fostered a movement in America, similar to the French Revolution, to overthrow the Federalists.[91] When Democratic-Republicans in some states refused to enforce federal laws, some Federalists voiced the intention to send in an army and force them to capitulate. As the hostility sweeping Europe bled over into America, calls for secession began to reach new heights.[92] Some Federalists accused the French and their associated immigrants of provoking civil unrest. In an attempt to quell the uprising, the Federalists introduced, and the Congress passed, a series of laws collectively referred to as the Alien and Sedition Acts, which were signed by Adams in 1798.[81]

Congress specifically passed four measures – the Naturalization Act, the Alien Friends Act, the Alien Enemies Act and the Sedition Act. These statutes were designed to mitigate the threat of secessionists by disallowing their most extreme firebrands. The Naturalization Act increased to 14 years the period of residence required for an immigrant to attain American citizenship (naturalized citizens tended to vote for the Democratic-Republicans.) The Alien Friends Act and the Alien Enemies Act allowed the president to deport any foreigner (from friendly and hostile nations, respectively) which he considered dangerous to the country. The Sedition Act made it a crime to publish "false, scandalous, and malicious writing" against the government or its officials. Punishments included 2–5 years in prison and fines of up to $5,000. Although Adams had not promoted any of these acts, he signed them into law.[69]

The acts became controversial from prosecution thereunder of a Congressman and a number of newspaper editors. Indeed, the Federalist administration initiated fourteen or more indictments under the Sedition Act, as well as suits against five of the six most prominent Democratic-Republican newspapers. The majority of the legal actions began in 1798 and 1799, and went to trial on the eve of the 1800 presidential election–timing that hardly appeared coincidental, according to biographer Ferling. Other historians have cited evidence that the Alien and Sedition Acts were rarely enforced, namely: 1) only 10 convictions under the Sedition Act have been identified; 2) Adams never signed a deportation order; and 3) the sources of expressed furor over the acts were Democratic-Republicans. However, other historians have emphasized that the Acts were employed for political targeting from the outset, causing many aliens to leave the country. The Acts as well allowed for prosecution of many who opposed the Federalists, even on the floor of Congress.[93] In any case, the election of 1800 in fact became a bitter and volatile contest, with each side expressing extraordinary fear of the other and its policies; after Democratic-Republicans prevailed in the elections of 1800, they used the acts against Federalists before the laws finally expired.[81]

Election of 1800

Main article: United States presidential election, 1800

1800 Electoral College Vote

The death of Washington in 1799 weakened the Federalists, as they lost the one man who united the party. In the presidential election of 1800, Adams and his fellow Federalist candidate, Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, opposed the Republican ticket of Jefferson and Burr. Hamilton tried his hardest to sabotage Adams' campaign in the hope of boosting Pinckney's chances of winning the presidency. In the end, Adams lost narrowly to Jefferson by 65 to 73 electoral votes, with New York providing the decisive margin.[94]

Adams' defeat resulted from 1) the stronger organization of the Democratic-Republicans, 2) Federalist disunity, 3) the controversy of the Alien and Sedition Acts, 4) the popularity of Jefferson in the south and 5) the effective politicking of Aaron Burr in New York State, where the legislature shifted from Federalist to Democratic-Republican on the basis of a few wards in New York City controlled by Burr's machine.[94]

In the closing months of his term Adams became the first president to occupy the new, but unfinished President's Mansion (later known as the White House) beginning November 1, 1800.[95][96] "I pray Heaven to bestow the best of Blessings on this House and all that shall hereafter inhabit it," Adams wrote on his second night in the mansion. "May none but honest and wise Men ever rule under this roof."[97]

After his defeat in the hotly contested election, Adams was depressed when he left office. His son Charles had also recently died from alcoholism, and he was anxious to rejoin his wife Abigail, who had left for Massachusetts months before the inauguration. As a result, he did not attend Jefferson's inauguration, departing the White House at 4:00 a.m. that day, and making him one of only four presidents surviving in office not to attend his successor's inauguration. Adams' correspondence with Jefferson at the time is not indicative of the animosity and resentment that scholars have attributed to him.[94]

Administration and cabinet

The Adams Cabinet
Office Name Term
President John Adams 1797–1801
Vice President Thomas Jefferson 1797–1801
Secretary of State Timothy Pickering 1797–1800
John Marshall 1800–1801
Secretary of Treasury Oliver Wolcott, Jr. 1797–1801
Samuel Dexter 1801
Secretary of War James McHenry 1796–1800
Samuel Dexter 1800–1801
Attorney General Charles Lee 1797–1801
Secretary of the Navy Benjamin Stoddert 1798–1801

Judicial appointments

Supreme court

Supreme Court Appointments by President Adams
Position Name Term
Chief Justice John Jay 1800 (declined)
John Marshall 1801–1835
Associate Justice Bushrod Washington 1799–1829
Alfred Moore 1800–1804

Chief Justice John Marshall (1832)

Adams named John Marshall as the fourth Chief Justice of the United States to succeed Oliver Ellsworth, who had retired due to ill health. Marshall's long tenure represents the most lasting influence of the Federalists, as he infused the Constitution with a judicious and carefully reasoned nationalistic interpretation and established the Judicial Branch as the equal of the Executive and Legislative branches.[94]

Other judicial appointments

Main articles: List of federal judges appointed by John Adams and Midnight Judges

The lame-duck session of Congress in late 1800 enacted the Judiciary Act of 1801, which created a set of federal appeals courts between the district courts and the Supreme Court. The purpose of the statute was twofold – first, to remedy the defects in the federal judicial system inherent in the Judiciary Act of 1789, and second, to enable the defeated Federalists to staff the new judicial offices with loyal Federalists in the face of the party's defeat in 1800 – the party had lost control of both houses of congress in addition to the White House.[98] Adams filled the vacancies created in this statute by appointing a series of judges, whom his opponents called the "Midnight Judges" because most of them were appointed just days before his presidential term expired. Most of these judges lost their posts when the Jeffersonian Republicans enacted the Judiciary Act of 1802, abolishing the courts created by the Judiciary Act of 1801 and returning the federal courts to their original structure as specified in the 1789 statute.[99]


John Adams, ca 1816, by Samuel F.B. Morse (Brooklyn Museum)

Adams resumed farming at his home Peacefield in the town of Quincy; he also began work on an autobiography (which he never finished) and resumed correspondence with such old friends as Benjamin Waterhouse and Benjamin Rush.[100]

After Jefferson's retirement from public life in 1809, Adams became more vocal. He published a three-year marathon of letters in the Boston Patriot newspaper, refuting line-by-line an 1800 pamphlet by Hamilton which attacked his conduct and character. Though Hamilton had died in 1804 in a duel with Aaron Burr, Adams felt the need to vindicate his character against the New Yorker's vehement charges.[100]

The years of retirement in the Adams' household were not without some temporary financial adversity; in 1803 the bank holding his cash reserves of about $13,000 collapsed. Son John Quincy came to the rescue by purchasing from him his properties in Weymouth and Quincy, including Peacefield, for the sum of $12,800.[100]

Daughter Abigail ("Nabby") was married to Representative William Stephens Smith, but she returned to her parents' home after the failure of the marriage; she died of breast cancer in 1813. His wife Abigail died of typhoid on October 28, 1818. His son Thomas and wife Ann, along with seven children, lived with Adams to the end of Adams' life, as well as Louisa Smith (Abigail's niece by her brother William).[100]Sixteen months before John Adams' death, his son, John Quincy Adams, became the sixth president of the United States in 1825, the only son to succeed his father as President until George W. Bush in 2001.[101]

Correspondence with Jefferson

John Adams was nearly 89 when, at the request of his son, John Quincy Adams, he posed a final time for Gilbert Stuart (1823).

In early 1812, Adams reconciled with Jefferson. Their mutual friend Benjamin Rush, a fellow signer of the Declaration of Independence who had been corresponding with both, encouraged them to reach out to the other. On New Year's Day Adams sent a brief, friendly note to Jefferson to accompany the delivery of "two pieces of homespun," a two-volume collection of lectures on rhetoric by John Quincy Adams. Jefferson replied immediately with a cordial letter, and the two men revived their friendship, which they sustained by mail. The correspondence that they resumed in 1812 lasted the rest of their lives, and has been hailed as among their great legacies of American literature.[100]

Their letters represent an insight into both the period and the minds of the two revolutionary leaders and Presidents. The missives lasted fourteen years, and consisted of 158 letters–109 from Adams and 49 from Jefferson.[100] The two men discussed "natural aristocracy." Jefferson said, "The natural aristocracy I consider as the most precious gift of nature for the instruction, the trusts, and government of society. And indeed it would have been inconsistent in creation to have formed man for the social state, and not to have provided virtue and wisdom enough to manage the concerns of society. May we not even say that the form of government is best which provides most effectually for a pure selection of these natural [aristocrats] into the offices of government?"[102] Adams wondered if it ever would be so clear who these people were, "Your distinction between natural and artificial aristocracy does not appear to me well founded. Birth and wealth are conferred on some men as imperiously by nature, as genius, strength, or beauty. ... When aristocracies are established by human laws and honour, wealth, and power are made hereditary by municipal laws and political institutions, then I acknowledge artificial aristocracy to commence." It would always be true, Adams argued, that fate would bestow influence on some men for reasons other than true wisdom and virtue. That being the way of nature, he thought such "talents" were natural. A good government, therefore, had to account for that reality.[103]


Tombs of John Adams (far) and John Quincy Adams (near), in family crypt at United First Parish Church.

Less than a month before his death, Adams issued a statement about the destiny of the United States, which historians such as Joy Hakim have characterized as a "warning" for his fellow citizens: "My best wishes, in the joys, and festivities, and the solemn services of that day on which will be completed the fiftieth year from its birth, of the independence of the United States: a memorable epoch in the annals of the human race, destined in future history to form the brightest or the blackest page, according to the use or the abuse of those political institutions by which they shall, in time to come, be shaped by the human mind."[104]

On July 4, 1826, the fiftieth anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence, Adams died at his home in Quincy, at approximately 6:20 PM.[105] Jefferson died earlier the same day.[106] Adams' crypt lies at United First Parish Church in Quincy, Massachusetts, with his wife Abigail and son John Quincy Adams.[107] When Adams died, his last words included an acknowledgement of his longtime friend and rival: "Thomas Jefferson survives", though Adams was unaware that Jefferson had died several hours before.[108][109]

Political philosophy and views


Adams never bought a slave and declined on principle to utilize slave labor, saying, "I have, through my whole life, held the practice of slavery in such abhorrence, that I have never owned a negro or any other slave, though I have lived for many years in times, when the practice was not disgraceful, when the best men in my vicinity thought it not inconsistent with their character, and when it has cost me thousands of dollars for the labor and subsistence of free men, which I might have saved by the purchase of negroes at times when they were very cheap."[110] Adams generally tried to keep the issue out of national politics, because of the anticipated southern response during a time when unity was needed to achieve independence.[111] He spoke out in 1777 against a bill to emancipate slaves in Massachusetts, saying that the issue was presently too divisive, and so the legislation should "sleep for a time."[111] He also was against use of black soldiers in the Revolution, due to opposition from southerners.[111] Slavery was abolished in Massachusetts about 1780, when it was forbidden by implication in the Declaration of Rights that John Adams wrote into the Massachusetts Constitution.[112] Abigail Adams, on the other hand, vocally opposed slavery.[7]

John Adams by Gilbert Stuart, c. 1815, oil on canvas - National Gallery of Art, Washington DC

Accusations of monarchism

Throughout his lifetime Adams expressed controversial and shifting views regarding the virtues of monarchical and hereditary political institutions.[113] At times he conveyed substantial support for these approaches,[114] suggesting for example that "hereditary monarchy or aristocracy" are the "only institutions that can possibly preserve the laws and liberties of the people."[114] Yet at other times he distanced himself from such ideas, calling himself "a mortal and irreconcilable enemy to Monarchy" and "no friend to hereditary limited monarchy in America."[115] Such denials did not assuage his critics, and Adams was often accused of being a Monarchist.[116]

Many of these attacks are considered to have been scurrilous, including suggestions that he was planning to "crown himself king" and "grooming John Quincy as heir to the throne".[116] However, Peter Shaw has argued that: "[T]he inevitable attacks on Adams, crude as they were, stumbled on a truth that he did not admit to himself. He was leaning toward monarchy and aristocracy (as distinct from kings and aristocrats) at the time he wrote 'Davila', though he did not directly reveal this in its essays. Decidedly, sometime after he became vice-president, Adams concluded that the United States would have to adopt a hereditary legislature and a monarch... and he outlined a plan by which state conventions would appoint hereditary senators while a national one appointed a president for life."[117] In contradiction to such notions, Adams asserted in a letter to Thomas Jefferson: "If you suppose that I have ever had a design or desire of attempting to introduce a government of King, Lords and Commons, or in other words an hereditary Executive, or an hereditary Senate, either into the government of the United States, or that of any individual state, in this country, you are wholly mistaken. There is not such a thought expressed or intimated in any public writing or private letter of mine, and I may safely challenge all of mankind to produce such a passage and quote the chapter and verse."[118]

Religious views

Adams was raised a Congregationalist, since his ancestors were Puritans. According to biographer McCullough, "as his family and friends knew, Adams was both a devout Christian, and an independent thinker".[119] In a letter to Benjamin Rush, Adams credited religion with the success of his ancestors since their migration to the New World in the 1630s.[120] Adams was educated at Harvard when the influence of deism was growing there, and sometimes used deistic terms in his speeches and writing.[121] He also believed that regular church service was beneficial to man's moral sense. Everett (1966) concludes that "Adams strove for a religion based on a common sense sort of reasonableness" and maintained that religion must change and evolve toward perfection.[122] Fielding (1940) argues that Adams' beliefs synthesized Puritan, deist, and humanist concepts. Adams at one point said that Christianity had originally been revelatory, but was being misinterpreted and misused in the service of superstition, fraud, and unscrupulous power.[123] Goff (1993) acknowledges Fielding's "persuasive argument that Adams never was a deist because he allowed the suspension of the laws of nature and believed that evil was internal, not the result of external institutions."[124]

Frazer (2004) notes that while Adams shared many perspectives with deists, "Adams clearly was not a deist. Deism rejected any and all supernatural activity and intervention by God; consequently, deists did not believe in miracles or God's providence....Adams, however, did believe in miracles, providence, and, to a certain extent, the Bible as revelation."[125] Frazer further argues that Adams' "theistic rationalism, like that of the other Founders, was a sort of middle ground between Protestantism and deism."[126] By contrast, David L. Holmes has argued that Adams, beginning as a Congregationalist, ended his days as a Christian Unitarian, accepting central tenets of the Unitarian creed, but also accepting Jesus as the redeemer of humanity and the biblical account of his miracles as true.[127] Like many of his Protestant contemporaries, Adams criticized the claims to universal authority made by the Roman Catholic Church.[69] In 1796, Adams denounced political opponent Thomas Paine's deistic criticisms of Christianity in The Age of Reason, saying, "The Christian religion is, above all the religions that ever prevailed or existed in ancient or modern times, the religion of wisdom, virtue, equity and humanity, let the Blackguard Paine say what he will."[128]


Adams' grandson Charles Francis Adams, Sr. edited the first two volumes of The Works of John Adams, Esq., Second President of the United States. This was published between 1850 and 1856 by Charles C. Little and James Brown in Boston. The first seven chapters were produced by Adams' son John Quincy Adams.[129]

The premier modern biography was Honest John Adams, a 1933 biography by the noted French specialist in American history Gilbert Chinard, who came to Adams after writing his acclaimed 1929 biography of Thomas Jefferson. For a generation, Chinard's work was regarded as the best life of Adams, and it is still an important text in illustrating the themes of Adams' biographical and historical scholarship. Following the opening of the Adams family papers in the 1950s, Page Smith published the first major biography to use these previously inaccessible primary sources; his biography won a 1962 Bancroft Prize but was criticized for its scanting of Adams' intellectual life and its diffuseness. In 1975, Peter Shaw published The Character of John Adams, a thematic biography noted for its psychological insight into Adams' life. The 1992 character study by Joseph J. Ellis, Passionate Sage: The Character and Legacy of John Adams, was Ellis's first major publishing success and remains one of the most useful and insightful studies of Adams' personality. In 1992, the Revolutionary War historian and biographer John E. Ferling published his acclaimed John Adams: A Life, also noted for its psychological sensitivity.[129]

In 2001, historian David McCullough published a biography entitled John Adams, that won various awards. McCullough's biography was the basis for a 2008 TV miniseries.[130]

See also

  • List of Presidents of the United States, sortable by previous experience
  • John Adams Building of the Library of Congress
  • Suffolk County Courthouse, also known as the "John Adams Courthouse"


  1. Jump up^ 
  2. Jump up^ 
  3. ^ Jump up to:a b 
  4. Jump up^ 
  5. Jump up^ Ferling, ch. 18.
  6. Jump up^ Ferling, ch. 20.
  7. ^ Jump up to:a b c d e f g h i j Ferling, ch. 1.
  8. ^ Jump up to:a b Brookhiser, Richard. (2002). America's First Dynasty. The Adamses, 1735–1918. The Free Press. p. 13. ISBN 0736685545
  9. Jump up^ 
  10. Jump up^ 
  11. Jump up^ 
  12. ^ Jump up to:a b Ferling, ch. 2.
  13. ^ Jump up to:a b c d e f Ferling, ch. 3.
  14. Jump up^ Ferling ch. 3.
  15. Jump up^ 
  16. Jump up^ 
  17. Jump up^ McCullough, p. 63.
  18. ^ Jump up to:a b c d Ferling, ch. 4.
  19. Jump up^ 
  20. Jump up^ "Private Thoughts of a Founding Father". Life. June 30, 1961. p. 82.
  21. Jump up^ 
  22. Jump up^ Ferling, ch. 6.
  23. ^ Jump up to:a b c d Ferling, ch. 7.
  24. Jump up^ “Stamp Act and the beginning of political activism,” John Adams Historical Society, accessed 2016.
  25. Jump up^ “The Declaration of Independence,” Independence Hall Association, 2016.
  26. Jump up^ “The First Continental Congress,”John Adams Historical Society, accessed 2016.
  27. Jump up^ Elrod, Jennifer. “W(h)ither the Jury? The Diminishing Role of the Jury Trial in Our Legal System,” 68 WASH. & LEE L. REV. 3, 8 (2011) (quoting Thomas J. Methvin, Alabama – The Arbitration State, 62 ALA. LAW. 48, 49 (2001)).
  28. Jump up^ 
  29. Jump up^ Wood, Gordon S. (1992). The Radicalism of the American Revolution. Vintage Books. ISBN 0679736883.
  30. ^ Jump up to:a b Ferling, ch. 9.
  31. Jump up^ Adams, Vol. IV, p. 195, "Thoughts on Government"
  32. ^ Jump up to:a b c d e Ferling, ch. 12.
  33. Jump up^ Maier, p. 37.
  34. ^ Jump up to:a b Ferling, ch. 8.
  35. Jump up^ Boyd, p. 21.
  36. Jump up^ Boyd, p. 22.
  37. Jump up^ Maier, pp. 97–105.
  38. Jump up^ Jefferson, Thomas. To William P. Gardner. The Works of Thomas Jefferson. Federal Edition (New York and London, G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1904–5). Vol. 11.
  39. Jump up^ McCullough, pp. 153–157.
  40. Jump up^ 
  41. Jump up^ McCullough, p. 157.
  42. Jump up^ McCullough, p. 158.
  43. Jump up^ Ferling, ch. 10.
  44. Jump up^ Ellis, p. 42.
  45. Jump up^ Ellis, pp. 41–42.
  46. ^ Jump up to:a b c d Ferling, ch. 11.
  47. Jump up^ McCullough, pp. 180–87.
  48. Jump up^ McCullough, p. 179. "If Adams did not speak French, he could learn."
  49. Jump up^ 
  50. Jump up^ 
  51. Jump up^ Smith, Page. John Adams 1735–1784, Vol. I. p. 451.
  52. Jump up^ Ferling, ch. 11–12.
  53. Jump up^ Ferling, ch. 13.
  54. Jump up^ 
  55. Jump up^ 
  56. Jump up^ Adams & Adams, p. 392.
  57. Jump up^ 
  58. ^ Jump up to:a b c d Ferling, ch. 15.
  59. Jump up^ Ferling, Ch. 10.
  60. Jump up^ 
  61. Jump up^ 
  62. Jump up^ Wood (2006), pp. 173–202.
  63. Jump up^ 
  64. Jump up^ Works of John Adams, IV:557
  65. Jump up^ 
  66. Jump up^ Adams, Letter to John Jebb, Vol. 9, p. 540.
  67. Jump up^ Wood (2006), p. 54.
  68. Jump up^ 
  69. ^ Jump up to:a b c d e f g Ferling, ch. 16.
  70. Jump up^ Elkins and McKitrick, pp. 513–37.
  71. Jump up^ 
  72. Jump up^ McCullough, p. 471.
  73. Jump up^ Kurtz, ch. 12.
  74. ^ Jump up to:a b Herring, p. 89.
  75. Jump up^ Chernow, p. 647.
  76. Jump up^ Ellis, p. 57.
  77. Jump up^ Herring, p. 90.
  78. Jump up^ Herring, p. 91.
  79. Jump up^ 
  80. Jump up^ Herring p. 82.
  81. ^ Jump up to:a b c d e Ferling, ch. 17.
  82. ^ Jump up to:a b Kurtz, ch. 13.
  83. Jump up^ Miller, ch. 12.
  84. Jump up^ Elkins and Mckitrick, pp. 714–19.
  85. Jump up^ Miller, ch. 13.
  86. Jump up^ Elkins and McKitrick, pp. 696–700.
  87. Jump up^ 
  88. Jump up^ Kurtz. p. 331.
  89. Jump up^ Ferling, ch. 18.
  90. Jump up^ 
  91. Jump up^ 
  92. Jump up^ 
  93. Jump up^ Chernow, p. 668.
  94. ^ Jump up to:a b c d Ferling, ch. 19.
  95. Jump up^ 
  96. Jump up^ 
  97. Jump up^ 
  98. Jump up^ 
  99. Jump up^ Ferling, ch. 19,
  100. ^ Jump up to:a b c d e f Ferling, ch. 20.
  101. Jump up^ 
  102. Jump up^ Cappon, p. 387.
  103. Jump up^ Cappon, p. 400.
  104. Jump up^ 
  105. Jump up^ 
  106. Jump up^ Ferling, ch. 21
  107. Jump up^ 
  108. Jump up^ McCullough, 2001, p. 646
  109. Jump up^ Ellis, 2003, p. 248
  110. Jump up^ 
  111. ^ Jump up to:a b c 
  112. Jump up^ 
  113. Jump up^ 
  114. ^ Jump up to:a b 
  115. Jump up^ McCullough, p. 410.
  116. ^ Jump up to:a b 
  117. Jump up^ 
  118. Jump up^ 
  119. Jump up^ McCullough, p. 18.
  120. Jump up^ McCullough, p. 22.
  121. Jump up^ Ferling, ch. 20
  122. Jump up^ 
  123. Jump up^ 
  124. Jump up^ Goff, Philip Kevin. (1993). The Religious World of the Revolutionary John Adams. PhD desertation. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. p. 382.
  125. Jump up^ Frazer, Gregg L. (2004). The Political Theology of the American Founding. PhD dissertation. Claremont Graduate University. p. 46.
  126. Jump up^ Frazer, Gregg L. (2004). The Political Theology of the American Founding. PhD dissertation. Claremont Graduate University. p. 50.
  127. Jump up^ 
  128. Jump up^ Adams, Vol. III, p. 421, diary entry for July 26, 1796.
  129. ^ Jump up to:a b Ferling, Select Bibliography.
  130. Jump up^ 


  • c. 1797, Adams Presidency
  • Smith, Page (1962). John Adams. 2 volume; full-scale biography, winner of the Bancroft Prize.

Primary sources

  • Butterfield, L. H. et al., eds., The Adams Papers (1961– ). Multivolume letterpress edition of all letters to and from major members of the Adams family, plus their diaries; still incomplete. 
  • Butterfield, L. H., ed. Adams Family Correspondence. Cambridge: Harvard University Press
  • Carey, George W., ed. The Political Writings of John Adams. (2001)
  • John A. Schutz and Douglass Adair, eds. Spur of Fame, The Dialogues of John Adams and Benjamin Rush, 1805–1813 (1966) ISBN 978-0-86597-287-2
  • C. Bradley Thompson, ed. Revolutionary Writings of John Adams, (2001) ISBN 978-0-86597-285-8
  • Adams, John, (1774) Novanglus; or, A History of the Dispute with America.
  • Hogan, Margaret and C. James Taylor, eds. My Dearest Friend: Letters of Abigail and John Adams. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2007.
  • Richardson, James D. ed. A Compilation of the Messages and Papers of the Presidents (1897), reprints his major messages and reports.
  • Taylor, Robert J. et al., eds. Papers of John Adams. Cambridge: Harvard University Press
  • Wroth, L. Kinvin and Hiller B. Zobel, eds. The Legal Papers of John Adams. Cambridge: Harvard University Press

Further reading

  • Akers, Charles W. "John Adams" in in Henry Graff, ed. The Presidents: A Reference History (3rd ed. 2002) online
  • Brinkley, Alan, and Davis Dyer, eds. (2004)The American Presidency. Boston: Houghton Mifflin company,
  • Brown, Ralph A. (2004), The Presidency of John Adams.
  • Chinard, Gilbert. (1933), Honest John Adams.
  • Freeman, Joanne B. Affairs of Honor: National Politics in the New Republic. (2001)
  • Grant, James. John Adams: Party of One.(2005)
  • Haraszti, Zoltan. (1952), John Adams and the Prophets of Progress. Incisive analysis of John Adams' political comments on numerous authors through examining his marginalia in his copies of their books.
  • Howe, John R., Jr. (1966), The Changing Political Thought of John Adams
  • Knollenberg, Bernard. (2003), Growth of the American Revolution: 1766–1775,
  • Ryerson, Richard Alan, ed. (2001), John Adams and the Founding of the Republic
  • Ryerson, Richard Alan. (2016) John Adams's Republic: The One, the Few, and the Many 555 pp
  • Sharp, James Roger. (1995) American Politics in the Early Republic: The New Nation in Crisis.; politics of 1790s
  • Waldstreicher, David, ed. 2013), A Companion to John Adams and John Quincy Adams
  • White, Leonard D. (1956), The Federalists: A Study in Administrative History

External links

  • William Everdell, From State to Free-State: The Meaning of the Word Republic from Jean Bodin to John Adams By William R. Everdell
  • John Adams: A Resource Guide at the Library of Congress
  • Letter from John Quincy Adams describing his father John Adams' decline toward the end of the latter's life – Shapell Manuscript Foundation
  • John Adams at the White House
  • The John Adams Library at the Boston Public Library
  • Adams Family Papers: An Electronic Archive at the Massachusetts Historical Society
  • The Adams Papers, subset of Founders Online from the National Archives
  • American President: John Adams (1735–1826) at the Miller Center of Public Affairs, University of Virginia
  • John Adams Papers at the Avalon Project
  • Works by John Adams at Project Gutenberg
  • Works by or about John Adams at Internet Archive
  • Works by John Adams at LibriVox (public domain audiobooks) 
  • "Thoughts on Government" Adams, April 1776 at the Constitution Society
  • John Adams at The American Revolution website
  • "Life Portrait of John Adams", from C-SPAN's American Presidents: Life Portraits, March 22, 1999


  • 1735 births
  • 1826 deaths
  • 18th-century American politicians
  • 18th-century American writers
  • 18th-century Congregationalists
  • 18th-century Unitarians
  • 19th-century American politicians
  • 19th-century Unitarians
  • Adams political family
  • Ambassadors of the United States to Great Britain
  • Ambassadors of the United States to the Netherlands
  • American Congregationalists
  • American people of English descent
  • American people of Welsh descent
  • American tax resisters
  • American Unitarians
  • Burials in Massachusetts
  • Conservatism in the United States
  • Continental Congressmen from Massachusetts
  • Fathers of Presidents of the United States
  • Fellows of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences
  • Hall of Fame for Great Americans inductees
  • Harvard University alumni
  • History of the United States (1789–1849)
  • John Adams
  • Massachusetts Federalists
  • Members of the American Antiquarian Society
  • Members of the American Philosophical Society
  • Members of the Massachusetts House of Representatives
  • People of Massachusetts in the American Revolution
  • People of the Quasi-War
  • Politicians from Braintree, Massachusetts
  • Politicians from Quincy, Massachusetts
  • Presidents of the United States
  • Signers of the United States Declaration of Independence
  • United States presidential candidates, 1789
  • United States presidential candidates, 1792
  • United States presidential candidates, 1796
  • United States presidential candidates, 1800
  • Vice Presidents of the United States
  • Washington administration cabinet members
  • American expatriates in the Dutch Republic