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Biography of John Adams


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JOHN ADAMS, second president of the United States, was born at Braintree, Massachusetts, on the 19th of October, 1735. He was the great grandson of Henry Adams, who emigrated from England about 1640. The father of John Adams, a deacon of the church and a selectman, was a farmer of limited means, to which he added the business of shoemaking. He was enabled to give a classical education to his eldest son, John, who graduated at Harvard in 1757. He studied law at Worcester, under the instruction of the only lawyer in the place, and in 1658, he began practice in Suffolk county, of which Boston was the shire-town. In 1764, he married Abigail Smith, a daughter of the minister of the neighboring town of Weymouth. Very shortly after his marriage, the parliamentary attempt at taxation, diverted him from law to politics. He took part in the adoption of measures in opposition to the Stamp Act, and was appointed by the town of Boston to be one of their counsel to support a memorial addressed to the governor and council that the courts might proceed with business, without the use of stamps. From this time he took a prominent part in all the steps which preceded the war of the revolution. He was chosen one of the five delegates from Massachusetts to the congress of 1774, which met at Philadelphia, and took a leading part in the debates of that body. He was again appointed a member of the continental congress of 1775. Here, with Lee and Jefferson, he boldly argued for a separation from the mother-country. Three committees, one on a declaration of independence, another on a confederation, and a third on foreign relations, were appointed. Of the first and third of these committees Adams was a member. The declaration of independence was drawn up by Jefferson, but on Adams devolved the task of battling it through congress in a three day's debate. The plan of a treaty reported by the third committee, was drawn up by Adams. The business of preparing articles of war for the government of the army was deputied to a committee consisting of Adams and Jefferson; but Jefferson left to Adams the task of drawing up the articles, and of arguing them through congress. Besides his presidency of the board of war, Adams was also chairman of the committee upon which devolved the decision of appeals in admirality cases, from the state courts. Thus occupied for nearly two years, he gained the reputation among at least a portion of his colleagues of having "the clearest head and firmest heart of any man in congress."

In succeeding years, Adams was employed on many important negotiations with foreign powers. In 1777, he was appointed a commissioner to France to supersede Deane; in 1779, he was appointed minister to treat with Great Britain for peace and commerce; and in 1782. he assisted Franklin, Jay, Jefferson and Laurens, in settling the conditions of peace with England. In 1789, he was sent as the first ambassador of the United States to Great Britain. George III expressed his pleasure in receiving an ambassador who had no prejudices in favor of France, the natural enemy of the English Crown, and Adams replied, "I have no prejudices but in favor of my native land." He published in London his "Defense af the Constitution of the United States." (3 vols. 1787).

On his return to the United States, he was elected as Vice-president, and on the retirement of Washington in 1797, he was elected President. The enmity of the republican, or democratic party, which had already been excited against him, was increased by the measures which he judged necessary to uphold the national honor against the pretensions of France, and by the Alien and Sedition laws, ascribed to but never recommended by him. In 1801, his opponent, Jefferson, was elected by a majority of one in the electoral college. Adams now retired to his estate at Quincy, where he occupied himself with agricultural pursuits. After his retirement, he received many proofs of respect and confidence from his countrymen. When eighty five years old we find him still in his place, as member of the convention elected to revise the constitution of Massachusetts, He died on the 4th of July, 1826, being the fiftieth aniversary of the independence of the United States.