The Birth of John Adams
John Adams was born on Oct. 30, 1735, in Braintree (now Quincy), Mass. His parents, John and Susanna Boylston Adams, were descendants of the first generation of Puritan settlers in New England. The oldest Adams was a farmer, businessman, lieutenant of a militia, and a deacon in Braintree's Congregational church. The couple later had two more sons, Peter and Elihu.
Adams enrolled at Harvard College in Cambridge, Mass., in 1751 at his father's advice of becoming a minister. He graduated in 1755 and chose not to become a minister, but teach school instead. For the next three years he taught grade school in Worcester, Mass. During this time, Adams became interested in law and was taught in his spare time by James Putnam, one of Boston's most prominent lawyers.
Adams was admitted to the Massachusetts bar in 1758 and established his own law practice in Braintree. On Oct. 25, 1764, Adams married Abigail Smith, a Congregational minister's daughter from Weymouth, Mass. The couple had four children: Abigail Amelia, John Quincy, Charles, and Thomas Boylston.
John Adams as a Continental Congress Delegate
In 1774 Adams attended the First Continental Congress in Philadelphia as a Massachusetts delegate. Along with the other members, he rejected any further reconciliation with Great Britain. At the Second Continental Congress in 1775, Adams nominated George Washington as commander in chief of all colonial military forces at the outbreak of the American Revolution.
Adams played a major role in the writing of the Declaration of Independence. He convinced Thomas Jefferson to draft it and demanded unanimous support from the Continental Congress to declare independence from Great Britain. On July 4, 1776, Adams signed the Declaration along with other Congressional delegates, including his cousin, Samuel Adams, and Jefferson. The Continental Congress then put into writing a plan for a national government with the Articles of Confederation, which served as the first constitution of the United States.
John Adams remained a central figure of the Continental Congress for the next two years. He was chosen to head the Board of War and Ordnance in which he was responsible for raising and equipping the Continental Army and Navy. He wrote the Plan of Treaties in July 1776, a document that provided the framework for foreign policy in the United States. In 1778 Adams was sent to Paris by the Continental Congress to join Benjamin Franklin, the U.S. ambassador to France, to form an alliance with France against Great Britain in the American Revolution.
Adams returned from Paris in 1779 in time to participate in the Massachusetts Constitutional Convention. He composed the Massachusetts constitution in 1780; the new document authorized formation of a two-chambered, legislature and the separation of powers within the state government. Adams encouraged other states to adopt their own constitutions. The Massachusetts constitution provided a foundation for the constitutions of other states, and later served as the model for the United States Constitution.
John Adams, Foreign Diplomat
After the Massachusetts convention in 1780, John Adams was sent as U.S. commissioner to the Netherlands. The purpose of this visit was to obtain a loan which would help the United States finance the national debt. The Netherlands along with France were the only two countries that recognized the United States as an independent nation before the end of the American Revolution.
On Oct. 19, 1781, the British surrendered to the United States. In 1782, Adams joined Benjamin Franklin again in Paris, to negotiate a peace treaty with Great Britain that would dissolve the two countries' relationship. The result was the Treaty of Paris, which was signed on Sept. 3, 1783, and officially ended the American Revolution. Adams and Franklin, experienced and shrewd foreign diplomats, were credited with achieving favorable terms in the treaty with Great Britain, including the establishment of the western boundary of the United States at the Mississippi River.
In 1784 the Continental Congress sent Thomas Jefferson to replace Benjamin Franklin in Paris as the U.S. ambassador to France. Together they acquired another loan from the Netherlands that allowed the United States government to consolidate its European debts. The relationship between Adams and Jefferson developed into a great friendship, though it would soon be transformed into a bitter political rivalry.
In 1785 Adams became the first U.S. ambassador to Great Britain. He tried to secure trading rights with the British, but neither country could reach an agreement. Adams spent the next three years in London studying the strengths and weaknesses in European politics. His purpose for this research was to devise plans for a democratic form of government in the United States that was contrary to any European government. During this time Adams wrote A Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America (1787), a three-volume collection of his insights into politics and government. In these works, Adams explained that the United States government must have enough authority to control the ambitions of competing social classes and channel these ambitions toward the benefit of the public. He believed that a chief executive of the United States was necessary to maintain a balance of power inside the government and with the citizens of the nation.