John Adams was born October 30, 1735, on his family’s farm near Braintree, now Quincy, Massachusetts. He was the second President of the United States, serving from 1797 to 1801.
On October 25, 1764, Adams married Abigail Smith. They were married for 54 years, and she was his closest advisor. They had five children, one of whom, John Quincy Adams, became the 6th President of the United States.
Adams graduated from Harvard University and began to practice law. In 1781, Adams heard a speech by James Otis opposing a law passed by the British Parliament governing the colonists but without their consent. Adams was deeply moved and became one of the leaders in the American Independence movement. From 1774 to 1778, he was a member of the Continental Congress and was appointed to help draft the Declaration of Independence. Jefferson did most of the actual writing, but Adams led the debate in Congress to have it passed and was known as the “Atlas of the Independence.” In 1778, Adams wrote a constitution for his home state of Massachusetts that would later serve as one of the models for the United States Constitution.
During the Revolutionary War, Adams worked in Europe to raise money for George Washington‘s army and was one of the men who drew up the final peace treaty with England. He served as the Ambassador to England after that. When Washington was elected the first President of the United States, Adams became his Vice President, but in a letter to his wife, he wrote, the job of Vice President is “the most insignificant office that ever the invention of man contrived.”
When Washington declined a third term in 1797, Adams was elected President under the Federalist Party banner, and Thomas Jefferson of the Democratic-Republican Party was his Vice President. The men he appointed to his cabinet were mostly Federalists who were more loyal to Alexander Hamilton than to himself. Alexander Hamilton and his followers believed in Government by a small, rich, and powerful group of men who wished closer tied to England even if it meant war with France. England and France were at war, but Adams negotiated peace with France and later in life asked that his tombstone read “Here lies John Adams, who took upon himself the responsibility of Peace with France in the year 1800.” By stubborn determination, Adams was able to get Congress to order new warships and establish the roots of the United States Navy.
Near the end of his term, on November 1, 1800, Adams became the first President to live in the White House in Washington D.C. The new White House was cold, damp, and unfinished. The White House was, however, an inspiration to Adams, who wrote, “I pray Heaven to bestow the best Blessing on this House and all that shall hereafter inhabit it. May none but honest and wise men ever rule beneath this roof.”
He supported the Alien and Sedition Act, a set of laws harsh to foreigners and to people who spoke out against the government. Adams’s support angered his opponents, led by Jefferson, who forced him out of office after only one term. After the Federalist Party turned against him in the election of 1801, he returned to Braintree, Massachusetts.
Though they were political opponents, Adams and Jefferson remained friendly and pursued a long correspondence after their presidencies. Both died on the same day, July 4, 1826, exactly 50 years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Not knowing that Adams had died earlier that day, Jefferson’s last words reportedly were, “At least Adams still lives.”