John Adams

This is the second lesson on the prominent Massachusetts Adams family. Today, we discuss one of the leaders of the American Revolutionary era. John Adams, a cousin of Sam Adams whom we told you about last week.
John Adams was born in Braintree, now Quincy, Massachusetts in 1735. He was educated in the law at Harvard University and became one of the finest legal minds in the Colonies during the early years of this country.
John Adams was a short, stout, ruddy-faced man, nervous and hasty, fearless and stubborn. His rather cold personality did not draw people to him. He was a steadfast patriot and opposed the unfair tax laws the British King, George III, tried to levy on the Colonists. He also opposed the British monarch for sending soldiers to help enforce these objectionable laws. But his sense of justice and fair play was shown when he served as the attorney for Captain Preston and the eight British soldiers he commanded who were charged with murder for firing into a mob that had attacked the soldiers while on patrol.
John Adams was roundly criticized by the people of Boston for accepting this case. But he carefully marshaled his witnesses, and when the trial was called, he proved that the soldiers fired only in self-defense and the jury found them “not guilty.”
In speaking about his participation in the trial, John Adams said, “We must show the world that the law is king in Massachusetts….The law will preserve a steady, undeviating course; it will not bend to the uncertain wishes, imaginations and wanton tempers of men.” People disagreed, but they respected his integrity.
John Adams was elected to the First Continental Congress. He was on the committee appointed by the Continental Congress to draw up the first draft of the Declaration of Independence. He was the member of the committee who insisted that Thomas Jefferson write this first draft.
“Why me?” asked Jefferson, and John Adams replied, “Because you write ten times better than any other member of the committee.”
John Adams was the leading figure in having George Washington named Commander-in-Chief of the 16,000 army of “Minute Men” that had been organized in New England. He was also able to have the Continental Congress designate the “Minute Men” as the Continental Army and to call on all the other Colonies to furnish men and supplies.
During the War, John Adams served as an Emissary to Holland, where he was able to get that country to recognize American independence. Later he went to France and was very successful in gaining the support of France with guns, ships, men and money for the Colonies. John Adams also served on the Peace Treaty Commission that met with the British and hammered out the treaty that brought us our complete independence from the British Empire.
He served two terms as Vice President under General Washington and heartily disliked this assignment. He stated, as many other Vice Presidents have since “that the Office of Vice-President is the most insignificant that the imagination of man has ever contrived.” (Another Vice President, Charles Gates Dawes, once said that all he had to do was “read the papers and inquire each morning as to the health of the President.”)
John Adams and Thomas Jefferson battled for the Presidency when Washington declined to run for a third term. Adams won by three electoral votes. He served only one term, being defeated for re-election by Jefferson. In these Presidential races John Adams and Thomas Jefferson became bitter political enemies. Adams favored a strong Federal government. Jefferson favored more States rights and a more democratic form of government.
The two men were later reconciled and became strong friends for many years. They both lived to a ripe old age—Adams died at 91 and Jefferson died at 83. But here is a strange coincidence. Both of these men died on July 4th in 1826, exactly 50 years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence. John Adams considered the Declaration of Independence one of the greatest documents ever brought forth from the mind of man. Here is what he wrote his wife Abigail soon after this document was adopted:
“Yesterday the greatest question was decided which ever was debated in America, and a greater perhaps never was nor will be decided among men. A resolution was passed without one dissenting colony that these United Colonies are and of right ought to be free and independent States. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parades, shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires and illuminations from one end of this continent to the other from this time forward for evermore.”

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