John Adams


Part of the P.O.T.U.S Series

Who: John Adams

What: 2nd President of the United States (1797-1801), 1st Vice President of the United States (1789-1797), signatory of the Declaration of Independence, statesman, diplomat and Founding Father

Where: Born Braintree (now Quincy, Massachusetts); died Quincy, Massachusetts

Why: First one-term president, first Ivy League president (Harvard), member of the influential Adams political family, one of the most important Founding Fathers of the United States.

When: Born October 30, 1735; died July 4, 1826

“The happiness of society is the end of government” – John Adams


John Adams was born in what is now Quincy, Massachusetts in 1735. He attended Harvard University and became a lawyer. He rose to prominence as an opponent of the 1765 Stamp Act, becoming one of the pre-eminent advocates of independence. His firm belief that everyone should be treated fairly led to him defending the British soldiers who perpetrated the Boston Massacre in court. As a representative from Massachusetts during the Second Continental Congress, he helped Thomas Jefferson write the Declaration of Independence, and as ambassador to France represented the United States during the peace negotiations with Great Britain that led to the Treaty of Paris and the ratification of the United States’ independence.



He served as the first Vice President under George Washington, and after Washington stepped down he ran for President under the Federalist ticket. He defeated his long-time rival Thomas Jefferson, who became his Vice President. During his presidency, Adams peacefully resolved the 1798-1800 Quasi-War with France and passed the controversial Alien and Sedition Acts, which many believed violated the First Amendment, which protected free speech. Adam’s lost his re-election to Thomas Jefferson and died the same day as Jefferson on July 4, 1826, exactly fifty years after the Declaration of Independence was signed.

Adam's signature on the Declaration of Independence

Adam’s signature on the Declaration of Independence

Facts about John Adams

Adams was the first President to live in the White House, moving in before it was completed in 1800

Adams was one of only three Presidents not to attend his successor’s inauguration

His son John Quincy became the 6th President

Adams and Thomas Jefferson were close friends and correspondents, but were also bitter rivals. Their relationship became strained in 1801 in a dispute over federal judges, but they reconciled in 1812 and wrote each other fervently until they both died on July 4, 1826

Adam’s last words were ‘Thomas Jefferson survives’, unaware that Jefferson had died hours earlier

Adams was the only one of the first five presidents who didn’t own slaves, and was a lifelong abolitionist, though he was cautious about the implications of abolition, favouring a gradual phasing out of slavery

As well as his famous son, Adams was second cousin to Samuel Adams, a Founding Father, Governor of Massachusetts, and namesake of Samuel Adams Boston Lager

Jefferson and Adams travelled to Stratford-upon-Avon to visit William Shakespeare’s birthplace, and took a knife to one of Shakespeare’s chairs to take home wood chips as souvenirs

Adams lived an extraordinarily long life, dying at the age of 90. He was the longest-lived president for almost two hundred years, until both Ronald Reagan (died 2004) and Gerald Ford (died 2006), who both lived to be 93

Owing to some long lifespans, America is only four presidents’ lives old: When Barack Obama was born (1961), Herbert Hoover was still alive (1874-1964). When Hoover was born, Andrew Johnson was still alive (1808-1875), and when Johnson was born Adams was still alive (1735-1826)

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