“Atlas of Independence”
- Full name: John Adams
- Years in office: 1797–1801
- Political party: Federalist
- Vice president: Thomas Jefferson
- Age at inauguration: 61
- Nicknames: “Atlas of Independence,” “His Rotundity,” “Duke of Braintree”
- Boston Massacre lawyer: John Adams’s belief in the rule of law led him to defend the British soldiers involved in the Boston Massacre. Read about it here.
- July 4, 1826: John Adams died on the same day as Thomas Jefferson: the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence.
Birth & Death
- Birthday: October 30, 1735
- Birthplace: Braintree (now Quincy), Massachusetts
- Death: July 4, 1826
- Place of death: Braintree (now Quincy), Massachusetts
- Place of burial: First Unitarian Church in Quincy, Massachusetts
- Last words: “Thomas Jefferson survives.”
- Father: John Adams (1691–1761); Farmer
- Mother: Susanna Boylston Adams (1699–1797)
- Wife: Abigail Smith (1744–1818)
- Marriage: October 25, 1764 in Massachusetts
- Kids: Five
- Abigail Amelia (1765-1813)
- John Quincy (1767-1848)
- Susanna (1768-70)
- Charles (1770-1800)
- Thomas Boylston (1772-1832)
- Home: Peacefield in Quincy, Massachusetts
- Height: 5’7”
- Eye color: Blue
- Ancestry: English
- Religion: Unitarian
- Born in a log cabin: No
- Owned enslaved people: No
- Freemason: No
- Early education: Private schools in Braintree
- College degree: Yes
- College: Harvard College (Bachelor’s and Master’s)
- Military service: No
- Lawyer: Yes
- Lawyer (1758–)
- Representative to Massachusetts General Court
- Delegate to First and Second Continental Congresses (1774–1778)
- Member of Provincial Congress of Massachusetts
- Commissioner to France (1778)
- Delegate to Massachusetts Constitutional Convention (1779–1780)
- Drafted Massachusetts Constitution (1779)
- Minister to negotiate peace with England (1779)
- Minister to the Netherlands (1780)
- Minister to England (1785)
- Vice President: Washington administration (1789–1797)
- President (1797–1801)
- The Works of John Adams
- The Adams-Jefferson Letters
- Diary and Autobiography of John Adams
- The Papers of John Adams
- The Political Writings of John Adams
This is first presidential election in which two candidates were presented by opposing parties. John Adams ran as a Federalist, while Thomas Jefferson ran as a Democratic-Republican.
Adams, winning the most electoral votes, became president. However, his running mate, Thomas Pinckney, would not be elected vice president. As the Constitution laid out, the person with the second most electoral votes would become vice president. That man was Thomas Jefferson. So, the election of the 1796 put two opposing parties into the White House.
The 12th Amendment changed the electoral process.
John Adams’s Home
“The Bloody Massacre” engraving by Paul Revere
Before he became president, John Adams made a name for himself as a Boston lawyer. Although a devoted Patriot, John Adams was moderate in his views on rebellion, especially when compared to his firebrand cousin, Sam Adams.
When Boston became the center of unrest in the colonies, John Adams’s devotion to the Patriot cause was tested by the event known as the Boston Massacre.
By the winter of 1770 colonial unrest came to the fore when a group of colonists began to harass British soldiers stationed at the Old State House. The situation erupted into a deadly scene. After the smoke cleared, five citizens from the mob were dead, including Crispus Attucks.
Paul Revere created this engraving to depict the the Boston Massacre and to promote the Patriot cause. It shows a British captain, Thomas Preston, giving orders to fire upon the defenseless colonists. This classic piece of Patriot propaganda tells a story, but perhaps not the whole story.
Captain Preston and the British soldiers were accused of murder, and they needed a lawyer. They eventually found John Adams to head their defense. And, he defended them successfully. Captain Preston was found not guilty, along with six of the eight soldiers. The remaining two soldiers were found not guilty of murder, but guilty of manslaughter. As a result, the two soldiers were branded with an M on their thumbs. Although surely the results angered Patriots such as Sam Adams and Paul Revere, the trial was a great success for John Adams’s career as a lawyer.
In his later writings, John Adams recounted his role in defending the British soldiers who took part in the Boston Massacre:
“The Part I took in Defence of Cptn. Preston and the Soldiers, procured me Anxiety, and Obloquy enough. It was, however, one of the most gallant, generous, manly and disinterested Actions of my whole Life, and one of the best Pieces of Service I ever rendered my Country. Judgment of Death against those Soldiers would have been as foul a Stain upon this Country as the Executions of the Quakers or Witches, anciently. As the Evidence was, the Verdict of the Jury was exactly right.”
- “The Bloody Massacre” engraving by Paul Revere, Library of Congress
- The John Adams Historical Society, http://www.john-adams-heritage.com/boston-massacre-trials
- Miller Center of Public Affairs, University of Virginia, http://www.millercenter.org/president
- Smith, Carter. Presidents: All You Need to Know. Irvington, NY: Hylas, 2005.
© 2021 Periodic Presidents, PJ and Jamie Creek