Monday, March 26, 2012

John Adams

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John Adams, the first vice president under George Washington and the second President of the United States, accompanied the growing country through some of its most serious tribulations. He became the first President to live in the White House, and was also the first chief executive whose son also served as president. Adams played a major role in the adoption and in the signing of the historic document, The Declaration of Independence. Adams barely earned popularity during his long political career. He was not a cold-hearted man, but his bluntness, impatience, and vanity made him more enemies than friends. Also, his clumsiness in human relations often caused him to be misunderstood.

John Adams was born in Braintree (now Quincy), Massachusetts, on October 0, 175. His father, also John Adams, was a farmer, a deacon, and a militia officer. His mother, Susanna Boylston Adams, came from a prestige family of Brookline and Boston merchants and physicians. When Adams was young he helped with the chores on the farm, and studied hard in the village school. He didn’t like to read books in particular.

Adams graduated from Harvard College in 1755. He was ranked number fourteen in a class of twenty-four, based on social position, not intelligence. Adams was actually one of the best scholars in his class. After teaching schooling for a short period, Adams studied law with James Putnam in Worcester, Massachusetts. He moved to Boston ten years later, where he became a leading attorney of the Massachusetts colony.

In 1764, Adams married Abigail Smith (1744-1818), a minister’s daughter, in Weymouth, Massachusetts. John Quincy Adams, their oldest son, became the sixth President of the United States the year before his father died.

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In New England, Adams earned a crucial role in opposing British colonial policies in America. When the British Parliament passed the Stamp Act in 1765, it was a turning point in his life. It hit him hard, especially being a lawyer. Adams wrote resolutions against the tax, which were adopted by more than forty Massachusetts towns. He served as one of the three members appointed to present a petition against the tax to the British governor. The United Kingdom repealed the Stamp Act in 1766.

The treatment of the British soldiers who had taken part in the Boston Massacre distressed Adams. He had a sense of justice, which led him to defend Captain Thomas Preston and the British soldiers accused of manslaughter. The people of Boston chose him as one of their representatives in the colonial legislature in the year 1770. With the help of his cousin, Samuel Adams, he directed the battle against British colonial policies.

Adams, along with a few other men, wanted to pursue independence from the United Kingdom. He was one of the four Massachusetts delegates at the meeting of the First Continental Congress. Adams influence had grown by the year of 1775 when the Second Continental Congress met. He influenced Congress to coordinate the sixteen thousand militiamen of New England as the Continental Army, and also advised the appointment of George Washington as commander in chief.

Adams served as chairman of the Continental Board of War and Ordnance beginning in 1776. He was also busy on a committee selected to draft a plan for treaties with European powers, especially with France.

Adams was sent to Paris early in 1778 to aid Benjamin Franklin and Arthur Lee build up American ties with France and other European nations. He noticed the hostility among the American ministers in France and wrote to Congress suggesting that one person take charge of the affairs in France. Congress selected Franklin, and Adams sailed home in 177. When he arrived back in Massachusetts, the people of Braintree elected him to the convention that devised a state constitution. Adams wrote almost all of the Constitution, which won praise for its thorough Bill of Rights.

Congress chose Adams to negotiate treaties of peace and trade with the United Kingdom, during the Massachusetts constitutional convention. He then went to the Netherlands to encourage diplomatic and commercial assistance for the American war effort. After two years of drudgery, he obtained recognition of the United States as a sovereign power. He also earned a loan of about one million four hundred thousand dollars for the United States. Adams’s mission to the Netherlands ranks as his greatest diplomatic achievement.

Adams made sure that the United States kept fishing rights in North Atlantic waters, and also recommended a reprieve for the Americans who remained loyal to the British. Throughout the following two years, Adams negotiated a Dutch loan, and served on a commission in Paris to negotiate trade treaties with many European governments. These accomplishments convinced the French that Adams was “the Washington of negotiations.” In 1785 Congress elected Adams the first United States minister to the United Kingdom. His hopes were to negotiate treaties that would promote trade with the United Kingdom. Eventually, Adams was asked to recall, and returned home in 1788.

Adams was named vice president only a few months after returning home from remaining abroad for nearly ten years. Sixty-nine electors voted for George Washington and thirty-four gave their second vote to Adams. He felt that the vice presidency was “the most insignificant office that ever the invention of man contrived or his imagination conceived.” But he officiated over the Senate with grace, tried to prevent political arguments, and always sided with Washington. During his first term as vice president, Adams wrote and published Discourses on Davila, a series of newspaper articles. Adams was reelected vice president in 17.

Adams and Alexander Hamilton led the Federalists, who favored a strong federal government and Washington’s policies. James Madison and Thomas Jefferson led the Republicans in supporting strong states’ rights. In 176, Washington refused to serve a third term. The Federalists chose Adams for the presidency, and the Republicans nominated Jefferson. Adams won the election by only three votes, and Jefferson thus took the position of vice president.

During Adams’s four years as president, the government was faced with many difficulties at home. Relations with European nations were unsettled, and differences over foreign policy divided the Federalist Party into two groups. The French Revolution also caused most of the problems that Adams was troubled with.

As president, one of Adams’s first acts was to call a special meeting of Congress to discuss different ways of keeping peace. He sent ministers to France to work out a treaty, which became known as the XYZ Affair. The XYZ Affair stirred up much anger in the United States. Congress prepared for a war with France by establishing the Department of the Navy, ordering the construction of more warships, and by summoning George Washington to command the Army.

Adams was still intent on keeping peace. He again asked Talleyrand-Perigord, the French foreign minister, for a treaty. Adams sent a second commission to France without consulting Congress first. This act was considered the boldest of his career as president and also lost him support in his own party. But Adams believed that refraining from war was his most important achievement.

As the first residents of the White House, John and Abigail Adams felt they should fix a social tone appropriate to the home of the president. Only six rooms of the White House were completed, which made it difficult to carry on official social functions. But Adams and his wife struggled to overcome their hardships.

In the Election of 1800, Alexander Hamilton strongly denounced Adams for not fighting France, which affected many Federalist voters. The Republicans condemned Adams for the Alien and Sedition Acts, and for his animosity toward France. The Republicans presidential candidates, Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr, received seventy-three electoral votes each, while Adams received sixty-five. The House of Representatives then chose Jefferson as president. Adams made appointments to government offices until his last day in office. The appointment of John Marshall as chief justice of the United States was one of his most important selections.

Adams was almost sixty-six years old when he left the White House. The presidential defeat upset him so greatly that he didn’t even stay in Washington for Jefferson’s inauguration. On the morning of March 4, 1801 he rushed home to Quincy, Massachusetts where he devoted himself to studying history, philosophy, and religion.

Adams and Jefferson renewed their friendship when they met in Congress in 1775. By a phenomenal coincidence, both men died on July 4, 186. Adams died less than four months before his ninety-first birthday, and was later buried in Quincy, Massachusetts. John Adams’s last words were “Thomas Jefferson still survives.”

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