The Peaceful Leader
John Adams was the second president of the United States of America. During the American Revolution, he traveled to Europe to make peace deals with France and Great Britain. Back home, nobody understood that his peace-keeping ways ended the Revolution and gained Independence for America. Instead, most of the credit was given to his friend, George Washington.
President Washington appreciated everything that John Adams had done, though, and appointed him as his Vice President. After being Vice President, Adams became the President and soon realized that sometimes a quiet life is more rewarding than notoriety.
John Adams was born on October 30th, 1735, in his hometown of Braintree (later called Quincy), Massachusetts. His parents were John Adams, Sr. and Susanna Boylston Adams.
As a child, John Adams looked up to his father and wanted to grow up to become just like him. John’s father was a hard-working farmer who sometimes had trouble making ends meet for his family. John admired his strength, determination, and loyalty and decided that those were things he wanted to be known for when he grew up, as well.
John’s mother, Susanna, was most known for having a fiery temper. At times in his childhood, John would be embarrassed by his mother’s outbursts. Many times throughout his life, he would mention that he didn’t understand why his mother was always looking for a fight when life was much easier if you were kind.
John was the oldest child in his family and had two younger brothers named Peter and Elihu. Not much is known about Peter, but Elihu grew up to be a soldier in the Continental Army. Like his mother, Elihu possessed a fighting personality that led him fearlessly into battle many times. Elihu became sick in battle at the age of 34 and passed away.
When John and his brothers were children, Elihu and Peter enjoyed going to school. John, on the other hand, would often skip classes and ignore his studies. He loved to be outside and wanted to be climbing trees or exploring the landscape all of the time. He considered studying a waste of his time because he wanted to grow up and become a farmer like his father.
One day, John’s father learned about his skipping school and decided to teach him a lesson. He asked him what he intended to do with his life since he was not studying math or reading or any other subjects he would need to get a good job someday. John said that he would become a farmer when he grew up and did not need to study.
John’s father told him that if he wanted to be a farmer, he might as well start right away. He woke him up early the next morning and worked him hard all day long and into the night. John worked in the hot sun without food or water and, by the time he finished, his hands were blistered and bleeding, and his entire body was sunburned. He was so tired when he got home that he couldn’t even eat his supper.
John’s dad then asked him how he enjoyed his first day on the job. John, who was very stubborn despite liking peace, lied and told his father it was the most fun he’d ever had.
Eventually, John’s dad successfully convinced him that he needed to get a good education and sent him to study at Harvard. The family wanted John to become a minister, but when John arrived at the University, he became interested in law and politics.
While John was at Harvard, his father got the flu and passed away. His mother remarried, but John and his new stepfather did not get along. He and his mother lost contact.
In 1976, John married his wife, Abigail. Together, they had three sons (John Quincy, Thomas, and Charles) and three daughters (Abigail II, Susanna, and Elizabeth).
Their son, Thomas, was named after John’s best friend, Thomas Jefferson. Both John and Thomas Jefferson were very interested in politics and wanted to become strong leaders for their government someday.
In 1770, while John was practicing law, some British soldiers were accused of killing five people in the Boston Massacre, otherwise known as the Incident on King Street.
During the incident, a group of British soldiers was attacked by a mob of people throwing snowballs, rocks, and sticks and beating the soldiers with their fists, batons, and other objects. The entire incident started because a wigmaker thought one of the soldiers had not paid his bill. In fact, the soldier had paid his bill and ignored the wigmaker's insults. Being ignored angered the wigmaker, and soon everyone in the street was fighting.
The incident ended when a British soldier fired into the mob, killing five. Acting Governor Thomas Hutchinson ran into the statehouse and climbed out onto a nearby balcony to yell at the crowd below. He promised there would be a trial to determine the soldiers' fate who had fired the shots and told everybody to go home.
Several people in Boston wanted to skip having a trial. They said that they felt enough people had witnessed what happened so that a trial would be a waste of time. They wanted the British soldiers to all to be hanged.
When John Adams heard this, he decided to defend the soldiers in court. He said that they deserved a fair trial, despite what had happened, and that they couldn’t all be guilty. At first, this made Boston's people very angry at Adams, but he refused to change his mind. In the end, he proved that six of the soldiers were innocent and saved their lives.
Boston people were grateful that he spoke up and did what was right and were sorry for the mistake they almost made. John Adams from then on was known to be a fair and courageous man.
Life as an American Diplomat
In 1774, John Adams became one of the first elected people to represent Massachusetts in the First Continental Congress.
During his time as a representative, he wrote many letters of protest to Great Britain and newspaper articles about the colonies and their disputes with the British. He felt that it was unfair that the colonies were forced to rely so much on the British instead of being given the freedom to set their own rules and earn their own living.
He became such a trusted representative that he was elected in 1777 to travel to France. His job in France was to ask for loans to afford to gain their independence from the British. It took him almost two years, but he was eventually able to talk France into helping. He returned with the money needed to fight the American Revolution. By the time he returned, the Revolution was already well underway, and most of the money had already been spent.
Almost right away when he got back, Congress asked him to return to Europe. This time, they wanted him to visit the British and negotiate peace. They knew that he was good at finding common ground and believed that he would be the ticket to ending the war.
On September 3rd, 1783, John Adams successfully talked Great Britain into signing a peace treaty, and the American Revolution was finally over. The American people were free from British rule.
When George Washington took office, John Adams became his Vice President. He served two terms as Vice President under George Washington and hated every minute of it.
He would later admit that he did not feel that he was able to do much to help the American people during his time as vice president. Instead, he always felt like he was a “back up” for George Washington. He was not concerned with being in control of people- he only wanted to be powerful enough to make changes to help America grow.
At the end of George Washington’s second term, an election was held to decide who would become our second president. John Adams decided to campaign for the position and was surprised to learn that his friend, Thomas Jefferson, also wanted the job.
Although they had been great friends for most of their lives, the two men began to fight ugly. Thomas Jefferson and John Adams started writing mean things about each other in the newspapers to win the election. They accused each other of lying and being bad family men. At one point, Jefferson even had an article printed in the newspaper claiming that Adams had died to dissuade voters from “wasting their ballot.”
Despite the claim, Adams managed to win the election by only a few votes. As an offering of peace, he made Jefferson his Vice President. After such an ugly election process, however, Adams's family decided not to attend his inauguration. The inauguration ceremony of John Adams would go down in history as one of the most poorly attended of all time.
Thomas Jefferson was still angry about the campaign, though, and used his charisma to gain popularity among Adams’ cabinet members. Soon, they all preferred Jefferson's company, and Adams had a hard time controlling his staff. If he asked them to do something, they would ask Jefferson if he thought they should. If Jefferson said no, they would disobey the requests made by their President.
Eventually, Adams found his voice and took control of the cabinet, but his feud with Jefferson was far from. Although some of his cabinet members had come back to his side of the dispute and were now working cooperatively, others were simply more sneaky in their defiance. From that point on, Adams never knew who to trust and would spend the rest of his term in a paranoid state.
The French Revolution began in 1789. At that time, England and France were fighting. There was not one single reason for the fight, but many. They were arguing about taxes and land. They were arguing about the mismanagement of agriculture, and England did not like King Louis XVI. Some historians say that the French Revolution was a lot like a fight amongst siblings- they had been partners for so long that they had just grown tired of each other, and everything either one of them did lead to bickering.
In America, many people wanted to pick a side in the war, but the public was split on which side we should take. John Adams wanted to maintain peace with both sides, so he refused to act on anybody’s urging.
He knew that America was a very young country. If America entered the French Revolution, it could mean financial disaster and open the country back up to be taken by either side.
Jefferson thought America should join the war against France and soon began to rally the public against Adams with claims that Adams would make a move to join the war at any moment. He was trying to force Adam to do something he did not want to do. When Adams publicly declared that he would not call for America to enter the war, many people felt lied to. Instead of being angry at Jefferson, they were angry at Adams.
When election time came around again, Jefferson continued his ugly campaign against Adams. This time, Jefferson won.
John Adams was very hurt that the country he loved and helped gain independence for had rejected him. He was even more hurt that his best friend had led the crusade. He left his post early and did not stay to welcome Jefferson into the White House, where Adams had spent the last four months of his term. The White House would not be completed for several more years, but per George Washington’s wish, Adams and his family had moved in as soon as one room was complete.
Although he was honored to be the first president to live in the mansion, Adams was not pleased with the condition in which the White House was presented to him. George Washington’s servants had been having wild parties inside the empty structure. When John Adams discovered the mess they left behind, he wrote a letter to his wife detailing his disgust. Part of the letter read, “There is not a chair to sit in. The beds and bedding are in a woeful pickle. The house has been the scene of the most scandalous drinking and disorder among servants I have ever heard of.”
Congress got a great laugh at his expense following the incident. He was known to be an immaculate man who was picky about clutter and disarray. The idea of him walking into such a mess was more than many of his peers could handle, and he soon became the subject of many jokes.
They would even read pages from his diary aloud during Congressional meetings for years after his term ended, poking fun at his vanity and the eloquence in which he described the annoyances of his term in office.
After John Adams's presidency ended, he moved home to Quincy, Massachusetts, with Abigail's wife. While he was there, he became a writer. He wrote many newspaper articles and short works of non-fiction about politics and the legal process.
After some time, Abigail knew that she was very sick and would not live much longer. She decided that before she died, she wanted John and Thomas Jefferson to become friends again. She convinced John to write a letter to Jefferson so that they could make amends. She told Adams that she wanted him to make peace with his old friend so that his conscience would be clear. Begrudgingly, he did as his wife asked.
Jefferson wrote back to Adams and said he did not know what he had done that warranted forgiveness. The men began firing a series of letters back and forth to one another that would continue for the rest of both their lives.
Abigail died in 1818, but John Adams lived long enough to see their son, John Quincy Adams, become the sixth President of the United States. The election of John Quincy changed the tone of the correspondence between Adams and Jefferson.
While the older men would continue to pick on each other, their letters became friendlier. They had both found themselves old and facing the end of their days. They would often discuss things like religion and family, which they had never been keen on discussing with one another before.
John Adams passed away at the age of 90 on July 4th, 1826. His final words were, “Thomas Jefferson still survives.”
He did not know it, but Thomas Jefferson had actually already died earlier that same day.