John Adams, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, played a leading role in the early years of our nation. He was a leader in opposing British colonial policies in America, starting when the British Parliament passed the Stamp Act in 1765. He called the Boston Tea Party "the most magnificent movement of all" (December 16, 1773). He was a delegate from Massachusetts to the First Continental Congress (1774). He was active in the adoption of the Declaration of Independence and signed the historic document (1776). He was elected as commissioner to France to negotiate a treaty of alliance (1777). He obtained recognition of American independence from the Netherlands (1780-1782). He served on the commission that negotiated peace with Great Britain (1782-1783). He was appointed minister to Great Britain (1785). He returned to the United States just prior to being elected to serve as Vice President of the United States (1789) and was re-elected Vice President in 1792. He was elected President of the United States in 1796.
John Adams was born October 30, 1735, in Braintree (now Quincy), Massachusetts. His father, also named John Adams, was a farmer, a deacon in his church, and a militia officer. His mother, Susanna, was from a leading family of merchants and physicians. She was a descendant of John Alden, a passenger on the Mayflower. The family farm was at the foot of Penn's Hill. The house where John was born is now a memorial and is close to the place where his great-great-grandfather, Henry Adams, settled before 1640. Henry came to America from Somersetshire, England, as one of the thousands of Puritans escaping religious persecution in their homeland. Thus, both of John’s parents came to America for religious freedom, and he had a right to the title of Son of Liberty.
John helped with chores on the farm and studied hard in the village school. He graduated from Harvard College in 1755, with the social - not academic - rank of 14 out of 24 students. He apparently was one of the best scholars in the group.
John taught school for a short time before studying law. He started practicing law in Braintree in 1758 and moved to Boston ten years later where he became a leading attorney. John faced a dilemma in the aftermath of the Boston Massacre during which several colonists were killed by British soldiers on March 5, 1770. On one hand, some of his countrymen had been killed and people all around him were clamoring for the soldiers to be punished. On the other hand, John understood the demands of justice and humanity. He accepted the invitation to work with Josiah Quincy to defend Captain Thomas Preston when he and his men were arraigned for murder. They defended Captain Preston successfully, and he was acquitted because there was no proof that he had ordered his troops to fire. Two of the soldiers were later found guilty of manslaughter and were branded on their thumbs as punishment.
John was short and stout with a ruddy complexion. He tended to be blunt, impatient, and vane and made more enemies than friends, but those who knew him well loved him for his genial, affectionate, and playful nature.
He married Abigail Smith in 1764, the amiable daughter of a pious minister. She did not receive much public schooling but read widely and became one of the most informed women of her day. Abigail and John apparently had a very happy marriage and wrote many letters to each other during their many separations. Abigail's letters to John were published in 1840 and provide colorful pictures of life in colonial times.
The Adams' oldest son, John Quincy Adams, was elected as the sixth President of the United States the year before his father died. They had a total of five children: Abigail, John Quincy, Susanna (died in infancy), Charles (died while his father was President), and Thomas.
Just prior to the end of the Administration of President Adams, his family moved into the unfinished White House, which stood alone in a swampy landscape. In a letter from Abigail Adams to her sister, she wrote, "As I expected to find it a new country, with houses scattered over a space of 10 miles, and trees and stumps in plenty with a castle of a house - so I found it." There were about six rooms in the White House which were finished. Abigail used the East Room to dry her laundry because there was no other place yet provided for it.
Because the White House was unfinished, the Adams struggled to hold social functions. They felt a great responsibility as the first occupants of the White House to set a proper social tone for the home of the President of the United States. Because she admired social engagements of Martha Washington, Abigail tried to follow her example.
During the Administration of Adams, the government faced many domestic problems as well as an unsettled situation in Europe. Adams could not count on support from his own party or his Cabinet because there was great disagreement over foreign policy. Adams was part of the more moderate members of the Federalist Party, and Alexander Hamilton led the other group.
Most of the problems faced by President Adams were caused by the French Revolution. Adams insisted that the United States remain neutral in case of war in Europe, but this position was difficult to maintain due to the fact that European warships attacked ships from America. Both England and France claimed the right to seize American ships, and the United States was forced to defend itself. The United States launched several new warships, including the Constitution ("Old Ironsides").
Thomas Jefferson and his party sympathized with the French people because they likened the French Revolution to the Revolutionary War in America. They wanted to give support to the French people, but the group of Federalists headed by Hamilton demanded a war against France. The Federalist Party split over the issue of war or neutrality - an irreparable split which later cost Adams a second term as President. Adams was determined to maintain peace and sent commissions to France. Even though this bold act cost him the support of his party, he believed that avoiding war was his most important achievement.
Hamilton criticized Adams for not fighting France, and his arguments convinced many Federalist voters. The Democratic-Republicans criticized Adams for his hostility toward France. In the 1800 election, Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr each received 73 electoral votes while Adams received only 65. The election was decided by the House of Representation. The seat of government moved from Philadelphia to Washington, D.C. in June 1800, and Congress began meeting there in November 1800. Adams was still making appointments on his last day in office. The appointment of John Marshall as chief justice of the United States Supreme Court was one of his most important. History has shown that Adams was right in the great decisions of his political life.
Adams left the White House just before he turned 66 years old. He grieved over his defeat and left Washington, D.C., prior to Jefferson's inauguration. He returned to his home in Quincy where he studied history, philosophy, and religion.
Some the historical events that happened during the time of Adams are as follows: 1) The first woolen mills began operating in Massachusetts. 2) Congress established the Department of the Navy and the Marine Corps. 3) Johnny Appleseed wandered through Ohio and Indiana, planting apple seeds and preaching the Bible. 4) A group of shoemakers in Philadelphia organized the first labor strike in 1799 when they refused to work for nine days until they received higher wages. 5) Napoleon became the First Consul of France in 1799 to begin his reign as dictator. 6) The Library of Congress was established in 1800 when Congress appropriated $5,000 to buy books and to furnish a room in the Capitol to house the library. 7) In 1800 France secretly reacquired Louisiana from Spain, but the United States learn of the transaction until the following year.
John Adams and Thomas Jefferson met in congress in 1775 and became good friends. Their friendship cooled after 1790 because of their different ideas about the French Revolution. After they both retired from political life, they forgot their quarrels and renewed their friendship. These two great Americans, one from the North and one from the South, both signed the Declaration of Independence. They both died on July 4, 1826. Adam's last words were: "Thomas Jefferson still survives." Adams died four months prior to his 91st birthday and was buried in Quincy, Mass.
Facts for this post came from an article by James H. Hutson in World Book Encyclopedia, Vol. 1, pp 34-39.
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