John Adams: Significant Facts and Brief Biography

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John Adams

Engraved portrait of President John Adams
President John Adams. Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Born: October 30, 1735 in Braintree, Massachusetts
Died: July 4, 1826, in Quincy, Massachusetts

Presidential term: March 4, 1797 - March 4, 1801

Accomplishments: Adams was one of the founding fathers of the United States, and played a prominent role in the Continental Congress at the time of the American Revolution.

His greatest accomplishment may have been his work during the Revolution. The four years he served as America's second president were marked by problems as the young nation struggled with international affairs and reactions to internal critics.

A major international dispute handled by Adams concerned France, which had become belligerent toward the United States. France was at war with Britain, and the French felt that Adams, as a Federalist, favored the British side. Adams avoided being drawn into a war at a time when the United States, a young nation, could not afford it.

Supported by: Adams was a Federalist, and believed in a national government with strong financial powers.

Opposed by: The Federalists such as Adams were opposed by supporters of Thomas Jefferson, who were generally known as Republicans (though they were different from the Republican Party which would emerge in the 1850s).

Presidential campaigns: Adams was nominated by the Federalist party and elected president in 1796, in an era when candidates did not campaign.

Four years later, Adams ran for a second term and finished third, behind Jefferson and Aaron Burr. The eventual outcome of the election of 1800 had to be decided in the House of Representatives.

Spouse and family: Adams married Abigail Smith in 1764. They were often separated when Adams left to serve in the Continental Congress, and their letters have provided a stirring record of their lives.

John and Abigail Adams had four children, one of whom, John Quincy Adams, became president.

Education: Adams was educated at Harvard College. He was an excellent student, and following his graduation he studied law with a tutor and began a legal career.

Early career: In the 1760s Adams became a voice of the Revolutionary movement in Massachusetts. He opposed the Stamp Act, and began communicating with those opposing British rule in the other colonies.

He served in the Continental Congress, and also traveled to Europe to try to secure support for the American Revolution. He was involved in the crafting of the Treaty of Paris, which provided a formal end to the Revolutionary War. From 1785 to 1788 he served an ambassadorial role as America's minister to Britain.

Returning to the United States, he was elected to serve as vice president to George Washington for two terms.

Later career: After the presidency Adams was happy to leave Washington, D.C. and public life and retire to his farm in Massachusetts. He remained interested in national affairs, and offered advice to his son, John Quincy Adams, but played no direct role in politics.

Unusual facts: As a young attorney, Adams had defended British soldiers accused of killing colonists in the Boston Massacre.

Adams was the first president to live in the White House, and he instituted the tradition of public receptions on New Year's Day which continued well into the 20th century.

During his time as president he had become estranged from Thomas Jefferson, and the two men developed a great dislike for each other. After his retirement, Adams and Jefferson began a very involved correspondence and rekindled their friendship.

And it is one of the great coincidences of American history that both Adams and Jefferson died on the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1826.

Death and funeral: Adams was 90 years old when he died. He was buried in Quincy, Massachusetts.

Legacy: The greatest contribution made by Adams was his work during the American Revolution. As president, his term was beset with problems, and his greatest accomplishment was probably avoiding an open war with France.