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|First Vice President of the United States||| Print ||
|Written by R Lee Wrights|
|Tuesday, 31 July 2012 22:00|
John Adams, served April 21, 1789 - March 4, 1797
Adams (October 30, 1735 (O.S. October 19, 1735) - July 4, 1826) was the second President of the United States (1797-1801), having earlier served as the first Vice President of the United States. An American Founding Father, he was a statesman, diplomat, and a leader of American independence from Great Britain. Well educated, he was an Enlightenment political theorist who promoted republicanism.
John Adams was the eldest of three sons, was born on October 30, 1735 (October 19, 1735 Old Style, Julian calendar), in what is now Quincy, Massachusetts (then called the “north precinct” of Braintree, Massachusetts), to John Adams, Sr., and Susanna Boylston Adams. While he did not speak much of his mother later in life, he commonly praised his father and was very close to him as a child. Adams’ birthplace is now part of Adams National Historical Park. His father (1691-1761), was a fifth-generation descendant of Henry Adams, who emigrated from Somerset in England to Massachusetts Bay Colony in about 1638. The elder Adams was a farmer, a Congregationalist (that is, Puritan) deacon, a lieutenant in the militia and a selectman, or town councilman, who supervised schools and roads; Susanna Boylston Adams was a descendant of the Boylston’s of Brookline.
Young Adams went to Harvard College at age sixteen in 1751. His father expected him to become a minister, but Adams had doubts. After graduating in 1755 with an A.B., he taught school for a few years in Worcester, allowing himself time to think about his career choice. After much reflection, he decided to become a lawyer, writing his father that he found among lawyers “noble and gallant achievements” but among the clergy, the “pretended sanctity of some absolute dunces.” He later became a Unitarian, and dropped belief in predestination, eternal damnation, and most other Calvinist beliefs of his Puritan ancestors. Adams then studied law in the office of John Putnam, a prominent lawyer in Worcester.
Adams was not a popular leader like his second cousin, Samuel Adams. Instead, his influence emerged through his work as a constitutional lawyer and his intense analysis of historical examples, together with his thorough knowledge of the law and his dedication to the principles of republicanism. Adams often found his inborn contentiousness to be a constraint in his political career.
While Washington won the presidential election of 1789 with 69 votes in the Electoral College, Adams came in second with 34 votes and became Vice President. According to David McCullough, what he really might have wanted was to be the first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. He presided over the Senate but otherwise played a minor role in the politics of the early 1790s; he was reelected Vice President in 1792. Washington seldom asked Adams for input on policy and legal issues during his tenure as vice president.
In the first year of Washington’s administration, Adams became deeply involved in a month-long Senate controversy over the official title of the President. Adams favored grandiose titles such as “His Majesty the President” or “His High Mightiness” over the simple “President of the United States” that eventually won the debate. The pomposity of his stance, along with his being overweight, led to Adams earning the nickname “His Rotundity.”
As president of the Senate, Adams cast 29 tie-breaking votes-a record that only John C. Calhoun came close to tying, with 28. His votes protected the president’s sole authority over the removal of appointees and influenced the location of the national capital. On at least one occasion, he persuaded senators to vote against legislation that he opposed, and he frequently lectured the Senate on procedural and policy matters. Adams’ political views and his active role in the Senate made him a natural target for critics of the Washington administration. Toward the end of his first term, as a result of a threatened resolution that would have silenced him except for procedural and policy matters, he began to exercise more restraint. When the two political parties formed, he joined the Federalist Party, but never got on well with its dominant leader Alexander Hamilton. Because of Adams’ seniority and the need for a northern president, he was elected as the Federalist nominee for president in 1796, over Thomas Jefferson, the leader of the opposition Democratic-Republican Party. His success was due to peace and prosperity; Washington and Hamilton had averted war with Britain with the Jay Treaty of 1795.
Adams’ two terms as Vice President were frustrating experiences for a man of his vigor, intellect, and vanity. He complained to his wife Abigail, “My country has in its wisdom contrived for me the most insignificant office that ever the invention of man contrived or his imagination conceived.”
Following his 1800 defeat, Adams retired into private life. Depressed when he left office, he did not attend Jefferson’s inauguration, making him one of only four surviving presidents (i.e., those who did not die in office) not to attend his successor’s inauguration. Interestingly, one of the other three was his son, John Quincy Adams. Adams’ correspondence with Jefferson at the time of the transition suggests that he did not feel the animosity or resentment that later scholars have attributed to him. He left Washington before Jefferson’s inauguration as much out of sorrow at the death of his son Charles Adams (due in part to the younger man’s alcoholism) and his desire to rejoin his wife Abigail, who had left for Massachusetts months before the inauguration. Adams resumed farming at his home, Peacefield, in the town of Quincy (formerly a part of the town of Braintree, as it was earlier in his life).
On July 4, 1826, the fiftieth anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence, Adams died at his home in Quincy. Told that it was the Fourth, he answered clearly, “It is a great day. It is a good day.” His last words have been reported as “Thomas Jefferson survives” (Jefferson himself, however, had died hours before he did). His death left Charles Carroll of Carrollton as the last surviving signatory of the Declaration of Independence. John Adams died while his son John Quincy Adams was president.
FG_AUTHORS: R Lee Wrights