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  • John Adams


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    • Home State: Massachusetts Age at Creation: 54 Previous Occupation: Politics/Law Hometown: Urban Traits: Intelligent, Traveler, Arrogant, Drunkard, Gluttonous, Paranoid
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    200px-Official_Presidential_portrait_of_John_Adams_%28by_John_Trumbull%2C_circa_1792%29.jpg

    Early life and education

    Childhood

    Small wooden house with red-brick chimney in the middle
     
    Adams's birthplace now in Quincy, Massachusetts

    John Adams was born on October 30, 1735 (October 19, 1735, Old Style, Julian calendar), to John Adams Sr. and Susanna Boylston. He had two younger brothers: Peter (1738–1823) and Elihu (1741–1775).[5] Adams was born on the family farm in Braintree, Massachusetts.[6][b] His mother was from a leading medical family of present-day Brookline, Massachusetts. His father was a deacon in the Congregational Church, a farmer, a cordwainer, and a lieutenant in the militia.[7] John Sr. served as a selectman (town councilman) and supervised the building of schools and roads. Adams often praised his father and recalled their close relationship.[8] Adams's great-great-grandfather Henry Adams immigrated to Massachusetts from Braintree, Essex, England, around 1638.[7]

    Though raised in modest surroundings, Adams felt pressured to live up to his heritage. His family was descended from Puritans, whose strict religious doctrines had profoundly shaped New England's culture, laws, and traditions. By the time of John Adams's birth, Puritan tenets such as predestination had waned and many of their severe practices moderated, but Adams still "considered them bearers of freedom, a cause that still had a holy urgency".[9] Adams recalled that his parents "held every Species of Libertinage in ... Contempt and horror", and detailed "pictures of disgrace, or baseness and of Ruin" resulting from any debauchery.[5] Adams later noted that "As a child I enjoyed perhaps the greatest of blessings that can be bestowed upon men – that of a mother who was anxious and capable to form the characters of her children."[10]

    Adams, as the eldest child, was compelled to obtain a formal education. This began at age six at a dame school for boys and girls, conducted at a teacher's home, and was centered upon The New England Primer. Shortly thereafter, Adams attended Braintree Latin School under Joseph Cleverly, where studies included Latin, rhetoric, logic, and arithmetic. Adams's early education included incidents of truancy, a dislike for his master, and a desire to become a farmer. All discussion on the matter ended with his father's command that he remain in school: "You shall comply with my desires." Deacon Adams hired a new schoolmaster named Joseph Marsh, and his son responded positively.[11]

    College education and adulthood

    At age sixteen, Adams entered Harvard College in 1751, studying under Joseph Mayhew.[12] As an adult, Adams was a keen scholar, studying the works of ancient writers such as Thucydides, Plato, Cicero, and Tacitus in their original languages.[13] Though his father expected him to be a minister,[14] after his 1755 graduation with an A.B. degree, he taught school temporarily in Worcester, while pondering his permanent vocation. In the next four years, he began to seek prestige, craving "Honour or Reputation" and "more defference from [his] fellows", and was determined to be "a great Man". He decided to become a lawyer to further those ends, writing his father that he found among lawyers "noble and gallant achievements" but, among the clergy, the "pretended sanctity of some absolute dunces". His aspirations conflicted with his Puritanism, though, prompting reservations about his self-described "trumpery" and failure to share the "happiness of [his] fellow men".[15]

    As the French and Indian War began in 1754, Adams, aged nineteen, began to struggle with his responsibility in the conflict as many of his contemporaries joined the war for money. Adams later said, "I longed more ardently to be a Soldier than I ever did to be a Lawyer", recognizing that he was the first of his family to "[degenerate] from the virtues of the house so far as not to have been an officer in the militia".[16]

    Law practice and marriage

    Woman with deep black hair and dark eyes wearing a blue and pink dress
    Abigail Smith Adams – 1766 portrait by Benjamin Blyth
    Man in dark gray clothing with dark hair
    John Adams – 1766 portrait also by Blyth

    In 1756, Adams began reading law under James Putnam, a leading lawyer in Worcester.[17] In 1758, he earned an A.M. from Harvard,[18] and in 1759 was admitted to the bar.[19] He developed an early habit of writing about events and impressions of men in his diary; this included James Otis Jr.'s 1761 legal argument challenging the legality of British writs of assistance, allowing the British to search a home without notice or reason. Otis's argument inspired Adams to the cause of the American colonies.[20]

    A group of Boston businessmen had been appalled at the writs of assistance that the crown had started issuing to clamp down on colonial smuggling. Writs of assistance were not only search warrants without any limits, they also required local sheriffs, and even local citizens, to assist in breaking into colonists' houses or lend whatever assistance customs officials desired.[21][22][23] The outraged businessmen engaged lawyer James Otis Jr. to challenge writs of assistance in court. Otis gave the speech of his life, making references to the Magna Carta, classical allusions, natural law, and the colonists' "rights as Englishmen".[21][24][25][23]

    The court ruled against the merchants. However, the case lit the fire that became the American Revolution. Otis's arguments were published in the colonies, and stirred widespread support for colonial rights. As a young lawyer, John Adams was observing the case in the packed courtroom, and was moved by Otis's performance and legal arguments. Adams later said that "Then and there the child Independence was born."[26][25][23][27]

    In 1763, Adams explored various aspects of political theory in seven essays written for Boston newspapers. He offered them anonymously, under the pen name "Humphrey Ploughjogger", and in them ridiculed the selfish thirst for power he perceived among the Massachusetts colonial elite.[28] Adams was initially less well known than his older cousin Samuel Adams, but his influence emerged from his work as a constitutional lawyer, his analysis of history, and his dedication to republicanism. Adams often found his own irascible nature a constraint in his political career.[14]

    In the late 1750s, Adams fell in love with Hannah Quincy; while they were alone, he was poised to propose but was interrupted by friends, and the moment was lost. In 1759, he met 15-year-old Abigail Smith, his third cousin,[29] through his friend Richard Cranch, who was courting Abigail's older sister. Adams initially was not impressed with Abigail and her two sisters, writing that they were not "fond, nor frank, nor candid".[30] In time, he grew close to Abigail and they were married on October 25, 1764, despite the opposition of Abigail's haughty mother. They shared a love of books and kindred personalities that proved honest in their praise and criticism of each other. After his father's death in 1761, Adams had inherited a 9+12-acre (3.8 ha) farm and a house where they lived until 1783.[31][32] John and Abigail had six children: Abigail "Nabby" in 1765,[33] future president John Quincy Adams in 1767,[34] Susanna in 1768, Charles in 1770, Thomas in 1772,[35] and Elizabeth in 1777.[36] Susanna died when she was one year old,[35] while Elizabeth was stillborn.[36] All three of his sons became lawyers. Charles and Thomas were unsuccessful, became alcoholics, and died before old age, while John Quincy excelled and launched a career in politics. Adams's writings are devoid of his feelings about the sons' fates.[37]

    Career before the Revolution

    Opponent of Stamp Act

    Adams rose to prominence leading widespread opposition to the Stamp Act of 1765. The Act was imposed by the British Parliament without consulting the American legislatures. It required payment of a direct tax by the colonies for stamped documents,[38][39] and was designed to pay for the costs of Britain's war with France. Power of enforcement was given to British vice admiralty courts, rather than common law courts.[40][39] These Admiralty courts acted without juries and were greatly disliked.[38] The Act was despised for both its monetary cost and implementation without colonial consent, and encountered violent resistance, preventing its enforcement.[40] Adams authored the "Braintree Instructions" in 1765, in the form of a letter sent to the representatives of Braintree in the Massachusetts legislature. In it, he explained that the Act should be opposed since it denied two fundamental rights guaranteed to all Englishmen (and which all free men deserved): rights to be taxed only by consent and to be tried by a jury of one's peers. The instructions were a succinct and forthright defense of colonial rights and liberties, and served as a model for other towns' instructions.[41]

    Adams also reprised his pen name "Humphrey Ploughjogger" in opposition to the Stamp Act in August of that year. Included were four articles to the Boston Gazette. The articles were republished in The London Chronicle in 1768 as True Sentiments of America, also known as A Dissertation on the Canon and Feudal Law. He also spoke in December before the governor and council, pronouncing the Stamp Act invalid in the absence of Massachusetts representation at Parliament.[42][43] He noted that many protests were sparked by a popular sermon of Boston minister Jonathan Mayhew, invoking Romans 13 to justify insurrection.[44] While Adams took a strong stand against the Act in writing, he rebuffed attempts by Samuel Adams, a leader in the popular protest movements, to involve him in mob actions and public demonstrations.[45] In 1766, a town meeting of Braintree elected Adams as a selectman.[46]

    With the repeal of the Stamp Act in early 1766, tensions with Britain temporarily eased.[47] Putting politics aside, Adams moved his family to Boston in April 1768 to focus on his law practice. The family rented a clapboard house on Brattle Street that was known locally as the "White House". He, Abigail, and the children lived there for a year, then moved to Cold Lane; still, later, they moved again to a larger house in Brattle Square in the center of the city.[34] In 1768, Adams successfully defended the merchant John Hancock, who was accused of violating British acts of trade in the Liberty Affair.[48] With the death of Jeremiah Gridley and the mental collapse of Otis, Adams became Boston's most prominent lawyer.[46]

    Counsel for the British: Boston Massacre

    Depiction of chaotic confrontation between British soldiers and Bostonians
     
    Boston Massacre of 1770 by Alonzo Chappel

    Britain's passage of the Townshend Acts in 1767 revived tensions, and an increase in mob violence led the British to dispatch more troops to the colonies.[49] On March 5, 1770, when a lone British sentry was accosted by a mob of men and boys, eight of his fellow soldiers reinforced him, and the crowd around them grew to several hundred. The soldiers were struck with snowballs, ice, and stones, and in the chaos the soldiers opened fire, killing five civilians, bringing about the infamous Boston Massacre. The accused soldiers were arrested on charges of murder. When no other attorneys would come to their defense, Adams was impelled to do so despite the risk to his reputation – he believed no person should be denied the right to counsel and a fair trial. The trials were delayed so that passions could cool.[50]

    The week-long trial of the commander, Captain Thomas Preston, began on October 24 and ended in his acquittal, because it was impossible to prove that he had ordered his soldiers to fire.[51] The remaining soldiers were tried in December when Adams made his legendary argument regarding jury decisions: "Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence."[52] He added, "It is more important that innocence be protected than it is that guilt be punished, for guilt and crimes are so frequent in this world that they cannot all be punished. But if innocence itself is brought to the bar and condemned, perhaps to die, then the citizen will say, 'whether I do good or whether I do evil is immaterial, for innocence itself is no protection,' and if such an idea as that were to take hold in the mind of the citizen that would be the end of security whatsoever." Adams won an acquittal for six of the soldiers. Two, who had fired directly into the crowd, were convicted of manslaughter. Adams was paid a small sum by his clients.[31]

    According to biographer John E. Ferling, during jury selection Adams "expertly exercised his right to challenge individual jurors and contrived what amounted to a packed jury. Not only were several jurors closely tied through business arrangements to the British army, but five ultimately became Loyalist exiles." While Adams's defence was helped by a weak prosecution, he also "performed brilliantly."[53] Ferling surmises that Adams was encouraged to take the case in exchange for political office; one of Boston's seats opened three months later in the Massachusetts legislature, and Adams was the town's first choice to fill the vacancy.[54]

    The prosperity of his law practice increased from this exposure, as did the demands on his time. In 1771, Adams moved his family to Braintree but kept his office in Boston. He noted on the day of the family's move, "Now my family is away, I feel no Inclination at all, no Temptation, to be any where but at my Office. I am in it by 6 in the Morning – I am in it at 9 at night. ... In the Evening, I can be alone at my Office, and no where else." After some time in the capital, he became disenchanted with the rural and "vulgar" Braintree as a home for his family – in August 1772, he moved them back to Boston. He purchased a large brick house on Queen Street, not far from his office.[55] In 1774, Adams and Abigail returned the family to the farm due to the increasingly unstable situation in Boston, and Braintree remained their permanent Massachusetts home.[56]

    Becoming a revolutionary

    Adams, who had been among the more conservative of the Founders, persistently held that while British actions against the colonies had been wrong and misguided, open insurrection was unwarranted and peaceful petition with the ultimate view of remaining part of Great Britain was a better alternative.[57] His ideas began to change around 1772, as the British Crown assumed payment of the salaries of Governor Thomas Hutchinson and his judges instead of the Massachusetts legislature. Adams wrote in the Gazette that these measures would destroy judicial independence and place the colonial government in closer subjugation to the Crown. After discontent among members of the legislature, Hutchinson delivered a speech warning that Parliament's powers over the colonies were absolute and that any resistance was illegal. Subsequently, John Adams, Samuel, and Joseph Hawley drafted a resolution adopted by the House of Representatives threatening independence as an alternative to tyranny. The resolution argued that the colonists had never been under the sovereignty of Parliament. Their original charter, as well as their allegiance, was exclusive to the King.[58]

    The Boston Tea Party, a historic demonstration against the British East India Company's tea monopoly over American merchants, took place on December 16, 1773. The British schooner Dartmouth, loaded with tea to be traded subject to the new Tea Act, had previously dropped anchor in Boston harbor. By 9:00 PM, the work of the protesters was done – they had demolished 342 chests of tea worth about ten thousand pounds. The Dartmouth owners briefly retained Adams as legal counsel regarding their liability for the destroyed shipment. Adams applauded the destruction of the tea, calling it the "grandest Event" in the history of the colonial protest movement,[59] and writing in his diary that the dutied tea's destruction was an "absolutely and indispensably" necessary action.[60]

    Continental Congress

    Member of Continental Congress

    56 figures stand or sit in a room. Five lay papers on a table.
     
    John Trumbull's Declaration of Independence depicts the Committee of Five presenting its draft to Congress. Adams is depicted in the center with his hand on his hip.

    In 1774, at the instigation of John's cousin Samuel Adams, the First Continental Congress was convened in response to the Intolerable Acts, a series of deeply unpopular measures intended to punish Massachusetts, centralize authority in Britain, and prevent rebellion in other colonies. Four delegates were chosen by the Massachusetts legislature, including John Adams, who agreed to attend,[61] despite an emotional plea from his friend, Attorney General Jonathan Sewall, not to.[62]

    Shortly after he arrived in Philadelphia, Adams was placed on the 23-member Grand Committee tasked with drafting a letter of grievances to King George III. The members of the committee soon split into conservative and radical factions.[63] Although the Massachusetts delegation was largely passive, Adams criticized conservatives such as Joseph Galloway, James Duane, and Peter Oliver who advocated a conciliatory policy towards the British or felt that the colonies had a duty to remain loyal to Britain, although his views at the time did align with those of conservative John Dickinson. Adams sought the repeal of objectionable policies, but at this early stage he continued to see benefits in maintaining the ties with Britain.[64] He renewed his push for the right to a jury trial.[65] He complained of what he considered the pretentiousness of the other delegates, writing to Abigail, "I believe if it was moved and seconded that We should come to a Resolution that Three and two make five We should be entertained with Logick and Rhetorick, Law, History, Politicks and Mathematicks, concerning the Subject for two whole Days, and then We should pass the Resolution unanimously in the Affirmative."[66] Adams ultimately helped engineer a compromise between the conservatives and the radicals.[67] The Congress disbanded in October after sending the final petition to the King and showing its displeasure with the Intolerable Acts by endorsing the Suffolk Resolves.[68]

    Adams's absence from home was hard on Abigail, who was left alone to care for the family. She still encouraged her husband in his task, writing: "You cannot be, I know, nor do I wish to see you an inactive Spectator, but if the Sword be drawn I bid adieu to all domestick felicity, and look forward to that Country where there is neither wars nor rumors of War in a firm belief that thro the mercy of its King we shall both rejoice there together."[69]

    News of the opening hostilities with the British at the Battles of Lexington and Concord made Adams hope that independence would soon become a reality. Three days after the battle, he rode into a militia camp and, while reflecting positively on the high spirits of the men, was distressed by their poor condition and lack of discipline.[70] A month later, Adams returned to Philadelphia for the Second Continental Congress as the leader of the Massachusetts delegation.[71] He moved cautiously at first, noting that the Congress was divided between Loyalists, those favoring independence, and those hesitant to take any position.[72] He became convinced that Congress was moving in the proper direction – away from Great Britain. Publicly, Adams supported "reconciliation if practicable," but privately agreed with Benjamin Franklin's confidential observation that independence was inevitable.[73]

    In June 1775, with a view of promoting union among the colonies against Great Britain, he nominated George Washington of Virginia as commander-in-chief of the army then assembled around Boston.[74] He praised Washington's "skill and experience" as well as his "excellent universal character."[75] Adams opposed various attempts, including the Olive Branch Petition, aimed at trying to find peace between the colonies and Great Britain.[76] Invoking the already-long list of British actions against the colonies, he wrote, "In my opinion Powder and Artillery are the most efficacious, Sure, and infallibly conciliatory Measures We can adopt."[77] After his failure to prevent the petition from being enacted, he wrote a private letter derisively referring to Dickinson as a "piddling genius." The letter was intercepted and published in Loyalist newspapers. The well-respected Dickinson refused to greet Adams and he was for a time largely ostracized.[78] Ferling writes, "By the fall of 1775 no one in Congress labored more ardently than Adams to hasten the day when America would be separate from Great Britain."[73] In October 1775, Adams was appointed the chief judge of the Massachusetts Superior Court, but he never served, and resigned in February 1777.[74] In response to queries from other delegates, Adams wrote the 1776 pamphlet Thoughts on Government, which laid out an influential framework for republican constitutions.[79]

    Independence

    Throughout the first half of 1776, Adams grew increasingly impatient with what he perceived to be the slow pace of declaring independence.[80] He kept busy on the floor of the Congress, helping push through a plan to outfit armed ships to launch raids on enemy vessels. Later in the year, he drafted the first set of regulations to govern the provisional navy.[81] Adams drafted the preamble to the Lee resolution of colleague Richard Henry Lee.[82] He developed a rapport with Delegate Thomas Jefferson of Virginia, who had been slower to support independence but by early 1776 agreed that it was necessary.[83] On June 7, 1776, Adams seconded the Lee resolution, which stated, "These colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent states."[84]

    240px-Independence_Hall_Assembly_Room.jp
     
    The Assembly Room in Philadelphia's Independence Hall, where the Second Continental Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence

    Prior to independence being declared, Adams organized and selected a Committee of Five charged with drafting a Declaration of Independence. He chose himself, Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, Robert R. Livingston and Roger Sherman.[85] Jefferson thought Adams should write the document, but Adams persuaded the committee to choose Jefferson. Many years later, Adams recorded his exchange with Jefferson: Jefferson asked, "Why will you not? You ought to do it." To which Adams responded, "I will not – reasons enough." Jefferson replied, "What can be your reasons?" and Adams responded, "Reason first, you are a Virginian, and a Virginian ought to appear at the head of this business. Reason second, I am obnoxious, suspected, and unpopular. You are very much otherwise. Reason third, you can write ten times better than I can." "Well," said Jefferson, "if you are decided, I will do as well as I can."[86] The Committee left no minutes, and the drafting process itself remains uncertain. Accounts written many years later by Jefferson and Adams, although frequently cited, are often contradictory.[87] Although the first draft was written primarily by Jefferson, Adams assumed a major role in its completion.[88] On July 1, the resolution was debated in Congress. It was expected to pass, but opponents such as Dickinson made a strong effort to oppose it anyhow. Jefferson, a poor debater, remained silent while Adams argued for its adoption.[89] Many years later, Jefferson hailed Adams as "the pillar of [the Declaration's] support on the floor of Congress, [its] ablest advocate and defender against the multifarious assaults it encountered."[90] After editing the document further, Congress approved it on July 2. Twelve colonies voted in the affirmative, while New York abstained. Dickinson was absent.[91] On July 3, Adams wrote to Abigail that "yesterday was decided the greatest question which was ever debated in America, and a greater perhaps never was nor will be decided among men." He predicted that "[t]he second day of July, 1776, will be the most memorable epoch in the history of America," and would be commemorated annually with great festivities.[92]

    During the congress, Adams sat on ninety committees, chairing twenty-five, an unmatched workload among the congressmen. As Benjamin Rush reported, he was acknowledged "to be the first man in the House."[93] In June 1776, Adams became head of the Board of War and Ordnance, charged with keeping an accurate record of the officers in the army and their ranks, the disposition of troops throughout the colonies, and ammunition.[94] He was referred to as a "one man war department," working up to eighteen-hour days and mastering the details of raising, equipping and fielding an army under civilian control.[95] As chairman of the Board, Adams functioned as a de facto Secretary of War. He kept extensive correspondences with a wide range of Continental Army officers concerning supplies, munitions, and tactics. Adams emphasized to them the role of discipline in keeping an army orderly.[96] He also authored the "Plan of Treaties," laying out the Congress's requirements for a treaty with France.[95] He was worn out by the rigor of his duties and longed to return home. His finances were unsteady, and the money that he received as a delegate failed even to cover his own necessary expenses. However, the crisis caused by the defeat of the American soldiers kept him at his post.[97]

    After defeating the Continental Army at the Battle of Long Island on August 27, 1776, British Admiral Richard Howe determined that a strategic advantage was at hand, and requested that Congress send representatives to negotiate peace. A delegation consisting of Adams, Franklin, and Edward Rutledge met with Howe at the Staten Island Peace Conference on September 11.[98][99] Howe's authority was premised on the states' submission, so the parties found no common ground. When Lord Howe stated he could view the American delegates only as British subjects, Adams replied, "Your lordship may consider me in what light you please, ... except that of a British subject."[100] Adams learned many years later that his name was on a list of people specifically excluded from Howe's pardon-granting authority.[101] Adams was unimpressed with Howe and predicted American success.[102] He was able to return home to Braintree in October before leaving in January 1777 to resume his duties in Congress.[103]

    Diplomatic service

    Main article: Diplomacy of John Adams

    Commissioner to France

    Adams advocated in Congress that independence was necessary to establish trade, and conversely, trade was essential for the attainment of independence; he specifically urged negotiation of a commercial treaty with France. He was then appointed, along with Franklin, Dickinson, Benjamin Harrison of Virginia and Robert Morris of Pennsylvania, "to prepare a plan of treaties to be proposed to foreign powers." While Jefferson was laboring over the Declaration of Independence, Adams worked on the Model Treaty. The Model Treaty authorized a commercial agreement with France but contained no provisions for formal recognition or military assistance. There were provisions for what constituted French territory. The treaty adhered to the provision that "free ships make free goods," allowing neutral nations to trade reciprocally while exempting an agreed-upon list of contraband. By late 1777, America's finances were in tatters, and that September a British army had defeated General Washington and captured Philadelphia. More Americans came to determine that mere commercial ties between the U.S. and France would not be enough, and that military assistance would be needed to end the war. The defeat of the British at Saratoga was expected to help induce France to agree to an alliance.[104]

    In November 1777, Adams learned that he was to be named commissioner to France, replacing Silas Deane and joining Franklin and Arthur Lee in Paris to negotiate an alliance with the hesitant French. James Lovell invoked Adams's "inflexible integrity" and the need to have a youthful man who could counterbalance Franklin's advanced age. On November 27, Adams accepted, wasting no time. He wrote to Lovell that he "should have wanted no motives or arguments" for his acceptance if he "could be sure that the public would be benefited by it." Abigail was left in Massachusetts to manage their home, but it was agreed that 10-year-old John Quincy would go with Adams, for the experience was "of inestimable value" to his maturation.[105] On February 17, 1778, Adams set sail aboard the frigate Boston, commanded by Captain Samuel Tucker.[106] The trip was stormy and treacherous. Lightning injured 19 sailors and killed one. The ship was pursued by several British vessels, with Adams taking up arms to help capture one. A cannon malfunction killed one of the crew and injured five others. On April 1, the Boston arrived in France, where Adams learned that France had agreed to an alliance with the United States on February 6.[107] Adams was annoyed by the other two commissioners: Lee, whom he thought paranoid and cynical, and the popular and influential Franklin, whom he found lethargic and overly deferential and accommodating to the French.[108] He assumed a less visible role but helped manage the delegation's finances and record-keeping.[109] Frustrated by the perceived lack of commitment on the part of the French, Adams wrote a letter to French foreign minister Vergennes in December, arguing for French naval support in North America. Franklin toned down the letter, but Vergennes still ignored it.[110] In September 1778, Congress increased Franklin's powers by naming him minister plenipotentiary to France while Lee was sent to Spain. Adams received no instructions. Frustrated by the apparent slight, he departed France with his son John Quincy on March 8, 1779.[111] On August 2, they arrived in Braintree.[112]

    200px-Joseph_Siffrein_Duplessis_-_Benjam
     
    Adams frequently clashed with Benjamin Franklin over how to manage French relations.

    In late 1779, Adams was appointed as the sole minister charged with negotiations to establish a commercial treaty with Britain and end the war.[113] Following the conclusion of the Massachusetts constitutional convention, he departed for France in November[114] aboard the French frigate Sensible – accompanied by his sons John Quincy and 9-year-old Charles.[115] A leak in the ship forced it to land in Ferrol, Spain, and Adams and his party spent six weeks travelling overland until they reached Paris.[116] Constant disagreement between Lee and Franklin eventually resulted in Adams assuming the role of tie-breaker in almost all votes on commission business. He increased his usefulness by mastering the French language. Lee was eventually recalled. Adams closely supervised his sons' education while writing to Abigail about once every ten days.[117]

    In contrast to Franklin, Adams viewed the Franco-American alliance pessimistically. The French, he believed, were involved for their own self-interest, and he grew frustrated by what he saw as their sluggishness in providing substantial aid to the Revolution. The French, Adams wrote, meant to keep their hands "above our chin to prevent us from drowning, but not to lift our heads out of water."[118] In March 1780, Congress, trying to curb inflation, voted to devalue the dollar. Vergennes summoned Adams for a meeting. In a letter sent in June, he insisted that any fluctuation of the dollar value without an exception for French merchants was unacceptable and requested that Adams write to Congress asking it to "retrace its steps." Adams bluntly defended the decision, not only claiming that the French merchants were doing better than Vergennes implied but voicing other grievances he had with the French. The alliance had been made over two years before. During that period, an army under the comte de Rochambeau had been sent to assist Washington, but it had yet to do anything of significance and America was expecting French warships. These were needed, Adams wrote, to contain the British armies in the port cities and contend with the powerful British Navy. However, the French Navy had been sent not to the United States but to the West Indies to protect French interests there. France, Adams believed, needed to commit itself more fully to the alliance. Vergennes responded that he would deal only with Franklin, who sent a letter back to Congress critical of Adams.[119] Adams then left France of his own accord.[120]

    Ambassador to the Dutch Republic

    In mid-1780, Adams traveled to the Dutch Republic. One of the few other existing republics at the time, Adams thought it might be sympathetic to the American cause. Securing a Dutch loan could increase American independence from France and pressure Britain into peace. At first, Adams had no official status, but in July he was formally given permission to negotiate for a loan and took up residence in Amsterdam in August. Adams was originally optimistic and greatly enjoyed the city, but soon became disappointed. The Dutch, fearing British retaliation, refused to meet Adams. Before he had arrived, the British found out about secret aid the Dutch had sent to the Americans, the British authorized reprisals against their ships, which only increased their apprehension. Word had also reached Europe of American battlefield defeats. After five months of not meeting with a single Dutch official, Adams in early 1781 pronounced Amsterdam "the capital of the reign of Mammon."[121] He was finally invited to present his credentials as ambassador to the Dutch government at The Hague on April 19, 1781, but they did not promise any assistance. In the meantime, Adams thwarted an attempt by neutral European powers to mediate the war without consulting the United States.[122] In July, Adams consented to the departure of both of his sons; John Quincy went with Adams's secretary Francis Dana to Saint Petersburg as a French interpreter, in an effort to seek recognition from Russia, and a homesick Charles returned home with Adams's friend Benjamin Waterhouse.[123] In August, shortly after being removed from his position of sole head of peace treaty negotiations, Adams fell seriously ill in "a major nervous breakdown."[124] That November, he learned that American and French troops had decisively defeated the British at Yorktown. The victory was in large part due to the assistance of the French Navy, which vindicated Adams's stand for increased naval assistance.[125]

    News of the American triumph at Yorktown convulsed Europe. In January 1782, after recovering, Adams arrived at The Hague to demand that the States General of the Netherlands answer his petitions. His efforts stalled, and he took his cause to the people, successfully capitalizing on popular pro-American sentiment to push the States General towards recognizing the U.S. Several provinces began recognizing American independence. On April 19, the States General in The Hague formally recognized American independence and acknowledged Adams as ambassador.[126] On June 11, with the aid of the Dutch Patriotten leader Joan van der Capellen tot den Pol, Adams negotiated a loan of five million guilders. In October, he negotiated with the Dutch a treaty of amity and commerce.[127] The house that Adams bought during this stay in the Netherlands became the first American embassy on foreign soil.[128]

    Treaty of Paris

    280px-Treaty_of_Paris_by_Benjamin_West_1
     
    Treaty of Paris by Benjamin West (Adams in front).

    After negotiating the loan with the Dutch, Adams was re-appointed as the American commissioner to negotiate the war-ending treaty, the Treaty of Paris. Vergennes and France's minister to the United States, Anne-César de La Luzerne, disapproved of Adams, so Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, John Jay, and Henry Laurens were appointed to collaborate with Adams, although Jefferson did not initially go to Europe and Laurens was posted to the Dutch Republic following his imprisonment in the Tower of London.[129]

    In the final negotiations, securing fishing rights off Newfoundland and Cape Breton Island proved both very important and very difficult. In response to very strict restrictions proposed by the British, Adams insisted that not only should American fishermen be allowed to travel as close to shore as desired, but that they should be allowed to cure their fish on the shores of Newfoundland.[130] This, and other statements, prompted Vergennes to secretly inform the British that France did not feel compelled to "sustain [these] pretentious ambitions." Overruling Franklin and distrustful of Vergennes, Jay and Adams decided not to consult with France, instead dealing directly with the British.[131] During these negotiations, Adams mentioned to the British that his proposed fishing terms were more generous than those offered by France in 1778 and that accepting would foster goodwill between Britain and the United States while putting pressure on France. Britain agreed, and the two sides worked out other provisions afterward. Vergennes was angered when he learned from Franklin of the American duplicity, but did not demand renegotiation. He was surprised at how much the Americans could extract. The independent negotiations allowed the French to plead innocence to their Spanish allies, whose demands for Gibraltar might have caused significant problems.[132] On September 3, 1783, the treaty was signed and American independence was recognized.[133]

    Ambassador to Great Britain

    Adams was appointed the first American ambassador to Great Britain in 1785. When a counterpart assumed that Adams had family in England, Adams replied, "Neither my father or mother, grandfather or grandmother, great grandfather or great grandmother, nor any other relation that I know of, or care a farthing for, has been in England these one hundred and fifty years; so that you see I have not one drop of blood in my veins but what is American."[134]

    220px-JohnAdams.png
     
    Adams – 1785 Mather Brown Portrait

    After arriving in London from Paris, Adams had his first audience with King George III on June 1, which he meticulously recorded in a letter to Foreign Minister Jay the next day. The pair's exchange was respectful; Adams promised to do all that he could to restore friendship and cordiality "between People who, tho Seperated [sic] by an Ocean and under different Governments have the Same Language, a Similar Religion and kindred Blood," and the King agreed to "receive with Pleasure, the Assurances of the friendly Dispositions of the United States." The King added that although "he had been the last to consent" to American independence, he wanted Adams to know that he had always done what he thought was right. Towards its end, he startled Adams by commenting that "There is an Opinion, among Some People, that you are not the most attached of all Your Countrymen, to the manners of France." Adams replied, "That Opinion sir, is not mistaken, I must avow to your Majesty, I have no Attachments but to my own Country." To this King George responded, "An honest Man will never have any other."[135]

    Adams was joined by Abigail while in London. Suffering the hostility of the King's courtiers, they escaped when they could by seeking out Richard Price, minister of Newington Green Unitarian Church and instigator of the debate over the Revolution within Britain.[136] Adams corresponded with his sons John Quincy and Charles, both of whom were at Harvard, cautioning the former against the "smell of the midnight lamp" while admonishing the latter to devote sufficient time to study.[137] Jefferson visited Adams in 1786 while serving as Minister to France; the two toured the countryside and saw many British historical sites.[138] While in London, Adams met his old friend Jonathan Sewall, but the two discovered that they had grown too far apart to renew their friendship. Adams considered Sewall one of the war's casualties, and Sewall critiqued him as an ambassador:

    His abilities are undoubtedly equal to the mechanical parts of his business as ambassador, but this is not enough. He cannot dance, drink, game, flatter, promise, dress, swear with the gentlemen, and small talk and flirt with the ladies; in short, he has none of those essential arts or ornaments which constitute a courtier. There are thousands who, with a tenth of his understanding and without a spark of his honesty, would distance him infinitely in any court in Europe.[139]

    While in London Adams wrote his three-volume A Defense of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America. It was a response to those he had met in Europe who criticized the government systems of the American states.[140]

    Adams's tenure in Britain was complicated by both countries failing to follow their treaty obligations. The American states had been delinquent in paying debts owed to British merchants, and in response, the British refused to vacate forts in the northwest as promised. Adams's attempts to resolve this dispute failed, and he was often frustrated by a lack of news of progress from home.[141] The news he received of tumult at home, such as Shays' Rebellion, heightened his anxiety. He then asked Jay to be relieved;[142] in 1788, he took his leave of George III, who engaged Adams in polite and formal conversation, promising to uphold his end of the treaty once America did the same.[143] Adams then went to The Hague to take formal leave of his ambassadorship there and to secure refinancing from the Dutch, allowing the United States to meet obligations on earlier loans.[144]

    Vice presidency (1789–1797)

    Election

    On June 17, 1788, Adams arrived back in Massachusetts to a triumphant welcome. He returned to farming life in the months after. The nation's first presidential election was soon to take place. Because George Washington was widely expected to win the presidency, many felt that the vice presidency should go to a northerner. Although he made no public comments on the matter, Adams was the primary contender.[145] Each state's presidential electors gathered on February 4, 1789, to cast their two votes for the president. The person with the most votes would be president and the second would become vice president.[146] Adams received 34 electoral college votes in the election, second place behind George Washington, who was an unanimous choice with 69 votes. As a result, Washington became the nation's first president, and Adams became its first vice president. Adams finished well ahead of all others except Washington, but was still offended by Washington receiving more than twice as many votes.[147] In an effort to ensure that Adams did not accidentally become president and that Washington would have an overwhelming victory, Alexander Hamilton convinced at least 7 of the 69 electors not to cast their vote for Adams. After finding out about the manipulation but not Hamilton's role in it, Adams wrote to Benjamin Rush asking whether "Is not my election to this office, in the dark and scurvy manner in which it was done, a curse rather than a blessing?"[147][148]

    Although his term started on March 4, 1789, Adams did not begin serving as Vice President of the United States until April 21, because he did not arrive in New York in time.[149][150]

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