John Adams


John Adams

2nd President of the United States
(March 4, 1797 to March 3, 1801)

Age at inauguration: 61 years old

Vice President: Thomas Jefferson


  • The Colossus of Independence for his leadership in Congress in 1776
  • Old Sink or Swim for the speech in which he vowed "to sink or swim; to live or die; survive or perish with my country"
  • His Rotundity

Preceded by: George Washington
Succeeded by: Thomas Jefferson

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

Cause of death: Congestive heart failure

Married: Abigail Smith (1744-1818), on October 25, 1764

Children:   Abigail; John Quincy; Susanna, Charles; Thomas; and Elizabeth (stillborn)

Father: John Adams
Mother: Susanna Boylston Adams

Religion: Unitarian
Education: Graduated from Harvard College (1755)
Occupation: Lawyer
Political Party: Pro-Administration (before 1795); Federalist (1795-1826)
Other Government Positions:

  • United States Minister to the Court of St. James's April 1, 1785 – March 30, 1788
  • United States Minister to the Netherlands April 19, 1782 – March 30, 1788
  • United States Envoy to France April 1, 1778 – June 17, 1779
  • Delegate to the Second Continental Congress from Massachusetts May 10, 1775 – June 27, 1778
  • Vice President, 1789-97 (under George Washington)

Presidential Salary: $25,000/year

John Adams followed Washington's lead in using the presidency to exemplify republican values and civic virtue; and his service was free of scandal. He continued to strengthen the central government by expanding the Navy and Army. In July 1798 Adams signed into law the Act for the Relief of Sick and Disabled Seamen, which authorized the establishment of a government-operated marine hospital service.

Historians debate his decision to retain en masse the members of Washington's cabinet. Many felt he was oblivious to the political danger of such a decision, in light of the cabinet's loyalty to Hamilton. The "Hamiltonians who surround him," Jefferson soon remarked, "you are only a little less hostile to him than to me." Although aware of the Hamilton factor, Adams was convinced their retention ensured a smoother succession. Adams' economic programs maintained those of Hamilton, who indeed had regularly consulted with key cabinet members, especially the powerful Secretary of the Treasury, Oliver Wolcott, Jr. Adams was in other respects quite independent of his cabinet, often making decisions despite strong opposition from it. Such self-reliance enabled him to avoid war with France, despite a strong desire among his cabinet secretaries for the conflict. The Quasi-War with France resulted in the detachment from European affairs that Washington had sought. It also had psychological benefits, allowing America to view itself as holding its own against a European power.

Historian George Herring argues that Adams was the most independent-minded of the founders. Though he aligned with the Federalists, he was somewhat a party unto himself, disagreeing with the Federalists as much as he did the Democratic-Republicans. He was often described as "prickly", but his tenacity was fed by good decisions made in the face of universal opposition. Adams was often combative, which diminished presidential decorum, as Adams himself admitted in his old age: "[As president] I refused to suffer in silence. I sighed, sobbed, and groaned, and sometimes screeched and screamed. And I must confess to my shame and sorrow that I sometimes swore." Adams' resolve to advance peace with France, rather than to continue hostilities, especially reduced his popularity. This played an important role in his reelection defeat, however he was so pleased with the outcome that he had it engraved on his tombstone. Adams spent much of his term at home in Massachusetts, ignoring the details of political patronage nursed by other office holders.


John Adams

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