John Adams was born on October 30, 1735, in Braintree, (now known as Quincy) Massachusetts on the family farm. He died on July 4, 1826, his last words being: "Thomas Jefferson survives." But Jefferson had died at Monticello a few hours earlier.
John was named after his father, a deacon of the church. His father was also, at times, the town's tax collector, selectman, constable and lieutenant of the militia. His father's occupation was farming. The senior Adams was John's role model in life. John's father passed away in the flu epidemic of 1761.
Of all the famous people in the Adams' life, comparatively little is known about John's mother, Susanna Boylston Adams. She was known to have a fiery temper. She remarried in 1766 to Lt. John Hall. Apparently, John did not get along with his stepfather. Susanna Adams died in 1797, while John was serving his first year as President.
John had two younger brothers, Peter and Elihu. John Adams was the second cousin of Samuel Adams, fellow revolutionary and John was the third cousin to his future wife, Abigail Smith.
Growing up, John took advantage of the freedom given by his parents. In his autobiography, John wrote that he cared little for school and enjoyed all types of outdoor activities. John's favorite activity was hunting. After a while, John began to bring a gun along with him to school. This way he could begin hunting even before he got home from school!
Soon, his parents began to worry that John was wasting his gifted intellect. His father asked him at age ten, "What would you do, child?" John answered back, "Be a farmer." The next day John's father took the boy to fields and worked him as hard as any adult. The night after young John came back tired, sore, and covered in dirt, his father asked John, "Well, John, are you satisfied with being a farmer?" His father, hoping he had taught his son a valuable lesson, was surprised by the answer. "I like it very well, Sir."
This was one of the first cases of John's stubbornness, which he possessed throughout life.
John was taught to read by his father while he a was still a young child. John attended a series of schools. His favorite subject was math. John had little patience for schooling. His father had dreams of John graduating from Harvard and becoming a minister. John agreed to become more attentive of studies if his father would place him under the tutelage of Joseph Marsh, who ran a more challenging school. John's school work improved and he entered Harvard in 1751, a year older than the usual student at that time.
Adams graduated in 1755 with Bachelor of Arts degree. Adams graduated 15 in a class of 24. At the time of his graduation, Adams planned to commit himself to practicing law. However, Adams' first job was as schoolmaster in Worcester, Massachusetts.
Throughout Adams' teaching career, John yearned to make his mark upon the world. There was little to stimulate John's intellectual needs. Adams learned to adjust to becoming the schoolmaster in the town, socializing in the evenings, meeting with old school friends or returning home during school breaks. All the while Adams was wondering if he was he was ruining his chances for a better career. At times in his classroom, Adams imagined himself as a dictator and his students as generals and politicians. John also had a bad habit of selecting the smartest student to lead the class in its studies, while John read or wrote at his desk.
During Adams time in Worcester, he began keeping his famous journal. His first entry was on January 14, 1756. John wrote that while he was forming good resolutions, he was never executing upon them. Thus Adams began his life long pattern of self doubt. Adams made regular entries in his journal for the rest of his life.
Soon Adams was looking to escape the hum drum life of a schoolmaster. After discarding many ideas of a new career, Adams settled on practicing law.
Adams began to study law under James Putnam. Adams continued to teach school during the day and study law at night. When it came time for Adams to present himself to the bar at Braintree, Putnam failed to accompany Adams. Fortunately, Jeremiah Gridley, another lawyer, recommended Adams. Adams was admitted to the bar in 1758. Gridley also gave Adams sage advice not to marry early. Adams followed this advice and threw himself into his law studies.
Later that year, John Adams met Hannah Quincy who was a year younger than John. They met on many a Sunday evening. Adams almost forgot Gridley's advice and was on the brink of a proposal when two of Adams' friends walked into the parlor. Soon Hannah tired of waiting on Adams and married another man in 1760.
When the citizens of Worcester learned that Adams was now a lawyer, they offered him a position as town register of deeds if would set up in town as a lawyer. Adams rejected their offer and returned to Braintree.
Adams' first case was between two neighbors that had been feuding for years. Adams' client had lost the first case. Adams' client had filed a sort of an appeal, called a writ. Adams lost that case on a technicality he - had forgotten to fill the name of the county on the writ! After the case, Adams realized that to become a successful lawyer, he needed to study local law instead of the law classics he was reading.
In 1764, Adams married Abigail Smith on October 25. At the time John was 28 and his bride was 19. Abigail became John's best friend and quite possibly his wisest political advisor. Though they were separated for long periods of time, Abigail kept John posted of the current events at home. Abigail was the first First Lady to live in the White House and is regarded as one of the early advocates of the women's liberation movement. Abigail and John had four children live to maturity. She was the only First Lady to have a son become President. Abigail died of typhoid fever on October 28, 1818, just after the Adams' fifty-fourth anniversary.
In 1761, Adams began to feel his first patriotic stirrings. A new king had taken the throne in England and a new writ of assistance had to be approved by the Massachusetts Colony's Superior Court. However the writs contain a general search warrant. For years ships docking in Boston had smuggle items, especially molasses. The colonists feared the lose of profits from smuggling. The colonists decided to fight the writs. One of the two lawyers hired by the colonists was John Otis. In his argument against the writs, Otis included the line, "A man's home is his castle." Otis defeated the Crown's lawyers, or at least the colonists thought so. The Superior Court, fearing that colonists believed that they won the case, stalled and wrote to London for assistance.
John Adams was present for the whole trial. Adams thought that Otis rose like a flame of fire. By the end of the trial, Adams was ready to join the Patriot's cause. Later that year, John's father passed away. With his father's passing, John gained a place in the Braintree Town Meeting. This was the beginning of John's political career. Among John's first political accomplishments were to bar amateurs from practicing law and to appoint his brother as deputy sheriff. Adams became a respected man in Braintree and was looked upon as a reliable citizen of the town.
In 1765, Adams began to publish a series of newspaper essays entitled, "Dissertation On Canon and Feudal Law." The news of the Stamp Act became public before he had finished his essays. Therefore, Adams used his final essay as a forum to attack the Stamp Act. The town of Braintree selected John Adams to write a protest against the Stamp Act. John hesitated but was assured by his cousin, Sam Adams, that it would bring John some notoriety in Boston. John was less sure, in his diary he poured out his anguish. John wrote that first to become a successful lawyer he had to deal with poverty, few friends to help him, and now the Stamp Act conspired to ruin law practice.
John's protest writing did bring him some notoriety. Samuel Adams invited John to attend the meetings of the Caucus Club. The Caucus Club was a political organization in which Deacon Adams was a member. John was impressed with the meeting and the smoky room filled with the future revolutionaries. On February 22, 1766, the British House of Commons repealed the Stamp Act. It took three months for the news to reach Boston. The repeal of the Stamp Act reduced much of the anti-parliament fever in Boston. Adams was able to return to his law practice and his budding political career.
In 1769, Adams won his first noticeable case. Adams succeeded in having charges on wine smuggling dropped against his client. Who was Adam's client? None other than the richest man in Boston, John Hancock. On March 5, 1770, both Adams' career and America's changed in an instant.
The Boston Massacre was the act of British soldiers firing into a mob of Boston citizens. When the smoke had cleared, five citizens of the mob were dead, including Crispus Attucks. The captain of the troops was Thomas Preston. After the troops had stop firing, Captain Preston noticed a Boston citizen walking directly up to soldiers. The citizen, Benjamin Burdick told Captain Preston, "I want to see some faces that I may swear to another day." Captain Preston, realizing that there would soon be a trial, answered, "Perhaps, sir, you may."
The next morning John Adams was in his law office in Boston. The anti-British fever in Boston was rampant. Samuel Adams and the Sons of Liberty were already calling the event the Boston Massacre. Paul Revere turned out an engraving that depicted Captain Preston ordering the troops to fire at point blank range on a defenseless crowd. To help calmed the mobs, Governor Hutchinson ordered that the soldiers arrested and promised the crowds that a trial would be held. That afternoon in Faneuil Hall a meeting of the Sons of Liberty demanded that all British must be removed from Boston.
James Forrest, a successful merchant and staunch Tory, brought a message to Adams. With tears streaming down his cheeks, Forrest explained that the message was from Captain Thomas Preston. Captain Preston was in jail and needed legal council. Forrest had spoke to several other lawyers and none of them would take the case. Captain Preston asked if Adams would take the case. Adams and another young lawyer, Josiah Quincy accepted Captain Preston request.
The soldiers faced arraignment in September. Captain Preston and his eight men pleaded innocent. Preston's men had petitioned that they were following Preston's orders and they should all be tried at one time. The court denied the petition and ordered that Captain Preston should stand trial first.
Captain Preston's trial began on October 24, 1770. By the standards of the time, the trial would be a long one. It was the first criminal trial in Massachusetts to last longer than one day! The jury selection favored the defendant. Of the fist seven jurors, only two were from Boston. The last five were all Tories. In addition to the favorable jury, the defendant had reason for hope. During the summer the thirst for blood by the town's residents had weaken.
The prosecution began its case by trying to prove that even if Captain Preston did not give the order to fire, he did have time to give the order, "Recover!" However, most of the witness testimony was confusing and conflicting. Benjamin Burdick, the citizen who took a hard look at the soldiers for this trial, admitted that he had carried a sword that evening. Burdick was prepared to cut off the head of any solider who threatened to stab him with a sword. The crown prosecutors rested their case on the second day.
John, leading the defense, called twenty-two witnesses in one day. A merchant claimed he had his hand on Preston's shoulder and did not hear Preston give the order to fire. Three black witnesses, two slaves and a freeman, gave testimony that they did hear any order to fire. They also testified that the crowd pelted the soldiers with snowballs.
After breaking for Sunday, on October 30, 1770, the jury declared a verdict of not-guilty. Preston wrote to General Gage praising the skill of his lawyers. In his diary, John Adams, noted that Captain Preston had not taken the time to thank his lawyers personally.
The trial of the soldiers began in December. Josiah Quincy wanted to put the town on trial, trying to prove that there was a premeditated plot to drive the British soldiers out of Boston. When Adams heard of this, he threatened to quit the case. Adams' threat worked, Quincy rescheduled his witnesses. Adams and Quincy were able to prevent any Boston resident from serving on this trial's jury. Quincy presented many witnesses that presented the case that soldiers acted in self defense. It was up to John Adams to offer the final summation of the case.
In disagreement with Sam Adams, John had no tolerance for any mob, even when the mob was on John's side. John tried to recreate what it was like to face the mob for those jurors that have never seen one. Adams reminded the jury that everyone who joined in an illegal assembly was guilty of every crime a mob might commit. However, he claimed that the mob on March 5 was provoked due to despotism of the government.
Adams was not finished when the court adjourned for the day at 5:00 P.M. The next morning, Adams described that the mob was
"a motley rabble of saucy boys, Negroes, and mulattos, Irish teagues and outlandish jack tars...shouting and hazing and threatening life...whistling, screaming, and rending an Indian yell... throwing every species of rubbish the could pick up in the street."
Adams told the jurors to put themselves in the place of the soldiers.
Robert Treat Paine summed the crown's case. It was a very uninspiring performance. The jury was out for two and a half hours before coming to a verdict. Of the eight soldiers, only two were found guilty, Matthew Kilroy and Hugh Montgomery. The next week the two soldiers were sentenced to have their thumbs branded. The soldiers were sent back to their regiment. As the regiment was set to sail to New Jersey, Hugh Montgomery confessed to his lawyers that he had shouted on that fateful night, "Damn you, fire!"
In June 1770, Adams was elected to the General Court, the lower house of the Massachusetts legislature. Among the first duties Adams attended to was to serve on a committee charged with stating the Assembly's objections to doing business in Cambridge instead of its home of Boston. The petition was rejected by the Lieutenant Governor. The General Court then recessed for the spring circuit. Adams' law business increased little, however, the quality of his clients improved. John once again began to take up his diary, a habit which he dropped during the hectic Boston Massacre trial. It was another sign that his law business was not as busy as he hoped.
The General Court reconvened in July, the first order of business was the request to move to Boston. It was refused. The same events happened again in September. Adams was on the committee to draft both the request and the replies to Lt. Governor Hutchinson's answers. The General Court realized that they had no choice but to accept Hutchinson's decision and get down to business.
In the earlier months of 1771, John complained of ill health. The preceding year was a busy and stressful time for John. In 1770 John served in the General Court, served as clerk of the Suffolk County Bar Association, continued his growing law practice and of course participated in the Boston Massacre trial. In February, John went through a night of unexplained pain, "great Anxiety and distress...God grant, I may never see such another Night." At this time John was also worried over Abigail's health.
In April, with Abigail's blessing, John uprooted the family and moved out of Boston and back to Braintree. With his return to his native land, John soon regained his strength. John wrote in his diary, "I...shall divide my time...between law and husbandry. Farewell politicks."
John basically became one of the first suburban commuters in US history, traveling to Boston in the morning and returning to Braintree in the evening. John spent his free time in Braintree with his family in his crowded house and taking time to walk up Penn's Hill in the morning. He also took to time to inspect the Common Lands of the town, the lands presented John with "the rushing torrent, the purling stream, the gurgling rivulet, the dark thicket," the beloved memories of his childhood. John's self esteem was raised by the new respect shown to him by the other residents of town. He was Braintree's local boy who made good in Boston. John showed signs of a renewed constitution.
John's pledge of avowing politics was soon broken. His cousin Sam Adams was running for the office of Registrar of Deeds for Suffolk County. John campaigned for Sam Adams in the town of Braintree. Sam Adams was easily defeated and John took the loss badly. John felt that both he and Sam Adams deserved more gratitude from the voters. John noted about the citizen's reaction to his campaigning in his diary, "nothing but insult, ridicule, and contempt for it." For a man who had chosen a career in politics and was quick to criticized others, Adams possessed a very thin skin.
John realized that Sam Adams' loss was just one of the signs that the patriot cause was beginning to wan. The Crown's men took advantaged of this lull to strengthen their hold on the colony. John met many of his former allies that were swayed back to the Governor's side along with many of the citizens supporting Hutchinson's promotion to Governor. All these events helped lead Adams into a state of depression. Adams complained of feeling ill and had trouble reading, thinking or writing various writs.
At the time, it was fashionable for persons to travel to Stafford, Connecticut to spend several days taking in the mineral waters. It was said that the mineral waters possessed medicinal qualities. John and Abigail decided that John should partake of the mineral waters to restore his health. John was away from his farm for several weeks and came back from his trip with his health restored, again. However, it was not the waters that restored his health, it was the lively discussion John partook with everyone he met along his way. John even got a chance to visit his old friends in Worcester, while he secured his job as a teacher.
In the middle of 1772, Abigail gave birth their third child, Thomas Bolyston. In September, John decided to move his family back to the town of Boston. For a second time, John vowed to avoid, "politics, political clubs, town meetings, General Court, etc., etc., etc." Soon, John broke that pledge for a second time.
In March 1773, while still practicing law, John was approached to speak at the observance of the Boston Massacre. Sam Adams and The Sons of Liberty were trying to make the day of the Massacre into a yearly memorial day. John thought it was an unusual request, as he was the one who defended the British soldiers.
However, John refused the invitation because of, "the feeble State of My Health." The next day Sam Adams pressed him to speak at the occasion, still John refused, stating that he was "too old to make Declamations." John was just thirty-seven years old!
Earlier in 1772, at the time of his thirty-seventh birthday, Adams declared, "The remainder of my days I shall rather decline in sense, spirit, and activity. My season for acquiring knowledge is past." John was lamenting that he lived halfway through his life, as he calculated it, and little or nothing to show for it. As usual, John could not foresee what the future had in store for him.
The event that brought John back into the political life was the decision that the Crown would pay the salary of the Superior Court Justices of the Colony. Before this pronouncement, the provincial legislature paid the salary of the Justices. Surprisingly, it aroused little interest from the public and John himself did not mention it at first. It was only when Major General William Brattle, the moderator the Cambridge Town Meeting published a defense of the Crown's decision did John leap back into politics. John published a seven part essay in which he disagreed with Battle's and the Crown position. John stated that the Justices will be dependent on the moods of the Crown and would lose their independence. In January 1773, Adams published seven essays criticizing the British ministry's decision. The essays were written in a tedious, legalistic manner, as even Adams admitted. His arguments aroused little interest from the public.
It was a second event at the same time that grabbed the attention of the public and began to increase the patriotic feelings in Boston.
The Royal Governor, Thomas Hutchinson, declared that Parliament's sovereignty over the colonies was absolute. With the declaration, the Governor unwittingly opened himself to a constitutional debate with the General Court. The House asked for John Adams to assist in their reply to the Governor. Adams' reply was that the Colonial Charters granted the colonists sovereign legislative powers. Poplar opinion sided with Adams. Hutchinson's prestige was wounded in this exchange, even the Ministry in London frowned upon Hutchinson's position.
With the Governor's stature weaken, patriot leaders decided that it was the ideal time to release a packet of letters written by Hutchinson and Lieutenant Governor Andrew Oliver to officials in England. The letters were obtained by Benjamin Franklin and were sent to Sam Adams. The correspondence contained no new revelations about the growing unrest or political statements from Hutchinson. However, the letters seemed to indicate a scheme to subvert the colonists' liberty.
In a superb political move, Sam Adams waited for the ideal time to release the contents of the letters. Sam Adams revealed the 'discovery' to a closed session of the assembly. Soon a series of newspaper essays appeared declaring that the Governor was trying subvert the Constitution. The essays aroused public passions and amidst much demand, the letters were published. Of course, Sam Adams ensured that the letters were heavily edited to suit his cause.
Amidst the public storm over the Hutchinson letters, and with patriotic feelings rising, John was again elected to the Assembly. The Assembly then elected John to be a member of the Governor's Council (the upper body). Adams' election to the Council was vetoed by Governor Hutchinson because of John siding with the opposition, still John was a member of the Assembly. Again John was a public servant, the career he would occupy for the next twenty-eight years.