Profiles in Presidenting: John Adams

John Adams was our second President, serving from March 4th, 1797, to March 4, 1801.John Adams


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

50-Word Biography

John Adams was a Harvard-educated lawyer from Massachusetts who was a major figure in the American Revolution, earning significant influence in the Continental Congress. He spent a decade representing the US in France, Holland, and England before becoming the first Vice President, and then second President of the United States.

What’s Awesome about this President

  • As the first Vice President of the United States, he cast more tie-breaking votes in the Senate than any other VP to this day.
  • He was the first President to live in what would later be called the White House
  • He died on the 50-year anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence, just hours after his frenemy Thomas Jefferson
  • Out of the first five Presidents, he was the only one to not own slaves.
  • He earned the amusing nickname “His Rotundity” due to his sometimes pompous nature and physical stature
  • He was the only President from the Federalist Party, and the only President to have a Vice President from the opposing party.

My Thoughts

Some men elected to the office of President really shine in this role and leave a lasting impact.  Some men aren’t particularly inspiring or capable individuals and serve a lackluster term.  And then you  have those few who were truly remarkable individuals, but for whatever reason don’t excel as President.  John Adams is part of this last group.  His Presidency wasn’t disastrous by any means, but he wasn’t particularly popular, and ended up being the only President to serve a single term until his son, John Quincy Adams.

John Adams was a brilliant man who was passionate about the government of his new country, wanting to separate from Great Britain early on.  He was an instrumental figure in the First and Second Continental Congress, serving on more committees than anyone else.  It was Adams that proposed that the colonies form a united Continental Army and nominated George Washington to lead it.  He persuaded others that Thomas Jefferson should be the one to write the Declaration of Independence, while he himself contributed to its content and then lead the debate in favor of its adoption.  Adams then spent most of the years between the adoption of the Declaration of Independence and the start of his Vice Presidency working in a diplomatic role in Europe.

Adams was sworn in as our first Vice President on April 21, 1789, nine days before George Washington was sworn in as President.  He found the role to be a frustrating waste of his talents and abilities.  The fact that George Washington did not consult with or involve Adams much in the running of the country didn’t help.  Adams described his job as “the most insignificant office that ever the invention of man contrived or his imagination conceived.”

After eight years as VP, Adams was elected President, which was perhaps not the best fitting job for him.  He was very independent in nature and thought, which meant he was less influenced by others in his decisions, but also that he didn’t exactly build many strong alliance and often rubbed some people the wrong way.  Once decision he made, to establish peace with France rather than going to war, was very unpopular, but he was so proud of his decision that he requested it be engraved on his gravestone.

He lost the election of 1800 to Thomas Jefferson.  Besides Adams’ unpopular peace decision, his Federalist party was unorganized and fractious and Jefferson’s Democratic-Republican party had their stuff together.  Adams retired to Massachusetts, where he lived out his days, which were many.  He lived to be 90 years old, and lived longer after leaving office than any President until Herbert Hoover.

Adam’s political career was largely defined by his relationship with Thomas Jefferson.  The two of them worked well together at times, but fought bitterly at others, usually about the nature of government–Adams was in favor of a strong central government, while Jefferson was not.  After Adams left office, the two lost contact for some time before being persuaded to reconnect.  They then regained friendship through writing each other letters for the last several years of their lives.  In one of those stories that is so good that it seems like it should have been made up, they both died on July 4, 1826, the 50-year anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence, just a couple hours apart.  Adams’ last words are said to be “Thomas Jefferson survives,” when, in fact, Jefferson passed away first.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *