Presidents of the United States

Source: Portrait and Biographical Album, Muscatine County, Iowa, 1889, page 23


JOHN ADAMS, the second President and the first Vice President of the United States,was born in Braintree ( now Quincy), Mass., and about ten miles from Boston, Oct. 19, 1735. His great-grandfather, Henry Adams, emigrated from England about 1640, with a family of eight sons, and settled at Braintree. The parents of John were John and Susannah ( Boylston ) Adams. His father was a farmer of limited means, to which he added the business of shoemaking. He gave his eldest son, John, a classical education at Harvard College. John graduated in 1755, and at once took charge of the school in Worcester, Mass. This he found but a " school of affliction," from which he endeavored to gain relief by devoting himself, in addition, to the study of law. For this purpose he placed himself under the tuition of the only lawyer in town. He had thought seriously of the clerical profession but seems to have been turned from this by what he termed " the frightful engines of ecclesiastical councils, of diabolical malice, and Calvanistic good nature," of the operations of which he had been a witness in his native town. He was well fitted for the legal profession, possessing a clear, sonorous voice, being ready and fluent of speech, and having quick perceptive powers. He gradually gained practice, and in 1764 married Abigail Smith, a daughter of a minister, and a lady of superior intelligence. Shortly after his marriage, ( 1765 ), the attempt of Parliamentary taxation turned him from law to politics. He took initial steps toward holding a town meeting, and the resolutions he offered on the subject became very popular throughout the Province, and were adopted word for word by over forty different towns. He moved to Boston in 1768, and became one of the most courageous and prominent advocates of the popular cause, and was chosen as a member of the General Court ( the Legislature ) in 1770.

Mr. Adams was chosen one of the first delegates from Massachusetts to the first Continental Congress, which met in 1774. Here he distinguished himself by his capacity for business and for debate, and advocated the movement for independence against the majority of the members. In May, 1776, he moved and carried a resolution in Congress that the Colonies should assume the duties of self-government. He was a prominent member of the committee of five appointed June 11, to prepare a declaration of independence. This article was drawn by Jefferson, but on Adams devolved the task of battling it through Congress in a three days debate.

On the day after the Declaration of Independence was passed, while his soul was yet warm with the glow of excited feeling, he wrote a letter to his wife, which, as we read it now, seems to have been dictated by the spirit of prophecy. " Yesterday," he says, " the greatest question was decided that ever was debated in America ; and greater, perhaps, never was or will be decided among man. A resolution was passed without one dissenting colony, ' that these United States are, and of right ought to be, free and independent states.' The day is passed. The fourth of July, 1776, will be a memorable epoch in the history of America. I am apt to believe it will be celebrated by succeeding generations, as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance by solemn acts of devotion to Almighty God. It ought to be solemnized with pomp,shows,games, sports,bonfires, and illuminations from one end of the continent to the other, from this time forward forever. You will think me transported with enthusiasm, but I am not. I am well aware of the toil, and blood and treasure, that it will cost to maintain this declaration, and support and defend these States ; yet, through all the gloom, I can see the rays of light and glory. I can see that the end is worth more than all the means ; and that posterity will triumph, although you and I may rue, which I hope we shall not."

In November, 1777, Mr. Adams was appointed a delegate to France and to co-operate with Benjamin Franklin and Arthur Lee, who were then in Paris, in the endeavor to obtain assistance in arms and money from the French Government. This was a severe trial to his patriotism, as it separated him from his home, compelled him to cross the ocean in winter, and exposed him to great peril of capture by the British cruisers, who were seeking him. He left France June 17, 1779. In September the same year he was again chosen to go to Paris. and there hold himself in readiness to negotiate a treaty of peace and of commerce with Great Britain, as soon as the British Cabinet might be found willing to listen to such proposals. He sailed for France in November, from there he went to Holland, where he negotiated important loans and formed important commercial treaties.

Finally a treaty of peace with England was signed Jan. 21, 1783. The re-action from the excitement, toil and anxiety through which Mr. Adams had passed threw him into a fever. After suffering from a continued fever and becoming feeble and emaciated he was advised to go to England to drink the waters of Bath. While in England, still drooping and desponding, he received dispatches from his own government urging the necessity of his going to Amsterdam to negotiate another loan. It was winter, his health was delicate, yet he immediately set out, and through storm, on sea, on horseback and foot, he made the trip.

February 24, 1785, Congress appointed Mr. Adams envoy to the Court of St. James. Here he met face to face the king of England, who had so long regarded him as a traitor. As England did not condescend to appoint a minister to the United States, and as Mr. Adams felt he was accomplishing but little, he sought permission to return to his own country, where he arrived in June, 1788.

When Washington was first chosen President, John Adams, rendered illustrious by his signal services at home and abroad, was chosen Vice President. Again at the second election of Washington as President, Adams was chosen Vice President. In 1796, Washington retired from public life, and Mr. Adams was elected President, though not without much opposition. Serving in this office for four years, he was succeeded by Mr. Jefferson, his opponent in politics.

While Mr. Adams was Vice President the great French Revolution shook the continent of Europe, and it was upon this point which he was at issue with the majority of his countrymen led by Mr. Jefferson. Mr. Adams felt no sympathy with the French people in their struggle, for he had no confidence in their power of self-government, and he utterly abhored the class of athiest philosophers who he claimed caused it. On the other hand Jefferson's sympathies were strongly enlisted in behalf of the French people. Hence originated the alienation between these distinguished men, and two powerful parties were thus organized, Adams at the head of the one whose sympathies were with England and Jefferson led the other in sympathy with France.

The world has seldom seen a spectacle of more moral beauty and grandeur, than was presented by the old age of Mr. Adams. The violence of party feeling had died away, and he had begun to receive that just appreciation which, to most men, is not accorded till after death. No one could look upon his venerable form, and think of what he had done and suffered, and how he had given up all the prime and strength of his life to the public good, without the deepest emotion of gratitude and respect. It was his peculiar good fortune to witness the complete success of the institution which he had been so active in creating and supporting. In 1824, his cup of happiness was filled to the brim, by seeing his son elevated to the highest station in the gift of the people.

The fourth of July, 1826, which completed the half century since the signing of the Declaration of Independence, arrived, and there were but three of the signers of that immortal instrument left upon the earth to hail its morning light. And as it is well known, on that day two of these finished their earthly pilgrimage, a coincidence so remarkable as to seem miraculous. For a few days before Mr. Adams had been rapidly failing, and on the morning of the fourth he found himself too weak to rise from his bed. On being requested to name a taost for the customary celebration of the day, he exclaimed " Independence Forever." When the day was ushered in, by the ringing of bells and the firing of cannons, he was asked by one of his attendants if he knew what day it was? He replied, " O yes ; it is the glorious fourth of July--God bless it--God bless you all." In the course of the day he said, " It is a great and glorious day." The last words he uttered were, " Jefferson survives." But he, at one 0'clock, resigned his spirit into the hands of his God.

The personal appearance and manners of Mr. Adams were not particularly prepossessing. His face as his portrait manifests, was intellectual and expressive, but his figure was low and ungraceful, and his manners were frequently abrupt and uncourteous. He had neither the lofty dignity of Washington, nor the engaging elegance and gracefulness which marked the manners and address of Jefferson.

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