John Adams is one of the pivotal figures in American history, as a political philosopher, patriot, statesman, father – and the second President of the United States. So how much do you know this essential Founding Father on his birthday?
Born on October 30, 1735, Adams grew up in a modest New England home. He was a direct descendant of the Puritans who arrived in Massachusetts in the previous century. He never considered himself a British subject, always an American. Adams could also be blunt and difficult, but few would argue about his significant contributions to the Revolution – and the Constitution – during his 90-year life.
Here are a few fascinating facts about one Founder who did nearly everything for his country during a long, distinguished public career.
1. Adams was a school teacher, briefly, before being called to other duties. Adams entered Harvard at the age of 15, and he later taught Latin in Worcester, Massachusetts, to earn the tuition fees for law school.
2. So how are all the Adams family members related? In this different type of “Adams Family,” John Adams and Samuel Adams were second cousins. Abigail Adams was John Adams’ third cousin, and of course, John Quincy Adams was their son.
3. Adams was a key figure in the start of the revolt against the British. Adams wrote anonymous newspaper stories and propaganda pieces during the Stamp Act era to advance the patriots’ cause; his cousin Samuel was a more public figure in the protests against the British. But eventually John Adams made a passionate address about the right to taxation with representation.
4. Adams represented British soldiers accused in the Boston massacre. As an attorney, Adams believed all people enjoyed the right to a defense counsel. In 1770, he represented the British soldiers successfully when no one else would, even though Adams himself believed in the American cause.
5. Thomas Jefferson wanted Adams to write the Declaration of Independence. The Continental Congress appointed five men in 1776 to write the Declaration, including Adams, Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, Robert Livingston and Roger Sherman. According to notes made by Adams, he and Jefferson argued that the other should write the document, and Adams persuaded Jefferson that he should be considered the author. Adams then reviewed the Declaration for Jefferson after it was written.
6. Adams was the father of early state constitutions. His pamphlet from 1776, called "Thoughts on Government," argued that the separation of powers within government (executive, judiciary, and legislative) were needed to prevent tyranny, and the pamphlets influenced many early state governments.
7. Adams never owned slaves. He was a lifelong abolitionist and in later years told a friend that, “Every measure of prudence, therefore, ought to be assumed for the eventual total extirpation of slavery from the United States.“
8. Adams was very bored being vice president. Although he cast a record number of tie-breaking votes in the Senate, Adams disliked the office of Vice President. He called it “the most insignificant office that ever the invention of man contrived or his imagination conceived.”
9. Yes, Adams, like Jefferson, wasn’t at the Constitutional Convention of in Philadelphia. Adams was the first ambassador to Great Britain in 1787 and arrived back in the United States after the convention in 1788. It was expected that he would play a prominent role in the new government on his return.
10. Adams and Jefferson broke up and made up. The two Founders’ stormy relationship chilled greatly in 1801 in a dispute over federal judges that was settled in the Supreme Court’s Marbury v. Madison case. They made up 10 years later and wrote frequently to each other until their deaths on July 4, 1826.