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    National Historical Park Massachusetts


John Adams by Gilbert Stuart

John Adams by Gilbert Stuart

John Adams (1735-1826)

John Adams, son of Deacon John Adams and Susanna Boylston, was a fifth generation descendant from Henry Adams, who reached the shores of America from England in 1633. Henry with his wife and eight children was given a grant of forty acres of land not far from where John and Susanna Boylston Adams brought up their three sons, including their eldest, John.

At an early age John began to attend schools near their home in Braintree, Massachusetts. His father served as a moderator at town meetings and inspired John to take an interest in community affairs. Upon completion of his preliminary course of study at local schools, John Adams attended Harvard College where he received an A.B. in 1755. After graduation, the future U.S. president briefly taught school in Worcester, Massachusetts. There he was influenced by attorney James Putnam to pursue a career in law. John studied law under Putnam and then returned to Braintree to be presented to the bar.

John kept busy trying to establish himself as a lawyer but still found time to socialize. He grew more and more fond of Parson William Smith's daughter Abigail and became a frequent visitor to their home in nearby Weymouth, Massachusetts. Abigail was exceptionally intelligent and spent much of her free time reading the books in her father's extensive library. The future first lady also learned a great deal from guests she met while staying with her grandfather Colonel John Quincy, who was one of the most prominent citizens in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Abigail's intelligence, strong interpersonal skills, and strength of character made her ideally suited for lifelong partnership with a man who aspired to a career in public service. John was eager to pursue his relationship with Abigail Smith but realized the responsibility that marriage entailed. Therefore, Adams set out to organize and improve the cottage and farmland that he inherited upon the death of his father in May 1761. In October 1764, with this work completed, John married Abigail and together they moved into the small farmhouse that three years later became the birthplace of their son John Quincy Adams, the future sixth president of the United States.

John Adams' law career rose from a small practice carried out from his Braintree farmhouse to a well-established firm with clients as wealthy and prominent as John Hancock. Throughout this rise John traveled the court circuit and often was away from home for extended periods, a condition that forced John and Abigail to become skilled letter writers. Eventually, Adams gained notoriety and became one of Boston's most sought after attorneys. John built his reputation on fairness and therefore agreed to defend the British officers accused of murder resulting from the Boston Massacre.

Although John Adams could defend British soldiers on points of law, he was an ardent critic of Great Britain's policies. In June 1774, Adams was elected to go to Philadelphia as a delegate to the First Continental Congress. Here, representatives from the American colonies met to discuss their opposition to England's colonial government. John was an active participant at this meeting and the subsequent Second Continental Congress. During the course of his attendance at these sessions, Adams proposed George Washington as commander-in-chief of the Continental Army, and argued forcefully for and helped his friend Thomas Jefferson draft the Declaration of Independence. In addition, John Adams laid the cornerstone of U.S. foreign policy by developing the "Model Treaty of 1776," which sought to structure American foreign relations on the basis of free trade with all nations but permanent alliances with none.

In 1777 Adams briefly retired from public service because of the emotional and financial strains that his long absence from Braintree was putting on his family. This retirement had only just commenced when John received word that the Continental Congress had appointed him as a joint commissioner to negotiate a treaty with France. {{See next paragraph; the commission to negotiate with Britain didn't come until 1779.}} The assignment required Adams to travel to Europe and forced his family to endure the hardship of separation for their nation's well-being. At Abigail's urging, John took his oldest son John Quincy Adams on his diplomatic mission to France in order to give the boy international experience and provide for a second generation of enlightened leadership in U.S. foreign relations. During John's absence Abigail managed the farm, supervised the schooling of their children, and kept her husband informed of all the events taking place at home.

Upon arrival in Paris, Adams discovered that Benjamin Franklin had already negotiated a trade and alliance treaty with France. The financial accounts of the U.S. representatives, however, were in such disarray that John remained in Europe for a year restoring order to the affairs of the American mission. With this objective completed and no prospects of peace with England on the horizon, Adams returned to America in time to be elected as Braintree's delegate to the Massachusetts Constitutional Convention. John was the principal framer of the product of this convention and today the Massachusetts Constitution stands as the oldest surviving written constitution in the world. Shortly after this success, Congress ordered Adams to return to Paris to serve as first commissioner of the delegation to negotiate treaties of peace and commerce with Great Britain. This time, John Quincy and his brother Charles accompanied their father on the long voyage across the Atlantic.

During the course of the rest of the Revolutionary War, the future president arduously labored to diversify U.S. foreign relations by attempting to gain diplomatic recognition of American independence from a number of European states. In 1782 Adams' efforts were rewarded when Holland formally recognized the United States, signed a Treaty of Amity and Commerce, and agreed to loan the new nation five million Dutch guilders. Within a year of his success in the Netherlands, John Adams took part in his crowning diplomatic achievement when he negotiated and signed the Treaty of Paris, securing recognition of the United States' independence from Great Britain.

After the war Adams remained in Europe until 1788, strengthening U.S. foreign relations by securing more loans from Holland, concluding treaties of amity and commerce with several European nations, and serving as the first U.S. minister to Great Britain. John took advantage of the opportunity that peace provided to reunite his family. Abigail and daughter Nabby sailed to Europe in 1784 and brought happiness to the remainder of John Adams' diplomatic tenure abroad.

In 1788, convinced that they could do more for their nation at home than abroad, John and Abigail left England to return to their beloved Braintree. Weary of being away from home, they eagerly contemplated settling in the Vassall-Borland house (now the "Old House," Adams National Historical Park), which they had asked one of their relatives to purchase for them while they were away in England. The house was spacious and warm with a beautiful garden and rich verdant fields for John to pursue his love of farming. Adams had little time to enjoy his new home, however, when duty called again. Adams' contributions to the building of the nation made him a popular choice for the office of vice president in the election of 1789. After eight years of loyal and important service as the nation's first vice president John Adams was then elected to succeed George Washington and became the second president of the United States. The nation's first peaceful transfer of power occurred as the world looked on.

John Adams' term of office was one of the most difficult in U.S. history. The turmoil that embroiled Europe following the French Revolution threatened to spill across the Atlantic and polarize America. Some felt that the United States should have come to the aid of America's former ally France in their war with England. Other Americans believed that the French had gone too far in their revolution and that the United States no longer owed them allegiance. The French government was impatient for U.S. support and tried to convince the United States through a show of force. The French navy began attacking American ships at sea, and when John Adams sent U.S. diplomats to reconcile Franco-American differences, the French Government refused to talk until the Americans paid them a bribe, an episode that would later be known as the XYZ Affair.

Following this humiliating event most Americans felt that the United States should go to war with France to restore national honor. While many officials capitalized on this hysteria for their own political gain, John Adams' honesty and integrity led him to put nation before party. Adams avoided war by building up the American navy to protect U.S. ships at sea. During his presidency John Adams founded the Department of the Navy, and the U.S.S. Constitution and several other ships were launched.

While this maritime defense deterred further French aggression, Adams signed into law a series of measures to restore domestic tranquility and preserve the Union. This legislation, which came to be known as the Alien and Sedition Acts, was pushed through Congress by the Federalist Party in order to tighten control over immigrants and those who criticized the government. Adams played no part in the formation of these acts nor did he take steps to enforce them, but he was held responsible for these unpopular measures in the public mind. Thomas Jefferson and his friend James Madison defined the Republican Party's opposition to the Alien and Sedition Acts in the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions, which outlined the "states' rights" or "compact theory" of the Constitution.

The year 1800 was bittersweet for John Adams. The Convention of Montefontaine, signed in October, ended hostilities between France and the United States, and Adams considered the positive resolution of this crisis his greatest accomplishment as president. In November John and Abigail Adams became the first occupants of the Executive Mansion in Washington, D.C. (later known as the White House). Meanwhile, their son John Quincy Adams was distinguishing himself abroad as U.S. minister to Prussia. Eleven months of relative joy was soon overshadowed by a December that brought sadness and grief to the Adams family when they suffered the death of their second son, Charles, and John's loss to Thomas Jefferson in the election of 1800.

Adams truly believed that the Republican Party's victory in 1800 augured trouble for the United States. He felt that the union the Founding Fathers had worked so hard to establish would quickly be dismantled by those politicians who sought to give more authority to the individual states. John respected the will of the people but left a check on the Republican Party's ability to act precipitously. During the four months between Election Day and Jefferson's inauguration on March 4, 1801, the Federalist majority in the old Congress passed a new Judiciary Act, which increased the number of judges in the federal courts by sixteen. President Adams appointed Federalists to these positions, working until late in the evening of his last day in office signing the commissions of the new judges. The most significant appointment made by Adams was that of John Marshall of Virginia to become chief justice of the Supreme Court. In rendering more than 500 opinions in 34 years of service from 1801 to 1835, Marshall helped to mold the political and economic structure of the new nation.

Thomas Jefferson, the president-elect, considered Adams' "Midnight Appointments" the perfidy of a sore loser. The once close friendship between these two patriots had decayed to the point that Adams did not feel comfortable attending his successor's inauguration. As John returned home on March 4, 1801, he may have regretted the falling out with his former friend but consoled himself in the belief that he had done what was in the best interest of the United States. Adams also looked forward to returning to his beloved estate in Quincy, which he had named Peacefield, and pursuing his love of farming.

Adams also took pleasure in making use of the rooms that had just been added to the Old House. Downstairs, there was a spacious room to entertain the constant flow of guests that called upon the Adamses. Upstairs, there was a comfortable study where John spent many hours reading and writing. John also enjoyed retirement because he could spend more time with his family. The former president especially appreciated having such a close and supportive family when his beloved Abigail died in 1818. Abigail had been more than a wife to John; she had been his partner, his advisor, and his "Dearest Friend." Adams' grief was tempered by the constant love, joy, and pride that his family brought him in his remaining years.

One of the most satisfying accomplishments of John Adams' final years was reconciling with Thomas Jefferson. In 1812 Dr. Benjamin Rush, a mutual friend of Jefferson and Adams, wrote to the former presidents and suggested that they should start a correspondence with each other. Time had allowed partisan and ideological passions to recede and a friendship that was forged in the crucible of war was rekindled through the quill. In this correspondence these two men, who represented the north and south poles of the American Revolution, put forth their different visions of America's future. The monumental role these two men played in creating an enduring legacy of American liberty was divinely symbolized by the coincidence of their deaths on the 4th of July 1826, the fiftieth anniversary of American independence. While both men could be proud of the contributions they made to the founding and strengthening of the United States, Adams could be doubly pleased that his son, John Quincy Adams, as the sixth president of the United States, was continuing the family's dedication to public service in the nation's highest office.

Today, the Adams National Historical Park serves as a setting to investigate the role that John Adams played in establishing and perpetuating the American democratic tradition. John Adams' life is vividly interpreted by National Park Service rangers using the three historic residences that comprise the site as unique backdrops to tell the story. Visitors can witness firsthand the environment that shaped the character and ideas of the Adams family and in so doing, arrive at a better understanding of these important men and women. The National Park Service conscientiously preserves these houses and the property around them to provide present and future generations with a window to view an American family who contributed to their country through public service.

Abigail Adams by Gilbert Stuart

Abigail Adams by Gilbert Stuart



Abigail Adams (1744-1818)

Abigail Adams brought more intellect and ability to the position of first lady of the United States than any other woman. President Harry Truman once noted that Abigail "would have been a better President than her husband." Yet she lived in an era when women were not supposed to have, or express, their opinions about government or the exciting events of the times. Abigail Adams struggled her whole life with the limitations that society placed upon her dreams. Despite these hardships, she found a way to use her talents to serve her nation by assisting and advising her husband, President John Adams, and teaching and guiding her son, President John Quincy Adams. Throughout her seventy-four-year life, this American heroine was an invaluable contributor to the founding and strengthening of the United States.

Abigail Smith was born on November 11, 1744, in Weymouth, Massachusetts, the second child of Elizabeth Quincy Smith and the Reverend William Smith. Her father was pastor of Weymouth's North Parish Congregational Church and one of the best educated and most prosperous citizens of the community. As a religious man, he taught Abigail to respect God and help others in any way she could. Abigail's mother, Elizabeth, spent much of her time visiting the sick and bringing food, clothing, and firewood to needy families. From the time she was a young woman, Abigail accompanied her mother on these visits and put into practice the lessons her father taught her about helping those who were less fortunate.

New England schools of the time usually admitted only boys; girls were primarily instructed at home. Few people believed that woman needed much learning. Such limitations did not satisfy Abigail, and she began to educate herself by reading the books in her father's library. She read all about different subjects and was probably one of the most well-read women in eighteenth-century America. Abigail regretted, however, that she did not have the opportunity to pursue a formal education, which was reserved for men.

Abigail also learned a great deal during her frequent stays with her grandfather Colonel John Quincy, who was one of the most important citizens in the colony of Massachusetts. He served in several positions throughout his career, including as a colonel in the militia and as speaker of the Massachusetts House of Representatives. Colonel Quincy's sense of public service and active concern for the community helped to shape young Abigail's values and provided her with a sense of public duty. He and his guests made the future first lady aware of the importance of freedom and Americans' aspirations to control their own destiny.

As a woman of the 1700s, Abigail could understand her nation's thirst for independence because she longed for it herself. She knew that her life would be decided by her choice of a husband. Abigail wanted a husband who was her intellectual equal and one who would appreciate her accomplishments. Abigail met such a man in John Adams, a young lawyer from nearby Braintree. During their two-year courtship the young couple spent long periods apart and relied upon writing letters to keep in touch. On October 25, 1764, Abigail's father presided over their wedding. The young couple moved into the house John had inherited from his father in Braintree (today a part of the National Park Service, Adams National Historical Park) and began their life together.

John and Abigail's marriage was successful from the outset. Abigail proved to be exceptionally capable of managing the family's finances and household. Meanwhile, John's career took a dramatic turn for the better. He began to ride the court circuit (traveling from one district to another) building a successful law career. John's frequent absences from home and family were prelude to more painful separations in the years ahead, but the young couple was willing to endure personal hardships for the good of their family and nation.

On July 14, 1765, in the Adamses' little farmhouse, John and Abigail's first child, Abigail, was born. "Nabby," as she was called, was followed by John Quincy Adams on July 11, 1767, Susanna (who died just after her first year), Charles, and Thomas Boylston. In the spring of the following year, John Adams moved his family to Boston because his work was located there. The Adamses became a part of a social circle that included such patriots as John's cousin Samuel Adams, John Hancock, James Otis, and Joseph Warren. But soon there was little time for socializing as dramatic events in Boston overshadowed other concerns. Abigail's loyalty to her husband was tested by one such event, the Boston Massacre on March 5, 1770. At the risk of his own popularity and career, John Adams chose to defend eight British soldiers and their captain, accused of murdering five Americans.

Although John was an ardent patriot and favored independence, he felt the soldiers had acted properly and been provoked into firing by an unruly mob. Also, he felt it was important to prove to the world that the colonists were not under mob rule, lacking direction and principles, and that all men were entitled to due process of law. Most Americans, driven by emotion, were angry with Adams for defending the hated "redcoats," but throughout the ordeal Abigail supported her husband's decision. In the end, Adams was proved correct and all nine of the men were acquitted of the murder charges. While the verdict diffused this crisis, far greater ones were destined for the colonies.

In 1774 John went to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, as a delegate to the First Continental Congress where America made its first legislative moves toward forming a government independent of Great Britain. Abigail remained in Braintree to manage the farm and educate their children. Again, letter writing was the only way the Adamses could communicate with each other. Their correspondence took on even greater meaning, for Abigail reported to her husband about the British and American military confrontations around Boston. Abigail was aware of the importance of these events and took her son John Quincy to the top of Penn's Hill near their farm to witness the Battle of Bunker Hill on June 17, 1775.

Not all Americans shared the Adamses' vision of an independent nation. To those that wavered, Abigail argued, "A people may let a king fall, yet still remain a people: but if a king lets his people slip from him, he is no longer a king. And this is most certainly our case, why not proclaim to the world in decisive terms, your own independence?" John agreed with his wife and in June 1776 was appointed to a committee of five men to prepare a Declaration of Independence from Great Britain. Yet Abigail's vision of independence was broader than that of the delegates. She believed all people, and both sexes, should be granted equal rights. In a letter to John she wrote, "I wish most sincerely that there was not a slave in the province. It always seemed to me to fight ourselves for what we are robbing the Negroes of, who have as good a right to freedom as we have." Later Abigail added that John and his fellow delegates should "remember the ladies, and be more generous and favorable to them than you ancestors" when they enact new codes of law. She was certainly justified in asking for such rights, for women such as Abigail, by tending the fields and doing other jobs, made possible the U.S. military victory. Despite Abigail's urgings to include all people in America's new system of government, her views were far too progressive for the delegates of the Continental Congress. While they did adopt the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776, the members of Congress failed to guarantee the rights of blacks or women under the new government they established.

John soon was appointed president of the Board of War and turned to Abigail for advice on carrying out his job. She was the one person he could look to for advice and support in politics and government. Throughout his career, Adams had few confidants. Thus Abigail advised her husband, and John valued her judgment so much that he wrote his wife, "I want to hear you think or see your thoughts."

In 1778 John Adams was sent to Paris on a special mission to negotiate an alliance with France. He subsequently remained in Europe from 1778 to 1787, through a succession of different appointments, except for a three-month rest at home during which time he drafted the Massachusetts Constitution. Now separated from her husband by the Atlantic Ocean, Abigail continued to keep their farm running, paid their bills, and served as teacher to their children. She particularity labored to develop the great abilities of her son John Quincy, who had joined his father in Europe. In one letter to her son, she inspired him to use his superior abilities to confront the challenges before him: "These are times in which a genius would wish to live. . . . Great necessities call out great virtues."

In 1784, with independence and peace secured from Great Britain, Abigail sailed to Europe to join her husband and son. Abigail spent four years in France and England while her husband served as U.S. minister to Great Britain. As the wife of a diplomat, she met and entertained many important people in Paris and London. While never at home in these unfamiliar settings, Abigail did her best to enjoy the people and places of both countries. Nevertheless, Abigail was pleased when the time came to return to Braintree in 1788.

The next year, John Adams was elected the first vice president of the United States. During the course of the next twelve years as John Adams served two terms as vice president (1789-1797) and one term as president (1797-1801), he and Abigail moved back and forth between the new home they bought in Braintree (the "Old House") and the successive political capitals of the United States: New York, Philadelphia, and then Washington, D.C. Throughout these years, Abigail frequently made use of her writing abilities in defense of John and his policies. Time began to take its toll on Abigail, and she had recurring bouts of rheumatism that forced her frequently to retreat to the peace of Braintree recover. After eight years of apprenticeship as vice president, in 1796 John Adams was elected to succeed George Washington as president of the United States. While John and Abigail could be proud to have reached this esteemed position, they had little time to enjoy their success for the United States was in very dangerous condition when Adams took office. Party lines were forming. John Adams faced dissent in his cabinet and the vice president, Thomas Jefferson, was head of the opposition party. John realized the problems he faced and wrote to his wife, who was in Quincy recovering from a rheumatic bout, that "I never wanted your advice and assistance more in my life."

Abigail rushed to her husband's side and maintained a grueling schedule to perform all her duties as first lady. She entertained guests and visited people in support of her husband. The first lady had a limited budget to carry out her duties, but she compensated for this with her attentiveness and charm.

Meanwhile, Great Britain was at war with France, and popular opinion held that America should jump in to aid Great Britain, especially after France insulted the United States by demanding bribes. The president felt that war would weaken the United States and decided on the unpopular course of neutrality. During this time many of Adams' opponents used the press to criticize his policies. Abigail was often referred to as "Mrs. President," for it was widely believed that the president's decisions were heavily influenced by his wife. In reality Abigail disagreed with her husband's stand of neutrality, but people believed she was setting his policies and this weakened John Adams politically.

In 1798, with John Adams' approval, Congress passed the Alien and Sedition Acts, which were aimed at restricting foreign influence over the United States and weakening the opposition press. Abigail supported these measures because she felt they were necessary to stop the press from undermining her husband. The acts proved very unpopular, with Thomas Jefferson and James Madison leading the protest against them. Adams' support of these acts undermined his popular support, already suffering from his courageous but unpopular stand on war with France, and led to his failure to be reelected in 1800. Still, he was forever proud to have prevented a war, and France's capitulation shortly after the 1800 election confirmed the wisdom of his policy.

The year 1800 was bittersweet for the Adamses. In November John and Abigail became the first occupants of the Executive Mansion in Washington, D.C. (today the White House). Meanwhile, their son John Quincy was distinguishing himself abroad as the U.S. minister to Prussia. Eleven months of relative joy, however, was soon overshadowed by a December that brought sadness to the Adams family when they suffered the untimely death of their son Charles, and John's loss to Thomas Jefferson in the election of 1800.

In March 1801 John and Abigail retired to Quincy. During her last years, Abigail occupied herself with improving her home and entertaining the many children, grandchildren, nieces, and nephews that would visit. In the company of those she loved Abigail was content with her domestic chores, visits to friends, and ceaseless writing. Abigail focused much attention on the advancement of her son John Quincy's career. The proud mother watched as he distinguished himself as a U.S. senator, minister to Russia, and secretary of state. Throughout this time, Abigail constantly advised her son and worked behind the scenes to protect him from the hardships associated with a life of public service. In October 1818 Abigail contracted typhoid fever. Surrounded by family members she died on October 28. John Adams and his wife had shared fifty-four years of happiness and companionship, and the second president was moved by Abigail's death to write, "I wish I could lay down beside her and die too."

Today, nearly two centuries after Abigail's death, her legacy survives in the letters she wrote, which chronicle this important period of history. The memory of Abigail Adams is still present at the Adams National Historical Park, which serves as an invaluable resource for witnessing this woman's contributions to the improvement of her family and nation through public service. Visitors can witness firsthand the environment that shaped the character and ideas of the Adams family and in so doing, arrive at a better understanding of these important men and women. The National Park Service conscientiously preserves these houses and the property around them to provide present and future generations with a window to view an American family who contributed to their country through public service.

John Quincy Adams by John Singleton Copley

John Quincy Adams by John Singleton Copley

John Quincy Adams 1767-1848
No American who ever entered the presidency was better prepared to fill that office than John Quincy Adams. Born on July 11, 1767 in Braintree, Massachusetts, he was the son of two fervent revolutionary patriots, John and Abigail Adams, whose ancestors had lived in New England for five generations. He would become a diplomat handicapped by a cold austere manner, a politician who hated politicking, a nationalist who maintained a love of his native New England. While many mysteries remain about this man it is safe to conclude that he was brilliant, courageous and painfully honest, not least with himself. Adams died thinking his career a failure, but it was only so by the impossibly high standards that he set for himself. Though he never fully grasped the underlying forces that were shaping America during his life, John Quincy Adams' patriotism and vision for freedom during the course of almost 70 years of public service made him one of the most important and influential contributors to the strengthening of the nation, whose birth he witnessed as a young boy from Penn's Hill. more...
Louisa Catherine Adams

Louisa Catherine Adams

Louisa Catherine Adams 1775-1852
Louisa Catherine Adams is often times omitted or forgotten in books of first ladies or notable American Women. Nevertheless, she made immense contributions to her nation and played a vital role in supporting her husband's, John Quincy Adams', career. Louisa's relative obscurity may be due to the fact that although she disliked the restrictions that society placed upon her as a woman, she conformed to them and concentrated on being a loyal wife and devoted mother. While some today may disagree with such priorities, it would be wrong to interpret Louisa's choices as evidence of her weakness, because Post-Revolutionary War America expected wives to subordinate their wishes to their husbands desires. Although Louisa did not openly challenge these standards, she frequently showed her abilities. When John Quincy Adams was weakened by the conflicts and hardships in his life it was often his wife who brought strength, courage and compassion to the family. Only through a thorough examination of this woman's life can we uncover the important place in history that Louisa Catherine Adams truly deserves.