John Adams Biography Page 2

Old House
Old House

Vice President
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 asked one of their relatives to secure the purchase of 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' contributions to the building of the nation made him a popular choice for the office of Vice-President in the election of 1788. After eight years of loyal and important service as the nation's first Vice-President John Adams was elected to succeed George Washington and became the second President of the United States. The nation's first peaceful transfer of power succeeded 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 in the United States felt that the U.S. should have come to the aid of America's former ally, France, in their war with England. Others Americans felt that the French had gone too far in their revolution and that we no longer owed allegiance to that nation. The French Government was impatient for U.S. support and tried to convince the United States to see things their way 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 the U.S. 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. While Adams played no part in the formation of these acts, nor took steps to enforce them, 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.

Senior Statesman
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 as his greatest accomplishment as President. In November, John and Abigail Adams became the first occupants of the Executive Mansion in Washington D.C. (later to be 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 Presidential Election of 1800. Adams truly believed that the Republican Party's victory in 1800 augured trouble for the United States. He felt 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 16. 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 as 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" as 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 between he and his 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" as the home was later called. Downstairs, there was a spacious room to entertain the constant flow of guests that called upon the Adamses. While upstairs, there was a comfortable study where John spent many hours reading and writing. John Adams 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 achieving reconciliation 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 Pole and the south pole 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 fourth 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 Historic Site 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 first hand 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.

Last updated: March 31, 2012

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