John Adams Additional Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

John Adams, the second president and the first vice president of the United States, was born in the settlement of Braintree in the colony of Massachusetts on October 30, 1735. He was educated at Harvard College, graduating in 1755 with the intention of entering the ministry. Deciding that he could not subscribe wholeheartedly to Calvinist doctrine, he turned instead to the law and studied in Boston after a brief period of teaching school in Worcester, Massachusetts. He passed his bar examinations in November of 1758 and set up practice in Braintree. In 1764, following his marriage to Abigail Smith, he established himself in Boston.

Adams’s place in American history is assured by the high public offices he held. Even if he had never won a political election, however, his importance as an active member of the revolutionary party, his eloquence as a spokesman for the revolutionary cause, and his clarity as a definer of constitutional democracy would place him alongside George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Benjamin Franklin in the foremost rank of the country’s founders. He was both a public figure and a writer on matters of law and government. His writing began in 1765 with his “Dissertation on the Canon and Feudal Law,” and his career as a public figure began with his move to Boston, for it was then that he first gained wide recognition by successfully defending John Hancock against a charge of smuggling. His association with the patriotic cause began at this same time, and by 1774 he was so thoroughly identified with the movement through his activities and his writings that he was elected, along with his more radical cousin, Samuel Adams, to serve as a delegate to the First Continental Congress. He returned to Massachusetts in 1775 but was back in Philadelphia the next year as a member of the committee for framing a declaration of independence.

Some of Adams’s greatest contributions came during the congressional sessions at which he constantly debated and pushed for the birth of a new nation....

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(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Adams, John, and Abigail Adams. The Book of Abigail and John: Selected Letters of the Adams Family, 1762-1784. Edited by L. H. Butterfield, Marc Friedlander, and Mary-Jo Kline. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1975. Offers a personal view of the Adams family.

Ellis, Joseph J. Passionate Sage: The Character and Legacy of John Adams. New York: Norton, 2001. Meditative essay ponders the distinctive personality and achievements of the cantankerous second president of the United States. Includes bibliography and index.

Ferling, John E. John Adams: A Life. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1992. Places Adams in the top tier of American presidents while recognizing his character flaws. Includes bibliography.

McCullough, David. John Adams. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2001. Biography uses Adams’s diaries and letters to his wife to paint a portrait of Adams. Also covers Adams’s relationship with Thomas Jefferson.

Ryerson, Richard Alan, ed. John Adams and the Founding of the Republic. Boston: Massachusetts Historical Society; distributed by Northeastern University Press, 2001. Includes bibliography and index.