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 adition, to the study of law.
For this purpose he placed himself under the tuition of the only lawyer in the 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 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 tohave been dictted 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 men. A resolution was passed without one dissenting colony, 'tat 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, guns, bells, bonfires,
and illuminatiions from one end of the continent to the other, from this time forward for ever. 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 oflight and glory. I can see that the end is worth more than all themeans; and that posterity will triumph,
although you and I may rue, which I hope we shall not."
In November, 1777, Mr. ADAMS was apponted a delegate to France and to co0operate 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 of the same year he was again chosen to go to Paris, and there hold himself in readiness
tonegotiate a treaty of peach and of commerce with Great Britain, as soon as the British Cabinet might be found
willing to listen to such proposels. He sailed for France in November, from there he went to Holland, where henegotiated
important loans and formed important commercial treaties.
Finally a treaty of peace with England was signed Jan. 21, 1783. The reaction 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 emaciataed he was advised to go to England to drink the waters of Bath. While inEngland, still drooping
and desponding, he received dispatches from his own government urging the necessity of his ging 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 apponted Mr. ADAMS envoy to the Court of St. James. Here hemet 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 that 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
Presidnet. In 1796, WASHINGTON retired from public life, and Mr. ADAMS was elected President, though not without
much opposition. Serving in this office 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 atheist philosphers 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 powerul parties were thus soon 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 centruy 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 finsihed 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 toast 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 had, at one o'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 protrait
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.
[Note: He is interred under the old First Congregational Church, now called the United First Parish Church.
[Transcribed by Denise McLoughlin]
The young couple lived on John's small farm at Braintree or in
Boston as his law practice expanded. She looked after family and home when he went traveling as circuit judge.
"Alas!" she wrote in December 1773, "How many snow banks divide thee and me...."
Long separations kept Abigail from her husband while he served the country as delegate to the Continental Congress,
envoy abroad, and elected officer under the Constitution. Her letters--pungent, witty, and vivid, spelled just
as she spoke--detail her life in times of revolution. They tell the story of the woman who stayed at home to struggle
with wartime shortages and inflation; to run the farm with a minimum of help; to teach four children when formal
education was interrupted. Most of all, they tell of her loneliness without her "dearest Friend." The
"one single expression," she said, "dwelt upon my mind and played about my Heart...."
In 1784, she went to Europe to join her husband. She stayed in Paris for eight months, and then moved to London
for three years. In 1788, John returned with the rest of the family to the United States.
During the Revolution, Abigail wrote many letters that she is now famous for. Her letters talked about current
politics and expressed her opinions. When John was serving in the Continental Congress, Abigail wrote him a letter,
challenging her husband and his fellow lawmakers to extend the principles of liberty and equality to women as they
hammered out the framework of the new democracy.
“I long to hear that you have declared an independency,” wrote Mrs. Adams.
“And by the way, in the new code of laws which I suppose it will be necessary for you to make, I desire you would
remember the ladies, and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors. Do not put such unlimited
power into the hands of the husbands. Remember, all men would be tyrants if they could. If particular care and
attention is not paid to the Laidies [sic] we are determined to foment a Rebellion, and will not hold ourselves
bound by any Laws in which we have no voice, or Representation.”
John Adams frequently sought the advice of his wife, and their letters are filled
with intellectual discussions on government and politics, but his response to this was::
"I would call on General Washington to deploy all his troops rather
than submit to "petticoat government."
After 1785, she filled the role of wife of the first United States Minister to the Kingdom of Great Britain. They
returned in 1788 to a house known as the "Old House" in Quincy, which she set about vigorously enlarging
and remodeling. It is still standing and open to the public as part of Adams National Historical Park.
When John Adams was elected President, she continued a formal pattern of entertaining--even in the primitive conditions
she found at the new capital in November 1800. The city was wilderness, the President's House far from completion.
Her account of the new but very incomplete Georgian mansion is quite entertaining: fires had to be lit constantly
to keep the cold, cavernous place warm and she describes setting up her laundry in one of the great rooms.
After 1801, Abigail spent the rest of her life in Quincy, Massachusetts and for 17 years enjoyed the companionship
that public life had long denied them. Abigail died at the age of 74, on October 28, 1818 of Typhoid Fever. She
is buried beside her husband in United First Parish Church.