Reader's Encyclopedia

Adams, John (1735 - 1826)

Second president of the U.S. (1797 - 1801). A graduate of Harvard, Adams was admitted to the bar in 1758 and was carrying on a successful law practice when the Stamp Act crisis of 1765 drew him into politics. In a series of articles, later collected as A Dissertation on the Canon and Feudal Law (1768), he argued that the Stamp Act was contrary to the "inherent rights of mankind." He was a delegate to the first and second Continental Congresses and was an ardent advocate of the Declaration of Independence when it was presented to the congress.

In 1785, after several years' service as minister to France, Britain, and Holland, he began to write his Defense of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America (1787 - 88), in which he discussed the history of republican government. Elected vice president under Washington, he became president in 1797. He quarreled with Hamilton over a treaty with France in 1800, and the resulting split in the Federalist Party contributed to his loss to Jefferson in 1800. After his retirement from the presidency, he returned to his home in Quincy, Massachusetts, and renewed his old friendship with Jefferson. Both men died within a few hours of each other on July 4, 1826.

Adam's essentially conservative political philosophy placed him between the extreme federalism of Hamilton and the agrarianism of Jefferson. His concept of republicanism was based on a " balance " of power that would prevent the power - hungry from gaining control, and his awareness of the weaknesses and vices of mankind led him to put his faith in the " natural aristocracy " of a few men, who, like himself, would use the power vested in them for the good of the people rather than for their private ends. The Diary and Autobiography of John Adams (4 vols, 1961) and Family Papers (2 vols, 1963) have been published by Harvard University Press, as the opening sections of The Adams Papers. See Adams, Abigail