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John Adams - HISTORY
"I have lived in this old and frail tenement a great many years it is very much dilapidated and, from all I that I can learn, my landlord doesn't intend to repair it." 1a
During the smallpox epidemic of 1764 in Massachusetts, Adams, pressured by his mother 2b, decided to be inoculated. This was no small matter, as vaccination eventually became in the 20th century. Patients prepared themselves days ahead of time, and were often sick for weeks afterwards 3. Comment: Inoculation is different from vaccination. Inoculation introduces smallpox virus into the recipient. Vaccination introduces vaccinia virus into the recipient. Vaccinia confers protection against smallpox infection, but with far fewer side effects, since it is a much less virulent virus. Edward Jenner, the inventor of vaccination, should be high on everyone's list of greatest-ever human beings.
Ultimately, Adams was inoculated and spent three weeks in the hospital, suffering headaches, backaches, kneeaches, gagging fever, and eruption of pock marks MORE.
Adams kept a diary, wrote many letters, and wrote an autobiography. "On or near his birthday in most years, Adams reflected in his diary on the previous twelve months. During his twenties and early thirties, he never mentioned ill-health 'feel well,' he sometimes observed in these annual inventories" 4a.
Comment: Ferling and Braverman 4 appear to have missed the 1756 episode of illness, related below.
There may have been some hair loss during his Presidency 3a.
Fourteen years later, Adams was still on this "milk and toast" diet 2c, leading to one description of him as a "food faddist" 3b. "Sometimes Adams would purge himself by taking a vomit of tartar emetic and turpeth mineral, a cathartic prepared from East Indian jalap" 3c. This preparation, Adams lamented, "worked seven times and wrecked me" 3c.
A descendant noted that during the time Adams lived in Philadelphia, he "throve well on turtle, jellies, varied sweetmeats, whipped syllabubs, floating islands, fruits, raisins, almonds, peaches, wines, especially Madeira" 3d.
The next day Adams felt well enough to theorize: "The Ship rolls less than Yesterday, and I have neither felt, nor heard any Thing of Sea Sickness, last night nor this Morning. The Mal de Mer seems to be merely the Effect of Agitation. The Smoke and Smell of Seacoal, the Smell of stagnant, putrid Water, the Smell of the Ship where the Sailors lay, or any other offensive Smell, will increase the Qualminess, but do not occasion it.
Adams also chewed tobacco, at one point betting a pair of gloves with his landlady (Mrs. Willard, 1856) that "she would not see me chew tobacco this month." The result: "Adams loved tobacco too much to give up the weed" 3e.
The symptoms would cluster in time. The shortest of these clusters lasted weeks. The longest lasted years. The 1781 episode supposedly had him comatose for 5 days.
Dr. Zebra spent a huge amount of time trying to convince himself that hyperthyroidism was responsible for these illnesses, as per the theory of Ferling and Braverman 4, but remains unconvinced. Blinderman 3 labels many of these episodes merely as "colds" and accepts that Adams was susceptible to catching cold. Bumgarner 2d suggests that allergies may have been involved.
Comment: There is no obvious way to make sense of it all on the basis of organic illness. Read the tabulation of Adams's ailments and judge for yourself, remembering that the man lived to age 90 -- clearly the [non-]hypochondriac's epitaph ("I told you so") did not apply to Adams. Still, "hard findings," such as Adams' 5-day coma in 1781, cause Dr. Zebra to keep an open mind. For example, Adams had several features of variegate porphyria, a protean disease that can be triggered by psychological stress. The "hard" features that Adams had include coma, weakness, a chronic skin disorder, and a relapsing-remitting course over decades 8. MORE
Far more common than variegate porphyria, however, is somatization -- a disorder in which psychological ailments are translated into physical ailments. It is not an intentional process. No doubt Adams did have episodes of organic disease between 1756 and 1800, but the signal-to-noise ratio is too low to tease them out 200 years later.
As President, Adams was once again able to step back from work and politics. He left the capital when Congress was not in session, spending as much as two-thirds of each year at Peacefield, his home in Massachusetts 4b. This conduct was criticized, including accusations of "a kind of abdication." In 1799 a loyal supporter from Baltimore told Adams outright that the public was outraged by his continued absence: "The people elected you to administer the government. They did not elect your officers . to govern, without your presence or control" 4c.
Adams had several classic signs and symptoms of hyperthyroidism, including: weakness, heat intolerance, sweating, tremor, protruberant eyes, weight loss despite eating well, and a growth in his neck (perhaps a goiter).
Comment: Their hypothesis is tenable because hyperthyroidism is one of the few disorders that can produce enough different symptoms to rival the symptoms Adams displayed. It is weakened, however, by the clear association of mental stress with the waxing and waning of Adams' illnesses. There are some reports that Graves disease (a common cause of hyperthyroidism, as George H.W. Bush discovered), can flare during stress, but the stress correlation in Adams is too profound to be explained by Graves disease. There is also the question of Adams' apparently complete remission from his unusual symptoms once he began the transition out of political life in 1800. Ferling and Braverman mention that little is known about the natural history of untreated Graves disease, so their hypothesis is not clearly able to explain this striking feature of Adams' history.
It is often related that Adams' last words were: "Thomas Jefferson survives." In fact, "the last word was indistinct and imperfectly uttered" 3a.
On April 21, 1789, John Adams became the first Vice President of the United States. Over the next twelve years, John and Abigail followed the federal government as it was relocated from New York City to Philadelphia, and finally to Washington, D.C. The constant sojourning in service to their nation was the defining characteristic of the Adamses’ lives.
Born on October 30, 1735 in Braintree, Massachusetts, John spent his childhood on the family farm. He attended a day school, Latin school, and then started his studies at Harvard when he was fifteen. After rejecting a career as a minister, John worked as a teacher before studying law. Once he established his legal practice, he married Abigail Smith in 1764. Over the next fifty years, they raised four children, traveled around the world, and forged a remarkable partnership.
In October 1770, Adams gained fame after defending the British soldiers who were charged for the Boston Massacre. Four years later, Adams attended the First Continental Congress as a delegate from Massachusetts. He quickly emerged as the leader of the pro-independence faction in Congress and nominated George Washington of Virginia to command the Continental Army. In 1776, he served on the committee to prepare the Declaration of Independence, just one of ninety committees on which he worked.
In 1778, Congress sent Adams to France and then the Netherlands to help secure aid for the war effort. While at The Hague, he obtained a crucial loan and opened the Netherlands to American trade. Adams, along with Benjamin Franklin, John Jay, and Henry Laurens, helped negotiate the Treaty of Paris, which ended the Revolutionary War and recognized independence for the new nation. During this time, Adams returned home to Massachusetts just once and only for a few months in 1779. On this visit, Adams authored the Massachusetts state constitution, the longest running state constitution in the nation.
From 1781 to 1788, Adams served in a variety of formal diplomatic posts, including the first United States Minister to Great Britain. After Adams was elected to the Vice Presidency in 1789, he spent the next eight years in obscurity. In his capacity as second-in-command to Washington, he was largely excluded from cabinet deliberations. As President of the Senate, his contributions were shunned and the senators dubbed Adams “His Rotundity.”
After Washington declared his intention to retire in 1796, the country elected Adams as the second president. In every city that the Adamses lived and served, they formed an official household, welcomed guests, and hired a staff of servants to maintain the home. Unlike the Virginians that came before and after him, Adams did not own enslaved people. Instead, the Adamses hired white and free African-American workers to provide these services. However, that did not mean that they avoided slavery altogether. While the Adamses opposed slavery both morally and politically, they may have hired out enslaved African Americans, paying wages to their owners, to work in the Vice President’s and President’s House. Click here to learn more about the households of President John Adams.
One of Adams’ first acts as president was an attempt to retain Washington’s cabinet secretaries. However, the secretaries took their orders from Alexander Hamilton and worked to undermine Adams’ foreign policy agenda and reelection campaign in 1800. Adams’s presidency was also marred by the Alien and Sedition Acts, which targeted immigrants and political opponents of the Adams administration. On the other hand, Adams avoided war with France, which was his primary diplomatic objective. The Treaty of Mortefontaine, signed in 1800, came too late to help Adams win reelection, but ended the Quasi-War with France and secured a peaceful trade relationship between the two countries.
After Thomas Jefferson won election to the presidency in 1800, Adams returned home to Peacefield, his home in Quincy, Massachusetts. For the next twenty-five years, he maintained a vigorous written correspondence with friends and family, served an elder statesman in Boston, and rejoiced when his eldest son, John Quincy Adams, won the 1824 presidential election. On July 4, 1826, the fiftieth anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, he passed away. Adams’ family recalled later that his last words were: “Thomas Jefferson survives.” Unbeknownst to Adams, Jefferson had died several hours earlier.
John and Samuel Adams were both significant figures in the movement for American Independence and the early legislation of Massachusetts. Not only were their politics related, so were they Samuel and John Adams were second cousins who shared a great-grandfather. Their mutual ancestor was Joseph Adams of Braintree, Massachusetts whose father was Henry Adams. Henry Adams was a Puritan pilgrim who left England in 1630 due to religious persecution. Samuel Adams was born in Boston in 1722, 13 years before John Adams' birth. He originally tried his hand at the family malting business but failed after the death of his father. Samuel Adams then became, ironically, a tax collector. He was not very good at that either but did manage to network with political figures who would later help him spread his message of liberty. Both Samuel Adams and John Adams were graduates of Harvard College and both studied law. They were both elected to the Massachusetts House of Representatives in the years before the First Continental Congress and both were selected to represent the state there as well. Samuel Adams may not have influenced the infamous Boston Tea Party, but he soon hailed the action as necessary and became a popular proponent of liberty who riled the British.
John Adams was not as fiery a speaker, nor was he as well known as his second cousin, but he did gain a larger influence over national affairs. While Samuel Adams was also a staunch proponent of permanent separation from Britain, it was John Adams who was asked to advise Thomas Jefferson in the writing of the Declaration of Independence. Both John and Samuel Adams would sign this revolutionary document, after that day, however, their political paths turned away from each other. During the war, John Adams was sent to play a diplomatic role in Europe while Samuel Adams returned to Massachusetts and focused on local legislation. John Adams was a key member of the delegation that won terms of peace with Britain in 1783, ending the Revolutionary War. When the Constitutional Convention met in 1787, they began to discuss a complete overhaul of the previous Articles of Confederation for the purpose of creating a stronger, centralized government. These so-called Federalists, led by James Madison, were encouraged and certainly influenced by John Adams and the structure of republican government he designed in the Massachusetts Constitution of 1780. Samuel Adams, however, felt somewhat betrayed by the concept of a strong, nationalized government as he was prone to fear the concentration of power. This made Samuel Adams an Anti-Federalist he did succeed in adding amendments to the Constitution which helped lay the groundwork for the Bill of Rights.
After ratification of the U.S. Constitution in 1789, John Adams was elected Vice President under Washington's administration. He would go on to win the election of 1796 as a Federalist and become the second President of the United States. For Samuel Adams, John Adams was his successful cousin with differing politics. They were not ever very close, but their differences in opinion probably made a relationship less likely to bloom.
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Was John Adams A Christian?
Although John Adams was born to a Congregationalist (Puritan) family with a Deacon for a father, he was an independent thinker who converted to Unitarianism in his adult life. Was John Adams a Christian? Yes, at this time Unitarian Universalism had yet to develop into the open, non-denominational format that it takes today and John Adams' religion was very much rooted in the teachings of Christ. However, John Adams religious beliefs were certainly controversial at the time because Unitarians did not adhere to the concept of the Holy Trinity nor did they believe that Jesus Christ was necessarily divine. Unlike most Unitarians, Adams did believe in the miracles of Jesus Christ. Historians have debated whether or not John Adams' religious views were influenced by the growing movement of Deism, an ideology that believed in an Intelligent Creator but did not believe in miracles or divine intervention of any kind in human affairs. Notable Deists of the time include Thomas Jefferson, a friend (and later, political rival) of Adams who put together his own version of the Bible by editing out all of the miracles and non-historical information. However, Adams' pronounced belief in miracles and the value of regular church attendance make it unlikely that he gave much credence to the Deists.
There are many famous quotes of John Adams on religion, especially in response to the Atheism of Thomas Paine. For John Adams, Atheist beliefs were a threat to a decent and moral society. He rebuked Thomas Paine's criticism of Christianity by declaring that no other religion had more "wisdom, virtue, equity and humanity." But John Adams was independent of mind to recognize consequences of any established religion. In the view of John Adams, Christianity had been twisted over the centuries by authorities who used superstition and division to control the populace, abuse minorities, and lead large scale wars. In the writing of John Adams on religion, he often criticized the Roman Catholic Church for its corrupted structure of power and deceit. John Adams' religion certainly changed during his life, but he always believed in the virtue of Christianity and attended church regularly throughout his life.
Despite his assertion that religion had a role in public life, John Adams was most definitely in favor of separating Church and State. He did not believe that religious views should either hinder or help a politician in matters of law and politics which needed only reason and common sense. He believed that allowing for free conscience would allow men of all religious beliefs to succeed in uniting together for the good of society and the state. Even though he had plenty of contempt for Catholics and even the Jesuit priests who came to America in increasing numbers, he recognized that the nation must accept them on principle of religious freedom. Adams believed that the freedom of religion granted by the state would be the final death blow to all corrupt forms of religious authority. Many of his thoughts on religion can be found in the hundreds of letters he wrote that were saved for posterity.
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The Presidential rivalry
In 1796, Adam’s narrowly defeated Jefferson as Washington’s presidential successor. Jefferson’s Democratic Republicans greatly pressured Adams during this period, particularly over the Alien and Sedition Acts in 1799. Then, in 1800, Jefferson defeated Adams who, in an act that greatly annoyed Jefferson, appointed a number of Jefferson’s political opponents to high office just before leaving office. It was during Jefferson’s two term Presidency that relationships between the two men were at their lowest.
Finally, in 1812, Dr Benjamin Rush convinced them to begin writing again. From here their friendship was rekindled, as they wrote movingly to one another about the death of loved ones, their advancing years, and the Revolution they both helped win.#
During Jefferson’s two-term presidency, Europe was in a state of total war. 50 years after the declaration, on 4 July 1826, John Adams, before he drew his last breath said, “Thomas Jefferson Lives”. What he could not have known is that Jefferson had died five hours earlier.
The remarkable lives, and friendships, of Jefferson and Adams tell us much more than a clichéd story of political friendship and rivalry, they tell a story, and a history, of the birth a nation, and its struggles through disagreement and rivalry, war and peace, hope and despair and friendship and civility.
John Adams: Impact and Legacy
Historians have difficulty assessing John Adams's presidency. On the one hand, his aloofness and refusal to enter directly into political conflict probably undermined his effectiveness and cost him his reelection in 1800. His stubborn independence left him politically isolated and alone. Even his own cabinet opposed his policies much of the time. He valued no one's opinion half as much as his own—except for that of his wife, Abigail. As an active party politician who nevertheless distrusted factionalism and many Federalist leaders, such as Alexander Hamilton, Adams seems to have been hopelessly out of place in the partisan-style Republic that he had helped bring to life. Much of Adams's isolation reflected a well-conceived value system in which he believed that the executive branch should stand above politics. He viewed the legislature as subject to corruption and thus refused to work with it on a close basis. He prided himself on never giving into public opinion that conflicted with his principles. Adams counted himself among those natural aristocrats who were born for leadership because of their superior reason and virtue. In this sense, he distrusted the people and feared majority rule. Adams believed that the danger to American society in 1800 came not from excessive authority but from conflict and anarchy. Adams's elite republicanism stood in stark contrast to the more egalitarian Jeffersonian democracy that was poised to assume power in the new century.
On the other hand, most historians agree that Adams was correct in not expanding the naval war with France into an all-out conflict. Another protracted war, especially one so soon after the War of Independence with the populace deeply divided along partisan lines, might have been fatal for the nascent American union. Historians concur that Adams nearly won the election of 1800 and that history might have judged him differently had he completed a second term.
Adams has been justifiably censured for having signed the Alien and Sedition Acts, although it is important to note that he neither openly advocated their passage nor personally implemented them. Moreover, when faced with populist defiance, such as in Fries's Rebellion, he ignored Hamilton's call for a strong show of federal force. In the end, he even pardoned the leaders. Seen in this light, Adams's legacy is one of reason, moral leadership, the rule of law, compassion, and a cautious but active foreign policy that aimed both at securing the national interest and achieving an honorable peace.
C. James Taylor
Former Editor-in-Chief, Adams Papers
Massachusetts Historical Society
Adams began his education in a common school in Braintree. He secured a scholarship to Harvard and graduated at the age of 20.
He apprenticed to a Mr. Putnam of Worcester, who provided access to the library of the Attorney General of Massachusetts, and was admitted to the Bar in 1761. He participated in an outcry against Writs of Assistance. Adams became a prominent public figure in his activities against the Stamp Act, in response to which he wrote and published a popular article, "Essay on the Canon and Feudal Law." He was married on Oct. 25, 1764 and moved to Boston, assuming a prominent position in the patriot movement. He was elected to the Massachusetts Assembly in 1770, and was chosen one of five to represent the colony at the First Continental Congress in 1774.
Again in the Continental Congress, in 1775, he nominated Washington to be commander-in-chief on the colonial armies. Adams was a very active member of congress, he was engaged by as many as ninety committees and chaired twenty-five during the second Continental Congress. In May of 1776, he offered a resolution that amounted to a declaration of independence from Great Britain. He was shortly thereafter a fierce advocate for the Declaration drafted by Thomas Jefferson. Congress then appointed him to replace Silas Dean as a diplomat at the French court. He returned from those duties in 1779 and participated in the framing of a state constitution for Massachusetts, where he was further appointed Minister plenipotentiary to negotiate a peace, and form a commercial treaty, with Great Britain. In 1781 he participated with Franklin, Jay and Laurens, in development of the Treaty of Paris and was a signer of that treaty, which ended the Revolutionary War, in 1783. He was elected Vice President of the United States under George Washington in 1789, and was elected President in 1796. Adams was a Federalist and this made him an arch-rival of Thomas Jefferson and his Republican party. The discord between Adams and Jefferson surfaced many times during Adams' (and, later, Jefferson's) presidency. This was not a mere party contest. The struggle was over the nature of the office and on the limits of Federal power over the state governments and individual citizens. Adams retired from office at the end of his term in 1801. He was elected President of a convention to reform the constitution of Massachusetts in 1824, but declined the honor due to failing health.
He died on July 4, 1826 (incidentally, within hours of the death of Thomas Jefferson.) His final toast to the Fourth of July was "Independence Forever!" Late in the afternoon of the Fourth of July, just hours after Jefferson died at Monticello, Adams, unaware of that fact, is reported to have said, "Thomas Jefferson survives."
19f. The Life and Times of John Adams
A mob of perhaps 30,000 people advanced toward the Tuileries Palace to capture King Louis XVI on August 10, 1792.
John Adams stands as an almost tragic figure.
Rather than continue to use the exigencies of war to build his own popularity and to justify the need for strong federal authority, Adams opened negotiations with France when the opportunity arose to work toward peace. Reconciling with France during the critical campaign of 1800 enraged many Federalists, including Adams' own secretary of state who repeatedly refused to send peace commissioners to France.
Hamilton, ever the shrewd political operator, denounced Adams' actions, for a quasi-war clearly could stimulate patriotic fervor. This might help Federalists win the upcoming election. In the end, Adams only convinced the Federalist Congress to move toward peace by threatening to resign and thus allow Jefferson to become president! Vilified by his political opponents and abandoned by conservatives in his own party, Adams would be the only one-tern president in the early national period until his son suffered the same fate in the election of 1828.
John Adams was a complex figure. A vain man who took offense easily, he also acted honorably in refusing to exploit war with France for personal and partisan gain. Such deeply principled actions marked his public career from its earliest days. Since 1765 Adams had been at the forefront of what would become the Revolutionary movement. Although not a striking speaker, his commitment and thorough preparation made him a key figure in the Continental Congress where he served on more committees than any other individual.
John Adams grew up in Braintree, Massachusetts, on the farmland his great-grandfather had cleared 100 years earlier.
Unquestionably an ardent patriot, Adams felt so strongly about the rights of the accused to a fair trial that he represented the British troops who had fired in the Boston Massacre of 1770. Adams argued their case so well that they escaped criminal penalty. During the Revolution, as well as while president, John Adams allowed his principles to determine his course of action even when they might be deeply unpopular.
Adams' life was marked by many deep contradictions. His conservatism led him to the top of the Federalist Party that by 1800 had become a minority group of elite commercial interests. However, he himself was a man of modest origins who had achieved great success through personal effort. The first in his family to attend college, as well as the first to enter a profession (as a lawyer), Adams became caricatured as an elitist. Meanwhile, the slave-owning gentleman Jefferson successfully campaigned as a defender of the common man.
The new nation that Adams had done as much as any to bring into being was fast becoming a place whose values he did not share. Adams rightly felt misunderstood and persecuted. Writing to another aging patriot leader in 1812, he explained, "I have constantly lived in an enemies Country."
Toward the end of his long life, Adams renewed an earlier friendship with Jefferson that had understandably dissipated in the 1790s and with the election of 1800. In their waning years these two towering figures began a rich correspondence that remains a monument of American intellectual expression. Adams' conservatism exerted itself in a core belief that inequality would always be an aspect of human society and that government needed to reflect that reality.
A sketch of the just-completed White House in 1800.
Furthermore, Adams emphasized the limits of human nature. Unlike the more optimistic Jefferson, Adams stressed that human reason could not overcome all the world's problems. Less celebrated in both his own day and ours, Adams' quiet place among the Founding Fathers is related to the acuity and depth of his political analysis that survives in his extraordinarily voluminous writings. Adams persistently challenged and questioned the soft spots of a more romantic and mythical American self-understanding.
In Benjamin Franklin's estimation, Adams "means well for his country, is always an honest man, often a wise one, but sometimes, and in some things, absolutely out of his senses.
Political philosophy of John Adams
Because he was the official embodiment of American independence from the British Empire, Adams was largely ignored and relegated to the periphery of the court during his nearly three years in London. Still brimming with energy, he spent his time studying the history of European politics for patterns and lessons that might assist the fledgling American government in its efforts to achieve what no major European nation had managed to produce—namely, a stable republican form of government.
The result was a massive and motley three-volume collection of quotations, unacknowledged citations, and personal observations entitled A Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America (1787). A fourth volume, Discourses on Davila (1790), was published soon after he returned to the United States. Taken together, these lengthy tomes contained Adams’s distinctive insights as a political thinker. The lack of organization, combined with the sprawling style of the Defence, however, made its core message difficult to follow or fathom. When read in the context of his voluminous correspondence on political issues, along with the extensive marginalia he recorded in the several thousand books in his personal library, that message became clearer with time.
Adams wished to warn his fellow Americans against all revolutionary manifestos that envisioned a fundamental break with the past and a fundamental transformation in human nature or society that supposedly produced a new age. All such utopian expectations were illusions, he believed, driven by what he called “ideology,” the belief that imagined ideals, so real and seductive in theory, were capable of being implemented in the world. The same kind of conflict between different classes that had bedeviled medieval Europe would, albeit in muted forms, also afflict the United States, because the seeds of such competition were planted in human nature itself. Adams blended the psychological insights of New England Puritanism, with its emphasis on the emotional forces throbbing inside all creatures, and the Enlightenment belief that government must contain and control those forces, to construct a political system capable of balancing the ambitions of individuals and competing social classes.
His insistence that elites were unavoidable realities in all societies, however, made him vulnerable to the charge of endorsing aristocratic rule in America, when in fact he was attempting to suggest that the inevitable American elite must be controlled, its ambitions channeled toward public purposes. He also was accused of endorsing monarchical principles because he argued that the chief executive in the American government, like the king in medieval European society, must possess sufficient power to check the ravenous appetites of the propertied classes. Although misunderstood by many of his contemporaries, the realistic perspective Adams proposed—and the skepticism toward utopian schemes he insisted upon—has achieved considerable support in the wake of the failed 20th-century attempts at social transformation in the communist bloc. In Adams’s own day, his political analysis enjoyed the satisfaction of correctly predicting that the French Revolution would lead to the Reign of Terror and eventual despotism by a military dictator.