John Adams - US Presidents in History

The second president in American history, Adams was a controversial figure who had to address the international effects of the French Revolution.

Early Life

John Adams, the second president of the United States from 1797 to 1801, was born on 30th October 1735, on 133 Franklin Street, Quincy (then Braintree), Norfolk County, Massachusetts. His father was a church deacon who worked as a farmer and shoemaker. As a boy, Adams loved the outdoors and frequently skipped school to hunt and fish. Adam’s father first taught him to read as a young child. Later he attended a dame school, a local school designed to teach basic skills of reading and writing. Then, Adams joined a Latin preparatory school that prepared its students for college. He excelled at the Latin preparatory school, and enrolled at Harvard aged fifteen and graduated in 1755.

Rise to Power

After graduating from Harvard, John Adams began legal practice in 1758 in Boston. It was challenging, and only winning his first case after 3 years, afterward his practice thrived. In 1765, colonial protests by the radicals against the Stamp Act had Adams assist them by writing anonymous propaganda essays. Attempts by Britain to tax their colonies and strip them of autonomy had Adams taking the side of the radicals. Over the years, he gained a reputation as a patriot who served his country selflessly, and his early essays on governance earned rave reviews. When George Washington was elected President, Adams came second and became vice president in 1789. His 8 years as vice president were frustrating as Washington seldom consulted him. After Washington retired, Adams ran for president. His demeanor made opponents portray him as a monarchist who would establish a monarchy and have his son succeed him. Nonetheless he won the 1796 elections by a 3 vote margin, and became the second US president.


During his presidency, John Adams became concerned when Great Britain, a vital source of American trade, formed a coalition with France. France's intention was to export its revolutionary ideas, which were brutal and had resulted in King Louis XVI and Queen Marie Antoinette's execution. Fearing a flare up of wars related to the French revolution, Adams asked congress to approve funds for defense. As a result, the Navy Department and Marine Corps were formed. The Alien and Sedition Act was also passed by Congress to curb dissent. The act gave the president authority to deport aliens considered dangerous to US security. It was also aimed at stopping criticism of the administration to prevent internal subversion. During Adams' tenure, the capital of the United States was moved to Washington DC from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He also became the first president to sleep in the uncompleted White House, then the Executive Mansion.


From its inception, John Adams' administration faced a myriad of challenges. Thomas Jefferson, his vice president, was a Democratic-Republican while Adams was a Federalist. Federalists were divided between conservatives like Hamilton and moderates like Adams. Hamilton had opposed Adams as the Federalist candidate and was also highly influential among members of Adams' cabinet. During his presidency, France had suspended commercial relations with the US. Adams' attempts to revive them were rebuffed when the French Prime Minister refused to meet with the three commissioners Adams had sent. Instead, the prime minister asked for a bribe before meeting them. Towards the end of his tenure, John Adams had become unpopular and lost his second term bid to Thomas Jefferson.

Death and Legacy

On July 4, 1826, John Adams died of heart failure. Historians view Adams' presidency with mixed reactions.They cite his aloofness, stubbornness, and conflict avoidance as reasons why he lost his re-election bid in 1800. Such traits made him politically isolated, and his own cabinet opposed his policies most times. Adams also had an aristocratic complex which deluded him to believe he was entitled to leadership due superior reasoning and virtue. That made him fear majority rule. Still other historians laud Adam’s restraint in not dragging the US into a protracted all-out Naval War with France so soon after the American Revolutionary War. Though censured for signing the Alien and Sedition Acts, he never openly advocated for their passage. Adams is also viewed as a compassionate, cautious moral leader whose ultimate aims were of national interest.

Who Was the Second President of the United States?

John Adams, the second president of the United States from 1797 to 1801, was born on 30th October 1735, on 133 Franklin Street, Quincy (then Braintree), Norfolk County, Massachusetts.


Your MLA Citation

Your APA Citation

Your Chicago Citation

Your Harvard Citation

Remember to italicize the title of this article in your Harvard citation.

More in Society