Adams National Historical Park

Adams National Historical Park


John Quincy Adams Biography

News quickly spread to the Adams farm in Braintree of the battles fought between the American Colonists and the British in Lexington and Concord, Massachusetts. Abigail and her son were eager to learn more about the progress of the war in order to inform John Adams in Philadelphia of the events that were transpiring in the Boston area. On June 17, 1775 they were told a major battle was underway in Boston. Abigail took her son to the top of Penn's Hill, near their farm, and they watched the fires of Charlestown and heard the cannons roar from the Battle of Bunker Hill. Experiencing the battles of the Revolutionary War around Boston in 1775-1776, and reading his father's letters from Philadelphia about the struggle to declare independence, John Quincy Adams was literally a child of the American Revolution. He absorbed in his earliest memories the sense of destiny his parents shared about the United States and dedicated his life to the republic's consolidation and expansion.

At age ten, John Quincy accompanied his father on a dangerous winter voyage to France. John Adams was sent to Europe as a Commissioner to negotiate for peace with Great Britain. He took his son on the diplomatic mission in order to give the boy international experience and provide for a second generation of enlightened leadership in U.S. foreign relations. While crossing the Atlantic the ship was struck by lightning (killing four of the crew), survived a hurricane, and fought off British vessels. Returning to America a few months later, John Quincy perfected his French by teaching English to the new French Minister to the United States. When his father was sent back to Europe to do diplomatic service, he again took John Quincy Adams. The second ocean crossing proved as eventful as the first, when the boat sprang a leak and John Quincy and the rest of the crew had to man the pumps as the unseaworthy vessel barely reached the Spanish coast. A fascinating, but grueling journey of two months across Spain and France returned them to Paris in February of 1780. In that year, John Quincy traveled to Holland in order to attend Leyden University and began to keep a diary that forms so vital a record of the doings of himself and his contemporaries through the next 60 years of American History.

John Quincy Adams certainly benefited from his father's association with the other U.S. representatives in Europe. The young Adams often sat in on conversations between his father and Benjamin Franklin and was so fond of Thomas Jefferson that John Adams later wrote that: "he (John Quincy) seemed as much your (Thomas Jefferson's) son as mine." While John Quincy Adams, so far, had been a spectator of the events that were shaping America's destiny, his mother in a letter from three thousand miles away, urged her son to actively confront the extraordinary challenges that the times demanded, saying: "These are the times in which a genius would wish to live. It is not in the still calm of life, or the repose of a pacific station, that great characters are formed.... Great necessities call out great virtues. When a mind is raised and animated by scenes that engage the heart, then those qualities, which would otherwise lie dormant, wake into life and form the character of the hero and the statesman."

The opportunity soon arose for John Quincy to actively serve his country. In 1781, he accompanied Francis Dana to Russia. Dana was appointed by the Continental Congress as the U.S. Minister to Russia and brought the young Adams along as his private secretary and interpreter of French. This mission would take John Quincy on two more long and arduous journeys across Europe, in between which he wrote and translated for Dana and pursued his own studies of history, sciences and languages. Upon his return to France, in 1783, the young Adams served as an additional secretary to the U.S. commissioners in the negotiation of the Treaty of Paris that concluded the American Revolutionary War.

The next year, after his family was reunited in France and his father was appointed U.S. Minister to Great Britain, John Quincy Adams returned to America to attend Harvard University. Adams sought to become an attorney like his father, and upon graduation, in 1787, read law at Newburyport, Massachusetts under the tutelage of Theophilus Parsons. In 1790, John Quincy was admitted to the Bar in Boston and formally became a practicing attorney. While struggling as a young lawyer John Quincy resumed his preoccupation with public affairs by writing a series of articles for the newspapers in which he criticized some of the doctrines in Thomas Paine's book, "Rights of Man". In a later series he skillfully supported the neutrality policy of the Washington Administration as it faced the consequences of a war between France and England in 1793.

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When John Adams was elected President in 1797, he appointed his son as U.S. Minister to Prussia (which consisted of portions of present day Germany and Poland). Before John Quincy Adams left for Prussia, he traveled to England in order to marry Louisa Catherine Johnson, the daughter of Joshua Johnson, who served as the United States' first Consul to Great Britain. Louisa was born and raised in Europe and is the United States' only foreign-born First Lady. While she was not as strong in spirit as Abigail Adams, Louisa brought other qualities to her marriage that made her an ideal partner for John Quincy Adams. The future First Lady's charm and warmth endeared her to all she met, and offset John Quincy's cold and serious manner. The affirmation of Louisa Catherine's popularity as First Lady was the adjournment of both the Senate and the House of Representatives upon her death in 1852.

John Quincy Adams and his new bride traveled to Prussia after their wedding in 1797. Before Adams started his duties as U.S. Minister, he took his wife on a trip through part of Prussia called Silesia (today part of Poland). The countryside in this region reminded John Quincy of his home far away in Braintree and Louisa received her first glimpse of what the terrain in Massachusetts was like. After this brief trip John Quincy set out to improve relations between the U.S. and Prussia. In order to achieve this objective, Adams worked hard to master the German language, the native tongue of Prussia, and he translated a number of articles from German to English to perfect his ability. Fluency in Prussia's native language made John Quincy's diplomatic work easier and he successfully concluded a Treaty of Amity and Commerce in Prussia's capital city of Berlin in 1799.

Actually, John Quincy Adams was never a strict party man. Ever aspiring to higher public service, he considered himself "a man of my whole country." As U.S. Senator, Adams approved the Louisiana Purchase (1803), refused to take a pro-British stance as the Napoleonic Wars reached their climax, and increasingly aligned himself with the policies of Thomas Jefferson's Secretary of State, James Madison. John Quincy's adherence to his own principles in supporting President Jefferson's Embargo Act (1807), at once gained him the gratitude of the Republican Party, the bitter hostility of the Federalists; and 150 years later - a place in John F. Kennedy's book, Profiles in Courage. Although Adams understood that the Embargo was extremely unpopular in New England because of its harmful effect on the region's economy, he bravely supported the measure because he felt it was the best method to gain British respect of American maritime rights. Adams' devotion to the nation's interest made him an easy target for sectionalist politicians in Massachusetts, who conspired to oust the young Senator at the next election. John Quincy's successor was chosen on June 3, 1808, several months before the usual time for electing a senator for the next term, and five days later Adams resigned. In the same year he attended the Republican congressional caucus, which nominated James Madison for the presidency, and thus loosely allied himself with the Republican Party. From 1806 to 1809 Adams was Boylston professor of rhetoric and oratory at Harvard College.

In 1809 President Madison appointed John Quincy Adams as the first United States Minister to Russia. Adams arrived in Russia's capitol city of St. Petersburg at the time when Tsar Alexander broke off his alliance with Napoleon. John Quincy therefore met with a favorable reception and was told by Alexander that Russia would do all in its power to further the interests of U.S.-Russian relations. The Tsar fulfilled his promise and with the hard work of Adams the United States soon surpassed England as Russia's leading trading partner. From his vantage point in St. Petersburg, John Quincy watched and reported to Washington of Napoleon's invasion of Russia and the final disastrous retreat and dissolution of France's grande armée. On the outbreak of war between England and the United States in 1812, John Quincy became involved in efforts to negotiate an end to hostilities. That September, the Russian government suggested that Tsar Alexander was willing to act as mediator between the two belligerents. While England refused the Russian mediation offer, they eventually entered into direct negotiations with the United States. John Quincy Adams was one of the U.S. representatives at these negotiations, which started in August of 1814, and resulted in the signing of the Treaty of Ghent on December 24 of that year, that ended the War of 1812. Adams then visited Paris, where he witnessed the return of Napoleon from Elba for the Hundred Days War. The French Emperor was ultimately defeated at Waterloo. From Paris, John Quincy Adams traveled to London where he and two other U.S. representatives (Henry Clay and Albert Gallatin) negotiated a "Convention to Regulate Commerce and Navigation" with Great Britain.

John Quincy completed his long and brilliant career as a diplomat by serving for two years as U.S. Minister to England, a post held by his father after the American Revolutionary War with Great Britain and later to be held by his son, Charles Francis Adams, during the United States Civil War. In 1817, John Quincy returned to the United States to become Secretary of State in President James Monroe's Administration. John Quincy's service there, 1817-1825, has rightfully earned him standing as one of the United States' finest Secretaries of State. He guided negotiations with Great Britain that resolved the remaining disputes between the two countries and began an era of friendly relations between both nations, which continues today. Included in the settlement was a prohibition on armaments, along the border of the United States with Canada that has made it the longest-lasting unfortified boundary in the world. He also arranged for the purchase of Florida from Spain and negotiated a transcontinental treaty with that nation which established the boundary between Spanish and American possessions from the Gulf of Mexico to the Pacific Ocean. He guided U.S. efforts aimed at resisting European efforts to thwart independence movements in the New World that resulted in the pronouncement of the Monroe Doctrine in 1823. Adams was proud of his accomplishments in the State Department; regarding them as fulfilling the goals of the new nation that he had seen take shape in the battles around Boston a half-century earlier. These goals included equal standing in the family of nations, security within transcontinental boundaries, and sympathy for the national independence and republican aspirations of all the countries of the New World.

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As John Quincy Adams assumed office he acknowledged to the American people that he was "less possessed of your confidence in advance than any of my predecessors," but he promised to make up for this with "intentions upright and pure, a heart devoted to the welfare of our country, and the unceasing application of all the faculties allotted to me to her service." In his first message in December of 1825, John Quincy set forth his vision for the United States asserting "The great object of the institution of civil government, is the improvement of the condition of those who are parties to the social contract." Within this perception Adams had little use for those who favored states rights' at the expense of the common national good. In particular, the president recommended establishment of a national university and national naval academy to help train the wise and patriotic leadership he thought the country needed. Adams also advocated an extensive system of internal improvements (mostly canals and turnpikes) to be paid for out of increasing revenues from western land sales and a continuing tariff on imports. He called too for the establishment of a uniform system of weights and measures and the improvement of the patent system, both to promote science and to encourage a spirit of enterprise and invention in the United States. In a further effort to support science and spread its benefits to the nation and to the world, Adams advocated not only an extensive survey of the nation's own coasts, land and resources but also American participation in worldwide efforts for "the common improvement of the species." John Quincy's ambitions for the improvement of science were not limited to this planet, he urged the building of an astronomical observatory (light-houses of the skies) so the United States could make at least one such contribution to the advancement of knowledge to supplement the 130 observatories that had already been constructed in Europe.

While today we may view President John Quincy Adams' plans for the United States as far- sighted, they were perhaps over ambitious and unrealistic for 1820's America. His proposals were greeted with scorn and derision, regarded as efforts to enlarge the power under his control and to create a national elite that would neglect the common people and destroy the vitality of state and local governments. Personal tragedy compounded John Quincy's political woes when on July fourth, 1826, the fiftieth anniversary of the formal adoption of the Declaration of Independence, his father died. The death of his father, always his staunchest political and personal ally, left Adams more isolated than ever. It was unfortunate that at this time John Quincy faced his greatest challenges politically, because his Jacksonian enemies had won control of both Houses of Congress in the election of 1826. Appropriations for internal improvements fell far short of the amount that President Adams requested from Congress. A new tariff, enacted in 1828, sponsored by both Administration and anti-Administration congressmen from the Middle and Western states, was not the useful and fair measure that Adams had intended it to be. The bill was poorly drawn, and because of its concessions to the extreme protectionists the Southern cotton interest called it the "tariff of abominations." Yet Adams signed it.

As his presidential term progressed, John Quincy Adams' best intentions for the improvement of his nation seemed to always meet with failure. He refused to sign a fraudulent Indian treaty by which the Creeks were to be removed from all their lands in Georgia. But his scrupulous concern for the rights of Native Americans irritated both Southerners and Westerners. Even in foreign affairs, despite John Quincy's vast experience, the Administration failed to achieve its goals. In 1826, chiefly for partisan reasons, Congress obstructed Secretary of State Henry Clay's attempt to send U.S. delegates to a conference in Panama, which aimed at building closer ties between the nations of the Western Hemisphere. Adams also failed to persuade the British to open their West Indian islands to U.S. trade.

At home, while his foes continued their relentless attack, John Quincy Adams further weakened his position by spurning the role of party leader and refusing to use the patronage weapon in his own defense. Adams was, in fact, the last of the Presidents to look upon parties as an evil and to adhere to the eighteenth-century ideal of a national consensus with himself as its spokesman. While John Quincy Adams was adverse to party politics, Jacksonian partisans articulated and brought into existence a new, positive idea of political party. They saw political parties as manifestations of the needs and interests of the people of a free society. The job of the party and its leaders was to accept, enlarge, and fulfill the aspirations of the multitude of factions and mold them into a political instrument that could gain national power. Under this new ideology of party, Martin Van Buren organized the Democratic Party around the objective of electing Andrew Jackson president in 1828. In contrast to President Adams who regarded "politicking" as beneath the dignity of the office, Jackson's supporters organized and gathered their forces in order to win the election. By mid-1828 the campaign became increasingly hostile, and it was clear that the tide was running strongly for the Jacksonians. Supporters on both sides tried to use the press to circulate scandalous stories about the opposition candidate in hopes of getting their man elected. New England, and some of the Mid-Atlantic States, remained loyal to Adams, but the Jacksonians used their superior organization to capitalize on the burgeoning sectional and democratic trends of the country. When the returns were in, Jackson had gained a 178 to 83 victory in the electoral college and had a 647,276 - 508,064 margin in the popular vote. The John Quincy Adams presidency, then, somewhat like that of his father, ended in frustration and a sense of having lost a vital battle to new, and to the Adamses, unwelcome political forces. The tragedy of this loss was compounded soon after the election by the death of John Quincy's oldest son, George Washington Adams. Virtually penniless, grieving over the death of his son, and believing his political career to be over, Adams retired to Quincy to seek solace in his garden and his books.

Throughout, he was an ardent opponent of the expansion of slavery. In 1839 he presented to the House of Representatives a resolution for a constitutional amendment providing that every child born in the United States after July 4, 1842, should be born free; that with the exception of Florida, no new state should be admitted into the Union with slavery; and that neither slavery nor the slave trade should exist in the District of Columbia after July 4, 1845. The "gag rule," a resolution passed by Southern members of Congress against all discussion of slavery in the House of Representatives, effectively blocked any discussion of Adams' proposed amendment. His prolonged fight for the repeal of the gag rule and for the right of petition to Congress for the abolition of slavery was one of the most dramatic in U.S. legislative history. Adams contended that the gag rule was a direct violation of the First Amendment to the Federal Constitution, and he refused to be silenced on the question, despite the bitter denunciation of him by opponents. At each session of Congress the majority against him decreased until, in 1844, his motion to repeal the gag rule of the House was carried by a vote of 108 to 80, and his long battle was over. Another spectacular contribution of Adams to the antislavery movement was his championing of the cause of the Africans of the slave ship Amistad. The Africans on this ship were being held captive by Spanish slave merchants who planned to sell them as slaves, but before the ship reached port the brave Africans revolted and escaped from their captors by bringing the ship into U.S. waters near Long Island, New York. Adams successfully defended the Africans as freemen before the Supreme Court in 1841 against efforts of the administration of President Van Buren to return them to their captors and to inevitable death. Fighting slavery did not imply neglect of other interests for John Quincy Adams. His love of science still continued and in 1844, at the age of seventy-seven, he traveled to Cincinnati to lay the cornerstone of an observatory. In 1846, he was largely responsible for the grant of a Congressional charter to the Smithsonian Institution, the earliest American foundation for scientific research. The respect in which he was held was demonstrated that same year when, after a stroke kept him away from Congress for several months, he received an ovation on his return. On February 21, 1848, in the act of protesting the U.S.-Mexican War, John Quincy suffered a second stroke, fell to the floor of the House and died two days later in the Capitol building.

Today, the Adams National Historical Park serves as a setting to investigate the role that John Quincy Adams played in establishing and perpetuating the American democratic tradition. John Quincy Adams' life and that of his family are vividly interpreted by National Park Service Rangers using the three historic residences that comprise the site as backdrops to tell the story. Visitors can witness first hand the environment that shaped the character and ideas of John Quincy Adams and his family. The National Park Service conscientiously preserves these houses and the property around them to provide present and future generations with a window to view an American family who contributed to their country through public service.

Abigail Adams Biography

Early Life
Abigail Smith (Adams) was born on November 11, 1744, in Weymouth, Massachusetts. She was the second child born to Elizabeth Quincy Smith and the Reverend William Smith. Her father was Pastor of Weymouth's North Parish Congregational Church and one of the best educated and most prosperous citizens of the community. As a religious man, he taught Abigail to respect God and to help others in any way she could. Abigail's mother, Elizabeth Smith, spent much of her time visiting the sick and bringing food, clothing and firewood to needy families. From the time she was a young woman, Abigail accompanied her mother on these visits and put into practice the lessons her father taught her about helping those who were less fortunate. New England schools of the time usually admitted only boys, and girls were instructed at home. Few people believed that woman needed much learning. Such limitations did not satisfy Abigail, and she began to educate herself by reading the books in her father's library. She was well versed in many subjects and was one of the most well read woman in eighteenth century America. However, Abigail regretted that she did not have the opportunity to pursue a formal education that was reserved only for men. Abigail learned a great deal during her frequent stays with her grandfather, Colonel John Quincy, who was one of the most important citizens in the colony of Massachusetts. He served in several positions throughout his career, including being a colonel in the militia, and Speaker of the House of Representatives. Colonel Quincy's sense of public service and active concern for the community helped to shape young Abigail's values and provided her with a sense of public duty. Colonel Quincy and his guests made the future first lady aware of the importance of freedom and America's aspirations to control her own destiny.

Marriage and Pre-Revolutionary Years

As a woman of the 1700's, Abigail could understand her nation's thirst for independence, because she longed for it herself. Though the future first lady knew that her life would be decided by her choice of a husband, Abigail wanted a husband who was her intellectual equal and one who would appreciate her accomplishments. It was not long before Abigail met such a man, John Adams, a young lawyer from nearby Braintree. During their two-year courtship, the young couple spent long periods apart and relied upon letter writing to keep in touch. On October 25, 1764, Abigail's father presided over the wedding of his daughter to John Adams. The young couple moved into the house John had inherited form his father in Braintree (today a part of the National Park Service, Adams National Historic Site) and began their life together. John and Abigail's marriage was successful from the outset. Abigail proved to be exceptionally capable of managing the family's finances and the household. Meanwhile, John's career took a dramatic turn for the better. He began to ride the court circuit (traveling from one district to another). John's frequent absences from home and family were prelude to more painful separations in the years ahead. However, the young couple was willing to endure personal hardships for the good of their family and the nation. On July 11, 1767 in the Adamses' little farmhouse, Abigail gave birth to John Quincy Adams. In the spring of the following year, John Adams moved his family to Boston, because his work was located there. The Adams family became a part of a social circle that included such patriots as John's cousin, Samuel Adams, John Hancock, James Otis, and Joseph Warren. But there was little time for socializing because dramatic events in Boston were overshadowing all other concerns. Abigail's loyalty to her husband was tested by one such event, the Boston Massacre, on March 5, 1770. At the risk of his own popularity and career, John Adams chose to defend eight British soldiers and their captain, accused of murdering five Americans. Although John was an ardent patriot and favored independence, he felt the soldiers had acted properly and had been provoked into firing by an unruly mob. Also, he felt it was important to prove to the world that the colonists were not under mob rule, lacking direction and principles, and that all men were entitled to due process of law. Most Americans, driven by emotion, were angry with Adams for defending the hated "redcoats," but throughout the ordeal Abigail supported her husband's decision. In the end, Adams was proven correct and all nine of the men were acquitted of the murder charges. Despite diffusing of this crisis, far greater ones were destined to be part of the course of events in the colonies.

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Securing Liberty at Home and Abroad
In 1774, John went to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania as a delegate to the First Continental Congress where America made its first legislative moves towards forming its own government independent of Great Britain. Abigail remained in Braintree to manage the farm and educate their children. Again, letter writing was the only way the Adamses could communicate with each other. Now, their correspondence took on even greater meaning, for Abigail reported to her husband about the British and American military confrontations around Boston. Abigail was aware of the importance of these events, and took her son John Quincy to the top of Penn's Hill near their farm to witness the Battle of Bunker Hill on June 17, 1775. Not all Americans shared the Adamses' vision of an independent nation. To those that wavered, Abigail argued, "A people may let a king fall, yet still remain a people: but if a king lets his people slip from him, he is no longer a king. And this is most certainly our case, why not proclaim to the world in decisive terms, your own independence?" John agreed with his wife and in June of 1776 was appointed to a committee of five men to prepare a Declaration of Independence for Great Britain. Yet Abigail's vision of independence was broader that the delegates for she believed all people, and both sexes, should be granted equal rights. In her letters to John she wrote, "I wish most sincerely that there was not a slave in the province. It always seemed to me to fight ourselves for what we are robbing the Negroes (African- Americans) of, who have as good a right to freedom as we have." Later Abigail added John and his fellow delegates should "remember the ladies, and be more generous and favorable to them than you ancestors" when they enact new codes of law. She was certainly justified for asking for such rights, for women such as Abigail, by tending the fields, managing the farm, and supporting the militia and doing other jobs, made possible the U.S. military victory. Despite Abigail's best efforts to include all people in America's new system of government, her views were far too progressive for the delegates of the Continental Congress. While they did adopt the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776, the document failed to guarantee the rights of blacks or women. John soon was appointed President of the Board of War, and turned to Abigail for advice on carrying out his job. She was the one person he could turn to for advice and support in politics and government. Throughout his career, Adams had few confidants, so Abigail advised her husband and John valued her judgment so much that he wrote his wife, "I want to hear you think or see your thoughts." In 1778, John Adams was sent to France on a special mission to negotiate an alliance with the French. John Adams was in Europe from 1778 to 1787 except for a three-month rest at home during which time he drafted the Massachusetts Constitution. Now separated from her husband by the Atlantic Ocean, Abigail continued to run their farm, pay their bills, and serve as teacher to their children. She labored to develop the great abilities of her son, John Quincy, who had joined his father in Europe. In one letter to her son, she inspired him to use his superior abilities to confront the challenges before him: "These are times in which a genius would wish to live...great necessities call out great virtues."

Abigail Adams as First Lady
In 1784, with independence and peace secured from Great Britain, Abigail sailed to Europe to join her husband and son. Abigail spent four years in France and England while her husband served as United States Minister to Great Britain. As wife of a diplomat, she met and entertained many important people in Paris and London. While never at home in these unfamiliar settings, Abigail did her best to like the people and cities of both countries. Nevertheless, Abigail was pleased when the time came to return to Braintree in 1788. The next year, John Adams was elected first Vice President of the United States. During the course of the next twelve years as John Adams served two terms as Vice President (1789-1797) and one term as President (1797-1801), he and Abigail moved back and forth between the new home they bought in Braintree (the "Old House") and the successive political capital of the United States: New York, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C. Throughout these years, Abigail frequently made use of her writing ability in the defense of John Adams and his policies. Time began to take its toll on Abigail; she had constant recurring bouts of rheumatism, which forced her to frequently retreat to the peace of Braintree in order to recover. In 1796 after 8 years of apprenticeship as vice-president, John Adams was elected to succeed George Washington as President of the United States. While John and Abigail could be proud to reach this esteemed position, they had little time to enjoy their success, for the United States was in a very dangerous condition when Adams took office. Party lines were forming. John Adams faced dissent in his cabinet and the Vice President, Thomas Jefferson, was head of the opposition party. John Realized the problems he faced and wrote to his wife, who was in Quincy recovering form a rheumatic bout, that "I never wanted your advice and assistance more in my life." Abigail traveled to the Philadelphia to fulfill her duties as First Lady and maintained a grueling schedule of public appearances. She entertained guests and visited many people in support of her husband. The First Lady had a limited budget to carry out her duties, but she compensated for this with her attentiveness and charm. Meanwhile, Great Britain was at war with France and popular opinion held that America should aid Great Britain. The President felt that war would weaken the United States and decided upon the unpopular course of neutrality. During this time many of Adams' opponents used the press to criticize his policies. Abigail was often referred to as "Mrs. President" for it was widely believed that the President's decisions were influenced by his wife. In reality, Abigail disagreed with her husband's stand of neutrality, but people believed she was influencing his policies and this weakened John Adams politically. In 1798, with John Adams' approval, Congress passed the Alien and Sedition Acts, which were aimed at restricting foreign influence over the U.S. and weakening the opposition press. Abigail supported these measures, because she felt they were necessary to stop the press from undermining her husband. The acts proved very unpopular and Thomas Jefferson and James Madison led the protest against them. Adams' courageous yet unpopular stand on this matter led to his failure to be reelected in 1800, but he was forever proud that he prevented war. The year 1800 was bittersweet for the Adamses. In November, John and Abigail became the first occupants of the Executive Mansion in Washington, D.C. (today the White House). Meanwhile, their son, John Quincy Adams, was distinguishing himself abroad as United States Minister to Prussia. Eleven months of relative joy was soon overshadowed by a December that brought sadness to the Adams family when they suffered the untimely death of their son Charles, and John's loss to Thomas Jefferson in the Presidential Election of 1800. In March of 1801, John and Abigail retired to Quincy. During her last years Mrs. Adams occupied herself with improving her home and entertaining the many children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews who would visit. In the company of those she loved Abigail was content with her domestic chores, visits to friends, and ceaseless writing. Abigail focused much attention on the advancement of her son John Quincy's career. The proud mother watched as John Quincy Adams distinguished himself as U.S. Senator, Minister to Russia, and Secretary of State. Throughout this time, Abigail constantly advised her son and worked behind the scenes to protect him from the hardships associated with a life of public service. In October of 1818, Abigail contracted typhoid fever. Surrounded by family members, she died on October 28. John Adams and his wife had shared 54 years of happiness and companionship, and the Second President was so moved by Abigail's death that he said, "I wish I could lay down beside her and die too."

Abigail Adams' Legacy
Today, nearly two centuries after Abigail's death, her legacy survives in the letters she wrote which chronicled this important period of history. The memory of Abigail Adams is still present at the Adams National Historical Park, which serves as an invaluable resource for witnessing this woman's contributions to the improvement of her family and nation through public service.

John Adams Biography

Early Life
John Adams, son of Deacon John Adams and Susanna Boylston, was the fifth generation from Henry Adams who reached the shores of America, from England, in 1633. Henry with his wife and eight children was given a grant of forty acres of land, not far from where Deacon John Adams and Susanna Boylston Adams brought up their three sons, one of which was named John Adams. John Adams was the oldest of the three sons and at an early age began to attend schools in the community of Braintree. His father served as a moderator at town meetings and inspired John to take an interest in community affairs. Upon completion of his preliminary course of study at local schools, John Adams attended Harvard College where he received an A.B. in 1755. After graduation, the future United States President briefly taught school in Worcester, Massachusetts. There he was influenced by attorney, James Putnam, to pursue a career in law. John studied law under Putnam and then returned to Braintree to be presented to the Bar.

Young Lawyer
John Adams was kept busy trying to establish himself as a lawyer, but often had time to socialize. He grew more and more fond of Parson William Smith's daughter, Abigail, and became a frequent visitor to their home in nearby Weymouth, Massachusetts. Abigail was exceptionally intelligent and spent much of her free time reading the books in her father's extensive library. The future First Lady also learned much from guests she met while staying with her grandfather Colonel John Quincy, who was one of the most prominent citizens in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Abigail's intelligence, strong interpersonal skills and strength of character made her ideally suited for lifelong partnership through marriage to a man with aspirations of a career in public service. John was eager to pursue his relationship with Abigail Smith but realized the responsibility that marriage entailed. Therefore, Adams set out to organize and improve the cottage and farmland that he inherited upon the death of his father in May of 1761. In October of 1764, with this work completed, John married Abigail and together they moved into the small farmhouse that three years later became the birthplace of their son, John Quincy Adams, the Sixth President of the United States. John Adams' law career rose from a small practice carried out from his Braintree farmhouse to a well established firm with clients as wealthy and prominent as John Hancock. Throughout this rise John traveled the court circuit and often was away from home for extended periods, a condition that forced John and Abigail to become skilled letter writers. Eventually, Adams gained notoriety and became one of Boston's most sought after attorneys. John built his reputation on fairness and therefore agreed to defend the British Officers accused of murder resulting from the Boston Massacre.

Although John Adams could defend British soldiers on points of law, he was an ardent critic of Great Britain’s' policies. In June of 1774 Adams was elected to go to Philadelphia as a delegate from Massachusetts to the First Continental Congress. Here, representatives from the American Colonies met to discuss their opposition to England's Colonial Government. John was an active participant at this meeting and the subsequent Second Continental Congress. During the course of his attendance at these sessions Adams proposed George Washington as Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army, and argued forcefully for and helped his friend, Thomas Jefferson, to draft the Declaration of Independence. In addition, John Adams laid the cornerstone of U.S. foreign policy by drafting the "Model Treaty of 1776", which sought to structure American foreign relations on the basis of free trade with all nations but, permanent alliances with none. In 1777, Adams briefly retired from public service because of the emotional and financial strains that his long absence from Braintree was putting on his family. This retirement had only commenced when John received word that the Continental Congress appointed him as a Joint Commissioner to negotiate for Peace with Great Britain. The assignment obligated Adams to travel to Europe and forced the Adams family to endure the hardship of separation for their nation's well being. At Abigail's urging, John Adams took his oldest son, John Quincy Adams, on his diplomatic mission to France in order to give the boy international experience and provide for a second generation of enlightened leadership in U.S. foreign relations. During John's absence Abigail managed the farm, supervised the schooling of their children and kept her husband informed of all the events taking place at home.


Upon arrival in Paris, Adams discovered that Benjamin Franklin had already negotiated a trade and alliance treaty with France. However, the financial accounts of the U.S. representatives were in such disarray that John remained in Europe for a year restoring order to the financial affairs of the American Mission. With this objective completed and no prospects of peace with England on the horizon, Adams returned to America in time to be elected as Braintree's delegate to the Massachusetts Constitutional Convention. John was the principal framer of the product of this convention and today the Massachusetts Constitution is the oldest surviving written constitution in the world. Shortly after this success, Congress ordered Adams to return to Paris to serve as first commissioner of the delegation to negotiate Treaties of Peace and Commerce with Great Britain. This time, John Quincy, and his brother Charles, accompanied their father on the long voyage across the Atlantic. During the course of the rest of the Revolutionary War, the future President arduously labored to diversify United States foreign relations by attempting to gain diplomatic recognition of American Independence from a number of European states. In 1782, Adams' efforts were rewarded when Holland formally recognized, signed a Treaty of Amity and Commerce with, and agreed to loan the United States five million Dutch Guilders. Within a year of his success in the Netherlands, John Adams took part in his crowning achievement as a diplomat when he negotiated and signed the Treaty of Paris, which secured recognition of the United States' independence from Great Britain. After the war Adams remained in Europe until 1788, strengthening U.S. foreign relations by securing more loans from Holland, concluding treaties of amity and commerce with several European nations and serving as the first United States Minister to Great Britain. John took advantage of the opportunity that peace provided to reunite his family. Abigail and daughter Nabby sailed to Europe in 1784 and brought happiness to the remainder of John Adams' diplomatic tenure abroad.

John Adams Biography Page 2

Vice President
In 1788, convinced that they could do more for their nation at home than abroad, John and Abigail left England to return to their beloved Braintree. Weary of being away from home, they eagerly contemplated settling in the Vassall-Borland house (now the "Old House," Adams National Historical Park), which they asked one of their relatives to secure the purchase of for them while they were away in England. The house was spacious and warm with a beautiful garden and rich verdant fields for John to pursue his love of farming. Adams' contributions to the building of the nation made him a popular choice for the office of Vice-President in the election of 1788. After eight years of loyal and important service as the nation's first Vice-President John Adams was elected to succeed George Washington and became the second President of the United States. The nation's first peaceful transfer of power succeeded as the world looked on.

John Adams' term of office was one of the most difficult in U.S. History. The turmoil that embroiled Europe following the French Revolution threatened to spill across the Atlantic and polarize America. Some in the United States felt that the U.S. should have come to the aid of America's former ally, France, in their war with England. Others Americans felt that the French had gone too far in their revolution and that we no longer owed allegiance to that nation. The French Government was impatient for U.S. support and tried to convince the United States to see things their way through a show of force. The French Navy began attacking American ships at sea and when John Adams sent U.S. diplomats to reconcile Franco-American differences the French Government refused to talk until the Americans paid them a bribe, an episode that would later be known as the XYZ Affair. Following this humiliating event most Americans felt the U.S. should go to war with France to restore national honor. While many officials capitalized on this hysteria for their own political gain, John Adams' honesty and integrity led him to put nation before party. Adams avoided war by building up the American Navy to protect U.S. ships at sea. During his presidency John Adams founded the Department of the Navy and the U.S.S. Constitution, and several other ships, were launched. While this maritime defense deterred further French aggression Adams signed into law a series of measures to restore domestic tranquility and preserve the Union. This legislation, which came to be known as the Alien and Sedition Acts, was pushed through Congress by the Federalist Party in order to tighten control over immigrants and those who criticized the government. While Adams played no part in the formation of these acts, nor took steps to enforce them, he was held responsible for these unpopular measures in the public mind. Thomas Jefferson and his friend James Madison defined the Republican Party's opposition to the Alien and Sedition Acts in the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions, which outlined the "states' rights" or "compact theory" of the Constitution.

Senior Statesman
The Year 1800 was bittersweet for John Adams. The Convention of Montefontaine, signed in October, ended hostilities between France and the United States and Adams considered the positive resolution of this crisis as his greatest accomplishment as President. In November, John and Abigail Adams became the first occupants of the Executive Mansion in Washington D.C. (later to be known as the White House). Meanwhile, their son, John Quincy Adams, was distinguishing himself abroad as U.S. Minister to Prussia. Eleven months of relative joy was soon overshadowed by a December that brought sadness and grief to the Adams family when they suffered the death of their second son, Charles and John's loss to Thomas Jefferson in the Presidential Election of 1800. Adams truly believed that the Republican Party's victory in 1800 augured trouble for the United States. He felt the Union the Founding Fathers had worked so hard to establish, would quickly be dismantled by those politicians who sought to give more authority to the individual states. John respected the will of the people but left a check on the Republican Party's ability to act precipitously. During the four months between Election Day and Jefferson's inauguration on March 4, 1801, the Federalist majority in the old Congress passed a new Judiciary Act, which increased the number of judges in the federal courts by 16. President Adams appointed Federalists to these positions, working until late in the evening of his last day in office signing the commissions of the new judges. The most significant appointment made by Adams was that of John Marshall of Virginia as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. In rendering more than 500 opinions in 34 years of service, from 1801 to 1835, Marshall helped to mold the political and economic structure of the new nation. Thomas Jefferson, the President-Elect, considered Adams' "Midnight Appointments" as the perfidy of a sore loser. The once close friendship between these two patriots had decayed to the point that Adams did not feel comfortable attending his successor's inauguration. As John returned home on March 4, 1801 he may have regretted the falling out between he and his friend but consoled himself in the belief that he had done what was in the best interest of the United States. Adams also looked forward to returning to his beloved estate in Quincy, which he had named Peacefield, and pursuing his love of farming. Adams also took pleasure in making use of the rooms that had just been added to the "Old House" as the home was later called. Downstairs, there was a spacious room to entertain the constant flow of guests that called upon the Adamses. While upstairs, there was a comfortable study where John spent many hours reading and writing. John Adams also enjoyed retirement because he could spend more time with his family. The former President especially appreciated having such a close and supportive family when his beloved Abigail died in 1818. Abigail had been more than a wife to John; she had been his partner, his advisor and his "Dearest Friend." Adams' grief was tempered by the constant love, joy and pride that his family brought him in his remaining years. One of the most satisfying accomplishments of John Adams' final years was achieving reconciliation with Thomas Jefferson. In 1812, Dr. Benjamin Rush, a mutual friend of Jefferson and Adams, wrote to the former Presidents and suggested that they should start a correspondence with each other. Time had allowed partisan and ideological passions to recede and a friendship that was forged in the crucible of war was rekindled through the quill. In this correspondence these two men, who represented the North Pole and the south pole of the American Revolution, put forth their different visions of America's future. The monumental role these two men played in creating an enduring legacy of American liberty was divinely symbolized by the coincidence of their deaths on the fourth of July 1826, the fiftieth anniversary of American Independence. While both men could be proud of the contributions they made to the founding and strengthening of the United States, Adams could be doubly pleased that his son, John Quincy Adams, as the sixth President of the United States was continuing the family's dedication to public service in the nation's highest office. Today the Adams National Historic Site serves as a setting to investigate the role that John Adams played in establishing and perpetuating the American democratic tradition. John Adams' life is vividly interpreted by National Park Service Rangers using the three historic residences that comprise the site as unique backdrops to tell the story. Visitors can witness first hand the environment that shaped the character and ideas of the Adams family and in so doing arrive at a better understanding of these important men and women. The National Park Service conscientiously preserves these houses and the property around them to provide present and future generations with a window to view an American family who contributed to their country through public service.


John Adams' quote in 1780 prophetically illustrates the diverse elements that would come together to create the museum collections of the Adams NHP. The park is comprised of 13 acres, 11 buildings and a collection comprising approximately 100,000 objects including original furnishings, books, archival materials and archeology donated by the family in 1946. The park encompasses not only the Old House (the Adams Family Mansion, c 1730) with its "objects of significance" but the birthplaces (17th Century saltbox structures) of two presidents: John Adams (1797-1801) and John Quincy Adams (1825-1829).

The original portion of the Old House was built in the first half of the eighteenth century and was associated with the Adams family for over a century and a half from 1787 to 1946. In making this gift to the American people, the intention of the Adams family was that the area be preserved as a historic site to "foster civic virtue and patriotism."

The collection serves to interpret the Adams family's history that includes two presidents, statesmen, writers and historians over five generations and illustrates the changing relationship of the artifacts to the family members. The artifacts, historic structures, and historic landscape reflect the family's experiences and represents, shapes, and mirrors the significant events in the social, cultural, political, and intellectual history of the nation.

The historic integrity of the park and associative collections are superior. Ninety-nine percent of the objects associated with the family are original artifacts, while the remaining are reproduction upholstery, bedspreads and wallpaper. Many elements of the collection are significant in their own right, apart from the historic structures and objects' associative history. This is particularly true of the American paintings by William Morris Hunt, Edward Savage, Mather Brown, and John Trumbull. The American furniture includes an American Queen Anne Highboy, Grecian card table attributed to Thomas Seymour as well as Federal style mahogany banquet table. European furniture comprising of Dutch Chairs, French Secretary, and Louis XV Settee and Chairs represent John Adams' diplomatic service to the nation in France and Holland.

In 1870 the Stone Library with over 12,000 volumes, was built to house the family's books and papers belonging to John Adams, John Quincy Adams, Charles Francis Adams, and Henry and Brooks Adams. Henry Adams wrote his famous nine volume history of the United States there. There are more than twelve languages represented and includes a range of subjects from astronomy, literature, horticulture, natural history and theatre, including many significant and unique books such as: John Adams' copy of George Washington's Farwell Address, the Bible inscribed with a note of gratitude from the Mendi people to John Quincy; and a Bible Concordance dating to 1521.

The collection also includes, 17th Century Primitive American Paintings, American and European decorative arts, architectural elements, an associated archeological collection, 19th Century photographs, Print Collection, and an archives collection comprising of Resource Management Records (1946-present), Adams Family Papers (1745-1927), and the Adams Memorial Society Papers(1927-1946). click here to view collection images