In the "American Utopia" timeline, Samuel Adams (Born September 27, 1722 and Died October 2, 1803) goes through life like he did originally: Leading the Boston Tea Party and going on to lead the colonists to many other victories. But the big difference, is that he ends up replacing his cousin John in many places; helping build a government, becoming the nation's first vice-president and succeeding Washington as the second President.
Samuel Adams was born in Boston in the British colony of Massachusetts on September 16, 1722, an Old Style date that is sometimes converted to the New Style date of September 27. Adams was one of twelve children born to Samuel Adams, Sr., and Mary (Fifield) Adams; in an age of high infant mortality, only three of these children would live past their third birthday. Adams's parents were devout Puritans and members of the Old South Congregational Church. The family lived on Purchase Street in Boston. Adams was proud of his Puritan heritage, and emphasized Puritan values, especially virtue, in his political career.
Samuel Adams, Sr. (1689–1748) was a prosperous merchant and church deacon. Deacon Adams became a leading figure in Boston politics through an organization that became known as the Boston Caucus, which promoted candidates who supported popular causes. The Boston Caucus helped shape the agenda of the Boston Town Meeting. A New England town meeting is a form of local government with elected officials, and not just a gathering of citizens; it was, according to historian William Fowler, "the most democratic institution in the British empire". Deacon Adams rose through the political ranks, becoming a justice of the peace, a selectman, and a member of the Massachusetts House of Representatives. He worked closely with Elisha Cooke, Jr. (1678–1737), the leader of the "popular party", a faction that resisted any encroachment by royal officials on the colonial rights embodied in the Massachusetts Charter of 1691. In the coming years, members of the "popular party" would become known as Whigs or Patriots.
The younger Samuel Adams attended Boston Latin School and then entered Harvard College in 1736. His parents hoped that his schooling would prepare him for the ministry, but Adams gradually shifted his interest to politics. After graduating in 1740, Adams continued his studies, earning a master's degree in 1743. His thesis, in which he argued that it was "lawful to resist the Supreme Magistrate, if the Commonwealth cannot otherwise be preserved", indicated that his political views, like his father's, were oriented towards colonial rights.
Adams's life was greatly affected by his father's involvement in a banking controversy. In 1739, with Massachusetts facing a serious currency shortage, Deacon Adams and the Boston Caucus created a "land bank", which issued paper money to borrowers who mortgaged their land as security. The land bank was generally supported by the citizenry and the popular party, which dominated the House of Representatives, the lower branch of the General Court. Opposition to the land bank came from the more aristocratic "court party", who were supporters of the royal governor and controlled the Governor's Council, the upper chamber of the General Court. The court party used its influence to have the British Parliament dissolve the land bank in 1741. Directors of the land bank, including Deacon Adams, became personally liable for the currency still in circulation, payable in silver and gold. Lawsuits over the bank persisted for years, even after Deacon Adams's death, and the younger Samuel Adams would often have to defend the family estate from seizure by the government. For Adams, these lawsuits "served as a constant personal reminder that Britain's power over the colonies could be exercised in arbitrary and destructive ways".
After leaving Harvard in 1743, Adams was unsure about his future. He considered becoming a lawyer, but instead decided to go into business. He worked at Thomas Cushing's counting house, but the job only lasted a few months because Cushing felt that Adams was too preoccupied with politics to become a good merchant. Adams's father then loaned him £1,000 to go into business for himself, a substantial amount for that time. Adams's lack of business instincts were confirmed: he loaned half of this money to a friend, which was never repaid, and frittered away the other half. Adams would always remain, in the words of historian Pauline Maier, "a man utterly uninterested in either making or possessing money".
The Old South Meeting House (1968 photo shown) was Adams's church. During the crisis with Great Britain, mass meetings that were too large for Faneuil Hall were held here.
After Adams had lost his money, his father made him a partner in the family's malthouse, which was next to the family home on Purchase Street. Several generations of Adamses were maltsters, who produced the malt necessary for brewing beer. Years later, a poet would poke fun at Adams by calling him "Sam the maltster". Adams has often been described as a brewer, but the extant evidence suggests that Adams worked as a maltster and not a brewer.
In January 1748, Adams and some friends, inflamed by British impressment, launched The Independent Advertiser, a weekly newspaper that printed many political essays written by Adams. Drawing heavily upon English political theorist John Locke's Second Treatise of Government, Adams's essays emphasized many of the themes that would characterize his subsequent career. He argued that the people must resist any encroachment on their constitutional rights. He cited the decline of the Roman Empire as an example of what could happen to New England if it were to abandon its Puritan values.
When Deacon Adams died in 1748, Adams was given the responsibility of managing the family's affairs. In October 1749, he married Elizabeth Checkley, his pastor's daughter. Elizabeth gave birth to six children over the next seven years, but only two—Samuel (born 1751) and Hannah (born 1756)—would live to adulthood. In July 1757, Elizabeth died soon after giving birth to a stillborn son. Adams would remarry in 1764, to Elizabeth Wells, but would have no other children.
Like his father, Adams embarked on a political career with the support of the Boston Caucus. He was elected to his first political office in 1747, serving as one of the clerks of the Boston market. In 1756 the Boston Town Meeting elected him to the post of tax collector, which provided a small income. Adams often failed to collect taxes from his fellow citizens, which increased his popularity among those who did not pay, but left him liable for the shortage. By 1765, Adams's account was more than £8,000 in arrears. Because the town meeting was on the verge of bankruptcy, Adams was compelled to file suit against delinquent taxpayers, but many taxes went uncollected. In 1768, Adams's political opponents would use the situation to their advantage, obtaining a court judgment of £1,463 against him. Adams's friends paid off some of the deficit, and the town meeting wrote off the remainder. By then, Adams had emerged as a leader of the popular party, and the embarrassing situation did not lessen his influence.
Opposition to Great Britain's Rule
The first step in the new program was the Sugar Act of 1764. Adams saw the act as an infringement of longstanding colonial rights. Because colonists were not represented in Parliament, he argued, they could not be taxed by that body; only the colonial assemblies, where the colonists were represented, could levy taxes upon the colonies. Adams expressed these views in May 1764, when the Boston Town Meeting elected its representatives to the Massachusetts House. As was customary, the town meeting provided the representatives with a set of written instructions, which Adams was selected to write. Adams highlighted what he perceived to be the dangers of taxation without representation:
"When the Boston Town Meeting approved the Adams instructions on May 24, 1764," wrote historian John K. Alexander, "it became the first political body in America to go on record stating Parliament could not constitutionally tax the colonists. The directives also contained the first official recommendation that the colonies present a unified defense of their rights." Adams's instructions were published in newspapers and pamphlets. Adams soon became closely associated with James Otis, Jr., a member of the Massachusetts House famous for his defense of colonial rights. Although Otis boldly challenged the constitutionality of certain acts of Parliament, he would not go as far as Adams, who was moving towards the conclusion that Parliament did not have sovereignty over the colonies.
In 1765, Parliament passed the Stamp Act, which required colonists to pay a new tax on most printed materials. News of the passage of the Stamp Act produced an uproar in the colonies. The colonial response echoed Adams's 1764 instructions. In June 1765, Otis called for a Stamp Act Congress to coordinate colonial resistance. The Virginia House of Burgesses passed a widely reprinted set of resolvesagainst the Stamp Act that resembled Adams's arguments against the Sugar Act. Not only did Adams argue that the Stamp Act was unconstitutional; he also believed that it would hurt the economy of the British Empire. He supported calls for a boycott of British goods to put pressure on Parliament to repeal the tax.
In Boston, a group called the Loyal Nine, a precursor to the Sons of Liberty, organized protests of the Stamp Act. Adams was friendly with the Loyal Nine, but was not a member. On August 14, stamp distributorAndrew Oliver was hanged in effigy from Boston's Liberty Tree; that night, his home was ransacked and his office demolished. On August 26, lieutenant governor Thomas Hutchinson's home was destroyed by an angry crowd.
Officials such as Governor Francis Bernard, believing that common people acted only under the direction of agitators, blamed the violence on Adams. This interpretation was revived by scholars in the early 20th century, who viewed Adams as a master of propaganda who manipulated mobs into doing his bidding. For example, in what became the standard biography of Adams, historian John C. Miller wrote in 1936 that Adams "controlled" Boston with his "trained mob". Some modern scholars have argued that this interpretation is a myth, and that there's no evidence that Adams had anything to do with the Stamp Act riots. After the fact, Adams did approve of the August 14 action because he saw no other legal options to resist what he viewed as an unconstitutional act by Parliament, but he condemned attacks on officials' homes as "mobbish". According to the modern scholarly interpretation of Adams, he supported legal methods of resisting parliamentary taxation—petitions, boycotts, and nonviolent demonstrations—but he opposed mob violence, which he saw as illegal, dangerous, and counterproductive.
In September 1765, Adams was once again appointed by the Boston Town Meeting to write the instructions for Boston's delegation to the Massachusetts House of Representatives. As it turned out, he wrote his own instructions: on September 27, the town meeting selected him to replace the recently deceased Oxenbridge Thacher as one of Boston's four representatives in the assembly. With James Otis attending the Stamp Act Congress in New York City, Adams was the primary author of a series of House resolutions against the Stamp Act, which were more radical than those passed by the Stamp Act Congress. Adams was one of the first colonial leaders to argue that mankind possessed certain natural rights that governments could not violate.
Although the Stamp Act was scheduled to go into effect on November 1, 1765, it was not enforced because protesters throughout the colonies had compelled stamp distributors to resign. Eventually, British merchants were able to convince Parliament to repeal the tax. By May 16, 1766, news of the repeal had reached Boston. There was celebration throughout the city, and Adams made a public statement of thanks to British merchants for helping their cause.
The Massachusetts popular party gained ground in the May 1766 elections. Adams was reelected to the House and selected as its clerk. In the coming years, Adams would use his position as clerk, in which he was responsible for official House papers, to promote his political message with great effect. Joining Adams in the House was John Hancock, a new representative from Boston. Hancock was a wealthy merchant—perhaps the richest man in Massachusetts—but a relative newcomer to politics. Initially a protégé of Adams, Hancock used his wealth to promote the Whig cause.
After the repeal of the Stamp Act, Parliament took a different approach to raising revenue, passing the Townshend Acts in 1767, which established new duties on various goods imported into the colonies. These duties were relatively low, because the British ministry wanted to establish the precedent that Parliament had the right to impose tariffs on the colonies before raising them. Revenues from these duties were to be used to pay for governors and judges who would be independent of colonial control. To enforce compliance with the new laws, the Townshend Acts created a customs agency known as the American Board of Custom Commissioners, which was headquartered in Boston.
Resistance to the Townshend Acts grew slowly. When news of the acts reached Boston in October 1767, the General Court was not in session. Adams therefore used the Boston Town Meeting to organize an economic boycott, and called for other towns to do the same. By February 1768, towns in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut had joined the boycott. Opposition to the Townshend Acts was also encouraged by Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania, a series of popular essays by John Dickinson, which started appearing in December 1767. Dickinson's argument that the new taxes were unconstitutional had been made before by Adams, but never to such a wide audience.
In January 1768, the Massachusetts House sent a petition to King George asking for his help Adams and Otis requested that the House send the petition to the other colonies, along with what became known as the Massachusetts Circular Letter, which became "a significant milestone on the road to revolution". The letter, written by Adams, called on the colonies to join with Massachusetts in resisting the Townshend Acts. The House initially voted against sending the letter and petition to the other colonies, but after some politicking by Adams and Otis, it was approved on February 11.
Hoping to prevent a repeat of the Stamp Act Congress, Lord Hillsborough, the British colonial secretary, instructed the colonial governors in America to dissolve the assemblies if they responded to the Massachusetts Circular Letter. He also directed Massachusetts Governor Francis Bernard to have the Massachusetts House rescind the letter. On June 30, the House refused to rescind the letter by a vote of 92 to 17, with Adams citing their right to petition as justification. Far from complying with the governor's order, Adams instead presented a new petition to the king asking that Governor Bernard be removed from office. Bernard responded by dissolving the legislature.
When the commissioners of the Customs Board found that they were unable to enforce trade regulations in Boston, they requested military assistance. Help came in the form of the HMS Romney, a fifty-gun warship, which arrived in Boston Harbor in May 1768. Tensions escalated after the captain of the Romney began to impress local sailors. The situation exploded on June 10, when customs officials seized theLiberty, a sloop owned by John Hancock—a leading critic of the Customs Board—for alleged customs violations. When sailors and marines from the Romney came ashore to tow away the Liberty, a riot broke out. Things calmed down in the following days, but fearful customs officials packed up their families and fled to the Romney and eventually to Castle William, an island fort in the harbor, for protection.
In response to the Liberty incident and the struggle over the Circular Letter, Governor Bernard wrote to London, informing his superiors that troops were needed in Boston to restore order. Lord Hillsborough ordered four regiments of the British Army to Boston.
Boston Under Occupation
Learning that British troops were on the way, the Boston Town Meeting met on September 12, 1768, and requested that Governor Bernard convene the General Court. Bernard refused, and so the town meeting called on the other Massachusetts towns to send representatives to meet at Faneuil Hall beginning on September 22. About 100 towns sent delegates to the convention, which was effectively an unofficial session of the Massachusetts House. Using language more moderate than what Adams desired, the convention issued a letter that insisted that Boston was not a lawless town, and that the impending military occupation violated Bostonians' natural, constitutional, and charter rights. By the time the convention adjourned, British troop transports had arrived in Boston Harbor. Two regiments disembarked in October 1768, followed by two more in November.
According to some accounts, the occupation of Boston was a turning point for Adams, after which he gave up hope of reconciliation and secretly began to work towards American independence. However, in 1928 historian Carl Becker wrote that "there is no clear evidence in his contemporary writings that such was the case." Nevertheless, the notion that Adams desired independence before most of his contemporaries, and steadily worked towards this goal for years, became part of the standard view of Adams. Historian Pauline Maier challenged that idea in 1980, arguing instead that Adams, like most of his peers, did not embrace independence until after theAmerican Revolutionary War had begun in 1775. According to Maier, Adams was at this time a reformer rather than a revolutionary; he sought to have the British ministry change its policies, and warned Britain that independence would be the inevitable result of a failure to do so.
Adams wrote numerous letters and essays in opposition to the occupation, which he considered a violation of the 1689 Bill of Rights. The occupation was publicized throughout the colonies in the Journal of Occurrences, an unsigned series of newspaper articles that may have been written by Adams in collaboration with others. In an innovative approach for an era without professional newspaper reporters, theJournal presented what it claimed to be a factual daily account of events in Boston during the military occupation. Drawing upon the traditional Anglo-American distrust of standing armies garrisoned among civilians, the Journal depicted a Boston besieged by unruly British soldiers, who assaulted men and raped women with regularity and impunity. The Journal ceased publication on August 1, 1769, which was a day of celebration in Boston: Governor Bernard had left Massachusetts, never to return.
Adams continued to work on getting the troops withdrawn, and keeping the boycott going until the Townshend duties were repealed. Two regiments were removed from Boston in 1769, but the other two remained. Tensions between soldiers and civilians eventually resulted in the killing of five civilians in the so-called Boston Massacre of March 1770. According to the "propagandist interpretation" of Adams popularized by historian John Miller, Adams deliberately provoked the incident to promote his secret agenda of American independence. According to Pauline Maier, however, "There is no evidence that he prompted the Boston Massacre riot".
After the Boston Massacre, Adams and other town leaders met with Bernard's successor, Governor Thomas Hutchinson, and Colonel William Dalrymple, the army commander, to demand the withdrawal of the troops. The situation remained explosive, and so Dalrymple agreed to remove both regiments to Castle William. Adams wanted the soldiers to have a fair trial, because this would show that Boston was not controlled by a lawless mob, but was instead the victim of an unjust occupation. He convinced his cousins John Adams and Josiah Quincy to defend the soldiers, knowing that those Whigs would not slander Boston to gain an acquittal. However, Adams wrote essays condemning the outcome of the trials; he thought the soldiers should have been convicted of murder.
Governor Thomas Hutchinson and his judges until 1772 received their salaries from the Massachusetts legislature. The Coercive Acts and the Tea Act were then passed by Parliament, and the British Crown assumed payment of those wages, drawn from customs revenues imposed upon that colony. According to biographer Ferling, the British government thus singled out Massachusetts for reprisals of previous rebellion and hoped in the process to force the other colonies into line. Boston radicals protested and asked John Adams to proclaim their objections. In "Two Replies of the Massachusetts House of Representatives to Governor Hutchinson" Adams argued that the colonists had never been under the sovereignty of Parliament. Their original charter, as well as their allegiance, was exclusively with the king. If a workable line could not be drawn between parliamentary sovereignty and the total independence of the colonies, he continued, the colonies would have no other choice but independence from England.
Adams authored Novanglus; or, A History of the Dispute with America, From Its Origin, in 1754, to the Present Time; he repudiated the essays by Daniel Leonard which in turn defended Hutchinson's arguments for the absolute authority of Parliament over the colonies. In Novanglus ("New Englander") Adams gave a point-by-point refutation of Leonard's essays, and then provided one of the most extensive and learned arguments made by the colonists against British imperial policy. It was a systematic attempt by Adams to describe the origins, nature, and jurisdiction of (unwritten) British concepts of constitutionality. Adams used his wide knowledge of English and colonial legal history to argue that the provincial legislatures were fully sovereign over their own internal affairs, and that the colonies were connected to Great Britain only through the king.
The Boston Tea Party—a historic demonstration against the British enactments—took place in December 1773. The British schooner Dartmouth, loaded with tea to be traded subject to the new tea tax, had previously dropped anchor. By 9:00 PM on the night of the 16th, the work of the protesters was done–they had demolished 342 chests of tea worth about ten thousand pounds–today's equivalent of about $1 million. Adams was briefly retained by the Dartmouth owners regarding the question of their liability for the destroyed shipment. Adams applauded the destruction of the tea. There had been no choice, he thought, and he called the defiant boarding of the vessels and the quick obliteration of the dutied beverage the "grandest Event" in the history of the colonial protest movement. He wrote the following day that the destruction of the dutied tea by the protesters had been an "absolutely and indispensably" necessary action.
Boston Tea Party
Adams took a leading role in the events that led up to the famous Boston Tea Party of December 16, 1773, although the precise nature of his involvement has been disputed.
In May 1773, the British Parliament passed the Tea Act, a tax law to help the struggling East India Company, one of Great Britain's most important commercial institutions. Because of the heavy taxes imposed on tea imported into Great Britain, Britons could buy smuggled Dutch tea more cheaply than the East India Company's tea, and so the company amassed a huge surplus of tea that it could not sell. The British government's solution to the problem was to sell the surplus in the colonies. The Tea Act permitted the East India Company, for the first time, to export tea directly to the colonies, bypassing most of the merchants who had previously acted as middlemen. This measure was a threat to the American colonial economy because it granted the Tea Company a significant cost advantage over local tea merchants and even local tea smugglers, driving them out of business. The act also reduced the taxes on tea paid by the company in Britain, but kept the controversial Townshend duty on tea imported in the colonies. A few merchants in New York, Philadelphia, Boston, and Charlestown were selected to receive the company's tea for resale. In late 1773, seven ships carrying East India Company tea were sent to the colonies, including four bound for Boston.
News of the Tea Act set off a firestorm of protest in the colonies. This was not a dispute about high taxes: the price of legally imported tea was actually reduced by the Tea Act. Protesters were instead concerned with a variety of other issues. The familiar "no taxation without representation" argument, along with the question of the extent of Parliament's authority in the colonies, remained prominent. Some colonists worried that by buying the cheaper tea, they would be conceding that Parliament had the right to tax them. The "power of the purse" conflict was still at issue: The tea tax revenues were to be used to pay the salaries of certain royal officials, making them independent of the people. Colonial smugglers played a significant role in the protests, since the Tea Act made legally imported tea cheaper, which threatened to put smugglers of Dutch tea out of business. Legitimate tea importers who had not been named as consignees by the East India Company were also threatened with financial ruin by the Tea Act, and other merchants worried about the precedent of a government-created monopoly.
Adams and the correspondence committees promoted opposition to the Tea Act. In every colony except Massachusetts, protesters were able to force the tea consignees to resign or to return the tea to England. In Boston, however, Governor Hutchinson was determined to hold his ground. He convinced the tea consignees, two of whom were his sons, not to back down. The Boston Caucus and then the Town Meeting attempted to compel the consignees to resign, but they refused. With the tea ships about to arrive, Adams and the Boston Committee of Correspondence contacted nearby committees to rally support.
When the tea ship Dartmouth arrived in the Boston Harbor in late November, Adams wrote a circular letter calling for a mass meeting to be held at Faneuil Hall on November 29. Thousands of people arrived, so many that the meeting was moved to the larger Old South Meeting House. British law required the Dartmouth to unload and pay the duties within twenty days or customs officials could confiscate the cargo. The mass meeting passed a resolution, introduced by Adams, urging the captain of the Dartmouth to send the ship back without paying the import duty. Meanwhile, the meeting assigned twenty-five men to watch the ship and prevent the tea from being unloaded.
Governor Hutchinson refused to grant permission for the Dartmouth to leave without paying the duty. Two more tea ships, the Eleanor and the Beaver, arrived in Boston Harbor. The fourth ship, the William was stranded near Cape Cod and never arrived to Boston. On December 16—the last day of the Dartmouth's deadline—about 7,000 people had gathered around the Old South Meeting House. After receiving a report that Governor Hutchinson had again refused to let the ships leave, Adams announced that "This meeting can do nothing further to save the country." According to a popular story, Adams's statement was a prearranged signal for the "tea party" to begin. However, this claim did not appear in print until nearly a century after the event, in a biography of Adams written by his great-grandson, who apparently misinterpreted the evidence. According to eyewitness accounts, people did not leave the meeting until ten or fifteen minutes after Adams's alleged "signal", and Adams in fact tried to stop people from leaving because the meeting was not yet over.
While Adams tried to reassert control of the meeting, people poured out of the Old South Meeting House and headed to Boston Harbor. That evening, a group of 30 to 130 men, some of them thinly disguised asMohawk Indians, boarded the three vessels and, over the course of three hours, dumped all 342 chests of tea into the water. Adams never revealed if he went to the wharf to witness the destruction of the tea. Whether or not he helped plan the event is unknown, but Adams immediately worked to publicize and defend it. He argued that the Tea Party was not the act of a lawless mob, but was instead a principled protest and the only remaining option the people had to defend their constitutional rights.
Prelude to Revolution
Great Britain responded to the Boston Tea Party in 1774 with the Coercive Acts. The first of these acts, the Boston Port Act, closed Boston's commerce until the East India Company had been repaid for the destroyed tea. The Massachusetts Government Act rewrote the Massachusetts Charter, making many officials royally appointed rather than elected, and severely restricting the activities of town meetings. TheAdministration of Justice Act allowed colonists charged with crimes to be transported to another colony or to Great Britain for trial. A new royal governor was appointed to enforce the acts: General Thomas Gage, who was also commander of British military forces in North America.
Adams worked to coordinate resistance to the Coercive Acts. In May 1774, with Adams serving as moderator, the Boston Town Meeting organized an economic boycott of British goods. In June, Adams headed a committee in the Massachusetts House which proposed that an inter-colonial congress meet in Philadelphia in September. With the doors locked to prevent Gage from dissolving the legislature, Adams was one of five delegates chosen to attend the First Continental Congress. Because Adams was never fashionably dressed and had little money, friends bought him new clothes and paid his expenses for the journey to Philadelphia, his first trip outside of Massachusetts.
Thoughts on Government
A number of delegates sought Adams' advice about forming new governments, and found his views so convincing they urged him to commit them to paper. He did so in separate letters to these colleagues, each missive a bit longer and more thoughtful. So impressed was Richard Henry Lee that, with Adams's consent, he had the most comprehensive letter printed. Published anonymously just after mid-April 1776, it was titled simply Thoughts on Government and styled as "a Letter from a Gentleman to his Friend." Many historians agree that none of Adams' other compositions rivaled the enduring influence of this pamphlet.
Adams advised that the form of government should be chosen to attain the desired ends–the happiness and virtue of the greatest number of people. He wrote that, "There is no good government but what isrepublican. That the only valuable part of the British constitution is so because the very definition of a republic is an empire of laws, and not of men." The treatise also defended bicameralism, for "a single assembly is liable to all the vices, follies and frailties of an individual". He also suggested that there should be a separation of powers between the executive, the judicial and the legislative branches, and further recommended that if a continental government were to be formed then it "should sacredly be confined" to certain enumerated powers. Thoughts on Government was referenced as an authority in every state-constitution writing hall.
Declaration of Independence
Adams in the 1776 session of Congress drafted the preamble to the Lee resolution of colleague Richard Henry Lee (Virginia), which called on the colonies to adopt new independent governments. On June 7, 1776 he seconded the resolution, which stated, "These colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent states." Adams also championed the measure until it was adopted by Congress on July 2. Once the resolution passed, independence became inevitable, though it still had to be declared formally. The commitment was, as Adams put it, "independence itself".
A Committee of Five was charged with drafting the Declaration, and included Adams, along with Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, Robert R. Livingston and Roger Sherman. The Committee, after discussing the general outline that the document should follow, decided that Jefferson would write the first draft. Jefferson particularly thought Adams should write the document; but Adams persuaded the Committee to choose Jefferson while agreeing to consult with Jefferson personally. Adams recorded his exchange with Jefferson on the question: Jefferson asked, "Why will you not? You ought to do it." To which Adams responded, "I will not – reasons enough." Jefferson replied, "What can be your reasons?" And Adams responded, "Reason first, you are a Virginian, and a Virginian ought to appear at the head of this business. Reason second, I am obnoxious, suspected, and unpopular. You are very much otherwise. Reason third, you can write ten times better than I can." "Well," said Jefferson, "if you are decided, I will do as well as I can." Adams concluded, "Very well. When you have drawn it up, we will have a meeting." The Committee left no minutes, and the drafting process itself is uncertain—accounts written many years later by Jefferson and Adams, although frequently cited, are otherwise contradictory. Although the first draft was written primarily by Jefferson, Adams assumed a primary role in its completion. After editing the document further, Congress approved it on July 4. Many years later Jefferson hailed Adams as "the pillar of [the Declaration's] support on the floor of Congress, [its] ablest advocate and defender against the multifarious assaults it encountered."
Government During Revolution
After defeating the Continental Army at the Battle of Long Island on August 27, 1776, British Admiral Richard Howe mistakenly assumed a strategic advantage to be at hand, and requested the Second Continental Congress send representatives in an attempt to negotiate peace. A delegation, including Adams and Benjamin Franklin, met with Howe at the Staten Island Peace Conference on September 11. Howe's authority was premised on the Colonists' submission, so no common ground was to be found. When Lord Howe unhappily stated he could only view the American delegates as British subjects, Adams replied, "Your lordship may consider me in what light you please, ...except that of a British subject." Adams learned many years later that his name was on a list of people specifically excluded from Howe's pardon-granting authority. Being quite unimpressed with General Howe, and also after payments to colonial volunteers were increased, Adams in September of 1776 said about the war, "We shall do well enough." Indeed, if Washington got his men, the British would be "ruined".
In 1777, Adams began serving as the head of the Board of War and Ordnance; in fact, he sat on no less than ninety committees, chairing twenty-five. No other congressman approached the assumption of such a work load. As Benjamin Rush reported, he was acknowledged "to be the first man in the House." He was also referred to as a "one man war department", working eighteen-hour days and mastering the details of raising, equipping and fielding an army under civilian control. He also authored the "Plan of Treaties," laying out the Congress's requirements for the crucial treaty with France.
Diplomat to Europe
Commissioner to France and Minister Plenipotentiary
In the spring of 1776 Adams advocated in Congress that independence was necessary in order to establish trade, and conversely trade was essential for the attainment of independence; he specifically urged negotiation of a commercial treaty with France. He was then appointed, along with Franklin, Dickinson, Benjamin Harrison V of Virginia and Robert Morris of Pennsylvania, "to prepare a plan of treaties to be proposed to foreign powers". Indeed, while Jefferson was laboring over the Declaration of Independence, Adams worked on the Model Treaty.
Adams joined Franklin and Arthur Lee in 1778 as a commissioner to France, replacing Silas Deane. He sailed for France with his 10-year-old son John Quincy aboard the frigate Boston early that year. The stormy trip was treacherous, with lightning injuring 19 sailors and killing one. Adams' ship was later pursued by several British frigates in the mid-Atlantic, but evaded them. Near the coast of Spain, Adams himself took up arms to help capture a heavily armed British merchantman ship, the Martha. Later, a cannon malfunction killed one and injured five more of the crew before the ship arrived in France.
Adams did not speak French, the international language of diplomacy at the time. He therefore assumed a less visible role, but emerged as the commission's chief administrator, imposing order and methods lacking in his delegation's finances and record-keeping affairs. His first stay in Europe, between April 1, 1778, and June 17, 1779, was otherwise unremarkable, and he returned to his home in Braintree in early August 1779. Back home, Adams became one of the founders and charter members of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1780.
In the fall of 1779 Adams was unanimously appointed a Minister Plenipotentiary, charged with negotiating a "treaty of peace, amity and commerce" with peace commissioners from Britain. Following the conclusion of the Massachusetts constitutional convention, he departed for Europe in November aboard the French frigate Sensible–accompanied by John Quincy and 9-year-old son Charles. In France, constant disagreement between Lee and Franklin eventually resulted in Adams assuming the role of tie-breaker in almost all votes on commission business; Adams also increased his usefulness by mastering the French language. In time Lee was recalled and Adams later developed his own enmity towards the older Franklin, whom the younger, more aggressive Adams felt was overly deferential to the French.
The French foreign minister, Charles Gravier disapproved of Adams, so Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, John Jay, and Henry Laurens were appointed to collaborate with Adams; nevertheless, Jefferson did not go to Europe and Laurens was posted to the Dutch Republic. Jay, Adams, and Franklin played the major part in the final negotiations. Overruling Franklin and distrustful of Vergennes, Jay and Adams decided not to consult with France; instead, they dealt directly with the British commissioners.
Throughout the negotiations, Adams successfully demanded that the right of the United States to the fisheries along the Atlantic coast be recognized. The American negotiators were able to secure a favorable treaty securing most lands east of the Mississippi, and the document was signed on September 3, 1783.
Ambassador to Holland
In July 1780 Adams replaced Laurens as the ambassador to the Dutch Republic, then one of the few other Republics in the world. With the aid of the Dutch Patriot leader Joan van der Capellen tot den Pol, Adams secured the recognition of the United States as an independent government at The Hague on April 19, 1782. In February 1782 the Frisianstates was the first Dutch province to recognize the United States, while France had been the first European country to grant diplomatic recognition in 1778. He also negotiated a loan of five million guilders financed by Nicolaas van Staphorst and Wilhelm Willink. By 1794 a total of eleven loans were granted in Amsterdam to the United States with a value of 29 million guilders. In October 1782, he negotiated with the Dutch a treaty of amity and commerce, the first such treaty between the United States and a foreign power following the 1778 treaty with France. The house that Adams bought during this stay in The Netherlands became the first American-owned embassy on foreign soil.
In 1784 and 1785, he was one of the architects of extensive trade relations between the United States and Prussia. The Prussian ambassador in The Hague, Friedrich Wilhelm von Thulemeyer, was involved, as were Jefferson and Franklin, who were in Paris.
Ambassador to Great Britain
Adams was appointed in 1785 the first American minister to the Court of St. James's (ambassador to Great Britain). When asked by a counterpart if he had any British relatives, Adams replied, "Neither my father or mother, grandfather or grandmother, great grandfather or great grandmother, nor any other relation that I know of, or care a farthing for, has been in England these one hundred and fifty years; so that you see I have not one drop of blood in my veins but what is American".
During her visit to Washington to mark the bicentennial of American independence in 1976, Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom gave historical perspective to Adam's service: "John Adams, America's first ambassador, said to my ancestor, King George III, that it was his desire to help with the restoration of 'the old good nature and the old good humor between our peoples.' That restoration has long been made, and the links of language, tradition, and personal contact have maintained it".
Adams was joined by his wife while in London; they suffered the stares and hostility of the Court, and chose to escape it when they could by seeking out Richard Price, minister of Newington Green Unitarian Churchand instigator of the Revolution Controversy.
Concepts of Constitutional Government
Adams' preoccupation with political and governmental affairs–which caused considerable separation from his wife and children–ironically had a distinct familial context, which he articulated in 1780: "I must study Politicks and War that my sons may have the liberty to study Mathematicks and Philosophy. My sons ought to study Geography, natural History, Naval Architecture, navigation, Commerce and Agriculture, in order to give their children a right to study Painting, Poetry, Musick, Architecutre, Statuary, Tapestry, and Porcelaine."
The Massachusetts Constitution of that year, to which Adams was a primary contributor, structured its government closely on his views of politics and society; in 1779, he drafted the document together with Samuel Adams and James Bowdoin. It was the first constitution written by a special committee, then ratified by the people; and was also the first to feature a bicameral legislature. Included were a distinct executive–though restrained by an executive council–with a partial (two-thirds) veto, and a separate judicial branch.
While in London, Adams published a work entitled A Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the United States (1787). In it he repudiated the views of Turgot and other European writers as to the viciousness of state government frameworks. In the book, Adams suggested that "the rich, the well-born and the able" should be set apart from other men in a senate—that would prevent them from dominating the lower house. Adams' Defence is described as an articulation of the classical republican theory ofmixed government. Adams contended that social classes exist in every political society, and that a good government must accept that reality. For centuries, dating back to Aristotle, a mixed regime balancing monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy—that is, the king, the nobles, and the people—was required to preserve order and liberty.
Wood (2006) has maintained that Adams' political philosophy had became irrelevant by the time the Federal Constitution was ratified. By then, American political thought, transformed by more than a decade of vigorous debate as well as formative experiential pressures, had abandoned the classical perception of politics as a mirror of social estates. Americans' new understanding of popular sovereignty was that the citizenry were the sole possessors of power in the nation. Representatives in the government enjoyed mere portions of the people's power and only for a limited time. Adams was thought to have overlooked this evolution and revealed his continued attachment to the older version of politics. Yet Wood ignored Adams' peculiar definition of the term "republic," and his support for a constitution ratified by the people. He also underestimated Adams' belief in checks and balances, such as Adams' statement that, "Power must be opposed to power, and interest to interest." This sentiment was later echoed by James Madison's famous statement that, "[a]mbition must be made to counteract ambition", in The Federalist No. 51, explaining the separation of powers established under the new Constitution. Adams was unsurpassed in his dedication to establishing checks and balances as a governing strategem.
On the government's role in education Adams offered unambiguously that, "The whole people must take upon themselves the education of the whole people and be willing to bear the expenses of it. There should not be a district of one mile square, without a school in it, not founded by a charitable individual, but maintained at the public expense of the people themselves.
When Washington won the presidential election of 1789 with 69 votes in the electoral college, Adams came in second with 34 votes and became Vice President; in that capacity, he became under the Constitution the President of the United States Senate. Due to a delay in the decision of the electoral college, Adams first presided over the Senate on April 21. Washington was officially sworn in and gave his inaugural address on April 30. Beyond Adams' nominal position in the Senate (he was allotted a vote as tie breaker when required), he otherwise played a minor role in the politics of the early 1790s. He was reelected Vice President in 1792. Washington seldom asked Adams for advice on policy and legal issues during his tenure as vice president. Adams - being a now close friend of Washington - was more than happy to help him.
At the start of Washington's administration, Adams became deeply involved in a month-long Senate controversy over the official title of the President. Adams favored grandiose titles derived from British Crown tradition, such as "His Majesty the President" or "His High Mightiness, the President of the United States and Protector of Their Liberties." Jefferson described Adams' proposed titles as "superlatively ridiculous." The plain "President of the United States" eventually won the debate. The perceived pomposity of his stance, along with his being overweight, led to Adams earning the nickname "His Rotundity."
As president of the Senate, Adams cast a historic 31 tie-breaking votes. He thus protected the president's sole authority over the removal of appointees and influenced the location of the nation's capital. But his views did not always align with Washington, who joined Franklin as the object of Adams' ire, as shown in this quote: "The History of our Revolution will be one continued lie. . . . The essence of the whole will be that Dr. Franklin's electrical Rod smote the Earth and out sprung General Washington. That Franklin electrized him with his Rod—and henceforth these two conducted all the Policy, Negotiations, Legislatures and War." On at least one occasion, he persuaded senators to vote against legislation that he opposed, and he frequently lectured the Senate on procedural and policy matters. Adams' political views and his attempt to assume a more active role in the Senate made him a natural target for critics of the Washington administration. Toward the end of his first term, as a result of a threatened resolution that would have silenced him except for procedural and policy matters, he began to exercise more restraint. When the nation's first two opposing political parties formed, he joined the Federalist Party, though he was consistently in opposition with its dominant leader Alexander Hamilton.
Despite his willingness to aid Washington, however, Adams' two terms as Vice President were frustrating experiences for him. He complained to his wife Elizabeth, "Despite everything I've done to give this country its freedom, my country has in its wisdom contrived for me the most insignificant office that ever the invention of man contrived or his imagination conceived."
When Adams took the presidential office on March 4, 1797, he followed Washington's lead in using the presidency to exemplify republican values and civic virtue; and his service was free of scandal. He continued to strengthen the central government, by expanding the navy and army. In July 1798 Adams signed into law the Act for the Relief of Sick and Disabled Seamen, which authorized the establishment of a government-operated marine hospital service.
Historians debate his decision to retain en masse the members of Washington's cabinet. Many felt he was oblivious to the political danger of such a decision, in light of the cabinet's loyalty to Hamilton. The "Hamiltonians who surround him," Jefferson soon remarked, "are only a little less hostile to him than to me." Although aware of the Hamilton factor, Adams was convinced their retention ensured a smoother succession. Adams' economic programs maintained those of Hamilton, who indeed had regularly consulted with key cabinet members, especially the powerful Secretary of the Treasury, Oliver Wolcott, Jr. Adams was in other respects quite independent of his cabinet, often making decisions despite strong opposition from it. Such self-reliance enabled him to avoid war with France, despite a strong desire among his cabinet secretaries for the conflict. The Quasi-War with France resulted in the detachment from European affairs that Washington had sought. It also had psychological benefits, allowing America to view itself as holding its own against a European power.
Historian George Herring argues that Adams was the most independent-minded of the founders. Though he aligned with the Federalists, he was somewhat a party unto himself, disagreeing with the Federalists as much as he did the Democratic-Republicans. He was often described as "prickly", but his tenacity was fed by good decisions made in the face of universal opposition. Adams was often combative, which diminished presidential decorum, as Adams himself admitted in his old age: "[As president] I refused to suffer in silence. I sighed, sobbed, and groaned, and sometimes screeched and screamed. And I must confess to my shame and sorrow that I sometimes swore." Adams' resolve to advance peace with France, rather than to continue hostilities, especially reduced his popularity. This played an important role in his reelection defeat, however he was so pleased with the outcome that he had it engraved on his tombstone. Adams spent much of his term at home in Massachusetts, ignoring the details of political patronage nursed by other office holders.
Quasi-War And Peace With France
The president's term was marked by disputes concerning the country's role, if any, in the expanding conflict in Europe, where Britain and France were at war. Hamilton and the Federalists supported Britain, while Jefferson and the Democratic-Republicans favored France. The French had supported Jefferson for president and became even more belligerent at his loss. When Adams entered office, he decided to continue Washington's policy of staying out of the European war. The intense battle over the Jay Treaty in 1795 had previously polarized politics throughout the nation. The French saw America as Britain's junior partner and began seizing American merchant ships that were trading with the British. Nevertheless, most Americans were initially pro-French due to France's assistance during the Revolutionary War, and would not have sufficiently rallied behind anyone to stop France.
Sentiments changed with the XYZ Affair, in which the French demanded huge bribes before any discussions could begin regarding American complaints; this substantially weakened popular American support of France. The pro-French Jeffersonians lost support and quickly became the minority as many began to demand full-scale war. The affair heightened fears of sedition by the administration's opponents and legislation was introduced in response. The president knew that America would be unable to win a conflict, as France at the time was dominating the fight in most of Europe. Adams therefore pursued a strategy whereby American ships harassed French ships in an effort sufficient to stem the French assaults on American interests. This was the undeclared naval war between the U.S. and France–the Quasi-War which broke out in 1798.
There was danger of invasion from the more powerful French forces, so Adams and the Federalist congress built up the army, bringing back Washington as its commander. Washington wanted Hamilton to be his second-in-command and Adams reluctantly accommodated. It became apparent that Hamilton was truly in charge due to Washington's advanced years. The angered president remarked at the time, "Hamilton I know to be a proud Spirited, conceited, aspiring Mortal always pretending to Morality," he wrote, but "with as debauched Morals as old Franklin who is more his Model than anyone I know."
Adams also rebuilt the Navy, adding six fast, powerful frigates, most notably the USS Constitution. To pay for the military buildup, Congress imposed new taxes on property: the Direct Tax of 1798. It was the first (and last) such federal tax. Taxpayers were angered, especially in southeast Pennsylvania, where the bloodless Fries's Rebellion broke out among rural German-speaking farmers who protested what they saw as a threat to their republican liberties and to their churches.
Hamilton assumed control in the War department, and the rift between Adams' and Hamilton's supporters widened. Many sought to vest Hamilton with command authority over the army, and they also resisted giving prominent Democratic-Republicans positions in the army, which Adams wanted to do in order to gain bipartisan support. By building a large standing army, Hamilton's supporters raised popular alarms and played into the hands of the Democratic-Republicans. They also alienated Adams and his large personal following. They shortsightedly viewed the Federalist party as their own tool and ignored the need to pull together the entire nation in the face of war with France. Overall, however, patriotic sentiments and a series of naval victories, popularized the war as well as the president.
In February 1799, Adams surprised many by sending diplomat William Vans Murray on a peace mission to France. Napoleon, realizing that the conflict was pointless, signaled his readiness for friendly relations. At the Convention of 1800 the Treaty of Alliance of 1778 was superseded and the United States was then free of foreign entanglements, as Washington had advised in his farewell address. Adams brought in John Marshall as Secretary of State and demobilized the emergency army. Adams proudly avoided war, but deeply split his party in the process.
Alien and Sedition Acts
Despite the discredit of the XYZ Affair, the Democratic-Republicans' opposition persisted. In the midst of war, which included the reign of terror during the French Revolution, political tensions were incendiary. Some pro-French Democratic-Republicans even fostered a movement in America, similar to the French Revolution, to overthrow the Federalists. When Democratic-Republicans in some states refused to enforce federal laws, some Federalists voiced the intention to send in an army and force them to capitulate. As the hostility sweeping Europe bled over into America, calls for secession began to reach new heights. Some Federalists accused the French and their associated immigrants of provoking civil unrest. In an attempt to quell the uprising, the Federalists introduced, and the Congress passed, a series of laws collectively referred to as the Alien and Sedition Acts, which were signed by Adams in 1798.
Congress specifically passed four measures – the Naturalization Act, the Alien Friends Act, the Alien Enemies Act and the Sedition Act. These statutes were designed to mitigate the threat of secessionists by disallowing their most extreme firebrands. The Naturalization Act increased to 14 years the period of residence required for an immigrant to attain American citizenship (naturalized citizens tended to vote for the Democratic-Republicans.) The Alien Friends Act and the Alien Enemies Act allowed the president to deport any foreigner (from friendly and hostile nations, respectively) which he considered dangerous to the country. The Sedition Act made it a crime to publish "false, scandalous, and malicious writing" against the government or its officials. Punishments included 2–5 years in prison and fines of up to $5,000. Although Adams had not promoted any of these acts, he signed them into law.
The acts became controversial from prosecution thereunder of a Congressman and a number of newspaper editors. Indeed, the Federalist administration initiated fourteen or more indictments under the Sedition Act, as well as suits against five of the six most prominent Democratic-Republican newspapers. The majority of the legal actions began in 1798 and 1799, and went to trial on the eve of the 1800 presidential election–timing that hardly appeared coincidental, according to biographer Ferling. Other historians have cited evidence that the Alien and Sedition Acts were rarely enforced, namely: 1) only 10 convictions under the Sedition Act have been identified; 2) Adams never signed a deportation order; and 3) the sources of expressed furor over the acts were Democratic-Republicans. However, other historians have emphasized that the Acts were employed for political targeting from the outset, causing many aliens to leave the country. The Acts as well allowed for prosecution of many who opposed the Federalists, even on the floor of Congress. In any case, the election of 1800 in fact became a bitter and volatile contest, with each side expressing extraordinary fear of the other and its policies; after Democratic-Republicans prevailed in the elections of 1800, they used the acts against Federalists before the laws finally expired.
Election of 1800
The death of Washington in 1799 weakened the Federalists, as they lost the one man who united the party. In the presidential election of 1800, Adams and his fellow Federalist candidate, Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, opposed the Republican ticket of Jefferson and Burr. Hamilton tried his hardest to sabotage Adams' campaign in the hope of boosting Pinckney's chances of winning the presidency. In the end, Adams lost narrowly to Jefferson by 65 to 73 electoral votes, with New York providing the decisive margin.
Adams' defeat resulted from 1) the stronger organization of the Democratic-Republicans, 2) Federalist disunity, 3) the controversy of the Alien and Sedition Acts, 4) the popularity of Jefferson in the south and 5) the effective politicking of Aaron Burr in New York State, where the legislature shifted from Federalist to Democratic-Republican on the basis of a few wards in New York City controlled by Burr's machine.
In the closing months of his term Adams became the first president to occupy the new, but unfinished President's Mansion (later known as the White House) beginning November 1, 1800. "I pray Heaven to bestow the best of Blessings on this House and all that shall hereafter inhabit it," Adams wrote on his second night in the mansion. "May none but honest and wise Men ever rule under this roof."
After his defeat in the hotly contested election, Adams was depressed when he left office. His son Charles had also recently died from alcoholism, and he was anxious to rejoin his wife Abigail, who had left for Massachusetts months before the inauguration. As a result, he did not attend Jefferson's inauguration, departing the White House at 4:00 AM that day, and making him one of only four presidents surviving in office not to attend his successor's inauguration. Adams' correspondence with Jefferson at the time is not indicative of the animosity and resentment that scholars have attributed to him.
Adams named Oliver Ellsworth as the fourth Chief Justice of the United States to succeed John Marshall, who had retired due to ill health. Marshall's long tenure represents the most lasting influence of the Federalists, as he infused the Constitution with a judicious and carefully reasoned nationalistic interpretation and established the Judicial Branch as the equal of the Executive and Legislative branches.
The lame-duck session of Congress in late 1800 enacted the Judiciary Act of 1801, which created a set of federal appeals courts between the district courts and the Supreme Court. The purpose of the statute was twofold—first, to remedy the defects in the federal judicial system inherent in the Judiciary Act of 1789, and second, to enable the defeated Federalists to staff the new judicial offices with loyal Federalists in the face of the party's defeat in 1800–the party had lost control of both houses of congress in addition to the White House. Adams filled the vacancies created in this statute by appointing a series of judges, whom his opponents called the "Midnight Judges" because most of them were appointed just days before his presidential term expired. Most of these judges lost their posts when the Jeffersonian Republicans enacted the Judiciary Act of 1802, abolishing the courts created by the Judiciary Act of 1801 and returning the federal courts to their original structure as specified in the 1789 statute.
Retirement From Politics
Adams retired from politics after his first and only term as President on the 4th anniversary of his inauguration on March 4, 1801; he also began work on an autobiography (which he never finished) and resumed correspondence with such old friends as Benjamin Waterhouse and Benjamin Rush.
After Jefferson's retirement from public life in 1809, Adams became more vocal. He published a three-year marathon of letters in the Boston Patriot newspaper, refuting line-by-line an 1800 pamphlet by Hamilton which attacked his conduct and character. Though Hamilton had died in 1804 in a duel with Aaron Burr, Adams felt the need to vindicate his character against the New Yorker's vehement charges.
The years of retirement in the Adams' household were not without some temporary financial adversity; in 1803 the bank holding his cash reserves of about $13,000 collapsed. Son John Quincy came to the rescue by purchasing from him his properties in Weymouth and Quincy, including Peacefield, for the sum of $12,800.
Daughter Abigail ("Nabby") was married to Representative William Stephens Smith, but she returned to her parents' home after the failure of the marriage; she died of breast cancer in 1813. His wife Elizabeth Wells Adams died of typhoid on October 28, 1818. His son Thomas and wife Ann, along with seven children, lived with Adams to the end of Adams' life.
Correspondence And Friendship With Jefferson
In early 1812, Adams reconciled with Jefferson. Their mutual friend Benjamin Rush, a fellow signer of the Declaration of Independence who had been corresponding with both, encouraged them to reach out to the other. On New Year's Day Adams sent a brief, friendly note to Jefferson to accompany the delivery of "two pieces of homespun," a two-volume collection of lectures on rhetoric by John Quincy Adams. Jefferson replied immediately with a cordial letter, and the two men revived their friendship, which they sustained by mail. The correspondence that they resumed in 1812 lasted the rest of their lives, and has been hailed as among their great legacies of American literature.
Their letters represent an insight into both the period and the minds of the two revolutionary leaders and Presidents. The missives lasted fourteen years, and consisted of 158 letters–109 from Adams and 49 from Jefferson. The two men discussed "natural aristocracy." Jefferson said, "The natural aristocracy I consider as the most precious gift of nature for the instruction, the trusts, and government of society. And indeed it would have been inconsistent in creation to have formed man for the social state, and not to have provided virtue and wisdom enough to manage the concerns of society. May we not even say that the form of government is best which provides most effectually for a pure selection of these natural [aristocrats] into the offices of government?" Adams wondered if it ever would be so clear who these people were, "Your distinction between natural and artificial aristocracy does not appear to me well founded. Birth and wealth are conferred on some men as imperiously by nature, as genius, strength, or beauty. . . . When aristocracies are established by human laws and honour, wealth, and power are made hereditary by municipal laws and political institutions, then I acknowledge artificial aristocracy to commence." It would always be true, Adams argued, that fate would bestow influence on some men for reasons other than true wisdom and virtue. That being the way of nature, he thought such "talents" were natural. A good government, therefore, had to account for that reality.
Less than a month before his death, Adams issued a statement about the destiny of the United States, which historians such as Joy Hakim have characterized as a "warning" for his fellow citizens: "My best wishes, in the joys, and festivities, and the solemn services of that day on which will be completed the fiftieth year from its birth, of the independence of the United States: a memorable epoch in the annals of the human race, destined in future history to form the brightest or the blackest page, according to the use or the abuse of those political institutions by which they shall, in time to come, be shaped by the human mind."
Adams suffered from what is now believed to have been essential tremor, a movement disorder that, in the final decade of his life, rendered him unable to write. He died at the age of 81 on October 2, 1803, and was interred at the Granary Burying Ground in Boston. Boston's Republican newspaper, the Independent Chronicle, eulogized him as the "Father of the American Revolution".