Adams was a leading figure in the American fight for independence and second president of the United States. During his presidency, Washington became the American capital.
John Adams was born on 19 October 1735 in Braintree (now Quincy), Massachusetts, the son of a farmer. Adams graduated from Harvard College in 1755 and became a lawyer. In 1764 he married Abigail Smith, an intelligent and independent woman who provided her husband with considerable support throughout his career.
From the mid-1760’s, Adams increasingly began to oppose British legislation in its American colony, beginning with the Stamp Act. Despite his hostility to the British government, in 1770 he defended the British soldiers involved in the Boston Massacre. This made him unpopular but marked him out as a man of high principles.
At the First and Second Continental Congresses, where he represented Massachusetts, Adams used his considerable writing and speaking skills to persuade other colonists firstly of the need for opposition to Britain, and then of the cause for independence. He served on the committee which drafted the Declaration of Independence. During the Revolutionary War, he ran the Board of War, raising and equipping the American army and creating a navy.
In 1778 Adams was sent to Paris on a diplomatic mission. He returned there in 1780 and, in 1783, was one of the three Americans to sign the Treaty of Paris, ending the American War of Independence. Between 1785 and 1788, Adams served as the first American ambassador to Britain.
On his return to America, he was elected the first vice-president under George Washington and served for two terms. In the presidential campaign of 1796, which was the first to be contested by political parties, Adams sided with the Federalist Party and was elected president.
Deteriorating relations with France led to an undeclared naval war between the former allies. In 1798, Adams signed the controversial Alien and Sedition Acts which limited rights to free speech. They were widely opposed throughout the country. At the same time, Adams faced opposition from within his own party. He resisted their demands for all-out war with France, but lost the 1800 election to Thomas Jefferson.
Adams retired from politics and settled in his hometown of Quincy. He died on 4 July 1826, having lived to see the election of his eldest son John Quincy as sixth president.