John Adams was a Founding Father of the United States who played a leading role in the American Revolution; by opposing the 1765 Stamp Act, advocating complete separation from Great Britain, being part of the Continental Congress and the committee responsible for the Declaration of Independence, administrating the American war effort during the Revolutionary War and negotiating peace through the 1783 Treaty of Paris. John Adams served as the first Vice President (1789 – 1797) and second President (1797 – 1801) of the United States leading his country through the Quasi-War with France. Know more about the contributions of John Adams through his 10 major achievements and accomplishments.
#1 HE SUCCESSFULLY DEFENDED BRITISH SOLDIERS INVOLVED IN THE BOSTON MASSACRE
Adams received his undergraduate and master’s degree from Harvard in 1755 and 1758 respectively; and started practicing law in 1758. His most famous case was related to the Boston Massacre, in which British Army soldiers fired at a Boston crowd on March 5, 1770, killing five civilians and injuring six others. Despite his hostility towards the British government, Adams believed the soldiers should receive a fair trial. He successfully defended the British soldiers with six of them being acquitted while the other two receiving reduced sentences. Though the initial reaction of American public to his action was hostile, later Adams’ reputation was enhanced with people lauding him as a courageous and fair man.
Depiction of the Boston Massacre
#2 HE PLAYED A PROMINENT ROLE IN IGNITING THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION
The Stamp Act of 1765 was an act of the Parliament of Great Britain which for the first time imposed direct taxation of all colonial commercial and legal papers, newspapers, pamphlets etc. John Adams vehemently opposed it in speech and also wrote a series of four articles against it. The act was repealed in 1766. He was also a leading figure in the opposition of the Townshend Acts of 1767, which levied tariffs on imported goods such as paper, glass and tea.
Notice of Stamp Act of 1765 in a newspaper
#3 HE WAS A LEADING MEMBER OF THE CONTINENTAL CONGRESS
In 1774, John Adams was elected as representative of Massachusetts to the First Continental Congress. The Continental Congress was a convention of delegates from the Thirteen Colonies which became the governing body of U.S. during the American Revolution. Adams was an influential member of the congress and argued in favor of permanent separation from Britain. In 1775, he nominated George Washington to serve as commander of the Continental Army in the American Revolutionary War.
Coat of Arms of The First Continental Congress of 1774
#4 ADAMS PLAYED A PRINCIPAL ROLE IN ADMINISTERING THE AMERICAN REVOLUTIONARY WAR
John Adams was part of the Committee of Five which was asked to draft the Declaration of Independence. In 1777, Adams began serving as head of the Board of War, a special committee to administer the Continental Army. He was thus responsible for raising and equipping the American army and creating from scratch an American navy. He sat on at least ninety committees and chaired twenty five of them. He was referred to as “the first man in the House” and “one man war department”.
Idealized depiction of Jefferson (right), Franklin (left) and John Adams (center) working on the Declaration of Independence
#5 ADAMS HELPED NEGOTIATE THE 1783 TREATY OF PARIS
Along with John Jay and Benjamin Franklin, Adams played a key role in negotiating the 1783 Treaty of Paris, which officially ended the American Revolutionary War. The British recognized U.S. as a free, sovereign, and independent state; and the other terms of the treaty were also exceedingly in favor of America. Though it was Franklin who played the foremost role in the negotiations, Adams’ stubborn temperament was also important for achieving favorable terms.
An incomplete painting of Treaty of Paris (Adams is second from left) because the British refused to pose for the picture
#6 HE SERVED AS U.S. AMBASSADOR TO BRITAIN AND NETHERLANDS
John Adams acted as the U.S. ambassador to the Dutch Republic from 1780 to 1788, negotiating loans worth 29 million guilders among other things. He remained in Europe after the revolution and arranged treaties of commerce with several European nations between 1784 and 1785 thus establishing extensive trade relations between Europe and the United States. He also served as the first U.S. ambassador to Britain from 1785 to 1788
Official Presidential portrait of John Adams by John Trumbull
#8 HE BROUGHT A PEACEFUL END TO THE QUASI-WAR
When Adams became president there was an on-going war between Great Britain and France. Though Washington had maintained neutrality in the conflict, the French Navy started inflicting substantial losses on American shipping. In 1797, Adams sent a delegation to France to negotiate an end to hostilities but, in what is known as the XYZ affair, the French demanded large bribes before any negotiations. This started an undeclared war between U.S. and France known as Quasi-War. Adams strengthened American forces but refrained from declaring outright war. With U.S. navy inflicting damage on the French, the hostilities decreased and in 1800, Adams sent another peace delegation to France against the advice of the cabinet. The Convention of 1800, signed on 30th September, ended the Quasi-War. Bringing a peaceful end to Quasi War is considered Adams’ major foreign policy achievement.
Depiction of combat during the Quasi-War between US warship USS Constellation (left) and French warship L’Insurgente (right)
#9 HE APPOINTED JOHN MARSHALL AS CHIEF JUSTICE OF U.S.
Just before he vacated the presidential office, Adams named John Marshall, who was his Secretary of State, as the fourth Chief Justice of the United States. This is considered an important appointment because Marshall played a significant role in the development of the American legal system and cemented the position of the American judiciary as an independent and influential branch of government. With tenure of 12,570 days, Marshall remains the longest-serving Chief Justice of U.S.
Steel engraving of Chief Justice, John Marshall
#10 ADAMS WAS A PROMINENT POLITICAL AUTHOR
John Adams wrote several prominent works during his life including A Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America (1787) and Discourses on Davila (1790). Post retirement, Adams spent most of his time writing columns, books and letters, including a famous correspondence with Thomas Jefferson. Also, Adams was one of the founders of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, which remains among the most prestigious honorary societies and a leading center for policy research in U.S.
Matthew Bradshaw, CPSM, CPSD, C.P.M. is the Director of Programs for ISM-Houston, Inc.