Biography of U.S. President John Adams Part 1 Career

About the United States President John Adams, biography and history of his family and early career.


2nd President



Career: For four generations Adams's ancestors had been obscure New England farmers, and young John was the first member of his family to receive a college education. At age 19 he graduated from Harvard and got a job teaching school in Worcester, Mass. His family hoped that after a few years of teaching he would go on to study for the ministry; however, not only did he hate his students ("little runtlings, just capable of lisping A, B, C and troubling the master"), but also he could not accept the Calvinist orthodoxy of the Massachusetts clergy. By the time he was 21 Adams was lecturing himself in his diary, with characteristic immodesty: "The pulpit is no place for you, young man! And the sooner you give up all thoughts of it the better for you, though the worse for it." In 1756 he began studying law, and two years later he was admitted to the bar in Boston. Adams soon combined his natural intelligence with a growing reputation for integrity (which was rare for lawyers, even in that age) to build one of the finest law practices in Massachusetts. Among his many prominent clients was John Hancock, the richest man in the province. When one of Hancock's ships was seized by British authorities on smuggling charges, Adams successfully defended the merchant on the grounds that the colonial trade regulations were in themselves improper. This case, along with two widely read essays asserting colonial rights, established Adams as a leader in the growing movement protesting "taxation without representation." He jeopardized this position in 1770, however, when he agreed to defend the hated British soldiers who had fired on a crowd in the riot popularly known as the Boston Massacre. In the trial, Adams proved that the frightened redcoats had acted in self-defense. He won acquittal for his clients, but he was sure that popular resentment over the outcome of the case would mean an end to his political prominence. On the contrary, the people of Boston, admiring Adams's courage and impressed with the extensive publicity the trial had received, elected him to the legislature by a 4-to-1 margin. When the first Continental Congress was called in 1774 to plan united colonial action to deal with the worsening crisis, Adams was one of five men selected to represent Massachusetts.

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