Biography of U.S. President John Adams Part 3 Physical Description

About the United States President John Adams, biography and history of his career as well as physical description.


2nd President



On the Way to the White House: For years Boston had been the center of revolutionary agitation, and it was only to be expected that a Massachusetts man would play the leading role at the Continental Congress in Philadelphia. It soon became clear that John Adams was that man. He personally pushed through the appointment of George Washington as commander in chief, won approval for the Declaration of Independence drafted by his friend Thomas Jefferson, and served as chairman of the Board of War and Ordnance--in effect as secretary of war. When it became clear that the success of the revolution depended upon European aid and Congress had to send its best men abroad, Adams sailed for Europe. In Paris he quarreled with Benjamin Franklin, the other American representative (a jealous nature was always part of the Adams character), but moving on to Holland, he negotiated a key loan that kept the revolution afloat. Later Adams was one of the three Americans who negotiated the final treaty of peace with Great Britain, and he served as the first American minister to London. Somehow, in the midst of this activity, he found time to draft a new constitution for Massachusetts and to write several lengthy and highly influential essays in support of the American war effort. Small wonder that Adams won the sobriquet of the Atlas of American Independence. Of all the founding fathers, only Washington had done more for the cause. When Washington was unanimously elected president in 1789, Adams was the obvious choice for the vice-presidency. Over a period of eight years Adams established himself as a vigorous, if not always popular, vice-president. He dreamed of the top office for himself and presided over the Senate like an impatient New England schoolmaster. Before debate on any issue could begin, the Vice-President always lectured the senators on their constitutional responsibilities. Before a vote could be taken, he insisted on summarizing the issue, as if talking to children, and frequently instructed the senators on how to vote.

His Person: With his round face, puckered lips, sharp nose, and heavy, curved brows, Adams was never considered personally attractive. Bald at the top, his forehead was high and shinny. Standing 5 ft. 7 in., Adams was always stocky, but after middle age he grew notoriously plump. Once as vice-president he asked the Senate what his formal title should be. Behind his back, several of the senators suggested "His Rotundity." Adams was not the man to take this sort of teasing lightly. Once, when asked to provide a physical description of himself, he wrote back: "I have one head, four limbs, and five senses, like any other man, and nothing peculiar in any of them....I have no miniature and have been too much abused by painters ever to sit to anyone again." As president, Adams, like Washington, received visitors in full dress--a suit of black velvet with silk stockings, silver knee and shoe buckles, white waistcoat, powdered hair, and gloves. He considered it beneath his dignity to shake hands with his guests, but bowed to them, as Washington had done. Such supercilious manners never failed to irritate his colleagues. William Maclay of Pennsylvania offered a memorable description of Adams holding court over the Senate. Seated in his chair, the Vice-President would "look on one side, then on the other, then down on the knees of his breeches, then dimple his visage with the most silly kind of half-smile, which I cannot well express in English. The Scotch-Irish have a word that hits it exactly--smudging."

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