|John Adams, Jr., the 2nd President of the United States|
1. John Adams was born in 1735 in Massachusetts, to a Puritan family that was already an old American family at the time of his birth. His ancestors had arrived on the unsettled shores of the New World on the Mayflower, and had thus been among the founders of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Adams' great-grandfather through his mother's side was John Alden, said to have literally been the first person to step off the Mayflower onto New World soil - a sort of Neil Armstrong of the 1620's.
2. Adams attended Harvard in the 1750's, earning both Bachelor's and Master's degrees there. He began practicing law in the 1760's, and married his third cousin, Abigail Smith. Together they had seven children, five of which lived to adulthood, including John Quincy Adams, who would become the sixth president of the United States.
3. As a lawyer, Adams first rose to prominence in 1765 during the colonial opposition to the British Stamp Act, which levied taxes for many paper products used in the colonies. Since the British Parliament had enacted this tax without the approval of any colonial representatives, many colonists believed it was invalid, and John Adams was one of the biggest leaders of the opposition in Massachusetts. Many of his perspectives were copied and disseminated throughout the colonies, and his name became well known.
4. A few years later, Adams again found himself in the spotlight when he agreed to represent the British soldiers accused of murdering colonial civilians in the infamous Boston Massacre. Despite his growing disdain for British rule over the colonies, he famously stated that facts, while sometimes inconvenient, are "stubborn things," and must overrule other passions or political inclinations. All but two of the soldiers were acquitted, and the two convicted were convicted on lesser charges.
5. Around the same time of the Boston Massacre trial, Adams was elected to the colonial Massachusetts legislature, where he became a forceful opponent of British rule. Following the British blockade of the port of Boston as a result of the 1773 Boston Tea Party, the first Continental Congress was called, and Adams was elected as a representative. His nomination for commander-in-chief of the new American armies was George Washington - a nomination which was heartily approved.
6. Adams was one of the most radical leaders of the Continental Congress, and helped lead the charge to encourage the colonies to form new governments and declare independence from Great Britain. The name most commonly associated with the Declaration of Independence is Thomas Jefferson's; Adams, however, contributed significantly to its actual contents, and Jefferson later admitted that the document itself was essentially the brainchild of John Adams.
7. In that same year, 1776, Adams published an influential pamphlet called Thoughts on Government. In this document he argued for a legislature of two houses (bicameral legislature), a separation of executive, judicial, and legislative powers, and a federal government limited to only those powers expressly granted to it. These ideas would go on to form the basis of most state constitutions, as well as the eventual U.S. Constitution.
8. In 1789, following the adoption of the Constitution of the United States, Adams was elected to be vice-president under George Washington, and again in 1792. Despite his lofty status, he was largely unhappy with his role, which he saw as essentially symbolic, with little to no real power or influence. His negative impression of the vice-presidency as a largely powerless role has been echoed by vice-presidents ever since. During his tenure under Washington, Adams became known by the nickname "His Rotundity," a reference to his weight and to the fact that he had argued (and failed) for loftier titles for the president of the United States (one such title was "His High Mightiness").
9. After Washington's retirement in 1796, Adams was elected president in what was, for all intents and purposes, the first true presidential election (Washington ran unopposed and won both his elections unanimously). Adams defeated his opponent, Thomas Jefferson, by a mere three electoral votes, and Jefferson (according to the rules of the time) became his vice-president. Their time in office was a stormy one, and Jefferson ran against Adams again in 1800, marking the only time in U.S. history that a sitting vice-president has run for election against a sitting president. The election was again narrow - Jefferson won by eight electoral votes, and Adams was, effectively, sent into retirement.
10. Near the end of his term, Adams became the first president to live in the newly built Executive Mansion at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C. He became the first of twenty-three (and counting) former lawyers to become president of the United States. He also became the first (and counting) of seven Harvard graduates to occupy the presidency. Finally, he became the longest living president in U.S. history until Ronald Reagan (Reagan was outdone a few years ago by Gerald Ford). Adams died on the 4th of July, 1826, in the middle of his son's presidency, and on the same day as his old friend, colleague, nemesis, and later friend again, Thomas Jefferson. Adams and Jefferson were the only two men who signed the Declaration of Independence who went on to become president, and they both died on its 50th anniversary.