Adams collaborated with his cousin, revolutionary leader Samuel Adams, but he established his own prominence prior to the American Revolution. After the Boston Massacre, he provided a successful (though unpopular) legal defense of the accused British soldiers, in the face of severe local anti-British sentiment and driven by his devotion to the right to counsel and the "protect of innocence." Adams was a delegate from Massachusetts to the Continental Congress, where he played a leading role in persuading Congress to declare independence. He assisted Thomas Jefferson in drafting the Declaration of Independence in 1776, and was its foremost advocate in the Congress. As a diplomat in Europe, he helped negotiate the eventual peace treaty with Great Britain, and acquired vital governmental loans from Amsterdam bankers. Adams was the primary author of the Massachusetts Constitution in 1780. This influenced the development of America's own constitution, as did his earlier Thoughts on Government (1776).
Adams's credentials as a revolutionary secured for him two terms as President George Washington's vice president (1789 to 1797) and also his own election in 1796 as the second president. In his single term as president, he encountered fierce criticism from the Jeffersonian Republicans, as well as the dominant faction in his own Federalist Party, led by his rival Alexander Hamilton. Adams signed the controversial Alien and Sedition Acts, and built up the army and navy in the face of an undeclared naval "Quasi-War" with France. The major accomplishment of his presidency was a peaceful resolution of the conflict in the face of Hamilton's opposition. Due to his strong posture on defense, Adams is "often called the father of the American Navy." He was the first U.S. president to reside in the executive mansion, now known as the White House. He never owned slaves, and was a moderate on the issue.
In 1800, Adams lost re-election to Thomas Jefferson and retired to Massachusetts. He eventually resumed his friendship with Jefferson upon the latter's own retirement by initiating a correspondence which lasted 14 years. He and his wife established a family of politicians, diplomats, and historians now referred to as the Adams political family. Adams was the father of John Quincy Adams, the sixth president of the United States. He died on the 50th anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence, and the same day as Jefferson. Modern historians in the aggregate have favorably ranked his administration.
John Adams was born on October 30, 1735 (October 19, 1735 Old Style, Julian calendar) to John Adams Sr. (1691–1761) and Susanna Boylston (1708–1797). He had two younger brothers, Peter and Elihu. Adams's birthplace was then in Braintree, Massachusetts (now Quincy, Massachusetts), and is preserved at Adams National Historical Park. Adams's mother was from a leading medical family of present-day Brookline, Massachusetts. His father was a deacon in the Congregational Church, a farmer, a cordwainer, and a lieutenant in the militia. His great-grandfather, Henry Adams, emigrated to Massachusetts from Braintree, Essex, England around 1638. John Sr. also served as a selectman (town councilman) and supervised the building of schools and roads. Adams often praised his father and recalled their close relationship.
Though raised in modest surroundings, Adams felt an acute responsibility to live up to his family's heritage of reverence. He was a direct descendant of Puritans who came to the American wilderness in the 1630s, established a colonial presence in America, and profoundly affected the culture, laws, and traditions of their region. Journalist Richard Brookhiser wrote that Adams's Puritan ancestors "believed they lived in the Bible. England under the Stuarts was Egypt; they were Israel fleeing ... to establish a refuge for godliness, a city upon a hill." By the time of John Adams's birth in 1735, Puritan tenets such as predestination were no longer as widely accepted, and many of their stricter practices had moderated with time, but Adams "considered them bearers of freedom, a cause that still had a holy urgency." It was a value system which he believed in and wished to live up to. Adams emphatically recalled that his parents "held every Species of Libertinage in... Contempt and horror," and portrayed "pictures of disgrace, or baseness and of Ruin" from any debauchery.