Ranked #15.: Adams played a big role in the birth of the United States. However as president he never really did anything big or impactful.
Summary: He was complex. In some ways, Adams was a paradox. Although brilliant, passionate and ambitious, he seemed equally moody, conceited, cold, hardheaded and sometimes paranoid. It was said that although Adams loved the human race, he was simply unable to get along with any single human being, with the exception of his family. Adams liked to fish, play cards and take long walks on a daily basis. He started every day with a glass of hard cider. He also loved to read. In fact he built up quite an extensive library during his lifetime.
Bio: Adams had the bad luck to be: first, George Washington's Vice President, and second, George Washington's successor. There was no way to fill the shoes of such a great man. However, Adams more than earned the right to lead the young country because of his contributions to the birth of America. He was one of the people who inspired the ideas that went into the Declaration of Independence. He even wrote the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, (which remains the oldest written constitution in the western world). This 1780 document became the model of the US Constitution, which would be written in 1787. As a young lawyer, he successfully defended the British soldiers involved in the Boston Massacre; no doubt because he felt justice was the most important virtue to uphold-above all else. You could say that, in many ways, America would not be a nation had it not been for Adams’ tireless work.
He was considered short at 5’ 6” and he was stocky. Although he lived to be 90 years old, he was prone to catch colds. He often complained that the Boston air gave him chest pains, headaches and heartburn. It is speculated that this was likely caused more directly from stress than anything else. Being a diplomat, he often sailed between Massachusetts and France or England, which did not agree with him because he developed seasickness very easily. By the time he became President at the age of 61, his hands shook, and he was mostly toothless, which caused him to talk with a lisp because he refused to wear dentures.
Adams always considered himself the hand-picked successor to the presidency. However, when Washington retired, it would be the first time that there was actually a contested presidential election. The nation was not disposed to just hand the office over to Adams. The 1796 election was a mudslinger by any measure, and Adams barely won. In an event that seems to indicate that Adams had lost his mind, he signed into law the Alien and Sedition Acts, which in part dealt out jail time for anybody who spoke ill against the government. These Acts were promptly overturned when Thomas Jefferson became President. It should be noted that the independent-minded Adams was much better suited being a revolutionary rather than a politician, because it turned out that he never really had allies in Congress who could help him. His independence likely cost him the 1800 election.
Historians have a very difficult time judging Adam’s presidency. He really valued no one’s opinion other than his own and his wife’s. It can be said that he was out of place with this new style of government that meant he had to compromise with others to get things accomplished. I think that he felt that the Executive Branch was not a political body but rather should be an authority to be more or less obeyed without question. Strangely, on exactly the same day that Thomas Jefferson died, in one of history’s weirder coincidences, John Adams died, on the 50th anniversary-to the day-of the signing of the Declaration of Independence.
Pros: A deeply passionate man as it pertained to the birth of the United States. Was wise not to escalate a naval war with France due to the young state of the country at the time. He represented moral leadership, compassion and a foreign policy that helped secure the new nation.
Cons: Was unable to compromise with others. Thought the president should stand above the government as an entity. Seemed to have thought that the presidency should have been more like a monarch. Was too independent for the office.
Born: October 30, 1735, North Precinct of Braintree (now Quincy), Massachusetts
Died: July 4, 1826 (aged 90) in Quincy, Massachusetts