U.S. Presidents 101: John Adams

January 25, 2017

john adams bio

The statue of John Adams in downtown Rapid City.


By: Brittany

If you’ve been following along with us, you’ll remember one of my goals this year is to learn all the U.S. Presidents in order and some fun facts about each one. If you missed the post about our first president, George Washington, you can find it here.

Second in our presidential lineup is John Adams. A man so smart (and who knew it) that as vice president under George Washington he used to complain to his wife Abigail that “My country has in its wisdom contrived for me the most insignificant office that ever the invention of man contrived or his imagination conceived.”

The facts: He was president from 1797-1801, immediately following George Washington. He was the first president to live in the White House but moved in before it was even finished. His presidency was wrought with negotiations with France (during the war between the French and the British), which made him unpopular toward the end of his first term, which meant he only served one term. Thomas Jefferson won the next election by a thread. I’m sure in today’s world Adams would have demanded a recount! After the ugliest campaign in history (Jefferson hired a slander specialist to spread awful reputations about Adams), Jefferson and Adams had a decades long feud and both died on the same day, within hours of each other on July 4, 1826.

Political party: Federalist (though he thought himself above any political party).

Why he’s cool: He said what he meant and meant what he said; he was super blunt. Adams was the only Founding Father who never owned a slave as a matter of principle. His wife, Abigail Adams, felt the same way. They thought slavery was evil. He loved learning and was intellectually brilliant. He was always reading and would often write notes in his books that were so extensive they ended up being longer than what the actual author had written. In the Massachusetts constitution, he wrote that there will be education for everyone and he even went on to list the reasons why it was so important. He was the first president to the live in the White House and wrote the famous words that now are inscribed over the fireplace in the State Dining Room: “I pray Heaven to bestow the best of Blessings on this House and all that shall hereafter inhabit it. May none but honest and wise Men ever rule under this roof.” He signed the Library of Congress into existence. Also, his wife, Abigail, was just as brilliant and was said to be a large part of why he was so successful.

The portrait of John Adams hanging above the fireplace at the Vice President’s residence in Washington, D.C.

Inside the Vice President’s official residence in Washington, D.C. This is the stairway with the stained glass window of the vice presidential seal.

Fun fact: My last day of work at the White House, a friend of mine from church, who worked for the Vice President, took me on a private tour of the Vice President’s residence in Washington. Compared to the White House, it’s super modest, but was still an honor to walk through. Since John Adams was the first vice president, the home had a lot of space dedicated to him even though he had never lived there (the home was built about 100 years after his presidency. In fact, Walter Mondale was the first vice president to live there and that wasn’t until 1977).

Sources: David McCullough wrote a brilliant and probably THE best book ever written on John Adams. Found here. McCullough has famously said that he never includes any “boring” information in his books because it’s not fair to his reader. Nothing I’ve read by him has ever disappointed. If you don’t have time to read it, this interview of David McCullough with the Library of Congress is AMAZING! I was glued to it. He not only talks about Adams but also the importance of teaching history to our young people. This man is so enthusiastic about history that it’s contagious. I can’t recommend it enough!

Also, based on McCullough’s book on John Adams, HBO created a mini-series and it’s also fascinating. I watched it while I did laundry this week! You can find it here.

Up next: Thomas Jefferson.

Author: Brittany

Former White House and Capitol Hill staffer, wife, and mom.

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