Search Posts

The Forgotten Founder Part 2: The Rise of John Adams

When last we checked-in, John Adams was preparing to do what no one else would, defend the British soldiers that took part in the Boston Massacre. He was ready to stake his reputation for the believe that all accused parties have the right to representation. But how did John Adams get here in the first place?

In 1735, Adams was born on the family farm in Braintree, Mass. to a modest family. His father was a deacon and also served on the town’s local government. Adams often spoke fondly of his father as they had a close relationship. He praised his mother for forming his character. As a child, John wanted to be a farmer and was disinterested in staying in school. But his father encouraged him to continue his studies.

At just the age of 16, Adams enrolled in Harvard. His father hoped he would become a minister but instead Adams began to teach while he pondered what he wanted his career to be. In this time, he decided he would be a “great man,” so he wrote, and chose the law as his way to become that. When the French and Indian War broke out in 1754, Adams decided not to serve, something he would later regret, instead to focus on the law. He would be admitted to the bar in 1759. By 1763, he was already interested in political theory, writing papers under an assumed name. John would also meet his wife, Abigail (also his third-cousin) at this time. Abigail was incredibly important in both John’s career and in American history so she will get her own article. They would eventually have six children including John Quincy who would eventually become president.

The Stamp Act of 1765 required that colonists pay a tax on all stamped documents. It was imposed by the British without any American say. Adams took issue with this and wrote to his local representatives in the Massachusetts legislature as well as writing four articles under an assumed name. This was his first step into the world of politics. From there on, he would continue to make a name for himself, eventually becoming Boston’s most prominent lawyer.

So here we are again in 1770. The massacre has just happened. Adams was ready to mount his defense and even delayed the trial so that the publics tensions could cool. He was a fine tactician. He carefully worked jury selection to ensure they would be sympathetic. He first defended Captain Preston and then the other eight soldiers in a separate trial. His defense was brilliant. It is here where he said one of his most famous quotes, “facts are stubborn things,” imploring the jury to consider facts over emotion. He said that it is more important for the innocent to be protected than the guilty to be punished. In a city where soldiers had just fired upon a crowd of citizens, where hatred for the British was high, Adams did the unthinkable in the name of justice. Thanks to his representation, Preston and six soldiers were acquitted. The two that fired directly into the crowd were convicted only of manslaughter.

The trail made Adams’ popularity soar, not decline. He would be elected to the Massachusetts legislature where. He was much more conservative than many of the founders around revolution but his distain for the British would only grow after a series of taxes, like the tea act, as well as a change in how judges and the governor would be paid. Adams feared that if the British government, instead of the state government, paid public officials, they would no longer be impartial. His popularity led him to represent his state at the first Continental Congress where is was asked to take part in writing a list of grievances to the crown. It was largely a failed endeavor. 1775 brought the start of war with the battle of Lexington and Concord. The Congress appointed George Washington to lead a Continental Army.

In May, 1775, the Second Continental Congress would gather in Philadelphia. John Adams did not know it yet but he was about to met a man who would change his life. A man with whom he would do the unthinkable, declare independence