Adams was born in the Massachusetts Bay Colony
in 1735. A Harvard-educated lawyer, he early became
identified with the patriot cause; a delegate
to the First and Second Continental Congresses,
he led in the movement for independence.
During the Revolutionary War he served in France
and Holland in diplomatic roles, and helped negotiate
the treaty of peace. From 1785 to 1788 he was
minister to the Court of St. James's, returning
to be elected Vice President under George Washington.
Adams' two terms as Vice President were frustrating
experiences for a man of his vigor, intellect,
and vanity. He complained to his wife Abigail,
"My country has in its wisdom contrived for me
the most insignificant office that ever the invention
of man contrived or his imagination conceived."
When Adams became President, the war between
the French and British was causing great difficulties
for the United States on the high seas and intense
partisanship among contending factions within
His administration focused on France, where the
Directory, the ruling group, had refused to receive
the American envoy and had suspended commercial
Adams sent three commissioners to France, but
in the spring of 1798 word arrived that the French
Foreign Minister Talleyrand and the Directory
had refused to negotiate with them unless they
would first pay a substantial bribe. Adams reported
the insult to Congress, and the Senate printed
the correspondence, in which the Frenchmen were
referred to only as "X, Y, and Z."
The Nation broke out into what Jefferson called
"the X. Y. Z. fever," increased in intensity by
Adams's exhortations. The populace cheered itself
hoarse wherever the President appeared. Never
had the Federalists been so popular.
Congress appropriated money to complete three
new frigates and to build additional ships, and
authorized the raising of a provisional army.
It also passed the Alien and Sedition Acts, intended
to frighten foreign agents out of the country
and to stifle the attacks of Republican editors.
President Adams did not call for a declaration
of war, but hostilities began at sea. At first,
American shipping was almost defenseless against
French privateers, but by 1800 armed merchantmen
and U.S. warships were clearing the sea-lanes.
Despite several brilliant naval victories, war
fever subsided. Word came to Adams that France
also had no stomach for war and would receive
an envoy with respect. Long negotiations ended
the quasi war.
Sending a peace mission to France brought the
full fury of the Hamiltonians against Adams. In
the campaign of 1800 the Republicans were united
and effective, the Federalists badly divided.
Nevertheless, Adams polled only a few less electoral
votes than Jefferson, who became President.
On November 1, 1800, just before the election,
Adams arrived in the new Capital City to take
up his residence in the White House. On his second
evening in its damp, unfinished rooms, he wrote
his wife, "Before I end my letter, 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."
Adams retired to his farm in Quincy. Here he
penned his elaborate letters to Thomas Jefferson.
Here on July 4, 1826, he whispered his last words:
"Thomas Jefferson survives." But Jefferson had
died at Monticello a few hours earlier.
(The White House History of the Presidents)