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US Presidents
John Adams
John Quincy Adams

How did John Adams become a patriot?


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May 13, 2014 10:56PM

Like all patriots, John Adams evolved towards becoming a member of the patriot cause. After all he, like all of the Founders, were once British subjects.

His earliest exposure to what eventually became the patriot cause was by his experience and friendship with James Otis. Otis's early arguments regarding the rights of the colonies, especially his 1761 observations as to the legality of the Writs of Assistance, resonated with John Adams.

It can be said, fairly, that the first sparks towards Adams becoming a patriot flashed in those early days.

Those sparks burned brighter with the Stamp Act of 1765. His opposition to that act enabled him to rise to a level of prominence. It was Adams who modeled instructions for the Massachusetts legislators to oppose the Act. It was he who wrote such fiery essays that they were not only published in Boston, but eventually, in London.

He argued in those essays that the colonists were being deprived of their natural rights as British subjects: To be taxed only via the consent of their representatives and to be tried by a jury of peers.

Note that to be a "patriot" in those days meant to loyally oppose the actions of Parliament.

It was in 1770 that Adams credibility rose to ever greater prominence. Well known to be a defender of the patriot cause, here he was defending the British regulars involved in the Boston Massacre. While a dangerous move to some, it also established his credentials of fairness.

It was in 1772 that the colonies again looked at Adams as he opposed the change in salary for the governor of Massachusetts. Previously, the salary was determined by the Massachusetts legislature. No more: Henceforth, the governor's salary would be paid from the British Crown. This translated to a loss of influence that the legislature had on the governor's actions. Adams saw such a change as anathema to the unwritten British constitution.

It was in 1774 that Adams was sent by Massachusetts to the Continental Congress. It was here that there is, well beyond doubt, that Adams established his credentials as a patriot. It was from here that he did such things as suggest that George Washington lead the Continental Army. It was from here that he was the driving force towards facilitating a vote for American independence. It was from here that he co-wrote the Declaration of Independence. It was from here that he served as a one-man war department, among many other things.

Of course, his career was not anywhere near finished. As a diplomat, he traveled to France to treat twice during the Revolutionary War. He also secured desperately required loans from the Dutch to help finance the war. At the end of the war, he served on the committee that negotiated peace with Great Britain. That treaty can be considered the most advantageous treaty the USA has ever signed.

After the war he served as the USA's first minister to England, and then, of course, served as the second President of the United States, managing, against near impossible odds to keep the USA out of certainly ruinous war with France -- a war that was popular within the general American population. If that war occurred, it's quite possible that Napoleon wouldn't have sold the Louisiana Purchase to the USA less than a decade later.

It was in his retirement that he wrote his well remembered and studied correspondence with Thomas Jefferson. He died the same day as Jefferson, exactly 50 years to the day after July 4, 1776.

His final words, an indication that his patriotism lasted to his dying breath, were, "Jefferson lives."