Born in Quincy, Massachusetts, Adams was called to the bar in 1758 and was a successful lawyer.

In 1770, he was attorney for British soldiers who had fired into a mob of protesters, killing five. Known as the Boston Massacre case. He managed to get the British officer acquitted as his challenge to the prosecution to prove that the order had been given to open fire, went unanswered. He also managed to have six of the other eight soldiers acquitted and only two were punished, although they were merely branded on the thumb.

His decision to give legal counsel to the hated British cost Adams dearly in lost legal business. He later wrote:

"The part I took in defense of Captain Preston and the soldiers, procured me anxiety, and obloquy enough. It was, however, one of the most gallant, generous, manly and disinterested actions of my whole life, and one of the best pieces of service I ever rendered my country. Judgment of death against those soldiers would have been as foul a stain upon this country as the executions of the Quakers or witches, anciently. As the evidence was, the verdict of the jury was exactly right."

He spoke out against legislation imposed by the British government of her-then American colonies, such as the tax on glass and tea.

He joined with other lawyers to form the Sons of Liberty to oppose the British Stamp Act, another piece of British legislation designed to stifle the burgeoning colonial economy.

In 1774, he stood up for independence and served as state representative to the Continental Congress, and signed the Declaration of Independence in 1776.

John AdamsBy 1775, he was recognized as a skilled architect of democratic government. In that capacity, he commented on the draft constitution of North Carolina in a letter now famous and entitled Thoughts on Government. The entire document shows his brilliance at nation building. One extract:

"The foundation of every government is some principle or passion in the minds of the people. The noblest principles and most generous affections in our nature, then, have the fairest chance to support the noblest and most generous models of government.

"As good government is an empire of laws, how shall your laws be made? In a large society, inhabiting an extensive country, it is impossible that the whole should assemble to make laws. The first necessary step, then, is to depute power from the many to a few of the most wise and good.

"The principal difficulty lies, and the greatest care should be employed, in constituting this representative assembly. It should be in miniature an exact portrait of the people at large. It should think, feel, reason, and act like them. That it may be the interest of this assembly to do strict justice at all times, it should be an equal representation, or, in other words, equal interests among the people should have equal interests in it."

In 1777, John Adams was sent to France to act as ambassador ("commissioner").

He was back in North America in 1780 to help draft the Constitution of the State of Massachusetts, a document sometimes described as oldest still-functioning written constitution in the world. According to an article published by the Massachusetts Courts entitled John Adams and the Massachusetts Constitution:

"In August 1779, one week after he had returned from France to his home in Braintree, that town selected Adams as a delegate to the state constitutional convention, scheduled to meet on September 1. The 312 delegates selected John Adams, Samuel Adams, and James Bowdoin to serve on the drafting committee, and the other two picked John Adams to draw up the state's constitution. He had become, as he later said, a sub-sub committee of one.

"The 1780 Constitution of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, drafted by John Adams, is the world's oldest functioning written constitution. It served as a model for the United States Constitution, which was written in 1787 and became effective in 1789. (The Bill of Rights to the United States Constitution were approved in 1789 and became effective in 1791). In turn, the United States Constitution has, particularly in years since World War II, served as a model for the constitutions of many nations, including Germany, Japan, India and South Africa. The United States Constitution has also influenced international agreements and charters, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights."

The most famous line of the Massachusetts Constitution was proclamation of:

"... a government of laws and not of men."

In 1783, he was part of an American triumvirate along with John Jay and Thomas Jefferson who, while in Paris, successfully negotiated the Treaty of Paris, which formally recognized the new nation of the United States of America.

In 1785, Washington sent him to act as ambassador to Great Britain.

In 1796, Adams became the 2nd president of the United States, a position he held for a single term. In his inaugural address, he said:

"To a benevolent human mind there can be no spectacle presented by any nation more pleasing, more noble, majestic, or august, than an assembly like that which has so often been seen in this and the other Chamber of Congress, of a Government in which the Executive authority, as well as that of all the branches of the Legislature, are exercised by citizens selected at regular periods by their neighbors to make and execute laws for the general good."

His son John Quincy Adams (also a lawyer) served as President of the United States of America from 1825 to 1829.

John Adams died in 1826.

REFERENCES:

< The Law Museum > < Duhaime's Timetable of World Legal History > < The Law's Hall of Fame >