John Adams

JOHN ADAMS, a distinguished patriot of the revolution, was born at Braintree, Massachusetts, October 19, 1735. The ancestors of Mr. A. had left England for the wilds of America, in order to enjoy their religious opinions unmolested. They were among the first settlers of Massachusetts, Henry Adams, the great-great-grandfather of John, and one of the original proprietors of the town of Braintree, having fled from England, with other Puritans, in the year 1630. Their condition was that of substantial yeomen, who possessed the fee simple of their lands, and maintained themselves and families by manual labor. Mr. A. having, when yet a boy, evinced great fondness for books, and readiness in learning, his father determined to give him a collegiate education, and placed him, in consequence, under the care of Mr. Marsh (who was afterwards the preceptor of the celebrated Josiah Quincy), that he might be prepared for entrance into the university of Cambridge. He remained in that institution until the year 1755, when he received his bachelor's degree, and in 1758 that of master of arts. Whilst at college, he is said to have been distinguished by intense application, retentiveness of memory, acuteness of reasoning, boldness and originality of thought, strength of language, and an honesty of character which could neither assume nor tolerate disguise. After he had left college, he commenced the study of law, at Worcester, with colonel James Putnam, and, during the period he was so engaged, instructed pupils in the Latin and Greek languages, in order to be able to defray his expenses himself. Before proceeding farther, it may not be amiss to notice the posture of affairs in Massachusetts at that epoch. For a long time past, that province had been disturbed by almost unremitted contentions between its inhabitants and the parliament of Great Britain, on various important subjects. The English legislature had, in fact, nothing to do with the colonies, as all dominion acquired by conquest or discovery invariably accrued to the king. To him alone the emigrants paid allegiance and applied for protection, and, although parliament always affected to believe itself entitled to regulate their concerns, they received very little interruption from it in the exercise of the privilege granted them by the king of governing and legislating for themselves. In the course of time, however, parliament became jealous of the power, approaching to independence, which they enjoyed, and began to impose unconstitutional restraints upon their commerce, to violate their charters, and, in short, to treat them so arbitrarily, that their spirit was completely roused, and a vigorous resistance called forth. Massachusetts, especially, had become a theatre of perpetual struggle for power on the one side, and for freedom on the other. But it was hitherto only an intellectual warfare, no idea of a separation from the mother country having been entertained. In 1758, Mr. A. left the office of colonel Putnam, and entered that of Jeremiah Gridley, then attorney-general of the province, and of the highest eminence at the bar. Gridley had, some years previously, superintended also the legal studies of James Otis, and, proud of his two pupils, used often to say, that he had raised two young eagles, who were, one day or other, to peck out his eyes.' In 1759, Mr. A. was admitted, at his recommendation, a member of the bar of Suffolk. Mr. A. commenced the practice of his profession in that part of his native town now called Quincy,but first brought himself into notice by his defense of a prisoner in the county of Plymouth, from which time a sufficiency of lucrative business generally occupied his attention. In 1761, he was admitted to the degree of barrister at law, and shortly afterwards was placed in the possession of a small landed estate by his father's decease. In February of this year, an incident occurred, which inflamed his enthusiasm in the cause of his country's rights to the highest pitch. The British cabinet had long shown a desire to assert the sovereign authority of parliament over the colonies in all cases of taxation and internal policy but the first evidence of its having determined to do so was an order in council, issued this year, enjoining the officers of the customs in Massachusetts Bay to execute the acts of trade, and make application for writsof assistance, to the supreme judicature of the province. These writs were a species of general search-warrants, authorizing those who were empowered. to carry them into effect to enter all houses, warehouses, etc., for the purpose of discovering and seizing such goods as were not discharged from the taxes imposed upon them by the acts. The officers of the customs applied for them, in pursuance of their instructions, to the court at Salem, but the demand was refused, on account of doubts concerning their constitutionality. It was then determined to have the affair argued by counsel in Boston. Great alarm now pervaded the whole community. Mr. Otis was engaged, by the merchants of Salem and Boston, to oppose the concession of so formidable an instrument of arbitrary power. In order to do so with entire freedom, he resigned the lucrative station of advocate-general in the court of admiralty, which he then enjoyed. Of the masterly manner in which he performed his duty, Mr. A., who was present at the discussion, has transmitted a vivid account. Otis,' says he, was a flame of fire!