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JOHN ADAMS (1735–1826)

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Originally appearing in Volume V01, Page 178 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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JOHN ADAMS (1735–1826), second president of the United States of America, was born on the 3oth of October 1735 in what is now the town of Quincy, Massachusetts. His father, a farmer, also named John, was of the fourth generation in descent from Henry Adams, who emigrated from Devonshire, England, to Massachusetts about 1636; his mother was Susanna Boylston Adams. Young Adams graduated from Harvard College in 1755, and for a time taught school at Worcester and studied law in the office of Rufus Putnam. In 1758 he was admitted to the bar. From an early age he developed the habit of writing descriptions of events and impressions of men. The earliest of these is his report of the argument of James Otis in the superior court of Massachusetts as to the constitutionality of writs of assistance. This was in 1761, and the argument inspired him with zeal for the cause of the American colonies. Years afterwards, when an. old man, Adams undertook to write out at length his recollections of this scene; it is instructive to compare the two accounts. John Adams had none of the qualities of popular leadership which were so marked a characteristic of his second cousin, Samuel Adams; it was rather as a constitutional lawyer that he influenced the course of events. He was impetuous, intense and often vehement, unflinchingly courageous, devoted with his whole soul to the cause he had espoused; but his vanity, his pride of opinion and his inborn contentiousness were serious handicaps to him in his political career. These qualities were particularly manifested at a later period—as, for example, during his term as president. He first made his influence widely felt and became conspicuous as a leader of the Massachusetts Whigs during the discussions with regard to the Stamp Act of 1765. In that year he drafted the instructions which were sent by the town of Braintree to its representatives in the Massachusetts legislature, and which served as a model for other towns in draw- ing up instructions to their representatives; in August 1765 he contributed anonymously four notable articles to the Boston Gazette (republished separately in London in 1768 as A Dissertation on the Canon and Feudal Law), in which he argued that the opposition of the colonies to the Stamp Act was a part of the never-ending struggle between individualism and corporate authority; and in December 1765 he delivered a speech before the governor and council in which he pronounced the Stamp Act invalid on the ground that Massachusetts being without representation in parliament, had not assented to it. In 1768 he removed to Boston. Two years later, with that degree of moral courage which was one of his distinguishing characteristics, as it has been of his descendants, he, aided by Josiah Quincy, Jr., defended the British soldiers who were arrested after the "Boston Massacre," charged with causing the death of four persons, in-habitants of the colony. The trial resulted in an acquittal of the officer who commanded the detachment, and most of the soldiers; but two soldiers were found guilty of manslaughter. These claimed benefit of clergy and were branded in the hand and released. Adams's upright and patriotic conduct in taking the unpopular side in this case met with its just reward in the following year, in the shape of his election to the Massachusetts House of Representatives by a vote of 418 to 118. John Adams was a member of the Continental Congress from 1774 to 1778. In June 1775, with a view to promoting the union of the colonies, he seconded the nomination of Washington as commander-in-chief of the army. His influence in congress was great, and almost from the beginning he was impatient for a separation of the colonies from Great Britain. On the 7th of June 1776 he seconded the famous resolution introduced by Richard Henry Lee (q.v.) that " these colonies are, and of a right ought to be, free and independent states," and no man championed these resolutions (adopted on the 2nd of July) so eloquently and effectively before the congress. On the 8th of June he was appointed on a committee with Jefferson, Franklin, Livingston and Sherman to draft a Declaration of Independence; and although that document was by the request of the committee written by Thomas Jefferson, it was John Adams who occupied the foremost place in the debate on its adoption. Before this question had been disposed of, Adams was placed at the head of the Board of War and Ordnance, and he also served on many other important committees. In 1778 John Adams sailed for France to supersede Silas Deane in the American commission there. But just as he em-barked that commission concluded the desired treaty of alliance, and soon after his arrival he advised that the number of commissioners be reduced to one. His advice was followed and he returned home in time to be elected a member of the convention which framed the Massachusetts constitution of 178o, still the organic law of that commonwealth. With James Bowdoin and Samuel Adams, he formed a sub-committee which drew up the first draft of that instrument, and most of it probably came from John Adams's pen. Before this work had been completed he was again sent to Europe, having been chosen on the 27th of September 1779 as minister plenipotentiary for negotiating a treaty of peace and a treaty of commerce with Great Britain. Conditions were not then favourable for peace, however; the French government, moreover, did not approve of the choice, inasmuch as Adams was not sufficiently pliant and tractable and was from the first suspicious of Vergennes; and subsequently Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, John Jay and Henry Laurens were appointed to co-operate with Adams. Jefferson, however, did not cross the Atlantic, and Laurens took little part in the negotiations. This left the management of the business to the other three. Jay and Adams distrusted the good faith of the French government. Outvoting Franklin, the? decided to break their instructions, which required them to `make the most candid confidential communications on all subjects to the ministers of our generous ally, the king of France; to undertake nothing in the negotiations for peace or truce without their knowledge or concurrence; and ultimately to govern yourself by their advice and opinion"; and, instead, they dealt directly with the British commissioners, without consulting the French ministers. Throughout the negotiations Adams was especially determined that the right of the United States to the fisheries along the British-American coast should be recognized. Political conditions in Great Britain, at the moment, made the conclusion of peace almost a necessity with the British ministry, and eventually the American negotiators were able to secure a peculiarly favourable treaty. This preliminary treaty was signed on the 3oth of November 1782. Before these negotiations began, Adams had spent some time in the Nether-lands. In July 178o he had been authorized to execute the . duties previously assigned to Henry Laurens, and at the Hague was eminently successful, securing there recognition of the United States as an independent government (April 19, 1782), and negotiating both a loan and, in October 1782, a treaty of amity and commerce, the first of such treaties between the United States and foreign powers after that of February 1778 with France. In 1785 John Adams was appointed the first of a long line of able and distinguished American ministers to the court of St James's. When he was presented to his former sovereign, George III. intimated that he was aware of Mr Adams's lack of confidence in the French government. Replying, Mr Adams admitted it, closing with the outspoken sentiment: " I must avow to your Majesty that I have no attachment but to my own country "—a phrase which must have jarred upon the monarch's sensibilities. While in London Adams published a work entitled A Defence of the Constitution of Government of the United States (1787). In this work he ably combated the views of Turgot and other European writers as to the viciousness of the frame-work of the state governments. Unfortunately, in so doing, he used phrases savouring of aristocracy which offended many of his countrymen,—as in the sentence in which he suggested that " the rich, the well-born and the able " should be set apart from other men in a senate. Partly for this reason, while Washing-ton had the vote of every elector in the first presidential election of 1789, Adams received only thirty-four out of sixty-nine. As this was the second largest number he was declared vice-president, but he began his eight years in that office (1789-1797) with a sense of grievance and of suspicion of many of the leading men. Differences of opinion with regard to the policies to be pursued by the new government gradually led to the formation of two well-defined political groups—the Federalists and the Democratic-Republicans—and Adams became recognized as one of the leaders, second only to Alexander Hamilton, of the former. In 1796, on the refusal of Washington to accept another election, Adams was chosen president, defeating Thomas Jefferson; though Alexander Hamilton and other. Federalists had asked that an equal vote should be cast for Adams and Thomas Pinckney, the other Federalist in the contest, partly in order that Jefferson, who was elected vice-president, might be excluded altogether, and partly, it seems, in the hope that Pinckney should in fact receive more votes than Adams, and thus, in accordance with the system then obtaining, be elected president, though he was intended for the second place on the Federalist ticket. Adams's four years as chief magistrate (1797-1801) were marked by a succession of intrigues which embittered all his later life; they were marked, also, by events, such as the passage of the Alien and Sedition Acts, which brought discredit on the Federalist party. Moreover, factional strife broke out within the party itself; Adams and Hamilton became alienated, and members of Adams's own cabinet virtually looked to Hamilton rather than to the president as their political chief. The United States was, at this time, drawn into the vortex of European complications, and Adams, instead of taking advantage of the militant spirit which was aroused, patriotically devoted himself to securing peace with France, much against the wishes of Hamilton and of Hamilton's adherents in the cabinet. In 'Soo, Adams was again the Federalist candidate for the presidency, but the distrust of him in his own party, the popular disapproval of the Alien and Sedition Acts and the popularity of his opponent, Thomas Jefferson, combined to cause his defeat. He then re-tired into private life. On the 4th of July 1826, on the fiftieth anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence, he died at Quincy. Jefferson died on the same day. In 1764 Adams had married Miss Abigail Smith (1744-1818), the daughter of a Congregational minister at Weymouth, Massachusetts. She was a woman of much ability, and her letters, written in an excellent English style, are of great value to students of the period in which she lived. President John Quincy Adams was their eldest son. 1898). (E. CH.) ADAMS, JOHN COUCH (1819-1892), British astronomer, was born at Lidcot farmhouse, Laneast, Cornwall, on the 5th of June 1819. His father, Thomas Adams, was a tenant farmer; his mother, Tabitha Knill Grylls, inherited a small estate at Badharlick. From the village school at Laneast he went, at the age of twelve, to Devonport, where his mother's cousin, the Rev. John Couch Grylls, kept a private school. His promise as a mathematician induced his parents to send him to the university of Cambridge, and in October 1839 he entered as a sizar at St John's College. He graduated B.A. in 1843 as the senior wrangler and first Smith's prizeman of his year. While still an under-graduate he happened to read of certain unexplained irregularities in the motion of the planet Uranus, and determined to investigate them as soon as possible, with a view to ascertaining whether they might not be due to the action of a remote undiscovered planet. Elected fellow of his college in 1843, he at once proceeded to attack the novel problem. It was this: from' the observed perturbations of a known planet to deduce by calculation, assuming only Newton's law of gravitation, the mass and orbit of an unknown disturbing body. By September 1845 he obtained his first solution, and handed to Professor Challis, the director of the Cambridge Observatory, a paper giving the elements of what he described as " the new planet." On the 21st of October 1845 he left at Greenwich Observatory, for the information of Sir George Airy, the astronomer-royal, a similar document, still preserved among the archives. A fort-night afterwards Airy wrote asking for information about a point in the solution. Adams, who thought the query unessential, did not reply, and Airy for some months took no steps to verify by telescopic search the results of the young mathematician's investigation. Meanwhile, Leverrier, on the loth of November 1845, presented to the French Academy a memoir on Uranus, showing that the existing theory failed to account for its motion. Unaware of Adams's work, he attempted a like inquiry, and on the 1st of June 1846, in a second memoir, gave the position, but not the mass or orbit, of the disturbing body whose existence was presumed. The longitude he assigned differed by only '° from that predicted by Adams in the document which Airy possessed. The latter was struck by the coincidence, and mentioned it to the Board of Visitors of the Gbservatory, James Challis and Sir John Herschel being present. Herschel, at the ensuing meeting of the British Association early in September, ventured accordingly to predict that a new planet would shortly be discovered. Meanwhile Airy had in July suggested to Challis that the planet should be sought for with the Cambridge equatorial. The search was begun by a laborious method at the end of the month. On the 4th and 12th of August, as afterwards appeared, the planet was actually observed; but owing to the want of a proper star-map it was not then recognized as planetary. Leverrier, still ignorant of these occurrences, presented on the 31st of August 1846 a third memoir, giving for the first time the mass and orbit of the new body. He communicated his results by letter to Dr Galle, of the Berlin Observatory, who at once examined the suggested region of the heavens. On the 23rd of September he detected near the predicted place a small star unrecorded in the map, and next evening found that it had a proper motion. No doubt remained that " Leverrier's planet " had been discovered. On the announcement of the fact, Herschel and Challis made known that Adams had already calculated the planet's elements and position. Airy then at length published an account of the circumstances, and Adams's memoir was printed as an appendix to the Nautical Almanac. A keen controversy arose in France and England as to the merits of the two astronomers. In the latter country much surprise was expressed at the apathy of Airy; in France the claims made for an unknown Englishman were resented as detracting from the credit due to Leverrier's achievement. As the indisputable facts became known, the world recognized that the two astronomers had in-dependently solved the problem of Uranus, and ascribed to each equal glory. The new planet, at first called Leverrier by F. Arago, received by general consent the neutral name of Neptune. Its mathematical prediction was not only an unsurpassed intellectual feat; it showed also that Newton's law of gravitation, which Airy had almost called in question, prevailed even to the utmost bounds of the solar system. The honour of knighthood was offered to Adams when Queen Victoria visited Cambridge in 1847; but then, as on a subsequent occasion, his modesty led him to decline it. The Royal Society awarded him its Copley medal in 1848. In the same year the members of St John's College commemorated his success by founding in the university an Adams prize, to be given biennially for the best treatise on a mathematical subject. In 1851 he became president of the Royal Astronomical Society. His lay fellowship at St John's College came to an end in 1852, and the existing statutes did not permit of his re-election. But Pembroke College, which possessed greater freedom, elected him in the following year to a lay fellowship, and this he held for the rest of his life. In 1858 he became professor of mathematics at St Andrews, but lectured only for a session, when he vacated the chair for the Lowndean professorship of astronomy and geometry at Cambridge. Two years later he succeeded Challis as director of the Observatory, where he resided until his death. Although Adams's researches on Neptune were those which attracted widest notice, the work he subsequently performed in relation to gravitational astronomy and terrestrial magnetism was not less remarkable. Several of his most striking contributions to knowledge originated in the discovery of errors or fallacies in the work of his great predecessors in astronomy. Thus in 1852 he published new and accurate tables of the moon's parallax, which superseded J. K. Burckhardt's, and supplied corrections to the theories of M. C. T. Damoiseau, G. A. A. Plana and P. G. D. de Pontecoulant. In the following year his memoir on the secular acceleration of the moon's mean motion partially invalidated Laplace's famous explanation, which had held its place unchallenged for sixty years. At first, Leverrier, Plana and other foreign astronomers controverted Adams's result; but its soundness was ultimately established, and its fundamental importance to this branch of celestial theory has only developed further with time. For these researches the Royal Astronomical Society awarded him its gold medal in 1866. The great meteor shower of 1866 turned his attention to the Leonids, whose probable path and period had already been discussed by Professor H. A. Newton. Using a powerful and elaborate analysis, Adams ascertained that this cluster of meteors, which belongs to the solar system, traverses an elongated ellipse in 33,I-1 years, and is subject to definite perturbations from the larger planets, Jupiter, Saturn and Uranus. These results were published in 1867. Ten years later, when Mr. G. W. Hill of Washington expounded a new and beautiful method for dealing with the problem of the lunar motions, Adams briefly announced his own unpublished work in the same field, which, following a parallel course had confirmed and supplemented Hill's. In 1874-1876 he was president of the Royal Astronomical Society for the second time, when it fell to him to present the gold medal of the year to Leverrier. The determination of the constants in Gauss's theory of terrestrial magnetism occupied him at intervals for over forty years. The calculations involved great labour, and were not published during his lifetime. They were edited by his brother, Professor W. Grylls Adams, and appear in the second volume of the collected Scientific Papers. Numerical computation of this kind might almost be described as his pastime. The value of the constant known as Euler's, and the Bernoullian numbers up to the 62nd, he worked out to an unimagined degree of accuracy. For Newton and his writings he had a boundless admiration; many of his papers, indeed, bear the cast of Newton's thought. He laboured for many years at the task of arranging and cataloguing the great collection of Newton's unpublished mathematical writings, presented in 1872to the university by Lord Portsmouth, and wrote the account of them issued in a volume by the University Press in 1888. The post of astronomer-royal was offered him in 1881, but he preferred to pursue his peaceful course of teaching and research in Cambridge. He was British delegate to the International Prime Meridian Conference at Washington in 1884, when he also attended the meetings of the British Association at Montreal and of the American Association at Philadelphia. Five years later his health gave way, and after a long illness he died at the Cambridge Observatory on the zest of January 1892, and was buried in St Giles's cemetery, near his home. He married in 1863 Miss Eliza Bruce, of Dublin, who survived him. An inter-national committee was formed for the purpose of erecting a monument to his memory in Westminster Abbey; and there, in May 1895, a portrait medallion, by Albert Bruce Joy, was placed near the grave of Newton, and adjoining the memorials of Darwin and of Joule. His bust, by the same sculptor, stands opposite that of-Sir John Herschel in the hall of St John's College, Cambridge. Herkomer's portrait is in Pembroke College; and Mogford's, painted in 1851, is in the combination room of St John's. Another bust, taken in his youth, belongs to the Royal Astronomical Society. A memorial tablet, with an inscription by Archbishop Benson, is placed in the Cathedral at Truro; and Mr Passmore Edwards erected a public institute in his honour at Launceston, near his birthplace. The Scientific Papers of John Couch Adams, 4to, vol. i. (1896), and vol. ii. (1900), edited by William Grylls Adams and Ralph Allen Sampson, with a memoir by Dr J. W. L. Glaisher, were published by the Cambridge University Press. The first volume contains his previously published writings; the second those left in manuscript, Including the substance of his lectures on the Lunar Theory. A collection, virtually complete, of Adams's papers regarding the discovery of Neptune was presented by Mrs Adams to the library of St John's College. A description of them by Professor Sampson was inserted in the Memoirs of the Royal Astronomical Society (vol. liv. p. 143). Consult: Month. Notices Roy. Astr. Soc., liii. 184; Observatory, xv. 174; Nature, xxxiv. 565, xlv. 301; Astr. Journal, No. 254; R. Grant, Hist. of Physical Astronomy, p. 168; Edinburgh Review, No. 381, p. 72.
End of Article: JOHN ADAMS (1735–1826)

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