The American Revolution
John Adams in The American Revolution
John Adams (1735-1826) was, along with Thomas Jefferson, one of only two signers of the Declaration of Independence later to become president. He was an erudite lawyer from Massachusetts and an ardent supporter of the Revolution, serving on the drafting committee of the Declaration of Independence, where he offered a few subtle but important changes to Jefferson's draft. Adams was also one of the negotiators who drafted the Treaty of Paris in 1783 to end the Revolutionary War.
Adams was a strong proponent of reasoned appeals for justice and formal protest, rather than mob action. Because he disapproved of the angry crowd that precipitated the so-called Boston Massacre in 1770—in which five colonists died—Adams defended Captain Thomas Preston and the eight British soldiers who were indicted for murder. In his defense, Adams argued that the British soldiers were just victims of circumstance, provoked by what was "most probably a motley rabble of saucy boys, negroes and mulattoes, Irish teagues [immigrants] and outlandish Jack tars [sailors]."2 All of the soldiers were acquitted except two, who were convicted of manslaughter and branded on their thumbs. Later, when the movement for independence had reached its height, Adams helped Virginia pass its state constitution in the summer of 1776. Virginia's new government included a bicameral legislature with a house and senate. In his Thoughts on Government (1776), Adams wrote that the purpose of government was the "greatest quantity of human happiness." Adams derived that notion from Cicero, the ancient Roman philosopher who said, "The people's good is the highest law."