Founding Fathers: John Adams

Contributor: Meghan Vestal. Lesson ID: 12250

Would you be willing to defend your enemies in a court of law? One of the hallmarks of the U.S. is the guarantee of a fair trial. Find out how Adams practiced this and made many more contributions!


United States, United States

learning style
personality style
Grade Level
Intermediate (3-5)
Lesson Type
Dig Deeper

Lesson Plan - Get It!

  • Which Founding Father represented the British soldiers during the Boston Massacre trial?

President John Adams

Image was released by the United States Navy with the ID 031029-N-6236G-001, via Wikimedia Commons

Throughout this series, The Founding Fathers, you have learned about a few of the men considered by historians to be the most important Founding Fathers.

If you missed a lesson or want a refresher, catch up in the right-hand sidebar under Related Lessons.

Their work not only helped create the United States of America but has also had a lasting impact on the American way of life.

Before digging into this lesson, take some time to review the Founding Fathers you have already learned about by taking the following quiz. Feel free to use the notes you have taken and documents you have created to help you answer the questions:

  • How did you do on the quiz?

If there were any Founding Fathers you struggled to answer questions about, you may want to go back and review the lesson on that Founding Father before moving forward.

In this lesson, you will study the life and legacy of John Adams.

Like the other Founding Fathers you have studied, John Adams was a man of many accomplishments. As you complete this section, create a list of all these accomplishments on a separate piece of paper.

John Adams was a lawyer in Boston, Massachusetts. He opposed the way Great Britain enforced its authority over the colonies and often spoke against British taxes.

Even though he did not believe the British had the colonies' best interests at heart, he did not favor the radical anti-British movements that took place in the colonies, particularly in Boston. Adams disapproved of events such as the Boston Tea Party when a group of patriots disguised themselves as Native-Americans and dumped hundreds of pounds of British tea into the Boston Harbor.

Surprisingly, Adams also represented the British soldiers that were put on trial after the Boston Massacre, an event where British soldiers fired into an angry crowd of colonists, killing five people. Even though they were British soldiers, Adams believed they still had a right to a fair trial and wanted to ensure they received one.

In 1774, Adams was asked to be a delegate, or representative, of Massachusetts at the Continental Congress.

Adams was capable of recognizing talents. He nominated George Washington to be the commander of the Continental Army and nominated Thomas Jefferson to author the Declaration of Independence.

During the Revolutionary War, Adams spent significant time in France with Benjamin Franklin, trying to rally French support. Their work proved effective because France provided America with loans to finance the war, and even helped the Americans fight.

At the conclusion of the war, Adams was sent with Franklin and John Jay to negotiate a treaty. He helped write the Treaty of Paris of 1783, which officially ended the war and forced Great Britain to recognize American independence.

After the war, Adams remained in Europe for several years, acting as the American ambassador to Great Britain. In that role, he worked to rebuild the United States’ relationship with the British.

Eventually, he returned to the United States and served as a delegate at the Constitutional Convention, helping create the United States Constitution.

During the early presidential elections, presidents and vice presidents ran for office separately. Adams received the most votes for the position of vice president during the first presidential election.

He served as vice president under George Washington for two terms before being elected the second president of the United States, after Washington retired.

Adams only served one term as president. Many people opposed the laws he passed known as the Alien and Sedition Acts.

At the time, Great Britain was at war with France. Adams feared that the United States could get pulled into this war and passed the Alien and Sedition Acts to protect American interests.

The Alien and Sedition Acts increased the requirements for becoming an American citizen, made it illegal to publish anti-government writing, and gave the government permission to arrest anyone who strongly disagreed with it.

These acts caused many people to oppose Adams’ presidency because they felt the laws gave too much power to the government.

After his term as president, Adams retired to his home in Massachusetts.

Throughout the remainder of his life, he maintained a written correspondence with fellow Founding Father, Thomas Jefferson. He and Jefferson were the longest-living signers of the Declaration of Independence.

On July 4, 1826, Adams breathed his last words, “Thomas Jefferson still survives.”

What he did not know was Thomas Jefferson had died that morning! The last two signers died on the same day on the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence.

To review what you have learned about John Adams, watch the clip below and continue to add to your list of accomplishments. Remember, you can pause the video at any time as you write down the important information you see and hear.

John Adams | 60-Second Presidents | PBS from PBS Presidents:

After you have finished watching the video, use the list you have created to help you answer these questions on a separate piece of paper:

  • Why did John Adams help the British soldiers even though he was a patriot?
  • What leadership characteristics did John Adams display throughout his life?
  • How does John Adam’s work continue to impact Americans today?
  • How does John Adams compare to the other Founding Fathers you have learned about?

When you are ready, move onto the Got It? section to research more about John Adams.

Elephango's Philosophy

We help prepare learners for a future that cannot yet be defined. They must be ready for change, willing to learn and able to think critically. Elephango is designed to create lifelong learners who are ready for that rapidly changing future.