John Adams

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Adams, John

(John Coolidge Adams), 1947–, American composer, b. Worcester, Mass. A clarinetist, he studied composition at Harvard (B.A. 1969, M.A. 1971). Often regarded as the most outstanding, technically adept, and influential composer of his generation, Adams has written in numerous genres, bringing to his compositions a keen sense of the theatrical and the vernacular. His distinctive sound is a mixture of post-minimalismminimalism,
schools of contemporary art and music, with their origins in the 1960s, that have emphasized simplicity and objectivity. Minimalism in the Visual Arts
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 with an intensely emotional expansiveness and a range of expressive tonal elements reminiscent of late romanticism and early modernism. Strong and vivid, his music can exhibit both a wittily life-affirming sense of fun and a decidedly contemporary aura of grief and horror.

Adams is best known for operas on topical themes, including Nixon in China (1987), about the president's 1972 visit; The Death of Klinghoffer (1991), based on a 1985 terrorist hijacking; and Doctor Atomic (libretto by Peter SellarsSellars, Peter,
1957–, American director, b. Pittsburgh, grad. Harvard (1981). A highly innovative director, he began his career with the Boston Shakespeare Co. (1983–84) and Washington's American National Theater (1984–86) and has since worked with theater and
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, 2005) about Robert OppenheimerOppenheimer, J. Robert
, 1904–67, American physicist, b. New York City, grad. Harvard (B.A., 1925), Ph.D. Univ. of Göttingen, 1927. He taught at the Univ. of California and the California Institute of Technology from 1929 (as professor from 1936) until his appointment
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 and the atomic bomb. Among his many other works are Shaker Loops (1978, rev. 1983) for strings, Harmonielehre (1985), Fearful Symmetries (1988), the "song-play" I Was Looking at the Ceiling and Then I Saw the Sky (1995), El Dorado (1993), a violin concerto (1993), Lollapalooza (1995), Gnarly Buttons (1996) for clarinet and orchestra, and the symphonic Naive and Sentimental Music (1999). His 21st-century pieces include the nativity oratorio El Niño (2000); On the Transmigration of Souls (2002; Pulitzer Prize), a meditative soundscape in memory of the victims of Sept. 11, 2001; A Flowering Tree (2006), a lyrical opera based on a S Indian folk tale; the dissonance-filled oratorio The Gospel According to the Other Mary (2012, rev. 2017), an interpretation of Jesus' last days; Girls of the Golden West (libretto by Sellars, 2017), which punctures myths about the California gold rush; and a funkily American piano concerto, Must the Devil Have All the Good Tunes? (2019).


See his memoir (2008); T. May, ed., The John Adams Reader (2006).

Adams, John,

1735–1826, 2d President of the United States (1797–1801), b. Quincy (then in Braintree), Mass., grad. Harvard, 1755. John Adams and his wife, Abigail AdamsAdams, Abigail,
1744–1818, wife of President John Adams and mother of President John Quincy Adams, b. Weymouth, Mass., as Abigail Smith. A lively, intelligent woman, she married John Adams in 1764 and more than three decades later became the chief figure in the social life
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, founded one of the most distinguished families of the United States; their son, John Quincy AdamsAdams, John Quincy,
1767–1848, 6th President of the United States (1825–29), b. Quincy (then in Braintree), Mass.; son of John Adams and Abigail Adams and father of Charles Francis Adams (1807–86).
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, was also President.

Early Career

A plain-spoken, tough-minded lawyer, scrupulously honest and dauntingly erudite, but also sometimes quarrelsome and stubborn, Adams emerged into politics as an opponent of the Stamp ActStamp Act,
1765, revenue law passed by the British Parliament during the ministry of George Grenville. The first direct tax to be levied on the American colonies, it required that all newspapers, pamphlets, legal documents, commercial bills, advertisements, and other papers
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 and, after moving to Boston, was a central figure in the Revolutionary group opposing the British measures that were to lead to the American Revolution. Sent (1774) to the First Continental CongressContinental Congress,
1774–89, federal legislature of the Thirteen Colonies and later of the United States in the American Revolution and under the Articles of Confederation (see Confederation, Articles of).
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, he distinguished himself, and in the Second Continental Congress he was a moderate but forceful revolutionary. He proposed George Washington as commander in chief of the Continental troops to bind Virginia more tightly to the cause for independence. He favored the Declaration of IndependenceDeclaration of Independence,
full and formal declaration adopted July 4, 1776, by representatives of the Thirteen Colonies in North America announcing the separation of those colonies from Great Britain and making them into the United States.
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, was a member of its drafting committee, and argued eloquently for the document.

Diplomatic Career

As a diplomat seeking foreign aid for the newly established nation, he had a thorny career. Appointed (1777) to succeed Silas DeaneDeane, Silas,
1737–89, political leader and diplomat in the American Revolution, b. Groton, Conn. A lawyer and merchant at Wethersfield, Conn., he was elected (1772) to the state assembly and became a leader in the revolutionary cause.
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 as a commissioner to France, he accomplished little before going home (1779) to become a major figure in the Massachusetts constitutional convention. He then returned (1779) to France, where he quarreled with VergennesVergennes, Charles Gravier, comte de
, 1717–87, French statesman. After serving as ambassador at Trier, Constantinople, and Stockholm (where in 1772 he participated in the coup of Gustavus III), he was made (1774) foreign minister by Louis XVI.
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 and was able to lend little assistance to Benjamin Franklin in his peace efforts. His attempts to negotiate a loan from the Netherlands were fruitless until 1782.

Adams was one of the negotiators who drew up the momentous Treaty of Paris (1783; see Paris, Treaty ofParis, Treaty of,
any of several important treaties, signed at or near Paris, France. The Treaty of 1763

The Treaty of Paris of Feb. 10, 1763, was signed by Great Britain, France, and Spain.
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) to end the American Revolution. After this service he obtained another Dutch loan and then was envoy (1785–88) to Great Britain, where he met with British coldness and unwillingness to discuss the problems growing out of the treaty. He asked for his own recall and ended a significant but generally discouraging diplomatic career.


In the United States once more, he was chosen Vice President and served throughout George Washington's administration (1789–97). Although he inclined to conservative policies, he functioned somewhat as a balance wheel in the partisan contest between Alexander HamiltonHamilton, Alexander,
1755–1804, American statesman, b. Nevis, in the West Indies. Early Career

He was the illegitimate son of James Hamilton (of a prominent Scottish family) and Rachel Faucett Lavien (daughter of a doctor-planter on Nevis and the estranged
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 and Thomas JeffersonJefferson, Thomas,
1743–1826, 3d President of the United States (1801–9), author of the Declaration of Independence, and apostle of agrarian democracy. Early Life

Jefferson was born on Apr. 13, 1743, at "Shadwell," in Goochland (now in Albemarle) co.
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. In the 1796 election Adams was chosen to succeed Washington as President despite the surreptitious opposition of Hamilton.

The Adams administration was one of crisis and conflict, in which the President showed an honest and stubborn integrity, and though allied with Hamilton and the conservative property-respecting Federalists, he was not dominated by them in their struggle against the vigorously rising, more broadly democratic forces led by Jefferson. Though the Federalists were pro-British and strongly opposed to post-Revolutionary France, Adams by conciliation prevented the near war of 1798 (see XYZ AffairXYZ Affair,
name usually given to an incident (1797–98) in Franco-American diplomatic relations. The United States had in 1778 entered into an alliance with France, but after the outbreak of the French Revolutionary Wars was both unable and unwilling to lend aid.
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) from developing into a real war between France and the United States. Nor did the President wholeheartedly endorse the Alien and Sedition ActsAlien and Sedition Acts,
1798, four laws enacted by the Federalist-controlled U.S. Congress, allegedly in response to the hostile actions of the French Revolutionary government on the seas and in the councils of diplomacy (see XYZ Affair), but actually designed to destroy Thomas
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 (1798), aimed at the Anti-Federalists. He was, however, detested by his Jeffersonian enemies, and in the election of 1800 he and Hamilton were both overwhelmed by the tide of Jeffersonian democracy. By the end of his term, Adams had proved to be a generally unpopular president, deeply respected but not beloved.


After 1801 Adams lived in retirement at Quincy, issuing sober and highly respected political statements and writing and receiving many letters, notably those to and from Jefferson. Their famous correspondence was edited by Lester J. Cappon in The Adams-Jefferson Letters (1959). By remarkable coincidence he and Jefferson died on the same day, Independence Day, July 4, 1826.


A definitive edition of the voluminous writings of the Adams family (The Adams Papers) was begun with four volumes (1961) containing the diary and autobiography of John Adams and includes his legal papers (3 vol., 1965), his papers (18 vol., 1977–), and family correspondence (12 vol., 1963–). Other compilations include Adams's Works (10 vol., ed. by J. Q. Adams and C. F. Adams, 1850–56, repr. 1969; Vol. I is a biography by C. F. Adams); The Selected Writings of John Adams and John Quincy Adams (ed. by A. Koch and W. Peden, 1946); abridged ed. of John and Abigail Adams' letters (ed. by M. A. Hogan and C. J. Taylor, 2007).

See also biographies by J. T. Morse (1884, repr. 1970), G. Chinard (1933, repr. 1964), P. Smith (2 vol., 1962), J. Ferling (1992), J. J. Ellis (1993), D. McCullough (2001), and J. Grant (2005); J. T. Adams, The Adams Family (1930); Z. Haraszti, John Adams and the Prophets of Progress (1952); M. J. Dauer, The Adams Federalists (1953, repr. 1968); S. G. Kurtz, The Presidency of John Adams (1957, repr. 1961); J. R. Howe, Jr., The Changing Political Thought of John Adams (1966); R. A. Brown, The Presidency of John Adams (1975); R. Brookhiser, America's First Dynasty: The Adamses, 1735–1918 (2002); G. Vidal, Inventing a Nation: Washington, Adams, Jefferson (2003); E. B. Gelles, Abigail and John: Portrait of a Marriage (2009); G. J. Barker-Benfield, Abigail and John Adams: The Americanization of Sensibility (2010); J. J. Ellis, First Family (2010); G. S. Wood, Friends Divided: John Adams and Thomas Jefferson (2017).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Adams, John


Born Oct. 19, 1735; died July 4, 1826. American political leader and statesman.

During the American Revolution (1775–83), Adams was a member of the First and Second Continental Congresses. He took part in the negotiations which ended with the signing of the Treaty of Paris (1783) between the USA and Great Britain; moreover, he became the first US minister to Great Britain (1785–88). Adams later became one of the leaders of the Federalist Party, which represented the interests of the conservative wing of the American bourgeoisie. During the years 1789–97 he served as vice-president and from 1797 to 1801 as president of the USA. Adams’ administration was marked by the adoption in 1798 of the Alien and Sedition Acts, which were directed against revolutionary emigrants from Europe and which made it difficult to acquire American citizenship. The Sedition Act provided for imprisonment for criticizing the government.


Efimov A. V. Ocherki istorii SShA, 2nd. ed. Moscow, 1958. Chapter 2.
Morse, J. T. John Adams. Boston-New York, 1912.
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

Adams, John

(1735–1826) second U.S. president; born in Braintree (now Quincy), Mass. He studied at Harvard and settled into law practice in Boston. Although he defended British soldiers after the Boston Massacre (1770), he had also shown "patriot" sympathies by pamphleteering against the Stamp Act in 1765. Having gained prominence as a political thinker and writer, he was sent as a Massachusetts delegate to the First (1774) and Second (1775–77) Continental Congresses; he helped edit Jefferson's Declaration of Independence and led the debate that ratified it (1776). During the American Revolution he chaired several committees and served on many more, was commissioner to France and Holland, and in 1779 drafted the influential Massachusetts constitution. After the war he was ambassador to England (1785–88), where he wrote the Defense of the Constitution of the United States. After eight frustrating years as vice-president under Washington (1789–97), he assumed the presidency (1797–1801). The prickly Adams proved less able as a practical politician than as a theorist; his regime was torn by partisan wrangles between Hamiltonian Federalists and Jeffersonian Democrat-Republicans, all of whom he antagonized; his persistence in negotiating peace with France when his fellow Federalists were urging war cost him their support. Meanwhile his Alien and Sedition Acts (1798), which virtually forbade criticism of the government, outraged many citizens. Defeated for reelection by Jefferson in 1800, Adams retired from public life. In later years he pursued an extensive correspondence with many men, including his one-time opponent Thomas Jefferson, and both men died on July 4, 1826, the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence.

Adams, John (Coolidge)

(1947–  ) composer; born in Worcester, Mass. Harvard-trained, he taught at San Francisco Conservatory during the 1970s. His music, notably the opera Nixon in China (1987), is of the "minimalist" school, stressing relentless repetition.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.