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Early Career

Teaching – 1755

During the graduation ceremony John impressed the public with his eloquence and public speaking skills. Impressed by John’s commencement speech, Reverent Thaddeus Mccarty, who directed the Central School of Worcester, hired John on the spot.

Upon graduation he moved to Worcester, about 50 miles from Cambridge. He found teaching uninspiring and boring, most of the time he felt miserable and missed the intellectual challenge of being a student at Harvard. He spent one year making up his mind as to what his future career would be. He debated between becoming a lawyer and continue the path his father always wanted for him, to become a minister of the Protestant Church. He knew he could not be a good minister as he had liberal ideas and could not preach orthodoxy, and becoming a lawyer meant enriching himself by impoverishing others.  He had a moral dilemma.

On the other hand he was well accepted by the society of Worcester; John dined frequently with them and was invited to social activities. He spent many evenings discussing philosophy, theology and immersed in intellectually challenging conversations. He befriended John Dyer, a doctor, Ephraim Doolittle, Nathan Baldwin and James Putman, a lawyer. All his friends appreciated John Adams’ intellect and encouraged him to become a lawyer. James Putnam, who was an established and successful lawyer in Worcester, invited Adams to accompany him to Court Week when lawyers from around the area pleaded their cases before the Court of Common Pleas of Worcester. This event was a life changing experience as he observed his friend in action and was impressed by the wit and debating skills of the lawyers. That day John Adams decided to become a lawyer.

Becoming a lawyer – 1756 to 1758

Adams understood that he did not have to relinquish his moral beliefs and religious obligations for the practice and the study of law. During two years he studied under the supervision of James Putnam, a reputable and successful member of the bar in Worcester. It was customary for prospective law students in Britain and its colonies to learn the practice of law as an apprentice in the office of an established bar member. Since law was a system of customs and precedents it was taught by the lawyers themselves unlike magisterial law in continental Europe where it was taught in universities.

John kept his job as a teacher to pay for his studies and he moved in with the Putnams.  Adams spent his time reading political and legal authorities of the eighteenth century, working as a clerk for Putnam, following steps in litigation and learning the debating skills of the lawyers in court. He devoured all the books in Putnam’s library that was more extensive than that of the average lawyer. John was a thrifty man but he spent all his money in books. In 1758 at age23 he concluded his studies with Putnam. He moved to Braintree where he intended to practice, but first he had to be admitted to the bar of the Suffolk County.  Due to an oversight on Putnam’s side he had not been sworn in the Inferior Court of Worcester which would have facilitated his admission the Suffolk County bar. He set on a series of interviews with Boston’s leading lawyers, among them were Jeremiah Griddley, Benjamin Prat and James Otis, after which he was admitted to the bar of Suffolk County.