Role in Congress


John Adams served in Congress for four years, from 1774 to the end of 1777. During this time Adams served in a total of ninety committees, of which he chaired twenty. At the end of 1777 John Adams was simultaneously involved in twenty six committees, he was chairman of eight. No other congressman was as involved as Adams, as a result he spent much of his time away from home separated from his wife and children.

Adams felt validated and his confidence in his skills and oratory abilities steadily grew during the duration of congress. He was asked to write the final draft of theDeclaration of Rights and Grievances. Many of his colleagues approached him for council and special assignments. As John would write in his diary and in letters to Abigail, he was impressed by the elegance, abilities and acuteness of many of his colleagues, but the one who impressed him the most was George Washington, a member of the Virginia delegation.

He truly enjoyed his stay in Philadelphia, it was his first time outside of New England. John was satisfied with the end result as the statement of Congress was consistent with the popular movement in Massachusetts. What troubled him was that war was now inevitable.


Drafting the Declaration of Independence by Jean Leon Ferris. From left, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson.


Continental Army

John Adams supported full independence from the beginning. As the King refused to accept the Olive Branch Petition and declared the colonies in a state of rebellion, Congress created the Continental Army. It was John Adams who saw George Washington as the best candidate to lead the newly formed army, he formally nominated Washington as General.

Board of War and Ordinance

Creating America’s own institutions was the next step in John Adams’s view of an independent and self-sufficient America. On June 17th, less than a month before the Declaration of Independence, Congress created the Board of War and Ordinance naming JA as the president of the commission, a de facto Secretary of War. The Board of War which John headed was responsible for the management of the army and naval affairs, the progress of war, as well as logistical matters, promotions, appointments and recruitment.


Declaration of Independence

John Adams, Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson, among others, were selected as part of the committee that drafted the Declaration of Independence. On June 28th the draft was submitted. On July 2nd congress voted for independence and on July 4th, after much debate about the wording of the document, the Declaration of Independence was approved by all thirteen colonies.


Foreign Policy and Diplomatic Relations

He was one of the first congressmen to support the decision to start diplomatic relationships with Britain’s enemies, Spain and France. As chairman of the Board of War, Adams envisioned the start of a lucrative arms and ammunition trade with France, Prussian and Holland. His efforts were successful as eventually France started shipping arms and ammunition secretly, Spain also assisted the American Army clandestinetly.

Adams drafted the Model Treaty which sanctioned a commercial agreement and military assistance with France.


Diplomatic Assignments

In 1778, after nearly four years serving in Congress, Adams was elected as an emissary to France to negotiate a military and commercial alliance, he was to replace Silas Deane and join Benjamin Franklin and Richard Lee in Paris. After 18 months in Europe he returned to America for a brief period during which he took part in the commission that drafted the Massachusetts Constitution.  Once again, in November 1779  he was sent back to Paris as part of the commission that negotiated the Treaty of Paris and to obtain loans from Dutch bankers.


Massachusetts Constitutional Convention

Between the two diplomatic assignments in France, John Adams spent less than a year in America. During that time he was elected as part of the Massachusetts Constitutional Convention and was put in charge of drafting the state’s first Constitution. His draft became the core of the Massachusetts Constitution of 1780 and shaped the future American Constitution. The structure of government he recommended was a bicameral legislature balanced by executive and judicial branches to avoid corruption and unbounded concentration of power. He understood that there must be constitutional limitations of Parliament’s authority. The document was structured into chapters, sections and articles as opposed to existing constitutions with only a listing of provisions. The Massachusetts Constitution remains the oldest constitution that has been functioning continuously since its ratification in 1780.

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