The young lawyer – 1758 to 1761
On November 6, 1758 John Adams and his friend Samuel Quincy rode into Boston to appear before the court to be sworn in as lawyers. Jeremiah Gridley recommended Adams to the bar of the Suffolk Inferior Court. Adams was ready to practice law in Suffolk County.
John enthusiastically returned to Braintree where he opened his own law office. Unfortunately his very first case was a failure. His client was Joseph Field, a farmer who had lost some of his crops when a horse that belonged to his neighbor, Luke Lambert, crossed the property line and trampled his crop as it escaped the property. Joseph Field sued for damages and wanted financial compensation for the lost crop. Adams was well prepared to argue the case but made some mistakes in the paperwork, as a result the case was thrown out of court. His client was extremely angry with JA as he was with himself, for all his extensive training and education, he was not familiar with the details of writing legal papers.
During 1759 and 1760 nothing seemed to work for Adams JA, he felt mortified at the lack of business. Throughout this period he continually wrote in his diary about his “strong Desire of Distinction; he was “aspiring and ambitious”, he was seeking reputation, fame and fortune. Disappointed at himself he set to study even harder, he was set to live with self-imposed discipline and master all the classics. He also realized that by observing successful lawyers in action he could learn their secrets. During these early years he closely observed Sewall, Oliver, Otis, Thatcher and Gridley and found difficult to imitate them as it was not natural to him, in addition he learned that he was not a good actor and could not copy somebody’s demeanor or change his own personality. They were all admirable and successful lawyers but he noticed that Thatcher and Otis were set apart by their eloquence. It was particularly James Otis who Adams admired the most. Adams once wrote that Otis’ speech was like “a flame of fire” filled with allusions to classical antiquity and considerable research delivered with passion and eloquence. He knew he could not match Otis’ style so he set to develop his own.
It took careful observation and long hours of practice but his skills improved over time and he regained confidence. Instead of waiting for business to come to him, he sought it. He campaigned to reduce the number of inns in Braintree and he succeeded; the Braintree Board of Selectmen reduced the number of licensed inns to three. His diary shows that around this time his caseload began to increase, mostly related to inheritance issues. His first victory before a jury was in the fall of 1760. Following successes improved his confidence, he wrote in his diary ” I was too incautious and unartful in my proceedings, but practice makes perfect”. In November 1761 he was admitted to practice in the Superior Court of Braintree.
In the winter of 1761 Adams and his friend Samuel Quincy observed the first confrontation between the American colonies and the British Crown. It was when a customs official applied for writs of assistance, a search warrant that allows searching ships, containers, shops or warehouse for smuggled or illegal goods. Boston merchants thought it was an infringement of their liberties and private property. The merchants represented by James Otis argued that “a man should feel as secure in his house as a prince in his castle”, the writ was an infringement of man’s basic right to liberty.
In 1761 his father died of Influenza. John inherited a house next to the one in which he grew up and forty acres of land. He built a small addition converting it into his law office. His family had a strong good reputation in Braintree. John was seen as an honest and decent man, just like his father was and was becoming an important figure in his hometown. As a property owner he was entitled to vote at town meetings and to hold office. He was nominated and elected for the office of Surveyors of Highways, it was the first public office position Adams held though it was ad honorem.