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John Adams Leadershipjohn adams leadership


John Adams (1735-1826)


Second American president (pictured right), described by his close friend, Thomas Jefferson, as “the colossus of independence”. 

They both died on the same day in 1826, July 4, Independence Day! 

His beloved wife, Abigail (1744- 1818), was also extremely bright, and a brilliant letter writer. 

Their son, John Quincy Adams ,pictured right below , also became president.

 John Adams

For more detail see... 

The American Declaration of Independence in the History Highlights section.


Why was he a great leader?


1. Concern for people

“The Revolution was in the minds and hearts of the people”, he famously observed. 

Change needs people’s co-operation and their willingness to change themselves. 

He cared deeply for people, reflected in his kindness, devotion to Abigail and lifelong friendships, despite temporarily falling out with Jefferson.



2. Action with courage

Despite constant self-doubt, he courageously took difficult decisions, particularly the hugely unpopular peace treaty with France in 1800. 

“Great is the guilt of an unnecessary war”, he said.

 John Adams

3. Principle

Adams (pictured right c.1792) lived for the principles of the American Revolution (liberty, equality and happiness for all) and hated hypocrisy. 

He valued honour above everything, living according to his principles of love, liberty, equality and justice for all.

Sometimes, though, his principles were not practical enough for good government, particularly his failure to see people’s deceit and his ideal of national unity

This led to his disastrous decision to include people from different political parties in his Cabinet.


4. Humility

He hated arrogant pride and became increasingly aware of his own ignorance and ethical weaknesses. 

His preferred epitaph on his gravestone didn’t describe his achievements but the moral qualities of his ancestors that he always sought to emulate.

 john adams leadership


5. Thinking and learning

He was never dogmatic, always open to new ideas and an independent thinker, continually seeking virtue and wisdom. 

For example, he decided, like Jefferson (pictured right), to support a federal government with power given to each state. 

Adams also decided to build a navy of 50 ships in two years, which achieved peace with France. 

His thoughts were enriched by his passion for learning and scholarly reflection, based on his great love of books. 

He even read Plato (pictured right below) in ancient Greek and Cicero in Latin!

 John Adams

6. Intelligence

He proved that an intellectual can also be a great president.


7. Simple problems, complex solutions

His objectives, like American independence, were clear and concise. 

But Adams realized that solutions to these problems were not straightforward, strongly disagreeing with the idea that government was simple. 

“The clock would be simple, if you destroyed all the wheels, but it would not tell the time of day”, he said. 

He discovered that policies and leadership are made difficult by:

  • the weaknesses of human nature. 
  • life’s paradoxes like the need to be tough as well as kind.


8. Purposejohn adams leadership

He was a devout Christian, totally driven by his love of God and other people. 

He was hugely helped in this purpose by: 

  • the intellectual and emotional support of his wife, Abigail (pictured right). 
  • his great perseverance and determination. 


9. Pursuit of excellence

He aimed for distinction in both his public and private life, because it gave him self-esteem and the respect of others. 

He wanted Americans to have “ambition of that laudable kind, to excel”.


10. Passionjohn adams leadership

His passion for independence was inspired as a young lawyer, when James Otis (pictured right) in a 1761 court case argued that Americans homes couldn’t be searched by British customs officers without proper evidence. 

“I have a zeal at my heart for my country and her friends” , Adams said .


11. Optimism

Despite continual problems and difficulties, he was always optimistic, totally confident about America’s future and glad to be alive.


Key quote on war

“Great is the guilt of an unnecessary war”.


Key quotes on freedom

Liberty, once lost, is lost forever.

It is religion and morality alone, which can establish the principles upon which freedom can securely stand.


Key quotes on learning and creativity

Let the human mind loose...Superstition and dogmatism cannot confine it.

Old minds are like old horses; you must exercise them if you wish to keep them in working order.


Key quote on objectives

If we do not lay ourselves in the service of mankind, whom should we serve?


Key quote on grief

Grief drives men into habits of serious reflection, sharpens the understanding and softens the heart”.


Key quote on education

There are two educations. One should teach us how to make a living and the other how to live.


Key quote on happiness

Happiness... can never be found without virtue.


Key quotes (on politics)

“As the happiness of the people is the sole end of government, so the consent of the people is the only foundation of it”.

“In politics the middle way is none at all”.



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