John Adams was one of the Founding Fathers and second President of the United States of America. Before entering politics, Adams (1735-1826) worked as a teacher and lawyer. Brilliant, patriotic, and blunt, Adams became a critic of British authority in colonial America, which resulted in him assuming a leadership role in the Continental Congress. There, he played a key role in persuading his fellow countrymen to declare independence and even helped Thomas Jefferson draft the Declaration of Independence in 1776. Later, he served as a diplomat in Europe, where he helped negotiate a peace treaty with Great Britain. In addition to being a signer of the Treaty of Paris, Adams was also the author of the Massachusetts Constitution (1780), the first American Ambassador to the Court of St. James, and the first Vice President of the United States. After succeeding George Washington as President in 1797, Adams devoted much of his presidency to avoiding war with France, while also showing that (unlike monarchies) the nation’s most important office could survive a change of leadership.
When Adams first arrived at Harvard College, he was a far cry from the legendary political figure that he'd eventually become. At 15, Adams was apprehensive about making the 15-mile ride to Harvard by himself after his tutor suddenly announced that he wouldn’t be able to make the trip. In a diary entry, Adams wrote: “Terrified at the Thought of introducing myself to such great Men as the President and fellows of a College, I at first resolved to return home." But Adams stayed the course. To enter Harvard, he had to translate a long passage of English into Latin. Not only was the terrified applicant admitted to Harvard, but he was awarded a scholarship.
In 1751, Adams entered Harvard College, which at that time had only one president, two professors, and four tutors for the 100 young men who comprised the student body. A strong student, Adams studied hard, joined a speaking club, and was popular with his classmates. Though his father expected him to be a minister, after his 1755 graduation with a bachelor's degree, Adams temporarily taught school in Worcester, Massachusetts until he decided to study law, which he hoped would allow him to become a "great Man." In 1756, Adams began reading law under James Putnam, a leading lawyer. By 1758, he'd earned a Master's in Law from Harvard.
While Harvard has certainly changed over the years, the university has consistently celebrated the trailblazing path made by one of its earliest students. In 1961, the Harvard University Press released "The Adams Papers" – a series of books which opens with the diary of Adams as a young lawyer struggling for professional recognition after leaving school.
More recently, in 2014, Harvard created the John Adams Society. Members of the society describe it as the university’s premier undergraduate debate organization for political and moral philosophy. It allows Harvard students the chance to debate a variety of topics while exploring how the influence of men like Adams still applies to some of society's most pressing issues.