Every year, in honor of Presidents’ Day, we list a bunch of amazing facts about one of our beloved presidents (non-beloved too – we just go in order).  And this year we’re up to… John Adams. 

Okay, this is our second year.

- John Adams was our first president to have what is clearly a fake name.

- Unlike George Washington, who actually powdered his own hair, John Adams was the first president to wear a powdered wig (for only some portraits, apparently). On days that he didn’t wear a wig, he powdered his bald spot. 

- Of the first five presidents, he was the only one not to be from Virginia.  (The sixth was his son.)  Instead, he was from Massachusetts, which was also the home of his cousin, Samuel Adams, who made beer and also organized the Boston Tea Party (those two facts are 100% related); Paul Revere, who liked to ride his horse at full speed at midnight while screaming, often after one of Sam Adams’ famous sholom zachors; and John Hancock, a brilliant man who unfortunately needed OT for his handwriting. 

- John was born in a Massachusetts town called Braintree, which sounds like a company that makes scientific toys that are also environmentally friendly.

- In 1774, Adams won two free tickets to attend the Continental Congress in his school’s Chinese Auction.  His wife didn’t want to go, so he took his cousin, Sam.

- In 1776, the Congress appointed five men to write the Declaration of Independence: Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Ben Franklin, Robert Livingston, and Roger Sherman.  And as with every school project, one guy ended up doing all the work the night before the deadline while everyone else goofed off and then wrote their names on the paper.

- We are not making this up.  According to Adams’ notes, he and Jefferson argued that the other one should write it.  In fact, the original text of the document read, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, except John Adams, who wears a wig.”

- In addition, Jefferson voted to send Adams as part of a delegation to negotiate with the British in Staten Island, for some reason, which is how John came to spend a night sharing a bed with Benjamin Franklin.  Neither of them wanted to talk about it.

- Okay, that’s the only part that’s not true.  Adams actually mentions the episode in his autobiography.  This was in September of 1776.  The two of them were part of a 3-man delegation, along with South Carolina politician Edward Rutledge, when they decided to stop for the night in New Brunswick, NJ.  The inns were all full, and there were only two rooms left.  Or maybe Congress would only spring for 2 rooms.  Rutledge, who was in his twenties, ran for the smaller room, leaving Adams and Franklin to share, in Adams’s words, “a chamber a little larger than the bed, without a chimney, and with only one small window.”  Hilarity ensued.

- Basically, there was no room for anyone to sleep on the floor, no room for Adams’s sheitel head, and it was only a matter of time before someone stepped on Franklin’s glasses. 

- For the most part, the two spent the whole night arguing about whether to leave the window open.  Adams wanted it closed so he wouldn’t get sick, and Franklin wanted it open because he was going to get sick sharing a room with Adams.  In Franklin’s words, “The air within this chamber will soon be, and indeed is now worse than, that without doors.”  This is a famous quote from Benjamin Franklin that should be used way more than it is.

- “Come!” he told Adams.  “Open the window and come to bed, and I will convince you: I believe you are not acquainted with my Theory of Colds.” 

- So Adams left the window open, and he had to lay there all night listening to Franklin go on about his theory anyway, while he stared at the ceiling in silence and wondered if it was too late to bunk with Rutledge. 

- “I was so much amused,” Adams writes, “that I soon fell asleep, and left him and his philosophy together.”

- The peace conference they were traveling to lasted just a few hours and produced no results.  Probably they were tired.  The war was over seven years later.

- Adams was also the first person to propose the idea of a U.S. military academy.  Before that, the soldiers were volunteers and had no idea what they were doing.  Half of them forgot to bring shoes to the war.  “We didn’t think we’d need them,” they said.  “Do you have like a gun I could borrow?” 

- Adams himself never served in the military.  He spent most of the war over in Europe, trying to secure aid for the colonies.  With Benjamin Franklin.  Again.

- In 1783, he helped negotiate the Treaty of Paris, in Paris, which ended the Revolutionary War.  And you thought it was all the fighting.

- When George Washington was unanimously nominated as president, John Adams became our country’s first vice president, going on to do the same kinds of important things as all the other vice presidents since. 

- We make fun, but Adams was disappointed too, once he got into office and learned that the vice president didn’t really do anything.  He once complained to his wife, “My country has in its wisdom contrived for me the most insignificant office that ever the invention of man contrived or his imagination conceived.”  This is how he talked to his wife, because he was an old-timey lawyer.

- He seems to have spent most of his time as vice president trying to stave off boredom by coming up with an official title for the president.  He didn’t like the term president, because it sounds like that guy in your shul who does the announcements.

- He was obsessively pondering over whether George Washington should be called, “Elective Majesty” which was not catchy, or “His Highness The President of the United States of America and Protector of the Rights of the Same”, or HHTPOTUSOAAPOTROTS for short.   

- Jefferson called Adams’s proposal “The most superlatively ridiculous thing I ever heard of,” and everyone started calling Adams “His Rotundity,” which is Colonial passive-aggressive for “Fatso.”  Unfortunately, as vice president, he didn’t have the power to get them to stop.

- So when Washington retired in 1796, Adams ran for president, under the slogan, “Make America Great Again.”

- He beat out Thomas Jefferson, who was none too happy, because the latter was up all night writing campaign speeches.

- When Adams won, Jefferson became his vice president, because at the time, the rule was that the person with the second most votes for president became vice president.  Second place prize, right?  This sounds like an excellent idea.

- During his presidency, Adams’s main accomplishment was keeping the United States out of war with France.  This wasn’t easy, because everyone was pushing for a war, including three negotiators in France whom he referred to in his notes as X, Y, and Z, because loshon hara.

- He was also the first president to live in the White House.  He moved in in November of 1800, and at that point, the building wasn’t even done.  It was damp and smelled like paint fumes, and Mrs. Adams, who had finally come down to see where her husband worked, used the unfinished East Room (which is now a banquet hall) to hang the presidential laundry.  Presidential laundry had to be hung indoors, or people would keep making off with his knickers.

- The president lived in the White House for 4 months, until he was kicked out, probably because of the laundry situation.

- In both 1798 and 1799, Adams tried to proclaim a national fast day.  In a letter in 1812, he wrote that he believed that that’s what lost him the election in 1800.  It was pretty unpopular.

- Or maybe it was the campaign itself that made him lose.  He was once again up against Thomas Jefferson, who was still sore at Adams for failing to mention that the that vice president didn’t really do anything.  (Basically, vice president is where you stuck the guy who lost so he couldn’t do any harm.)  And so began one of the most mud-slingingest campaigns in history.

- Basically, both candidates kept spreading lies about each other, to the point where the election was less about who you wanted as president and more about who you more strongly did not want as president, which is where we stand today.

- For example, Jefferson accused Adams of being a tyrant determined to enslave the country.  So Adams accused Jefferson of being an atheist.  So Jefferson said that Adams smelled like paint fumes.

- In the end, Jefferson won.  And as policy dictated, Adams became his vice president. 

- Over his dead body. 

- In the end, the two of them died on the same day (in 1826) – July 4th.  Their cause of death was unknown, but we suspect that someone got super competitive with the fireworks. 

- Okay, so they each died on their respective death beds, several states apart.  And Adams’s last words were, “Thomas Jefferson survives.”

- He was wrong, though.  Jefferson had actually died a few hours earlier, but no one told John because they didn’t want it to be awkward. 

- John Adams is the oldest president whose birthday is no longer celebrated now that he’s dead.  But we do celebrate his yahrtzeit.


Mordechai Schmutter is a weekly humor columnist for Hamodia, a monthly humor columnist, and has written six books, all published by Israel Book Shop.  He also does freelance writing for hire.  You can send any questions, comments, or ideas to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 

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