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In 1789, after performing invaluable service to his country both during and after the Revolution, John Adams became George Washington's vice president and the first to discover how insignificant that office could be. The position, however, yielded one important compensation: it became the springboard for his election to the presidency in 1796.

Chief among Adams's presidential successes was the avoidance of hostilities over France's infringement on American neutrality in the war between France and Great Britain. Unfortunately, Adams pleased no one in doing so, and he left the White House in 1801 largely discredited on all sides. Recalling his administration years later, he noted, "No man who ever held the office of president would ever congratulate a friend on obtaining it."

This portrait was derived from sittings that occurred during Adams's vice presidency. By then, John Trumbull had painted two other likenesses of Adams, including one that was eventually incorporated into Trumbull's picture depicting the signing of the Declaration of Independence, which now resides in the U.S. Capitol rotunda.

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