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John Adams was not cut out to be a schoolteacher. His pupils were "little runtlings" who hardly knew the alphabet, let alone the advanced subjects like philosophy, which so intrigued their teacher. Adams was highly opinionated and fascinated with studying his fellow humans, their actions, their demeanors, and their features. He wrote, "I amof the opinion that men ought to avow their opinions and defend them with boldness." The vain and intense young man found himself stifled at the Worcester Grammar School. That being said, his students liked him, for he was a colorful teacher and not much of a disciplinarian.
The big benefit Adams reaped from teaching was his introduction to the world of the intellectual elite in Worcester, including most importantly, the prominent lawyer John Putnam. Putnam endlessly debated and probed Adams' thoughts and ideas. Putnam encouraged Adams as he searched for a more permanent career. During the summer after Adams' first year as a teacher, he entered into an apprenticeship contract with Putnam to study law for two years.
In the days before widespread law schools existed, it was customary for law students to study with an established lawyer before starting out on their own. Very few would-be lawyers studied at the Inns of Court in England, especially few from the colonies. Adams began his apprenticeship with the customary clerk work, filing papers, attending court cases, reading law books in his spare time, and even occasionally working with Putnam on a case directly. Here, Adams' deep interests in history and philosophy showed through, as he traced laws back to their roots in Roman history or English precedent. Putnam, a rich well- established lawyer, had an extensive library for Adams to peruse, ranging from feudal days to the present. Adams made a special, deep study of "civil law," which had largely been handed down by the Romans. Also, Adams learned much of "natural law," theories which would help him later in life as he participated in the Revolution.
When his study of law under Putnam was complete, Adams moved back to his native Braintree and since there were no lawyers on Massachusetts's South Shore, Adams filled a needed niche. Due to an oversight, however, Adams had not been admitted to the Worcester bar association before he left and so he had to fight harder than usual to be admitted to the Suffolk County bar, normally an easy process. He spent several hours being interviewed by the head of the bar, Jeremiah Gridley, before Gridley finally pronounced his studies fit. Gridley recommended that Adams return later to take the oath of a lawyer.
Now that Adams had officially joined the Suffolk Country Inferior Court, he began what amounted to a large and very prosperous law career. He would later join the Suffolk Superior Court in 1761. The job of a lawyer was primarily to try cases, since scribes and notaries handled much of the work of buying land and writing wills. Adams' work kept him constantly at the forefront of his field and required him to constantly study and read the law.
It was no coincidence that Adams and other lawyers would soon take the lead in the American Revolution. England's law system had grown up around precedent and common law, and it was this training that would help nudge the Americans toward independence. The Magna Charta and other British charters and bills of rights had built up a steady foundation of guaranteed rights for Englishmen–rights that the colonists transported to the New World when they emigrated. Additionally, and perhaps more presciently, they believed in the importance of disavowing illegal laws–the precedent for which had been set when the Privy Council in England was authorized to strike colonial laws that violated the colonial charters.
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