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Though raised in modest surroundings, Adams felt an acute responsibility to live up to his family's heritage of reverence.

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This began at age six at a Dame school for boys and girls, which was conducted at a teacher's home and centered upon The New England Primer.

Shortly thereafter, Adams attended Braintree Latin School under Joseph Cleverly, where studies included Latin, rhetoric, logic, and arithmetic.

He did not share his father's expectation that he become a minister. In the next four years, he discerned a passion for prestige, saying that he craved "Honour or Reputation" and "more defference from [his] fellows" and, at age twenty-one, he was determined to become "a great Man".

He decided to become a lawyer to further those ends, writing his father that he found among lawyers "noble and gallant achievements" but, among the clergy, the "pretended sanctity of some absolute dunces." Doctrinally, he later became a Unitarian, and dropped belief in predestination, eternal damnation, the divinity of Christ, and most other Calvinist beliefs of his Puritan ancestors.

Adams was a delegate from Massachusetts to the Continental Congress, where he played a leading role in persuading Congress to declare independence.

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