Friday, June 12, 2009
George Washington is most undoubtedly considered the father of our country. Thomas Jefferson is most undoubtedly considered the father of the Declaration of Independence. John Adams should most undoubtedly be considered the father of our government and one of the most brilliant thinkers of all our founding fathers.
For my second book of my goal to read a biography on each of our American presidents, I dug into the hefty 750+ page volume written by David McCullough on John Adams.
When I started the biography on George Washington, I at least knew some of the events of his life before, during and after his presidency but with Adams, I knew nothing except that he had been our first vice president and second president of the United States. Adams isn't on Mt. Rushmore, he doesn't have any memorials in Washington D.C., that I know of, and we don't celebrate his birthday as a national holiday. After reading this book, I wonder why since in my opinion, he did more for our country than Washington ever did.
Where Washington had a minimum of education, Adams was very well educated for his time having gone to Harvard as a student, taught there as a professor, and being a voracious reader. Like many American presidents, he began his career as a lawyer and owned a very successful practice in his hometown of Braintree, Massachusetts and what later became known as Quincy, Massachusetts. He was known far and wide as being a lawyer of uncommon skills and when he argued the defense of some British soldiers accused of murder during the unpopular time during the lead up to the Revolutionary War, he sealed his character as one of uncommon integrity.
During the First Continental Congress, Washington was known for his silence. Adams on the other hand was known for his speeches as both the First and Second Continental Congresses. Adams was "not graceful nor elegant, nor remarkably fluent, "but spoke "with a power of thought and expression that moved us from our seats," said Thomas Jefferson. In the darkest hours of July 1rst, 1776 when the fate of our country rested squarely on John Adam's shoulders and his ability to refute John Dickinson's appeal against premature separation from Britain, Adam's speech for independence reignited the fires that led to the unanimous vote for independence from Britain. New Jersey delegate Richard Stockton would say Adams was "the Atlas" of the hour, "the man to whom the country is most indebted for the great measure of independency.... He it was who sustained the debate, and by the force of his reasoning demonstrated not only for the justice, but the expediency of the measure."
Perhaps no man sacrificed more to his country than Adams. He spent many years as a member of the continental congress and in various committees that kept him away from home. When that job was almost complete he was elected ambassador to France and sent over seas in the middle of the Revolutionary War. With family and children left behind, he served his country as an ambassador to several countries for the better part of ten years with only the last couple together with wife. A decade later when he came home, it was to a country five years removed from a war for independence and with a fledging government that he was instrumental in designing now preparing for the first elections. Soon, he found himself yet again serving his country this time as the elected Vice President of the United States and later as President. In all, he spent most of his life as a public servant and the greater part away from his family.
Although Adams wasn't in favor of a hereditary monarchy, he was in favor of a strong executive branch and thus was often misunderstood by many of his peers on this subject. His tenure at Vice President started off rocky due to his opinions on several subjects like titles for the President and whether or not a national bank was needed that could be misconstrued as someone in favor of a monarchy and earned him many scathing reviews in newspapers and making him unpopular to many. Combine this with a plot by Alexander Hamilton, a Federalist like Adams, to have certain states not vote for him so as to give Washington the clear majority in the first election meaning Adams came in second and thus elected as a vice president with a slim lead over his competitors, he was not very popular to many during his first term as vice president. Though these reviews, untrue statements and the first election plot which he found out wounded Adams deeply, he never publically showed it and eventually he emerged during the second elections and decidedly came in second and securing a second term.
I have read and posted George's Washington's farewell speech on this blog before where Washington talked about the dangers of a two party system. I had always assumed that perhaps many years or decades went by before his prophecy became true. I was surprised to learn that it only lasted for three elections, the first two happening before the speech was written. John Adams was elected the second president of the United States though by a 3 vote margin and thus kicked off the "either with us or against us" mentality that cropped up again so strongly in our last president. Adams did several brilliant things such as starting up a Navy which was instrumental in him being able to negotiate peace with France when nearly everyone in this country wanted war, one that we would have surely lost and thus ended our country as a brief footnote in the world's history as a republic that failed.
Though classified as a Federalist, he was ostracized by Alexander Hamilton and his own party for not being Federalist enough and by Jefferson, his Vice President and the rest of the members of the Republican Party. Hamilton and Jefferson both worked tirelessly during Adam's first term to tear him down every chance they got. Adams was extremely wounded by Jefferson who served with Adams as an ambassador for many years and became really good friends with him. Adams tried to stay out of party politics but to no avail and was defeated by Jefferson and Aaron Burr who tied in votes, in the fourth presidential election.
After his defeat, Adams went back to his farm at Quincy and retired from politics to be a farmer and to be there for his kids. One died of alcoholism; another of breast cancer and a third fell from the graces of society and his law practice to become an alcoholic as well. Only John Quincy Adams, his first son, would remain alive and on tract and eventually would become our sixth president. Eventually in their old ages after both were retired from politics, Jefferson and Adams would once again become good friends though they never would see each other again due to their ages and the distances between Monticello and Stoneyfarm. Their bond as being two of the signers of the Declaration of Independence still alive became stronger than any political differences they may have had. In the end, they both died on July 4th, 1826, exactly 50 years to the day of the signing and our country lost two of its biggest patriots.
Although this tome was hefty and difficult at times to maintain my interest while reading, it was well worth the read if broken up so it wasn't read all in one sitting. I broke it up with other books here and there which allowed me to keep my interest and absorb the information better. I have a couple more books on my reading list before I get to the third presidential biography on Thomas Jefferson but I'm looking forward to it. I may also take a break to read a biography on Benjamin Franklin who played prominently in the lives of Adams and Jefferson. So many books, so little time.