|Fig.1: Who is this guy again?|
John Adams was born on October 30, 1735 in the lovely-sounding town of Braintree, outside of Bofton, Maffachufetts (that's how they spelled it). Pretty much the only thing he didn't come in second place for was coming out of the womb, as he was the first-born child and thus took his father's name. He was smart enough to go to Harvard twice, once to become a teacher and, when he decided that wasn't corruptible enough, a second time to become a lawyer. In 1764 he married Abigail Smith, who became such a considerable force in his life that she really deserves her own history (I'm getting there, ladies!). Adams earned a reputation for fairness and equality before the law; this shone through in 1770 when he was the only lawyer willing to defend the British soldiers charged with killing five civilians in what came to be known as the Bofton Maffacre. While he protested against the taxes levied by the British Parliament against the colonies with eloquent speeches and pamphlets, he wasn't nearly as popular as his cousin, Samuel Adams, who impressed people with his violent protests, tea-throwing demonstrations, and the hoppy-quality of his beer. Indeed, when introduced as Mr. Adams, people first assumed John was the famed Samuel, and promptly asked when the Harvest Pumpkin Ale will be back on the shelves.
Nevertheless, he was recognized enough for his commitment to protecting the sovereignty of the American colonies that he was chosen (with his cousin) to go to Philadelphia and attend the Continental Congress. While many of his colleagues blathered on about being loyal to the king and God saving the king and making butterscotch crumpets for the king, Adams recognized early on that breaking away from the British Empire was the only way to solve their issues. His beliefs only hardened once shots heard 'round the world were fired at the Battle of Lexington and Concord not too far from his home and family. He became the leading advocate for independence in the Congress, and asked his friend and ally, a Virginian named Thomas Jefferson, to compose a draft for a declaration on the matter. Of course, this Declaration of Independence is the central artifact documenting the creation of the United States, and Jefferson's authorship has caused him to overshadow Adams as the leader of the independence movement (giving him the sour, hand-on-his-hip demeanor in Trumbull's painting, fig.2). In addition, Adams was the one who nominated another Virginian, George Washington, to be the commander-in-chief of the Continental Army, who would become more revered than his patron despite getting his butt kicked over and over again.
|Fig.2: In John Trumbull's Declaration of Independence, it appears as though Jefferson is stepping |
on Adams' foot; however, they are merely situated next to each other, and Adams always had that
painfully grumpy look on his face.
|Fig.3: By this time, Adams began to |
put on a little weight, and some
senators began to refer to the VP as
"His Rotundity." Not even making a
dumb joke for once. Look it up.
In the 1790s, Adams began to identify more with the Federalist party, led by Alexander Hamilton. He favored a strong central government and an economy based on commerce, which was the opposing viewpoint of his old friend Thomas Jefferson and his long-winded Democratic-Republican party. Adams scraped by in the Presidential election of 1796 by three measly electoral votes to become the second President of the United States. His biggest challenge was staying out of the mess going on in Europe; the American Revolution truly inspired the French to have one of their own, though their seminal moment was less throwing tea overboard and more sticking disembodied heads on pikes. The Federalists wished to help Great Britain fight France, while the Democratic-Republicans wanted to join France against Great Britain. Adams decided to be the weird one and do neither, and tried to steer in-between these two courses. Even when French officials demanded a bribe in order to keep the U.S. out of the fighting (which was known as the XYZ affair, since that week's episode of Sesame Street was brought to you by those letters), Adams responded by building up the Navy in order to continue to keep the peace. Because of this, even the Federalists began to dislike Adams, soon making him a man without a party (he was awkward at parties anyway, preferring to sit along and add to his Rotundity at the hors d'oeuvres table).
|Fig.4: While John had his faults, you sure |
can't say anything bad in the papers about
lovely Abagail! Hubba hubba!
Adams returned to Maffachufetts to enjoy the rest of his days in peaceful tranquility with his dearest Abigail, who thankfully didn't seem to rank him as second-best. He had the pleasure of seeing his oldest son, John Quincy Adams, become President as well, though you'll have a few years to wait to hear about him. It took some time, but he was eventually able to rekindle his friendship with Jefferson, beginning a letter-writing correspondence in 1812 that reached 158 letters. Coincidentally, both Adams and Jefferson died within hours of each other on the same day (TJ at 12:50pm, JA at 6:20pm), and even more coincidentally, they both died on July 4, 1826, the fifty-year anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence (sounds like a conspiracy to me). Reportedly, Adams' last words were, "Jefferson survives," though if he checked his friend's Facebook status just a little earlier, he would have seen how wrong he was (he was always the last to know anything).
Even in death, people relegated John Adams to the kiddie table of the Founding Fathers Annual Banquet. The allure of Franklin, Washington, Jefferson, and even Hamilton with his penchant for getting shot in the chest, overshadow the accomplishments of Adams. Fortunately, it appears that our second President is getting a second wind of popularity over the past decade, from David McCullough's acclaimed book, the HBO miniseries based on David McCullough's acclaimed book, and the creepy fan fiction based on the HBO miniseries based on David McCullough's acclaimed book (for your protection, I won't link that last thing). With a little luck (and this history by yours truly), more and more will begin to appreciate John Adams, and realize how he provided both a staring and supporting role in the founding of the United States. Maybe then he will be given more than a second thought, and be elevated from merely the second-tier of great Presidents. Now if you'll excuse me, I have to get started on Jefferson's history; I can't just throw his together (unlike some people's).
John Adams, by David McCullough
Published: 2001; Paperback: 751 pages
Canned Rating: 5 out of 5 Abigail Heads