With American Independence Day coming up on July 4th, it’s that time of the year again to pull out the barbecue grill, fill the cooler full of beer, invite some friends over to your house and hope you don’t set your roof on fire shooting off illegal fireworks in the driveway (not that anyone would ever do that). There will be parades filled with bands and floats and in some way or another, the Founding Fathers’ presence will be felt and talked about while the History Channel will fill us in on the details of their lives and achievements.
I’d like to give a shout out to one of the more unsung Founding Fathers: John Adams. While history places him up there with the likes of Washington, Jefferson, Franklin, Hamilton or Madison, he is often overlooked by the general public in terms of his impact on the American Revolution and later formation of the early republic. Most of us have heard his name and it’s not uncommon to forget he was the 2nd President of the United States (a distinction sometimes mistakenly given to Jefferson). David McCullough wrote an excellent biography called John Adams some years back and there are numerous other sources as well detailing his unique life which I won’t go into except to highlight a few accomplishments of his that stand out.
Early Life and Career
John Adams came from a long line of proud New Englanders who believed in hard work, self-reliance and abhorred financial debt. He attended Harvard in the days before Ivy League was even a term and went on to become one of the most respected lawyers in Boston, both in reputation and success. Interestingly enough, Adams risked his career to act as the legal defense for the British soldiers on trial from the Boston Massacre of 1770, obtaining acquittals for the majority of the defendants in the process.
Revolution and War
Adams was an elected member of the Second Continental Congress, representing Massachusetts, was part of the drafting committee for the Declaration of Independence written by Thomas Jefferson and a signatory of the completed document as well. While Jefferson’s words are now etched into our national consciousness, Adams was credited with playing a pivotal role in the congressional debates, using his incredible oratory skills obtained from practicing law to successfully convince enough delegates to ratify the Declaration of Independence.
During the Revolution, Adams was tasked with representing American diplomatic interests in Europe and dutifully made the treacherous voyage several times across the Atlantic, serving in France and the Netherlands, where he was able to obtain Dutch recognition of the United States (the first country ever to do so) while also negotiating a series of loans on the country’s behalf from bankers in Amsterdam.
Early Republic and Presidency
After the ratification of the U.S. Constitution, Washington, receiving the most electoral votes, became President and Adams received the second largest amount making him Vice President, a post he held for eight years before being elected as the second President, a hard bargain given the fact Washington would be a tough act to follow.
Clampdowns on freedom of speech through a series of laws like the Alien and Sedition acts continue to cast a shadow over his presidency, but arguably, one of his more positive legacies was keeping the young U.S. out of an undeclared war with France and also preventing the country from being dragged into a larger one with Britain as well.
History often provides us with unique people, some we love, some we disparage, but the Founding Fathers continue to hold an element of mystique in the American psyche, possessing a mythic quality like gods from Mount Olympus. In truth though, reading about the real human beings they were makes them even more fascinating and after we’ve taken them down from their pedestals one can develop an even deeper appreciation for both their achievements and flaws (hopefully I didn’t sugarcoat that too much!).
When speaking about how history would remember him, Adams said (and I’m paraphrasing a lot), “History will record that Benjamin Franklin flew a kite in a storm, lightning struck the kite, ran down to the ground and George Washington popped out.” Well, you can relax, John, for you are certainly not forgotten by any means.
Who is your favorite founding father? What quality about them do you appreciate the most?
Photo Courtesy of Wikipedia