Sunday, February 7, 2010

John Adams: A Monument in our Hearts

As one of the Founders of the Republic, John Adams has probably been less-revered than Washington, Jefferson, Franklin, or even Madison. There is no monument to the farm-boy from Braintree, Massachusetts in our nation’s capital. “Modest, too, is Adams' presence inside the White House. He was the first resident of the executive mansion at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., but only a portrait and a few pieces of china and silver testify to his time there. Lincoln has his bedroom, and a West Wing room is named for Theodore Roosevelt, but Adams is remembered merely with an inscription on the State Dining Room mantel from a letter he wrote to Abigail on his first night in the White House. ‘May none but honest and wise men ever rule under this roof.’” (Washington Times, March 14, 2008). As his fourth great-grandson, Benjamin Adams, of New York said, "He was difficult and cantankerous and not as charismatic as the Virginians. … He was a one-term president, and many of his greatest contributions to the country came before his presidency." (Id.) Yet, one cannot read his biography written 175 years after his death by historian David McCullough, or watch the HBO miniseries "John Adams" produced by Tom Hanks, and not become somewhat, or even deeply, endeared to this honest and devoted servant of his family, state and country.

As an earlier biographer, Samuel Willards, wrote of Adams in 1903, “Mr. Adams began to keep a diary when he was twenty years old, and with great gaps here and there, he continued it till 1796. Much of it has been published, furnishing valuable hints for the history of his times. But it has given opportunity for some harsh judgments about his personal character. He often accuses himself of faults, especially of what he calls vanity, meaning undue self-esteem. …But as we read this we should remember that he judged himself by the Puritan standards. The Puritans were very religious, and had very rigid codes of morals, and conscientiously adopted strict rules of personal conduct. …and there is no reason to think that self-esteem was greater in Adams than Jefferson or Hamilton, or Washington.”

At critical times during the Revolution, John Adams probably did as much, or more, for American Independence as did Washington, Jefferson, Franklin, or Madison. He defended the rule of law after the Boston Massacre, representing the accused British Soldiers with his potent argument that “facts are stubborn things.” Concerning Adams’ role in the Continental Congress in adopting the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson stated, “John Adams was our Colossus on the floor. He was not graceful nor elegant, nor remarkably fluent but he came out occasionally with a power of thought and expression, that moved us from our seats.” He was the one who nominated George Washington as Commander in Chief of the Continental Army. He was the one who, in the “Committee of Five,” insisted that Thomas Jefferson, not he, write the Declaration of Independence. He surely lived as he taught, “Our obligations to our country never cease but with our lives.” May we study and remember John Adams, his service and sacrifices for American liberty, and erect a monument for him in our hearts, as well as for all of the Founders of the Republic.

J. David Gowdy

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