With all due respect to John Adams, he was an extraordinary man in extraordinary times. Often called the voice of Independence, to Jefferson's pen, he was one of the most vocal proponents of liberty and self-government throughout the Revolution and afterward. Running down his list of achievements, we see that Adams was:
- the lawyer for the British Soldiers involved in the Boston Massacre
- a member of the Continental Congress
- the main voice of the Independence movement in Congress
- Ambassador to France
- the man responsible for securing a loan from the Dutch that provided much needed funds for the Revolution
- primary negotiator of the Treaty of Paris which ended the Revolutionary War
- first American ambassador to the Court at St. James
- member of the Massachusetts legislature
- writer of the Massachusetts constitution
- first Vice President of the United States
- second President of the United States
- father of the American Navy
It is remarkable how prescient Adams was. He and his fellow revolutionaries framed their disagreements with the British in terms of liberty and the rights of man, but Adams, almost alone, saw beyond the separation with England. He often wrote of an America that would stretch across the whole continent and one that, within the century, would be the most powerful nation on earth. His advocacy for a strong navy weren't grasped by his contemporaries, but many, including Thomas Jefferson, credited Adams's navy as a prime factor in assuring the War of 1812 didn't have even worse consequences on the continent.
Writing in 1819, he felt that the American experiment was imperiled by the "peculiar institution" of slavery and that before too long, the country would erupt in violence. He thought that slaves would be inspired by the American ideal and would violently rise up against their masters. He felt that they would be well within their rights to do so, as he abhorred slavery, but worried that tyranny would spring up in the aftermath.
Adams himself almost presaged our Independence Day celebrations, though the day was off. Since the actual vote for Independence took place on July 2, 1776, he thought that day would be the day long remembered, not the 4th (which was when the final text of the Declaration was approved). From Adams's own letter to his wife Abigail:
The second day of July 1776 will be the most memorable epocha in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be commemorated as the Day of Deliverance by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It out to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations from one end of this continent to the other from this time forward forever more.David McCullough does a fantastic job bringing Adams and all the players to life. You feel happy when Adams is happy and you feel crushed when he suffers a loss. McCullough is a master storyteller and this book is worthy of the Pulitzer it won.
Highly recommended for both students of history and people who just like a good story.