History & Culture / Politics

John Adams – Man of Foresight


No monument adorns the National Mall for John Adams, our second president (1797-1801). Yet Adams’ contributions, habits, and foresight are extraordinary. If Washington was the dogged warrior and first president, Jefferson a sage, Madison distiller of rights, something attaches to Adams – that is, even now, strangely in tune with our time and worth revisiting.

Adams was innately human, a man of principle and political passion, outspoken to the point of boredom and ire, suddenly alive with historical references, then self-critical, aware of his many flaws, often as sure he would be forgotten as have some lasting effect on the future.

He was quick to sacrifice for his country and family – his two loves, so often in contention that his later life was filled with regret he had not two to live. Thinker, his essay “Thoughts on Government” guides us today, explaining why three branches, “checks and balances,” matter.

He was human in strangely modern ways. As he pressed the idea of one America, worked to secure independence, shape our Constitution, assure rule of law, serve as diplomat, vice president, and president, he suffered personal plagues.

His sons Charles and Thomas died of addiction – consumed by demons and drink. His daughter “Nabby,” or Abigail for her mother, died of breast cancer. Two daughters, Susanna and Elizabeth, died near birth. He could not save them.

While eldest son John Quincy became our sixth president, what John Adams felt must have tested his core. A leader who loves deeply – family, principle, and country – is rare. One who leads through such a devastating storm is extraordinary, makes modern life seem less daunting.

For Adams, the answer was faith – which never left him, buttressed by personal fortitude – which came in waves. The alloy was a sense of destiny – the idea that he had to give all. Unblinking, he did.

Why else should we remember Adams, especially now? He was good at balance, humble and articulate, farmer and lawyer. He was filled with passion, sharing labors and observations on life – with his wife. He was hot-headed but never without a loving heart, and she knew it. She wrote and advised him on it; he listened.

When he took risks, she often took them with him – consoling him as he successfully defended British soldiers after the “Boston Massacre,” risking life for liberty, Europe for diplomacy, defamed by old friends when in office. Respect was mutual, effect remedial, synergy historic.

Both John and Abagail disdained slavery, never owned, and never hid their revulsion for it. While they understood freedom lay with time’s passage, envisioned it, wrote for it. Adams represented slaves seeking their freedom and decried the practice as an “abhorrence.”

At odds with Jefferson, who undermined Adams, the two friends fell off for years. Then, inspired by a different kind of courage, Adams – not Jefferson – lifted his pen. He reopened the friendship with kindness. Over their final 14 years, the two were again close – until both died on July 4, 1826 – 50 years after the Declaration. But this is big stuff, the small matters.

John and Abigail both thought deeply, codified ideas in writing, read avidly, relayed reflections, and shared feelings on their reading, elevating each other’s thinking. That benefits us now.

How? They did not duck hard questions on morality, liberty, or life – posed by themselves or each other. They did not repeat what others said but revered independent thought, and in this way, taught. They were surrounded by what others thought yet thought for themselves.

As a boy, Adams resisted education – preferring the outdoors. His father insisted on education, so he began at Harvard, age 16. Once he got the bug, began reading, he never quit. As liberties were oppressed, Adams took up the cause, found his stride. That he never quit either.

Perhaps most like us, Adams was impatient, determined liberty was America’s destiny. He had no social media to manage but wrote incessantly – six in the morning to nine at night. In the Continental Congress, he sat on 90 committees, chaired 25, was always first to arrive.

As a diplomat, he was tireless – and blunt. Mid-Revolutionary War, he told the French their alliance was worthless if they did not send their Navy, which earned him French scorn. He went to the Netherlands, where his efforts also seemed unavailing. He suffered anxiety, what some describe as a nervous breakdown. Still, he never quit, never lost hope, stayed committed.

Hope was rewarded. In 1781, the Americans shocked Europe, winning at Yorktown – as the French Navy arrived, credit to Adams. The Dutch gave money. History got made.

So much of Adams’ life was faith, family, hard work, unbroken hope, enduring belief through grief. He was never interested – truth be told – in a monument. His interest was posterity – those of us who here walk in the freedom he created. He hoped we would understand.

Wrote Adams – words that resonate now: “Posterity! You will never know how much it cost the present Generation to preserve your freedom! I hope you will make a good Use of it. If you do not, I shall repent in Heaven, that I ever took half the Pains to preserve it.”

Looking at his purposeful handwriting, exclamation point on parchment, dip of his pen to assure clarity of thought, one is caught – in the wonder of how he saw so far ahead. We owe him, and all the early defenders of liberty, to look as far back as they looked ahead. And now … is time.

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1 year ago

This type of information should be in all American Schools. We need to know how great our early American people were : brave, respectful and courageous. God bless America! Land that I love

1 year ago

Believe it or not, HBO produced a series called John Adams. They did an excellent job of documenting his life. It is available on DVD.

Diana Erbio
1 year ago

Interesting article. I will share this at my Statue Page. We must learn our history and pass it on to other Americans, especially the next generations.

1 year ago

An interesting history lesson. Thank you

Dale cuthbertson
1 year ago

Trying to get patriots party going we as Americans are sick of politics as usual trump sayes will split the party which worthless party is he speaking about?
The Demonrats?
Or the worthless repubs who sit in their ivory towers and do nothing for the American people
We need new blood
New guidelines including the taking of $$ from big bussiness or foreign entities as an act of treason look what we have now as the DEMONRATS sell America out from under us get military vaccinated and wen ca nt function oh we have 700.000 UN. Troops well use them. DEMONRATS so transparent is unreal!

Bill on the Hill
1 year ago

Thanks RBC… I agree, we as Americans could use a good dose of John Adams convictions right about now… The man clearly had a vision for the future as did Jefferson, another great one for putting thought to paper in a concise manner…It has always fascinated me that both these men died on the 4th of July in 1826…It is almost to coincidental to be true, but true it was.
Adams wanted nothing more than to return to his farm & work the soil, but it would seem it was never his true destiny, as he would once again get called away, much to the angst of his beloved wife Abigail…There is much written on their special relationship as both husband & wife…
Bill on the Hill… :~)

David Neal
1 year ago

John Adams is an example of true commitment for this modern age. We have enjoyed the pleasures of freedom from tyranny for so long, that we have failed to remember how this freedom was won. It’s true, “Freedom is not free!” We need more men like John Adams to lead the way and reclaim America’s freedom!

1 year ago
Reply to  David Neal

President Trump is just such a man.

Linda Sills
1 year ago

Adams was brilliant, as was Jefferson. It would behoove us all to study the Founder’s writings

1 year ago

I visited Adams’ personal library at his farm in Quincy MA.. it was a separate stone building, to prevent fire from the kitchen wiping out his collection.

1 year ago
Reply to  Demeter

Yes, more like President Donald Trump.

1 year ago

We could use more men like Adams, especially now.

Marc Ziegler
1 year ago

Adams was a thinker and a doer, not always right but always willing to try to make things right. Where are todays leaders, ones that will do the right thing to make this country better and safer not just pander to the lobbyists. It seems that todays politicians mostly think of how to get elected or re-elected, not how to truly represent the voters. God help us if we don’t get good patriotic, truthful leaders in our next elections. We all need to do what Adams would of done, look at all issues and make the decision on how it would makes America better and also serve the best interests of the voters. MZ

1 year ago
Reply to  Marc Ziegler

Seems like politicians only want to please the rich who giving over and under the table. Don’t bite the hand that is feeding you.

1 year ago

Thank you for the article. It would be nice to get another leader(s) for the nation again The current leadership needs to be ter****ted>

Bill on the Hill
1 year ago
Reply to  Max

Pray tell Max… Your wish may be granted. ” It Ain’t Over Till The Fat Lady Sings! ”
I do believe the well planned in advance utter catastrophe in Afghanistan will be this administrations undoing after all is said & done…I firmly believe the REMOVAL of all of them is an absolute…
Buckle up, it ain’t gunna be pretty & I say bring it on…
Bill on the Hill… :~)

1 year ago

A government shakeup is definitely needed in the executive, legislative, and upper military branches. Hopefully sooner than later.

1 year ago
Reply to  Max

Judiciary is still very sick and weak as well.

1 year ago

Bill on the Hill;
I’m new on these comments. It seems Republicans agree about at least two things. What you stated is one of them. The second is that, though there are very intelligent, even brilliant people on the Democrats side, they are duped by even more brilliantly packaged propaganda that keeps them on the ticket. We’ve seen many nations fall this way. On the first point, it’s stated, “Republicans need to do something!”. So what can “Average John/Jane” DO!!! DO you have a list of leaders and groups that ARE DOING SOMETHING significant so that I might at least support them intellectually and effectively?

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