John Adams, by David McCullough
The book, John Adams, by David McCullough, is a powerfully written biography of one of our nations greatest heroes. This biography explores Adams life in great depth, unveiling a side to his life unbeknownst to those who have never studied his life in great detail. Through diary entries, letters, and various other documents, the reader grasps a sense of what Adams day to day life was like, and is also able to grasp the enormity of his lifetime accomplishments.
In the battle for independence from Great Britain, the founding forefathers of our country came together, uniting for a common cause they would end up fighting for with their lives. Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Samuel Adams, James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and many others take part of this panoramic chronicle of Adams life, all coming together because of their devotion to their country.
In particular, of these men, Thomas Jefferson especially is exposed, and his relationship with Adams is explored, as it is a crucial fluctuating one. Though born opposites, they forge a relationship as diplomats, and as close friends, only after meeting and working together, however. In a letter to James Madison, before Jefferson first went to France to work with Adams, he likens him to a poisonous weed. After becoming great friends in Paris, however he writes back to Madison, He is so amiable that I pronounce you will love him if ever you become acquainted with him. Later on though, as the advent of political parties comes into being, and during the intense struggle for the presidency of the election of 1800, the two become archrivals. Incredibly, after this, they become close friends once again, and amazingly die on the same day.
The other relationship described in great detail was that which he shared with his wife, Abigail Adams. Through all the times he spent away from her, working arduously for the freedom he was so determined to secure for the thirteen colonies, they stayed strongly attached, and wrote numerous letters to one another, many of which are shared. He writes to her while in Congress, one time sharing with her, We live, my dear soul, in an age of trial. What will be the consequence, I know not. She encourages him, giving him her approval and support, in one letter writing, You cannot be, I know, nor do I wish to see you, an inactive spectator.We have too many high sounding words, and too few actions that correspond with them. (p.21) Most of the times, they addressed each other using such words as My dearest friend. She also, from time to time, requests different things from him, that she can use to barter for the various needs at home. Coming together only during winter, when Congress is not in session, it was obviously hard for Adams not to become occasionally depressed without his Portia, another name Abigail used to sign her letters. During his years in congress, Adams becomes distinguished in the revolution. As head of the Board of War, which met every morning and evening, he would have been busy enough. However, he was constantly on the floor in Congress, arguing for the things he passionately cared for, in between those meetings. He also belonged to numerous committees, of which was the Committee of Five, that which drafted the constitution. Throughout this time, Adams corresponds regularly with Abigail, and on his next winter at home, he resolves that he will not return to congress. However, when he is soon later elected to be a third commissioner to France to replace Silas Deane, they spend their first winter apart, Adams brings John Quincy, their eldest. He arrives only to learn in astonishment that before he had even set foot on French soil, his very purpose of the mission- to assist in negotiations for an alliance between the US and France, has already been accomplished. Despite these circumstances, he and his son stay in Paris for awhile, getting much accomplished, and leave not knowing how soon they would return. Hardly a week after his arrival back in Braintree, his town chooses him as a delegate to the state constitutional convention. There, out of some 250 delegates, he is chosen to draft the State Constitution. He proceeds to write what is now the worlds oldest functioning constitution, that of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. A short three months after arrival back in the states, Adams is once again summoned to France, to serve as minister plenipotentiary, to negotiate treaties of peace and commerce with Great Britain. This time he brings along John Quincy, as well as the nine year old Charles. This time in France, Adams gets much accomplished, he amazingly gets the Dutch to loan money to the US, a major accomplishment. After four years, by which time his two sons have left John Quincy to see some of Europe, and Charles to go back home- Abigail and John reunite, when she and their daughter, Nabby come to Europe. During their time there, Adams gets much accomplished in the peacemaking process, with Jeffersons help as well, and takes part of the important Paris Peace Treaty. Ten years after first stepping into Europe, having left in the midst of war and returning after five years of peace, John returns to his hometown of Braintree with Abigail. He is given a heros welcome upon arrival, and is eventually elected Vice-President. However, Adams starts off his term horribly, having much to do, surprisingly, with seemly silly debate of how to address the President. Adams believes everything possible should be done to bring dignity and respect to the central government and thus strengthen the union. It is his thought that Washington should be called His Majesty the President, or something of the sort. However, the House of Representatives, as well as the Senate, agrees on something a bit simpler, The President of the United States. However, because of this long and somewhat ridiculous debate, Adams would be mistaken for a monarchist, and he would have to fight to rid himself of the reputation. Privately knowing of the bad start he had had, he yearns for Abigail to join him in New York, the capital at the time. She comes, and they live together happily at their new home, close to their daughter Nabby, and their grandchildren. They are stricken by the news of the French Revolution, as well as the change of the capital, to Philadelphia. Amidst of all this, Jefferson and Adams become entangled in a debate having to do with the press, Thomas Paine, and the French Revolution. During the second term of Johns Presidency, Abigail decides to stay in Braintree (by now the part they live in has been renamed Qunicy), and they return to their corresponding by letters. Two years after debating, Jefferson and Adams rekindle their relationship after Jefferson resigns as Secretary of State. However, as the draw of Washingtons term comes to an end, and he evidently wants to resign, Adams and Jefferson, once again, take up opposite roles, Adams as a federalist, and Jefferson as a Republican. Caustic remarks are made of the other, by the different parties, in what is the first presidential election with two parties in opposition, an entirely new experience for the country. However, when the outcome seems to be that Adams would win, everything changes. Overnight, he begins being treated differently, with more respect, and even Jefferson writes him a letter with his warmest praises and confidences. However, that letter is never sent out, as it is first forwarded to Madison, who is appalled by its characteristics. Nonetheless, Adams is elected, and the next crisis comes: the handling of the French. At his pleading, Abigail comes to live with him, after his mother passes away. She writes to her sister a short while later, The task of the President is very arduous, very perplexing, and very hazardous. I do not wonder Washington wished to retire from it. However, during Adams term as presidency, much is accomplished. He gives his country peace at a time when war is expected, and he is greatly revered. He lives on to see his son inaugurated as president.
David McCullough, the author of this book, seems to have always been interested in the Founding Fathers. He wants his readers to gain a sense of the realness of these people, who worked so hard for it to be free. He says, We call them the Founding Fathers, in tribute, but tend to see them as distant and a bit unreal, like figures in a costume pageant. Yet very real they were, real as all that stirred their hearts and minds, and it as meaning in our time as never before. The reason he may have chosen John Adams to write about as opposed to Adams co-revolutionaries, is the number of primary sources relating to Adams. Many of the letters were found at the Massachusetts Historical Society, there were letters between John and Abigail Adams, Abigail and her sister, and numerous others. Johns diary entries also made a nice addition to the story, building up to the realness of this man. This book was first published in 2001, in New York. Though probably released before the September 11 attacks, it is assurable that if it had been released after, the direct correlation of the American hero would be made of John Adams. I think that the authors goal, in writing this book, is to present the reality of this particular co-revolutionary, which through all the primary documents especially, he was very successful in doing. The single most memorable thing that I learned about were the relationships that Adams had, with other familiar names. This book had really helped me to understand the happenings that went on in the life period of Adams, but also really just how all these historical co-revolutionaries and Founding Fathers were all related.
On a whole, I found that the scholarly reviews of this book were very positive. Most of the responses of other scholars were those of praise and commendation on such a great book, an interesting and valid view on the life of John Adams.
Gelles, Edith. The Adams Phenomenon. November 2001. http://
(05 January 2002)
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