Y'all. I feel like I should just wait and post this recap on the Fourth of July because America. John Adams was a patriot down to his marrow. He probably bled red, white, and blue. I mean, he died on the 4th of July 1826--50 years to the day of the signing of the Declaration of Independence which he signed, and many people credit him as the driving force behind the Declaration. Come. On.
Anyway, John Adams by David McCullough published in 2001 is (of the three presidential biographies I've read so far) far and away the best one yet. It has the perfect balance between being detailed and thorough while not crossing the line into exhausting and boring. His Excellency, while interesting and readable, lacked the detail I really appreciate in a good biography, and TR, while certainly educational and comprehensive, was a bear to get through.
And here's another thing: I learned so much. I think that American history is unfortunately dying in this country and in our school systems, and that grieves me. A wise person once said that if we cannot remember the past, we are condemned to repeat it. I can feel myself starting down a rabbit hole here so before we go there, I'll just say that our second president, John Adams, is a largely forgotten man in history. Sandwiched between historical giants like Washington and Jefferson, Adams often gets overlooked, in my opinion. I didn't even realize before reading his biography that he only served one term as president, not two.
Some of the greatest accomplishments of his life were actually achieved in the years before his presidency as he fought hard for American independence from England. For example, John Adams was the one who nominated George Washington to command the Continental Army. He also wrote the constitution of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts which is the oldest functioning written constitution in the world. Then, he went overseas and established the first American embassy anywhere in the world (in Holland), and on his own initiative he petitioned for and secured an essential Dutch loan during the Revolutionary War which established the foundation for American credit in Europe. As far as diplomacy goes, he won the greatest victory in American history by negotiating the Paris Peace Treaty along with Benjamin Franklin and John Jay.
During his presidency, despite the country dividing into pretty mean-spirited, malicious political parties, he managed to stay above the fray and carry out his role with dignity (for the most part), he was scandal-free (which is more than we can say for a lot of our nation's presidents), he appointed one of the greatest Supreme Court Chief Justices in our country's history (John Marshall), and he secured peace with France during the bloody French Revolution even though America was screaming for war which most certainly would have been a death sentence to our fledgling nation. And not only did he win peace with France, he did it while still promoting and advocating that the country strengthen its defenses by building the Navy, an idea that so many of his time couldn't reconcile with his also wanting to achieve peace. He really was a visionary.
On top of all this, he was a true blue family man and a Christian. He and his wife literally wrote thousands of letters to one another during their many separations. He was a hardworking lawyer and farmer, and he lived his whole life economically within his means. He was just a really good guy all around, and I am a fan. Obviously he was human and certainly not without his faults, but I really enjoyed reading about his life, and I appreciate the integrity with which he lived.
I definitely recommend this biography of John Adams. This is an enjoyable book to read and it's rich with history. Adams lived not only through the American Revolutionary War but the French Revolution and the War of 1812 as well so there's a lot in there. Worth your time, for sure.
Do you know much about John Adams? Who is your favorite president? Do you think our country is failing to properly educate the next generation about our history? Do you think studying history is important or a waste of time? Come at me, bro, I can take it.