Thursday, October 16, 2008

John Adams is so cool.

If I could spend a day with a historical figure, John Adams would definitely be in my top 10.

ARG is doing an essay about responsibility, and I've been helping him research Founding Fathers who embodied that virtue. I found a book review I wrote a few years ago on John Adams and the Spirit of Liberty, and read my essay with fresh eyes. It was pretty good!

But aside from feeling proud of myself, I was struck again with what an awesomelysupercool guy Adams was. Here are a few reasons I think he merits that superlative:

- He was arguably THE most influential guy in terms of declaring independence from Great Britain, His reasoned and passionate speech at the Continental Congress was so powerful, it "moved us from our seats" (Jefferson) and convinced the delegates to vote for independence.

- Intellectually, he was a giant. His writings provided the foundation for the creation of our constitutional republic. He wrote the book (literally) on how to create a Constitution - and the reasons why. His passion was studying the forms of government, and understanding which ones (the ones based on the reality of human nature) were most likely to endure. Did you know that he wrote the Massachusetts constitution - the oldest working written constitution in the world? They're STILL using it!

- He believed that "Nature and truth or rather truth and right are invariable the same in all times and in all places." Amen.

- He recognized his own desire for fame, but he knew the difference between acting honorably, and simply being honored. Time after time he sacrificed his own success in order to do the right thing.

- Constantly scrutinizing his own inner life, he strove to ferret out imperfections. "May I blush whenever I suffer one hour to pass unimproved." Can you imagine the implications of a commitment like that in your own life? Whew!

- He passionately loved his wife Abigail and was faithful to (though often absent from) her.

- His definition of "liberty" rocks. Liberty is "freedom from foreign domination, freedom from unjust government action, freedom from other individuals, and finally, freedom from the tyranny of oneself. In short, ... self-government in the fullest sense." For Adams, liberty allows people to rule themselves, so they don't have to be ruled by someone else. Love it!

- He was NOT a fan of democracy: "Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself."

- He got to live his dream. Even though he knew history would not idolize him like Washington and Jefferson, he understood that he had lived at a time when the greatest lawgivers of antiquity would have wished to live. "How few of the human race have ever enjoyed an opportunity of making an election of government...for themselves and their children?" His whole life's mission was achieved at this defining moment in history, would impact million of people and their progeny, and he knew it. Pretty cool.

- He died on the same day as Jefferson: July 4 (!), 1826. Cue the Twilight Zone music. They had been great friends, then bitter enemies, then great friends again in old age. Some day I hope to have the time to read the Adams-Jefferson letters.

I just love him. He is so cool.

Which historical figure would you like to spend a day with?


Anonymous said...

Maybe Aristotle, Spartacus, or Madison.


Beth said...

Hi Sue,

I have been thinking a lot about John Adams lately. Also George Washington. I am fantasizing about having a sign made for my front lawn in bold red, white and blue: "George Washington and John Adams for President"

Thanks for the great quotes and synopsis.


Beth said...

More thoughts:

Here is the entire citation for teh book you mentioned, along with a link to a review which has an excellant summary anda thoughtfull critique:
C. Bradley Thompson. John Adams and the Spirit of Liberty. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1998. 340 pp. $39.95 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-7006-0915-4.

I read this book several years ago and came to admire John Adams immensely.
I'd love to read your essay if you'd be so kind as to email it.

Sue said...

ARG - You know who Sparticus was?

Beth - Make a sign for me too! I want one!