Monday, February 15, 2010

JOHN ADAMS, 1735-1826


John Adams can safely be said to have had a very controversial presidency. He was at first, forced to follow George Washington, the "Father of his Country." How could he realistically succeed in this endeavor? After all, he was the Second president, not the first. If Washington was the face of the American Revolution, John Adams could certainly lay claim to being the spirit of the revolution. Thomas Jefferson seized the role of the voice of the revolution, much to John Adam's chagrin. He was every bit as good a writer and was certainly Jefferson's equal, if not superior intellectually.

John Adams, as president, was buffeted from all sides with crises. First, the French Revolution had led to a war in Europe mainly between the revolutionary French government and Great Britain, along with other European monarchies seeking to save the monarchial system. In America, political parties were born, dividing into the Federalists of Adams and Hamilton and the anti-Federalists of Jefferson. Hamilton was a loose constructionist who saw implied powers in the constitution, while Jefferson was a strict constructionist who saw only those powers as written. Adams was caught between the battle of the these two titans. The Federalists were spoiling for war with France owing to several factors, foremost among them the XYZ Affair and the national humiliation at the hands of their former ally.

The country was basically divided into the two camps, both spoiling for war, and Adams was caught in the middle. He was always sensitive to criticism and this sensitivity culminated in the Alien and Sedition Acts. The most insidious of these was the Sedition Act which made it illegal to criticize the government and the president. Obviously, a blatant violation of the First Amendment. This misstep cost Adams more than anything else. Jefferson and Madison put forth the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions in opposition to the Acts and gave rise to the compact theory and nullification that became the basis for the seccession of the Confederacy at the beginning of the Civil War. This cost Adams a second term and caused a rift between he and Jefferson that lasted into the 18 teens. They eventually reconciled and carried on an active letter writing relationship reuniting the two greatest men of the revolutionary age, that endured to their dying day.

Adams, to his everlasting credit finally negotiated a treaty with the French, ending the Quasi-War, 1798-1800 and saving the US from a devastating war that more than likely would have ended the American experiment at the beginning. We owe Adams for the steady hand with which he guided the country at its inception. He had a single misstep with the Alien and Sedition Acts. After that he did the best for his country and guided it to a successful conclusion of the European problems that threatened the world.

On top of all that, he was the first president to live in the White House, or Executive Mansion as it was called. And we can't leave Adams without a nod to Abigail who kept the family together through all the absences of John and really operated their family farm better than John ever could. She was his most trusted advisor. Take the time to read their letters to each other and you will be made part of one of the greatest love stories in American history.

By the way, let's put something to rest right here. The Founding Fathers were not uniformly rich, white, slaveholders. Adams was a lawyer with a farm that barely survived each year. He and his northern brethren appalled slavery and only agreed to punt the problem 20 years down the road in the constitution in order to form a compromise and get the constitution approved. Nineteen out of the fifty-five delegates owned slaves, a definite minority. It gives the lie to the historical revisionists that want to paint them as rich, white guys with little connection to the people. They were the people.

The fact that most of the Founding Fathers held property should be proof that had they not had a large amount of civic virtue the country would have been stillborn. We owe them for our very existance. They deserve to be revered and they rightfully are. The wisdom of John Adams:

But what do we mean by the American Revolution? Do we mean the American war? The Revolution was effected before the war commenced. The Revolution was in the minds and hearts of the people; a change in their religious sentiments, of their duties and obligations...This radical change in the principles, opinions, sentiments, and affections of the people was the real American Revolution.

John Adams, letter to H. Niles, February 13, 1818


John Adams and Thomas Jefferson both died on July 4, 1826, the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. It is fitting that the two who conferred in its writing died on the 50th anniversary of the Declaration. It is only fitting.

20 comments:

Brooke said...

Although our Founding Fathers had opposing views on what is best for this country, they always did what was best for it.

I wish I could say that about our leaders now.

Oso said...

L&O,
A couple key building blocks for my wall of knowledge.
Thank you

Ducky's here said...

I was shocked to discover that Benjamin Franklin's grandson died awaiting trial under the Sedition act.

Seems we've always been a little casual about Habeus Corpus?

PRH....... said...

More good stuff.....how are you enjoying the Dayton Winter? Can't remember the last time you guys had more snow south of I-70 than we do north?

Z said...

I've been saying what Brooke said here for a few years now...she just put it better..bravo, Brooke.

And Bravo to you, Law and Order..another excellent piece. I've got the John Adams series here from Netflix and haven't watched it yet for weeks..you whetted my appetite. Thanks.
But, as liberals like to remind us, even if these founding fathers weren't all rich, they had slaves and that discounts them immediately from having done ANYTHING GOOD (yes, sarcasm here) xx
Oh, and it appears Franklin's grandson died awaiting trial under the Sedition Act...better discount ANYTHING Franklin ever did good, too.
oy

MadMike said...

Excellent historical post. I enjoyed it immensely. Thanks.

Law and Order Teacher said...

Brooke,
Thanks for the visit. It did seem that civic virtue was much more prevalent than it is now. That, to our everlasting shame.

Oso,
Any time. I thank you for your visits.

Ducky,
It would seem so at times, no? Habeus Corpus as a doctrine isn't absolute and the constitution speaks to that. It's a shame that at times it has been enforced casually, as you say. Thanks for the visit.

Pat,
I'm shoveling my ass off. I'm tired and feeling my age. This surely the most we've had for a long time.

Z,
I hate that you are right about our brethern on the left. As for Franklin, he was long dead when his son was jailed. He died in 1790, the Alien and Sedition Acts were passed in 1798. One thing he can't be blamed for. Franklin was an interesting guy, who I'll post about soon.

MMA,
Thanks for the visit. I appreciate you reading it.

Tapline said...

L&O teach, Great Post......as usual, you do your homework.....stay well...

Octopüß said...

Law & Order Teacher,

This is an off-topic inquiry (hope you don't mind). There are a number bloggers, both liberal and conservative, who wish to engage in honest debate over a wide range of issues ... in a private and civil forum - members only ... without the harassment of inflammatory trolls.

We would like you join our group. We need conservative bloggers to join in this effort. We value your voice.

If interested, please contact me (hint: profile page).

Carl Wicklander said...

Law and Order Teacher,

I've been busy lately so I'm catching up on your blog and I must say that I have enjoyed this series immensely.

I am a great admirer of John Adams, the Alien and Sedition Acts notwithstanding.

I particularly admire the way he kept the country out of the Napoleonic Wars. In a grave injustice, news of the peace didn't reach in time to save Adams from electoral defeat in 1800.

Oso said...

Hi Z and Law & Order,
I suppose I would have to place myself among those who feel being a slaveholder precludes one from doing anything good.

I understand you are people with deep regard for the constitution and it's process as well as the Founding Fathers.That's why I don't insult your intelligence with tales of the horrors of slavery, you know that and abhor it;You understand certain human failings do not render ones other deeds meaningless.

When I was a teenager I went to the library and looked for a copy of the Declaration of Independence. I did not believe what someone had told me, that it referred to "Merciless Indian Savages". When I saw that it really did say that, I was stunned. I had to sit down and read it several times till my mind accepted it.

I've never really gotten over that, seeing that written down in a revered document that American patriots view as being almost sacred. It's colored my view of our history since.

I had to write this. I couldn't let it go. It isn't meant as an attack on deeply held faith and beliefs which you guys hold.

I'm sure there are individuals who will attack your belief in these documents out of partisan politics or maybe just lack of reverence for history. This isn't what I'm doing, it goes deeper than that. I don't know if I'm explaining this well.

The Vegas Art Guy said...

Very nice article. I have new respect for him.

Law and Order Teacher said...

Tap,
Thanks for your visit, brother.

Octopus,
I'll get on the site and check it out. Thanks for the invite. Open debate is a good thing.

Carl,
As usual I'm appreciative of your visit. Adams was truly a real patriot who sacrificed his presidency to his principles. Not often done today, yes?

Vegas,
Thanks for the visit. I'm glad you look at Adams differently now.

Oso,
Where to begin. First, I would never think that you don't revere your country. As for the language of the document, let me begin with this.

I tell my students to never, ever take history out of its context. These people viewed race differently than we did. Having said that, its a tough thing to get by, I agree.

But you must know from a historical point of view, the Indians (Native Americans) were a wild card in the game for dominance of North America. The battle was between the English and the French.

There was series of four French and Indian wars over time between the French and the English. The English employed the Indians (NAs) as allies in the battles to suppress the French and the Americans.

The French and Indian War, we know was fought from 1754-1763. In Europe, it was called the Seven Years War, from 1756-1763. The aim of the war was North American dominance. The colonists (Future Americans) were generally on the side of the English.

Both sides employed Indian fighters as mercenaries, in a sense, against the other. The main fighters of the war were American colonists. The Indians were interested in stemming the tide of western expansion of the Americans.

They were not pleasant in their resistance to the expansion. The French and English were not pleasant either. When it was all said and done in 1763 and the English had won, the Americans were expected to pay their fair share for the defense of the colonies against the enemy, the French and the Indians.

What ensued throughout the 1760s was a series of taxes and what the colonists felt was oppressive actions by the Parliament and King George III. Hence the slogan, "No Taxation without Representation."

To the colonists and the Founding Fathers, the oppression of the Parliament, the King, and their surrogates, the Indians, was all the same. The section of the Declaration to which you refer, is the Bill of Charges and is given to hyperbole in some instances. But to the colonists, this is how they saw it.

They were subject to atrocities by the French and the Indians. That's the genesis of this clause. After all, it blames George III for slavery. The Indians to them were savages who they fought in war and they used that language in the Bill of Charges.

To put it in perspective, think of the terms used by Americans and their allies in reference to the Germans, Italians, and Japanese. War is a tough business and is given to bad language. I am guilty of that myself. Although I will apologize for it, I don't regret it. War has a way of pissing you off.

I hope I have put it in perspective for you. I appreciate your thoughts and as usual, you are thoughful in your post. Please challenge me if you think my meager explanation is lacking.

Good day.

Oso said...

Law and Order,
I appreciate your response, the historical background and explanation of the three factions and their relationship is helpful.

Objectively interesting, subjectively helpful. Objectively more fodder for my reading, to understand history at a global level.

Subjectively it helps as well.It's easier to accept and understand an entities actions when one views those actions as having been in some ways a mirror of your own (peoples)struggle for survival.

I hope you have a relaxing weekend my friend.

Law and Order Teacher said...

Oso,
It is interesting reading your struggle with the founding of America. From your perspective I'm sure that the clean, white history of America isn't so clean and white.

From my perspective as a historian, it isn't either. Believe me. I tell my students that in history, 2+2 doesn't always equal four.

I want to tell you that I don't always agree with what happened in history, I'm just reporting the facts with some perspective. As I continue on with this series, I will undoubtedly feature some characters that you will not be happy with.

Shortly, we must discuss Andrew Jackson. He is controversial to Native Americans, but he is certainly a very large figure in American history. I will press on and risk your ire. But that's what historical study is all about.

Thanks for your faithful readership.

Z said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Z said...

Oso, nice to see you here and I respect your opinion and can't add anything to Law and Order's excellent explanation about that comment re Indians, of course.....re slavery, the founding fathers knew they couldn't throw that into the mix as well when they were trying to grow a country which they hoped, after its growth, would quickly and finally get rid of that awful custom.


L&0, I just finally saw most of the HBO John Adams series..(fell and hurt my knee so I've had two days to just sit and watch, how wonderful!)...It is one of THE BEST series I've ever seen and I learned more about the founding fathers than i ever did, or ever remembered?, from school. I think high school kids should be required to watch it...it brings it to life .. I just loved it.

Oso said...

Law and Order,
I look forward to the Jackson post. I understand he had trouble with the Eastern moneyed interests and also believe he opposed the establishment of a central bank?

I believe I now fully understand your purpose here,reporting the facts and offering perspective. With that understanding, I will get even more from these writings.

I thank you for taking the time to explain things.

Z, I'm sorry to hear you injured a knee but am cheered that you put the injury to good use.

Law and Order Teacher said...

Z,
Sorry about your injury. But if you got an appreciation for Adams it may have almost been worth it. Maybe? I'm moving on to Andrew Jackson. Hope you'll read it. Thanks.

Oso,
I'm reading another book about Jackson that I've almost finished. Probably sometime today I'll post on him. I eagerly await your comments on him. Thanks for reading.

Z said...

thanks, Guys...the injury's better than I and my doc had feared.
And it WAS worth it just to have mandated the time to have to SIT and watch John Adams..it's absolutely AMAZINGLY educational and interesting. I highly recommend it.