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Posts Tagged ‘John Adams’

It was on January 24, 1776:

In the cold, nearly colorless light of a New England winter, two men on horseback traveled the coast road below Boston, heading north. A foot or more of snow covered the landscape, the remnants of a Christmas storm that had blanketed Massachusetts from one end of the province to the other. Beneath the snow, after weeks of severe cold, the ground was frozen solid to a depth of two feet. Packed ice in the road, ruts as hard as iron, made the going hazardous, and the riders, mindful of the horses, kept at a walk.

— John Adams, by David McCullough – opening paragraph of the book. See my review here.

When John Adams embarked on a journey from Boston to Philadelphia in the winter of 1776, he faced over two months of travel on horseback. He had to leave in the bitter winter to be there in the spring for the session of the Continental Congress that year. He could make such a journey only once a year at best, and while he was gone, his wife and children at home had to fend for themselves.

Along the journey he had to find shelter every night in an inn or private home. Not only did he need to find room and board every night for himself, but he also needed to take care of stabling for his horse. The expenses for such a trip were enormous, and the physical hardship of being on horseback outside, in the winter, in all weather, on terrible “roads” must have been crushing. But John Adams did it, and certainly thousands of other travelers along the route did too.

This morning at about 6:30am I boarded a flight from Boston to Philadelphia. Once airborne, the flight took one hour and four minutes.

If I could have told John Adams that I would, some 240 years hence, enter an aluminum tube with about a hundred other passengers, which would travel at close to the speed of sound at 30,000 feet of elevation, high above the clouds, he would not have been able to believe me. Yet, here I am, writing this blog post, with a hot cup of coffee next to me. I am warm, comfortable, and even a little sleepy.

To John Adams, this would have been indistinguishable from magic.

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The news is full of statements by politicians and everyday citizens which are “disrespectful” of the president. Some people say this has got worse over the last few years. Reading history and historical biography books I recognized that making fun of the president is as old as the institution of the presidency itself.

Here is what they said about John Adams, when he tried to push for an elaborate title for the president:

At the start of Washington’s administration, Adams became deeply involved in a month-long Senate controversy over the official title of the President. Adams favored grandiose titles such as “His Majesty the President” or “His High Mightiness, the President of the United States and Protector of Their Liberties.” The plain “President of the United States” eventually won the debate. The perceived pomposity of his stance, along with his being overweight, led to Adams earning the nickname “His Rotundity.”

— Wikipedia

And Ben Franklin liked to refer to Adams as “Your Superfluous Excellency.” I am sure His Rotundity had some appropriate answers to Ben Franklin.

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Sink or Swim, Live or Die, Survive or Perish, I give my heart and my hand to this vote. It is true indeed that in the beginning we did not aim for Independence, but there is a Divinity that shapes our ends. Why then should we defer the declaration? You and I indeed may rue it. We may not live to see the time when this declaration shall be made good. We may die; die Colonists or die Slaves. Be it so, be it so. If it be the pleasure of Heaven that my country shall require the poor offering of my life, the victim shall be ready. But while I do live, let me have a country, or at least the hope of a country, and that a free country.

But whatever may be our fate, be assured that this declaration will stand. It may cost treasure and it may cost blood, but it will stand and richly compensate for both. Through the gloom of the present, I see the brightness of the future, like the sun in heaven. We shall make this a glorious and immortal day. When we are in our graves our children will honor it. They will celebrate it with thanksgiving and festivities, with bonfires and illuminations.

Before God I believe that the hour has come. My judgment approves this measure and my whole heart is in it. All that I have, all that I am, and all that I hope in this life I am now ready to stake on it and leave off as I began. Live or die, survive or perish, I am for this declaration. It is my living sentiment and by the blessing of God it will be my dying sentiment. Independence now, Independence forever.

The “Bonfires and Illuminations” is the original hint that we should have fireworks on July 4th every year. “Festivities” must then refer to barbeques and “Thanksgiving” reminds me on a daily basis that I should be grateful to be allowed to live safely in a great country, and that I should strive daily to keep it that way.

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John Adams

Every now and then I read a book that changes my life, meaning I read different books from that point forward, or I change my views, or I take up new activities. McCullough’s Pulitzer Prize-winning masterpiece, John Adams, is such a book. A tour de force in storytelling, McCullough starts unfolding the life of John Adams on January 24, 1776:

In the cold, nearly colorless light of a New England winter, two men on horseback traveled the coast road below Boston, heading north. A foot or more of snow covered the landscape, the remnants of a Christmas storm that had blanketed Massachusetts from one end of the province to the other. Beneath the snow, after weeks of severe cold, the ground was frozen solid to a depth of two feet. Packed ice in the road, ruts as hard as iron, made the going hazardous, and the riders, mindful of the horses, kept at a walk.

This very first paragraph in the bookstore roped in my attention and the book never let go of me.

Since it’s a fairly big and thick paperback, I put it aside a few times when I picked up other books more suitable to put into my briefcase for travels, finishing those, and then coming back to it later. So it took longer to read than some other books. I just finished the book yesterday before going to sleep, and I found my dreams thrashing between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson.

It tells the story of John and his wife Abigail, an American revolutionary family and a love story quite unlike any in history. I got to know and love the man and the times, and often driving down the road or sitting in an airliner I found myself wishing I could sit next to John Adams and show him the world and the country that he helped create.

As I am writing about this I am literally overwhelmed by how much I have to say, to share, to elaborate on, just to talk about this one book, and I realize that I cannot do what I want to do simply because it would take another 700 pages, another book, and that’s just not my place.

To give you a feeling of what reading John Adams did to my thinking, I will share thought vignettes and hopefully you get the gist. I will publish those in a series of posts following this one, each titled “American Revolution Vignette” and focusing on a different subject, contrasting our time to the days of the founding of our country. Take it as a miniseries of book review posts. That’s the best I can do.

Besides the story of John Adams, I also got to learn much more about Thomas Jefferson, who was Adams’ contemporary, albeit seven years younger. Only 32 years old at the time, Jefferson was the “pen” of the Declaration of Independence, while Adams was the “voice.” They shared a lifelong friendship, which was at its peak while they were together as envoys in Paris and London in the years between 1780 and 1785. From friendship they transitioned to seeming arch enemies while they were both presidents, first Adams, then Jefferson. After many years of little or no contact, they resumed their correspondence after retirement. For another 20 years, even though they never saw each other again, they corresponded frequently and intensely for the rest of their lives.

On July 4th 1826, 50 years to the day of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson died at 1:00pm at his home in Monticello, Virginia, and Adams died a little after 6:00pm in Quincy, Massachusetts. Neither man knew about the other’s death. Jefferson was 83, Adams 90. An epoch in American history ended that day.

And now that I am done reading the book, I am allowing myself to order the HBO miniseries based on this work, and that will be another  review.

Let me say that reading David McCullough’s John Adams has me interested in reading biographies of all presidents, and having read one of Teddy Roosevelt and with another book on Franklin D. Roosevelt on my nightstand, I have about 41 to go.

Inspired am I?

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