Tuesday, June 9, 2009

POTUS #2: The great and unsung Mr. Adams

June 9, 2009
Posted by Noah

As far as the pantheon of American Presidents go, John Adams – our estimable second Commander-In-Chief – gets surprisingly few props. I’ll grant that the man wasn’t the most charismatic of our early leaders, and certainly not the most entertaining, but I humbly submit to you now that the man was, and is, our most underrated early leader. Without his contributions, the United States would have never survived into its second decade, and many of the policies that have kept this nation safe and prosperous would never have come to pass.

Why John Adams on an overcast Tuesday, you ask?

I’ve made known my love of early American history in these digital pages before, so it shouldn’t come as any surprise. I’ve also recently been reading James McCullough’s thoroughly brilliant Pulitzer Prize-winning biography of Adams, and the picture it paints of the mercurial New Englander is as compelling as that of any historic figure. He may have served one term as President, but his overall lifetime of service to America – specifically his role in the Revolutionary War in the Continental Congress and as our first Secretary of State after independence – amount to one of the greatest lives this nation has ever seen.

It also helps that, working at Heritage, there has been – and will be, surely – a healthy dose of John Adams-related material that comes through our doors. All I can say is, lucky us!

There have indeed been several high profile lots of John Adams material, mostly in the way of letters and personal writings, the most spectacular of which is also the lot with his name on it that has fetched the highest price, some $22,000+: It is a John Adams signed letter to an unknown recipient in which he discusses the meaning of the word “Republic,” as well as his longtime political rival and close friend –despite some very bumpy periods – Thomas Jefferson (it’s interesting to note that Adams and Jefferson both died on the same day in the same year, July 4, 1826, rather appropriate for such great and different Americans).

He writes: "Of republicks [sic] the varieties are infinite, or at least as numerous, as the tunes and changes that can be rung upon a complete sett [sic] of Bells. -- Of all the Varitety's [sic], a Democracy is the most rational - the most ancient - and the most fundamental - and essential of all others. -- In some writing of other of mine I happened -- current... to drop the phrase --'the word Republic as it is used may signify - any thing -- everything or nothing' -- From this escape I have been pelted for twenty or thirty years - with as many stones, as even were throw'n at St Steven - when St Paul held the clothes of the Stoners - but the aphorism is literal, strict, solemn truth…”

It goes on at some length, and I encourage you to read the whole description by clicking the link above.

There is also an excellent John Adams Manuscript in next week’s Historic Manuscripts auction.

No mention of John Adams is complete without speaking of his beloved wife, and also one of the greatest Americans to ever live, Abigail Adams. We have not had a tremendous amount of Abigail-related material come through Heritage, though there are a lot of commemorative coins in her name, which is a shame, as she is the model for America’s first ladies. She was as wise and brilliant as she was beautiful, and as Adams himself said many times in his long life, she provided ballast and counsel to the excitable second president.

If in my minor scribbling here today I can make you take moment and consider the greatness of John Adams – even if you already know it – then my work here will be complete. We are indeed a lucky nation to have had architects of democracy as amazing as we did so long ago, and chief among them – a man certainly on equal footing with his contemporaries of greater renown – was the estimable Mr. Adams.

Click on the title of this post to leave a comment.

-Noah Fleisher

No comments:

Post a Comment