John Adams

Article excerpt

David McCullough, John Adams, New York: Simon & Schuster, 2001.

David McCullough, the author of such important historical books as Truman and The Path Between the Seas, has succeeded in illuminating the American public about one of its most important Founding Fathers. John Adams, a huge national best-seller, would have made the old lawyer from Quincy very proud indeed. He no longer has to live in the shadows of the famous giants Washington, Jefferson or even Hamilton. So vital was his role in helping the new nation to get off its feet and stand on its own, Adams achieves the same heights of stardom.

Several books have already portrayed Adams and examined his role as a revolutionary leader, statesman and politician. Joseph Ellis, the author of Passionate Sage: The Life and Legacy of John Adams, supported the image of Adams as Jefferson's true contemporary and equal. One can also look at the writings of Adams himself to learn about the man and his mission. McCullough does not offer any revelations or scandals regarding the second chief-executive. Instead, he delivers an amazingly personal view of John Adams, a man with super-human intelligence and integrity who was at the center of world-changing events.

The book is arranged chronologically, beginning with a description of Quincy, Massachusetts, and the difficult education of John. A deeply religious man and adequate lawyer, Adams did not become known throughout the colonies until someone approached him in 1770, when he was only thirty-four, and requested that he take the case as the defender of a group of British soldiers accused of murdering five Bostonians on the cold night of March 5th. The event, known as the Boston Massacre, sealed the fate of John Adams as one who would now be intimately involved with the struggle for independence. His role in arguing for independence, helping to draft the Declaration, working behind the scenes in a thankless position as minister to the Netherlands show his devotion to the cause and his strengths. His role as the first ambassador to the Court of King George was also an extraordinary achievement.

As the vice-president, Adams had to contend with being in the shadows of Washington, Jefferson, and Hamilton. The difficulties and betrayals he endured only demonstrated his integrity and his sincere desire to rise above the trivial battles of politics and make sure that the new Republic would survive. The shoes he had to fill as the second president practically guaranteed him only one term in office, but during that one term he was able to avoid a major war with France, establish the American navy, and put necessary reins on Hamilton's ambitions. …