The Brusque, Essential Founding Father from Massachusetts Who Kept the Nation Afloat

Article excerpt


It is frequently remarked that of all the American Founding Fathers, we have most often neglected the contributions of John Adams. But that cannot be true - for we remember him more fondly and frequently than Alexander Hamilton, George Mason, Patrick Henry, James Otis, James Wilson and other major figures of the Revolution. Only George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and at times James Madison have a higher status in our pantheon of early heroes. Adams was of course in the minds of his colleagues an "Atlas of Independence," a true colossus before and during the war.

He embodied the revolutionary impulse that animated the contentious New Englanders, without the insane outbursts of Otis or the endless nasty intrigues of his cousin, Samuel Adams. John Adams was the figure who nominated the Virginian, George Washington, to lead the armies and thus made the Revolution a national effort. Adams was the delegate who insisted that Jefferson hold the pen that wrote the Declaration of Independence. And it was Adams whom the rebellious colonies sent to France and then to the Netherlands to help cement the French alliance and to borrow desperately-needed money from the Dutch.

The author of this volume calls him sarcastically a "junk bond dealer." His colleagues were often put off by his candor, and Benjamin Franklin, who loved to be loved, said that Adams was an honest man, a wise man, but sometimes out of his senses. James Grant has given us a rather comprehensive account of Adams' career; it is a fitting companion to David McCullough's masterful biography of a few years ago. But this study reflects Mr. Grant's own personal interests, as when he explores the financial history of the times in depth, and Adams' remarkable efforts to keep the new American nation afloat during the long war. Mr. Grant is no stranger to money and its charms; he is the editor of "Grant's Interest Rate Observer."

More than most authors, he stresses Adams' evolution from the grandson of a Puritan pastor to being a near Unitarian who believed in God, but not in the divinity of Jesus, who stressed the role of Providence in history, and who in the end reached an accommodation with the ideas of religious toleration. In his years in Europe, he often expressed his deep anti-Catholicism, a dislike for Roman Catholic institutions, and a contempt for its clergy and customs. In that disdain, he reflected the views of the Protestantism of his time and class. …