Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Second President Gets His Due - 200 Years Later

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Second President Gets His Due - 200 Years Later

Article excerpt

He was short, stout, abrasive, and grumpy. His presidency lasted only one term; his political party, only a few years longer. He told people truths they didn't want to hear, bluntly.

All that helps account for why the man dubbed by Thomas Jefferson "the colossus of independence" is a century or two late in getting his own memorial in Washington.

But, suddenly, Founding Father John Adams is enjoying an acclaim unlike anything he experienced - or expected - in his lifetime.

And in a city where monuments spark furious controversy, the proposal to honor him is on a fast track to marble and granite.

"It's long overdue. There is no other American - no other patriot- with the exception of George Washington, who did more toward winning the Revolution and establishing our republican form of government than John Adams," says biographer David McCullough. Three weeks after its publication, his "John Adams" is in its eighth printing and breaking sales records. (See review, page 15.)

Any one of his principles for a new nation would justify a monument: a nation of laws and not men, equality before the law, separation of powers, an independent judiciary, the "duty" of governments to educate everyone.

But what is prompting the surge of interest and affection for this man is more a result of his character than his political theories. In recent years, the portraits of other revolutionary heroes - most notably Jefferson - have become more complicated. Adams, a loving husband and the only Founding Father not to own slaves, remains a man of solid virtue, even under a biographer's probing eye. That straight-forward morality has a great appeal today.

"I think it's a response to a great interest in virtue, honor, and sacrifice - what is public and not just what is popular," says historian Joseph Ellis, whose 1993 book "Passionate Sage" inspired others, including Mr. McCullough, to take a closer look at John Adams.

"There's a hunger for these qualities, and you find them in the Revolutionary generation more than any other.... We're sensing that we once had these qualities and now we don't, and how can we get them back," he adds.

There's inspiring material in all aspects of Adams's public and private life. His devotion to the public good (not popularity) was his defining quality, historians say.

At the same time, he demonstrated a life-long capacity for friendships. His rich relationship with his wife and "Dearest Friend", Abigail, is documented in more than 1,000 letters. A patriot in her own right, she was her husband's most reliable - and often only - adviser. "You cannot be, I know, nor do I wish to see you, an inactive spectator.... We have too many high sounding words, and too few actions that correspond with them," she wrote. …

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