John Adams: A Wrap

I am advancing on from John Adams, but believe in doing so, I made a mistake in my planning.  This founding father and Voice of the Revolution has been marginalized by history and somewhat by me during my reading.  I did read two biographies of Adams’s life, John Adams (review here) and John Adams: A Life  (review here), but could have undertaken a more in depth investigation on this patriot.  I attempted to gain a full appreciation of Adams by adding two other books to my reading plan- Passionate Sage (review here) and Adams vs. Jefferson: The Tumultuous Election of 1800 (review here), but missed out by not examining the works by Page Smith.  I should have taken the time to read these two volumes on Adams and have added it to my future reading category.

John Adams was a great man, instrumental in the revolution against Great Britain in the 1770’s.  He gained notoriety after his successful defense of British soldiers who killed colonials during the Boston Massacre.  While not a fan of the English crown, Adams believed all people need an equal defense before the law.  A few years later, he was present in Philadelphia during the Continental Congress and influential in cementing a break between the colonies and London.  He served as a diplomat to France and England, becoming close friends with Thomas Jefferson.  Adams returned to the United States and finished second in the initial presidential election and served two terms as Vice-President for George Washington.  In 1796, Adams was elected over Jefferson and others to be the second Chief Executive of the young country.  Adams was a good president, sacrificing his career in politics by preventing a war with France, which was unpopular with many in the Federalist party.  Adams spent much of his post-presidential life mending fences with former friends after leaving Washington DC.  Part of this rapprochement was with Thomas Jefferson, whom he had a falling out over politics.  The letter writing exchange between these two giants of the revolution has proven to be priceless.  Adams died on the 50th Anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence in his home.

The first book I read was  John Adams by David McCullough.  McCullough is a highly regarded historian and this biography shows why.  The book is well written and its adaptation into a HBO mini-series has elevated the reputation of John Adams.  I would recommend this to the casual reader who wants an entertaining telling of Adams’s life that does not get bogged down by reading like a history book.  McCullough keeps a fresh perspective by including a high volume of correspondence between John and Abigail Adams.

John Adams: A Life by John Ferling was my second selection and my favorite biography on Adams.  Ferling really brings to life this complex man.  I appreciated the even handed treatment of Adams from start to finish.  The author writes in a more “historical” tone than McCullough, but the book can easily relate to non-historians.

The third book I read was Passionate Sage: The Character and Legacy of John Adams by Joseph Ellis.  I was disappointed in the book and cannot be counted as a fan.  The book is hard to read and jumbled leading to confusion for the reader.  I found myself bored by much of the examination of the post-presidential life of Adams.  As I mentioned in my review, there are good nuggets of information, but the reader has to pay attention to find them.  I would not recommend this book for the casual reader when there are better books on Adams.

I finished reading about the second Commander-in-Chief with Adams vs. Jefferson: The Tumultuous Election of 1800 (Pivotal Moments in American History) by John Ferling.   This is a really fun book to read for anyone who thinks politics turned bitter in 2016.  The ground work laid out by Ferling from start to finish was excellent.  Ferling was able to avoid showing partiality to any of the participants in the election.  I really was disappointed when I finished this book up.

Thank you for reading my book reviews!  I am really excited to move to Thomas Jefferson who in the past has been one of my favorite Presidents.

Favorite Book: John Adams: A Life by John Ferling

My Future reading: Page Smith’s two books on John Adams


Ranking John Adams

Ranking John Adams (5 = excellent and 1 = poor)

John Adams admitted, unlike George Washington, that he would not have monuments commemorating his service to the United States.  I believe, Adams could be easily overlooked among the dominant personalities of the era.  Ironically- people in today’s United States are not much different than the French in mistaking John Adams for his cousin Samuel Adams- albeit for several different reasons.  However, without further ado, let’s take a look at John Adams!

Contribution before Presidency– John Adams was considered to be the Voice of the Declaration of Independence.  He served on multiple councils at the Continental Congress, served as Ambassador to France and England, and secured the first loan for America from the Netherlands.  No different than many of the founding fathers and earlier presidents, Adams made a major contribution to the history of his country prior to becoming Chief Executive.  Points- 5.

Integrity– Adams never compromised his integrity to better his position in history.  He defended the British soldiers after the Boston Massacre so well that they were acquitted of murdering colonials.  He stood his ground against his own party by not going to war against the French.  This decision may have cost him a second term, but was the best way forward for a weak United States.  Points- 5.

Scandals– I did not see a hint of scandal in Adams or his administration during my research.  This is a credit to the man and his integrity.  Points- 5.

Military Service– Adams did not actively participate in the field during the American Revolution.  He did head the war board, so was behind the scenes contributing to the war effort.  Adams is considered the Father of the Navy and a proponent of “wooden walls” providing protection to his country.  Points- 4.

Popularity– The popularity of John Adams was up and down.  He was a respected, if not popular leader in the revolutionary days.  However, during his presidency, Adams was not popular with the Republicans due to his alleged views in support of installing a monarch and signing the Alien and Sedition Acts.  Adams was not popular with his own party because he did not go to war with France.  I believe Adams was respected for his integrity, but this did not contribute to his popularity.  Points- 3

Party Leadership– Alexander Hamilton undermined Adams at every opportunity leaving Adams unable to exert much influence over the Federalist party.  With the election of Jefferson, the Federalists were essentially done as a formidable entity. Points- 2

Legacy– The legacy of John Adams continues to improve over time.  His actions to prevent war with France saved the young country from a conflict that could have destroyed it.  The recent book and HBO mini-series contribute to his greater appreciation from historians and Americans. The election of John Quincy Adams and his letter exchange with Jefferson also benefit his legacy as a man.  Points- 4

Foreign Policy– Like George Washington, Adams had to negotiate a tightrope between England and France.  Each country had support in the United States and the factions were vocal in Congress and the press.  Adams portrayed himself as belligerent towards France before eventually signing a peace treaty.  The peaceful agenda ensured the country did not give way to emotion and find itself in an unwinnable war.  The peace with France laid the foundation for the Louisiana Purchase by Jefferson.  Points- 5

Domestic Agenda– Adams left the management of domestic affairs to Congress, which resulted in his signing of the Alien and Sedition Acts.  These laws destroyed freedom of the press and could be used as a weapon against political enemies.  Each are genuinely un-American and his hands off approach to domestic affairs is a black mark on his presidency.  Points- 2

Economic Agenda– The United States continued to grow and Adams supported manufacturing in the country.  He did not hamper business in the late 1700’s leaving business owners to chart their own success.  Points- 4

Following the Constitution– Adams benefited from Washington’s use of implied powers throughout his term in office.  Even when signing the Alien and Sedition Acts, he followed the role of president by signing the bills into laws when he could have vetoed the bill.  Points- 4

Supreme Court Appointments– Under Adams, John Marshall was named Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.  The Marshall court set the base for judicial review in Marbury vs. Madison.  Marshall is recognized as one of the great Chief Justices of all time.  The selection of Marshall stabilized the new nation and reflects on Adams’s judgement of other leaders.  Points- 5

Cabinet Selections– Adams failed in his selection of the Cabinet.  In actuality, he did no selecting, but kept Washington’s cabinet members.  The men in charge took their marching orders from Hamilton affecting Adams’s ability to be president.  Although understandable as Adams was only the second president, this decision negatively affected his entire presidency.  Points- 1

Executive Ability– Adams did well as an executive.  Although he did spend time outside of Washington DC, he was a very capable administrator.  He executed the duties of his office well during his term.  Points- 4

Overall View– Adams was a successful president.  He kept the United States free of war with France and continued the peaceful transition of power to Jefferson.  The country stabilized itself under Adams after the loss of the great George Washington.  If another had been elected President to follow Washington, the future of the country may have been very different.  Adams’ always displayed an integrity in every decision and always placed the country’s needs before his own.  However, the Alien and Sedition Acts were a serious attack on civil rights and he must be accountable for signing them into law.  Points- 4

Overall- 57 total points out of 75.  Currently, John Adams ranks as the second greatest President next to Washington.  We will see how this holds up over time!

Adams vs. Jefferson: The Tumultuous Election of 1800 by John Ferling

The final selection for my reading on the John Adams era is Adams vs. Jefferson: The Tumultuous Election of 1800.  This may be a surprise to most Americans, but 2016 was not the first controversial election in the history of the United States.  The fourth election for a Chief Executive was nothing short of crazy.  The outcome of the election led to the author of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson, becoming President by the Legislative Branch.  I would be willing to wager not many Americans realize it took 36 separate votes by Congress to arrive at this decision.

John Ferling, is the author of Adams vs. Jefferson, and a leading historian on the American Revolution.  Earlier this month, I reviewed his book John Adams: A Life (review here), which proved to be an excellent read.  I know Ferling is an expert of Adams’s life and is a thorough research based on his work on Adams.  Ferling has written multiple volumes on the Founding Fathers to include The Ascent of George Washington which I plan to read later.

Ferling hooks the reader into the story quickly via the use of outstanding information on the lives of each candidate.  The author provides background on Adams and Jefferson, which is mainly common knowledge, but a good refresher.  I learned the most from the history about Charles Pinckney and Aaron Burr.  Pinckney is not a well-known patriot, but did participate in the Revolutionary War and in South Carolina politics.  Aaron Burr is a fascinating character, primarily known for killing Alexander Hamilton in a duel.  Burr was very active in colonial politics, more notorious than well liked, and he played a bigger role in America’s earlier history than I was aware of.

Ferling moves from historical backgrounds on the four candidates to focusing on the friendship of John Adams and Thomas Jefferson.  This aspect of the book is important because it provides perspective on two of the primary participants in the revolution against the British.  Adams was considered the Voice of the Revolution, while Jefferson was the Pen.  The two were aligned in the split from Great Britain and became fast friends during diplomatic duty in France.  However, Ferling illustrates the damage politics can inflict upon friends, when penning a section on the breakdown of their relationship.  Jefferson seems shocked once Adams is accused of being a monarchist and they split apart based on ideology.

The writer then flashes back to the evolution of political parties prior to the election of 1796.  The two-party system was born in this time prior to the beginning of the 19th Century.  The main split was between supporters of Jefferson, a proponent of a weak central government, and Alexander Hamilton’s followers, who advocated a strong national government.  Whether he completely agreed with all of Hamilton’s viewpoints, Adams believed in a robust central government that did not necessarily need a King, but a powerful chief executive.  The Federalist party won a majority of Congressional seats in 1796 and Adams was elected by a small electoral college margin over Jefferson, who served as Vice-President.

The major foreign issue that hurt Adams while president was the war between Britain and France.  The Federalist party wanted to build a strong relationship with the former mother country.  Conversely, the Republicans favored the French who assisted America in its revolution and were undergoing their won change in government.  The support for England versus France split the country in half, many wanting war with France.  When Adams negotiated a peace settlement with France, against the wishes of the Federalist party, he lost their support.  Making matters worse on the domestic front, Adams signed the Alien and Sedition Acts, which horrified Jefferson and the Republicans.

Ferling provided this information as a backdrop to the election of 1800.  The elections in those days did not have the same amount of campaigning as today.  Three of the four candidates did not actively recruit votes.  Only Burr worked on securing support in the electoral college.  When the final votes were tallied, Jefferson and Burr tied with 73 votes apiece.  The election was decided in Congress with Jefferson winning and Burr becoming Vice President.

I was unsure of what to expect when I began the book.  Since Ferling previously wrote a biography of Adams, my preconceived notion was that the work would be biased towards Adams over his opponents.  However, Ferling did not show favoritism to any character.  The book is well written and flowed smoothly without jumping from topic to topic.  The background provided by the author before the election took place, the events around the election, and the election of Jefferson was simply masterful.  I highly recommend this book to all Americans.  I believe that in 2107, there is a notion that politics has become more divided, when in reality, it has been so for over 200 years.

Overall- 4 Stars