John Adams was born at Braintree, Massachusetts on this day in 1735, to what was already an old American family. Educated at Harvard, he briefly taught school before turning to law, and then to politics. Like his second cousin Sam Adams, he was heavily involved in planning the fight for independence. He nominated Washington to be Commander in Chief of the Army, seconded the motion to declare independence, and led the committee which crafted the Declaration. With John Jay he negotiated the treaty with Great Britain after the war and was the first US Ambassador to the Court of Saint James. In the first presidential election under the new constitution he ran second, which meant he became the Vice President, repeated in the second election, and won the third with Thomas Jefferson coming in second. One of the greatest animosities of the era was between Adams and Jefferson, although they worked together at times and resolved their differences before they both died on the fiftieth anniversary of the Declaration of Independence.
One of the best movies I had the pleasure of watching this year was the John Adams mini-series, Paul Giamanti did an outstanding job, and if you haven’t seen it you need to. My favorite quote from this list is in bold below.
“Abuse of words has been the great instrument of sophistry and chicanery, of party, faction, and division of society.”
“By my physical constitution I am but an ordinary man … Yet some great events, some cutting expressions, some mean hypocracies, have at times thrown this assemblage of sloth, sleep, and littleness into rage like a lion.”
“I always consider the settlement of America with reverence and wonder, as the opening of a grand scene and design in providence, for the illumination of the ignorant and the emancipation of the slavish part of mankind all over the earth.”
“I must study politics and war, that our sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy. Our sons ought to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history and naval architecture, navigation, commerce and agriculture in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry and porcelain.”
“The fundamental article of my political creed is that despotism, or unlimited sovereignty, or absolute power, is the same in a majority of a popular assembly, an aristocratical council, an oligarch cal junta, and a single emperor. Equally arbitrary, cruel, bloody, and in every respect diabolical.”
“Because power corrupts, society's demands for moral authority and character increase as the importance of the position increases.”
All from John Adams, 1735 – 1826