Skip to comments.David McCullough: A Man Worth Knowing (John Adams)
Posted on 06/04/2006 8:53:58 AM PDT by wagglebee
click here to read article
beauty of a piece. bump it up.
[from a dead link, a bit of leavening]
Part II: The Pursuit of Crankiness
John Adams rose from very humble origins to become a great patriot, a statesman and the second president of the United States. But did that make him feel good about himself? Did it make him more magnanimous towards his fellow man? No and no. He was a bundle of insecurities, a notorious carper, a man who, in the words of historian Jack D. Warren, qualified as "America's crankiest Founding Father."
For starters, he hated being the nation's first vice president, presiding over the Senate like an impatient schoolmaster and complaining to his wife, Abigail, that "my country has in its wisdom contrived for me the most insignificant office that ever the invention of man contrived or his imagination conceived."
While he initially admired George Washington -- personally pushing through the Continental Congress his nomination for commander in chief -- Adams bitterly seethed once he was in Washington's shadow. He portrayed Washington as a man who was all style, utterly lacking in substance. He once sarcastically listed Washington's talents, all of them involving his appearance, form and pedigree. "Here," he sneered, "you see I have made out 10 talents without saying a word about reading, thinking, or writing."
He also thought Washington was a poseur, pretending to prefer the simple life with the hope of hiding his unbounded ambition. Washington "ought to pass" as a genuinely disinterested hero, Adams noted, if only because he played the part so well. Even more than a decade after the death of the "Father of Our Country," Adams still fumed about the degree of Washington-worship in the land.
"The rushing and dashing and roaring of the word Washington, Washington, Washington, like the waters at Passaic or the tremendous cataract of Niagara, deafens, stuns, astonishes and bedizzards all who are within hearing," ranted Adams in 1812. "Both parties are equally bewildered in this folly."
Not surprisingly Adams had a knack for making quality enemies. "He is vain, irritable, and a bad calculator of the force and probable effect of the motives which govern men," Thomas Jefferson wrote of him in 1787. Alexander Hamilton added his take on Adams: "Well known are his disgusting egotism, distempered jealousy, ungovernable indiscretion, and vanity without bounds."
So negative was Hamilton's opinion of Adams that he tried to maneuver the presidential nomination away from his fellow Federalist in 1796 and give it to Thomas Pinckney, the vice presidential candidate. Little wonder, then, while the rest of the country was plunged into mourning over the death of Hamilton after his fatal duel in 1804 with Aaron Burr, that Adams snorted "a caitiff had come to a bad end."
Adams likewise had little good to say about Thomas Paine, the man whose stirring pamplet Common Sense helped spur American leaders to make the break with England. He described Paine as "that insolent blasphemer of things sacred and transcendent, libeler of all that is good ..." and added, "It is indeed a disgrace to the moral character and the understanding of this age that this worthless fellow should be believed in anything." Later in his life Paine remembered Adams as being "for independence because he expected to be made great by it; but it was not difficult to perceive, for the surliness of his temper makes him an awkward hypocrite, that his head was as full of kings, queens and knaves as a pack of cards."
Nor was Adams ever one to forget a slight. Indeed, he never forgave Benjamin Franklin for questioning his diplomatic skills while Adams was in France negotiating for assistance in the Revolutionary War. Adams attacked Franklin's morals, his ability, even his patriotism. That feud simmered for decades.
As did the rancor Adams and Jefferson shared. The bitterly fought presidential campaigns between them left deep scars. Adams, in fact, spent the night before Jefferson's inauguration making judicial nominations sure to upset his successor. He succeeded.
"I can say with truth that one act of Mr. Adams's life, and one only, ever gave me a moment's personal displeasure," Jefferson wrote Abigail Adams in 1804. "I did consider his last appointments to office as personally unkind. They were from among my most ardent political enemies, from whom no faithful cooperation could ever be expected, and laid me under the embarra[ss]ment of acting thro' men whose views were to defeat mine, or to encounter the odium of putting others in their places."
The next day Adams blew off Jefferson's inauguration and skipped town.
Another thing that McCullough's biography of Adams goes into in great detail is how he came to feel a lot of contempt for Benjamin Franklin. Nevertheless, Adams was a remarkable man and although he was the first to express displeasure with the duties of the VP, he was hardly the last.
Thanks for the ping!
John Adams, cranky?
Surely you jest! LOL!
(that's what I like about him)
Decades? I don't know who wrote that, but Ben Franklin was was not alive "decades" after they served together in France. He died in 1790.
1.5 decades. :')
to all, an outline of the book:
David G. McCullough: John Adams
Summary by Michael McGoodwin, prepared 2001
Of the 56 brave patriots who signed the Declaration of Independence, nine died during the Revolution, many lost their wives and children, five were captured, twelve had their homes burned, seventeen lost their fortunes and all had prices on their heads. YET NOT A SINGLE SIGNER EVER RECANTED THEIR SUPPORT OF THE DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE.
That was real courage.
Which is sadly lacking in most of our elected representatives today.
The following November, when British troops were rapidly approaching Princeton, Stockton took his family to the home of a friend in Monmouth County for safekeeping. While there, he was betrayed to the British by Loyalists and was dragged in bitterly cold weather to Perth Amboy. He was later taken to New York and put in the notorious Provost Jail, where he suffered brutal treatment until January 3, 1777, when a formal remonstrance from Congress led to his release.
Upon Stockton's return to Princeton, it became known (according to a letter from President Witherspoon to his son, David) that during his imprisonment the British had persuaded him to sign General Howe's Declaration, which required an oath of allegiance to the Kin~g -- an act Stockton revoked later that year by signing oaths of adjuration and allegiance prescribed by the New Jersey legislature. His health shattered, his estate pillaged, his fortune depleted, he continued to live in Princeton, an invalid, until his death from cancer on February 28, 1781, in his fifty-first year. ``It was one of his earliest honors to have been a son of this college,'' said Vice President Samuel Stanhope Smith at Stockton's funeral in Nassau Hall, ``and it was one of the first honors of his college to have given birth to such a son.'' He was buried in the Quaker burial ground at Stony Brook Meeting House.
I would consider Stockton's case barely worthy of an astrick.
The Brits really did a number on him...no question.
Abraham Clark had it bad too, his sons were inprisoned and he was offered their release if he recanted, yet he still refused.
If only all Americans acted upon that magnificent advice.
Many members of Congress will sell their souls for another two years in office.
I figured he was on to something because he lived to be 90. All this walking does make you feel younger, healthier and gives you energy to do more during the rest of the day. Whenever it is cold or rainy and I feel like staying indoors, I think of John Adams and then I realize I have no excuse.
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