Sunday, July 15, 2012


A review of Joseph Wheelan’s Mr. Adams’s Last Crusade: John Quincy Adams’s Extraordinary Post-Presidential Life in Congress (2008)

(Rating 4 of 5)

As explained by the title, Joseph Wheelan’s book covers the second President Adams' career as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives.  Most presidents who have served in the House of Representatives did so at an earlier stage in their careers. (Examples: James Madison, John F. Kennedy, and George H.W. Bush.)  Their House membership was a stepping-stone on the way to bigger and better things.  John Quincy Adams however became a member of House after he was President of the United States.  While many see this as a huge demotion, Wheelan explains that in many ways Adams was freer than ever to conduct himself in the manner that he thought a statesman should act: on principle not politics.

            “Besides being arguably Congress’s most learned member—and undoubtedly the oldest—Adams was also one of the most resilient and hard-working of the representatives, often the first to take his seat and the last to leave.  When the House recessed for dinner and then resumed work that continued into the night, Adams found it agreeable to spend the hour, while his colleagues dined at their lodgings, in a House conference room, writing letters while consuming five or six small crackers and a glass or water.  ‘I am calm and composed for the evening session, and far better prepared for taking part in any debate than after the most temperate dinner at home or abroad.”(p.137)
            Congressman Adams had strong beliefs and he would stand up for what was right not what was popular.  Despite this he never challenged slavery, until slavery challenged him.  He might not have turned it into his private war if it had not been for the South’s foolish attempts to shut down even the discussion of slavery.  In his battle against the gag rule Adams became the defender of many unpopular causes.

 “Adams had become the de facto chief spokesman for many of those denied a voice in government—abolitionists silenced by the Gag Rule, slaves, Indians, and finally, women.  One may ask why Adams took on this role, but a better question is, Why did he have no company?  Almost alone among his fellow congressmen, all a generation his junior or more, Adams believed in and upheld the principles of the Founding Fathers embodied in the individual liberties of the Constitution and the Bill or Rights, in the soaring words of the Declaration of Independence, and in the antiquated ethic, which went by the board with his father’s defeat in 1800, of nonpartisanship and selfless public service.” (p.150)
            Adams even became a defender of women’s involvement in political life.  Although not a suffragist, he fought for the basic human right to speak and be heard.  The women that he was defending were members of the abolitionist movement.  Their participation in this movement would later lead to the beginnings of the suffragist movement. 
“Congressman Benjamin Howard of Maryland aroused Adams’s indignation by declaring that women did not belong in ‘the fierce struggles of political life,’ but in the home.  Adams had provoked Howard’s assertion by presenting a petition signed by women opposed to annexing Texas.  Before Adams had finished responding to Howard’s pronouncement, Howard must have wished that he had not said anything at all.” (p.150-1)
Congressman Adams
          One of the most famous of cases that was argued by Adams was in defense of the African prisoners of the Amistad who had rioted in their cause for freedom.  Adams was originally unsure whether or not he should even do it for he had not argued in front of the Supreme Court in decades.  He nevertheless proved victorious and the captured Africans went free.

  “Adams, arguably the greatest American secretary of state, scorned Forsyth’s eagerness to cooperate with Spain’s ‘inadmissible and insolent demands.  His voice dripping with sarcasm, Adams said the Spanish minister wished the president to use ‘absolute fiat’ to pluck the Africans from the courts and sent them to Cuba.  ‘Is the Khan of Tartary possessed of a power to meet demands like these?  I know not where on the globe we should look for any such authority, unless it be with the Governor General of Cuba with respect to negroes.’” (p.181)

“Adams asked the justices to imagine that the Amistad was an American vessel with a cargo of African slaves that had tied up at a U.S. port.  ‘The captain would be seized, tried as a pirate and hung! And every person concerned, either as owners or on board the ship would be severely punished.’” (p.182)
            The passion that John Quincy Adams had for the causes that he felt were in the right impressed even some of his enemies.  It kind of reminds me of Pope Sixtus V wishing that Queen Elizabeth I was a Catholic queen.  

            “Even Adams’s Southern adversaries grudgingly professed admiration for his intellectual and rhetorical gifts.  ‘They call Adams a man of one idea,’ South Carolina Congressman Isaac Holmes was heart to say, ‘but I tell you what it is, he has got more ideas than all of us put together.’  South Carolina Congressman Francis Pickens remarked, ‘Well that is the most extraordinary man on God’s footstool.’  Even Marshall, badly mauled by Adams rhetorical onslaught, granted that if somehow Adams could be removed or silenced on the subject of slavery, ‘none other, I believe, could be found hardy enough, or bad enough, to fill his place.” (p.201)
In the my review of the previous book I had read on Mr. Adams' I stated that presidents were always incredible statesmen but they were not always successful as president.  John Quincy Adams' time as president was a failure but this book will show you that John Quincy Adams career was a success.   

{Video is from the classic movie Amistad (1999) Good speech not entirely historically accurate}    

Sunday, July 8, 2012


A review of Paul C. Nagel’s John Quincy Adams: A Public Life, A Private Life (1997)

(Rating 4 of 5)
There is a phrase in the United States that asks, “How good does one have to be in order to bad in the NBA?”  The answer to this question is “pretty damn awesome!”  To be bad in the NBA, the MLB, or the NFL one has to be an incredible ball player.  Only by being great at the lower levels can one find the opportunity to be bad as a professional. 

            I think you can take this same view with American statesmen and the presidency.  The American presidency is the highest office that any American can possibly obtain.  If an American becomes the President he (or, someday, she) has their picture in the back of every U.S. history textbook, their names are added to the president rap, and presidential history buffs such as myself make it a point to learn interesting details about their lives.  In order to become president the statesmen have to use the electoral process to convince the nation that they should be the leader.  Even presidents who achieve the presidency through vice presidential succession do so because to be elected vice president is to be elected stand-by leader[1].  Just doing that is amazing. 

            In some ways my analogy fails because I would not say the presidency was the professional level but rather the presidency, Congress, state governors, and Supreme Court justices are all part of that professional league.  The presidency is simply an instant ticket to the Hall of Fame located in the back of American history textbooks. Yet someone can become president and be considered a failure because their administration was unsuccessful.  And that, why factual true, is morally wrong.  Yes, it is hard to imagine Millard Fillmore as a winner, but men like Herbert Hoover who had public careers that were enormously beneficial to the nation should not be written off as failures.  
young John Quincy Adams

            John Quincy Adams is one of these individuals.  He was serving his country since he was a boy when he worked for his father on the elder Adams' foreign ministries during the American Revolution.  He would rise to be a senator, a diplomat in his own right, and at the peak of his first career he would become the Secretary of State.  
JQA as Secretary of State

            Adams would emerge as one of the greatest to occupy the office of America’s top diplomat.  As the Secretary of State, Adams would be responsible for one of the greatest—if not most cited—diplomatic achievements in U.S. history: the Monroe Doctrine.

            “Amid this hue and cry, Adams calmly insisted that it would be wiser if the nation remained alone in warning the world that the Western Hemisphere was on longer to be intruded upon.  He added that if Europe should tamper with strivings for independence in Latin America, the United States must consider such action as hostile.  He proposed the same response to Russia’s encroachment in the Northwest quarter.” (p.270) 
President James Monroe under whom Adams excelled
          Much like the next son of a president to become the President, John Quincy Adams election was mired in controversy.  Failing to win the electoral or popular vote the election was decided by the House of Representatives in which Adams would prevail but paid a terrible price.  As President of the United States he got off to a bad start and never recovered.  All because of a perceived bargain made with Henry Clay. 

            “Nevertheless, despite Clay’s merits, giving the Kentuckian the second most important office in the national government showed JQA’s political ineptness.  Since the new president had a long record of doing what he thought was right in the face of warnings, his action was not surprising.  What was surprising was that Clay, normally so shrewd, accepted the position.  For the rest of his life, he readily admitted that joining the Adams administration was the stupidest act of his career.” (p.298) 
Henry Clay whom Adams was accused of having a 'corrupt bargain' with by the Jacksonians
          Two years after being tossed out of office in ‘the Revolution of 1828’ Adams would begin a new career as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives.  As a congressman, he would lead battles that were controversial in his day: over slavery and war.  He would also have a long-standing impact in helping to create the Smithsonian. 

            “Consequently, Adams was outraged when, after sharp debate, the House of Representatives adopted a new parliamentary procedure in May 1836 that became known as the gag rule.  He had done what he could to oppose approving the rule, which decreed that all petitions or memorials touching in any way on slavery would be laid on the table without being printed, discussed or referred to committee.  Southern congressman had demanded the rule after the anti-slavery movement began flooding Congress with petitions calling for the ending of slavery and the slave trade in the District of Columbia.  Adams had found his mail bulging with them.” (p.355) 
            Nagel’s book however is not just about Adams’ public career—as the title suggests—it is also about his private life.  His family relationships with his parents, spouse, and children are all heavily featured in this book.  

            What I find really interesting however is Adams’ religious beliefs. Although a lifelong Christian he had a strong disrespect for those who considered other supernatural beliefs and he also when confronted with some tenets of his own faith he had a hard time accepting them. 
            “Inevitably, his scriptural meditation brought him to an element of Christian doctrine that always upset him: was Christ sent by God to atone for humanity’s sins?  ‘I cannot believe it,’ he said of atonement.  ‘It is not true.  It is hateful.  But how shall I contradict St. Paul?’  He wished the Calvinist ministers would leave him in peace.  Inn his last years, he was even more impatient with those clergymen who habitually declared their congregants to be standing on the brink of Hell.  He could not conceive of how persons of decent character would gather each Sunday in church to be treated like the vilest malefactors.  ‘It seems to me as if the preacher considered himself a chaplain to a penitentiary, discoursing to the convicts.’
            Would that clergy could stress the moral teachings of the New Testament, for Adams said here was where he had come to build his faith—which he now summarized with remarkable succinctness: ‘I reverence God as my creator.  As creator of the world.  I reverence him with holy fear.  I venerate Jesus Christ as my redeemer; and, as far as I can understand, the redeemer of the world.  But this belief is dark and dubious.’”(p.407)   
            Paul Nagel has written a good little book about a great American.  Much more than just a failed president he was an incredible statesman whose contributions can still be felt to this day.         

[1] Even the appointed vice president, Gerald Ford, achieved the vice presidency through the confirmation of the people’s representatives in Congress. 

Saturday, July 7, 2012


A review of Jean Edward Smith’s John Marshall: Definer of a Nation (1996)

(Rating 5 of 5)

When President John Adams utter the words “I believe I must nominate you” he committed—as Smith points out—the most important nomination since he had recommended that General Washington be made Commander-In-Chief of the American Army during the Revolutionary War.  John Marshall is known as the ‘Great Chief Justice’.  He was not the first but the fourth man to serve as Chief Justice of the United States; nevertheless it was he who would turn the Court into the institution it is today.  John Marshall’s accomplishment makes him probably the greatest public servant never to serve as president. 

Chief Justice John Marshall

            I have read and reviewed Professor Smith’s biographies of Presidents Grant and Franklin Roosevelt.  One of the things that Professor Smith does extremely well is his ability to cut through the myth of any particular individual and get straight to the substance of who they really were.  Here, in his first attempt, Smith succeeds in getting to the man behind the myth.

            Smith’s Marshall is a Revolutionary solider whose nationalism is strengthened at Valley Forge along with men like George Washington and Alexander Hamilton.  He becomes a successful lawyer who finds himself thrust into public service.  Often he is pressured to enter the arena by the man who he admired the most: George Washington.  Marshall greatly admired Washington and after the death of the first President of the United States, Marshall became his biographer.               
“In Marshall’s opinion, the power of government derived from the express authority granted by the people.  Unlike the British parliament, the American government was not sovereign, and when it acted in the economic sphere, it was bound by the same laws of contract as a private citizen.  This view became law of the land in such leading decisions of the Marshall Court as Fletcher v. Peck and the Dartmouth College case.  The holding in those cases reaffirmed the vested rights of property against governmental intrusion and helped set the stage for the growth of American capitalism.” (p.108)

George Washington, Marshall's idol

            As the Chief Justice of the United States, Marshall laid down what was to be the foundation of American constitutional law.  Smith shows that Marshall was helping to do that even before he was on the bench, his action concerning the Robbins case during his stay in Congress is a good preview of what he would do on the court.  This book was written in 1996, I wish some Supreme Court justices had read this prior to the disaster that was Bush v. Gore.
“Marshall was drawing a distinction between legal issues and political questions.  Not everything that arises under the Constitution involves a legal issue.  Some matters are political.  And the courts are empowered to render decisions on legal issues only.  They have no authority to decide political questions.  These are the province of the executive and the legislature.  Three years later in the great case of Marbury v. Madison, Marshall employed that distinction to establish the authority of the Supreme Court to interpret the Constitution in matters of law.  While explicitly recognizing that political questions might raise constitutional issues, Marshall stated that these questions were ultimately the responsibility of the president and Congress.  The distinction that Marshall drew has become one of the cornerstones of American constitutional law.  In the case of the Vietnam war for example, important constitutional questions were raised about war powers, but these were political questions not legal ones.  Federal courts consistently declined to entertain suits testing the war’s constitutionality, citing the distinction first articulated by Marshall in his speech on the Robbins case.”(p.261)
One of the myths that Smith shoots down is with the rivalry and hatred between him and President Jefferson.  Smith does not say the rivalry did not exist but he shows that this developed as time went on; each side built up reasons not to like the other.  A major part of myth that Smith breaks down is Jefferson’s reasons for not liking the famous Marbury v. Madison decision, not because of the decision’s ultimate result but rather minor technicalities with it.      

“It was judicial tour de force.  Marshall had converted a no-win situation into a massive victory.  The authority of the Supreme Court to declare an act of Congress unconstitutional was now the law of the land.  Typically, Marshall’s decision paid heed to the claims raised on both sides of the case.  The High Federalists were awarded the nominal prize of hearing that Marbury was entitled to his commission, and the Republicans gained a victory with the dismissal of the rule to show cause.  But the real winner was the Supreme Court an, some might say, the Constitution itself.

The legal precedent for judicial review, that unique American doctrine that permits the Supreme Court to declare acts of Congress and the executive unconstitutional, traces the holding in Marbury v. Madison.  Marshall did not say that the Supreme Court was the ultimate arbiter of the Constitution.  He did not say that the authority to interpret the Constitution rested exclusively with the Court, and he certainly did not endorse grandiose schemes that envisaged the Supreme Court as a board of review sitting in judgment of each act of Congress to determine its constitutionality.  He simply stated that the Constitution was law, and that as a judicial matter, it could be interpreted by the Court in cases that came before it.” (p.323-4)

Thomas Jefferon, he and Marshall were cousins but not friends

           Marshall would also lay down what would be the bane of the South’s argument of the nature of the Union with important decisions that reinforced the position of the Federal Government over the states.  

“Marshall returned to Washington in early February for the 1810 term of the Court, a term that, with possible exception to 1803, would prove to be the most important during his tenure as chief justice.  In 1803, in Marbury v. Madison the Court had established its authority to declare an act of Congress unconstitutional.  In 1810, in another landmark case, Fletcher v. Peck, it would assert its authority to strike down state laws repugnant to the Constitution.” (p.388)

            Probably the decision that most affected the nation as a whole, was the restatement of national supremacy that would become the bedrock of Constitutional law, John C. Calhoun be damned. 

“The Court’s decision in McCulloch v. Maryland is a ringing restatement of national supremacy.  Marshall’s eloquent phrases have been invoked repeatedly by later generations of jurists and legislators to justify the expansion of national authority at the expense of the states.  At the time, however, Marshall could not have envisioned the modern federal government with its greatly augmented powers to regulate the economy and promote social welfare.  His decision was a defensive one.  In 1819 the Court was concerned with preserving the Union against the powerful centrifugal forces that constantly threatened its dissolution.  McCulloch did not so much expand federal sovereignty as restrict state sovereignty.  As one scholar has written, the Court’s intention was to enable the federal government to exercise its powers effectively and to prevent state encroachments upon its legitimate operations.” (p.445)
The final chapter deals with the Chief Justice’s last years.  He dies waiting for President Andrew Jackson to get done being president so that he can retire as the Chief Justice.  Marshall does not make it; Jackson is elected to a second term defeating Marshall’s favorite Henry Clay.  Although President Jackson did not make any Supreme Court appointments that Marshall did not like, he clashed directly with Jackson on the rights of Native Americans. However popular support was not on the aboriginal people’s side.  The Court stood powerless to stop what would become the trail of tears.     

“The Supreme Court was on record.  The Indian laws passed by the state of Georgia were unconstitutional.  ‘The Court has done its duty,’ Story wrote, ‘let the nation now do theirs.’  But the nation was unwilling.  Georgia again ignored the Court; Worcester and Butler remained in prison; and President Jackson is reported to have said, ‘Well, John Marshall has made his decision, now let him enforce it.’  Jackson probably did not say that, and at that point the president had no responsibility for enforcing the judgment.  The degree issued by the Supreme Court merely instructed Georgia to reverse its decision and release the missionaries.  The Court adjourned shortly thereafter, which meant that the decree could not be enforced until the 1833 term and that the state would not be in defiance until then.” (p.518)

Andrew Jackson, a president Marshall did not like

Like the other two books I read by Smith, John Marshall: Definer of a Nation is a great read.  It is the book you want to read if you want to know about one of our most important figures in American jurisprudence, John Marshall.

{Video is a little movie about McCulloch v. Maryland.}

Wednesday, July 4, 2012


A review of Willard Sterne Randall’s Thomas Jefferson: A Life (1993)

(Rating 4 of 5)

Willard Randall’s take on the life of Thomas Jefferson is worth reading.  The strength of the book comes from his coverage of Jefferson’s developmental years.  The later part of his life is glossed over rather quickly.  For example there is only one chapter covering his two-term, and rather eventful, presidency.  So this book is good for what drove President Jefferson and what events contributed to his personality but not very useful when covering his presidency.  That is not necessarily a bad thing when you consider that Jefferson’s time as the President of United States is well covered by other historians, but it is worth noting.  

            One of things I learned in this book that I like about Jefferson was his resistance to adopt any one political ideology or philosophy.  The book shows Jefferson referring to the adoption of a philosophy to fitting your mind in a prism that limits the way you view the world.  That part really spoke to me because that is how I view things as well; I always dislike trying to label myself with any word to describe me and how I think.  Randall does a good job showing where Jefferson gets his ideas and beliefs.  
“It is not from the Scottish religious reformers but from English and European writers of the seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Age of Reason that Jefferson drew his evolving notions of government.  From Bacon, the grandfather of the English Enlightenment, Jefferson had learned to use his powers of observation and question any opinion, regardless of its source.  He adhered to Bacon’s admonition to apply reason and learning to the functions of government to improve society.  Jefferson was influenced by Newton’s Principia, which held that the universe was a great clock invented, made, and set in motion by a deity, but he had adapted Newton’s view to his own quest for a world of order and harmony.  Like Newton, Jefferson did not believe in miracles.  Jefferson’s third hero from the time of boyhood studies was Locke, who had joined the empiricism of Bacon and Newton to the realm of politics.  Locke’s An Essay Conserving Human Understanding for the first time fed his natural optimism and gave him hope mankind could be improved by education.  From Locke and Scottish adherents, Jefferson had adopted the theory of the Second Treatise of Government that legitimate authority to govern was derived from the consent of the governed, which had first been granted while mankind had still been in a ‘state of nature’ when all human beings were by right free and equal.  Locke underpinned all of Jefferson’s political thought.” (p.205)
            There is great deal of information of Jefferson’s career in the Continental Congress, his horrendous stint of Governor of Virginia, and his time abroad negotiating on America’s behalf in Europe.  Jefferson considered his authorship of the Declaration to be one of the finest moments of his personal career, although he did not think so at the time.

“The debate was one of the more painful ordeals of Jefferson’s long political career.   He sat there, beside Franklin, silent in his humiliation at the number, extent, and importance of the changes.  He mostly maintained this silence for years, but what little he wrote indicates his mounting disgust at the timidity of the conservatives in Congress, their slashing deletions of at least two major clauses in Jefferson’s draft declaration.”

On Sally Hemings Randall could not have been more off.  Although it is sometimes hard to separate fact from fiction, Randall does do a good job correcting the lies of James Callender the propagandist, and some of the unhistorical flaws of the work of Fawn M. Brodie.  However he was clearly wrong about the final conclusion.  

“Sally Hemings’s lover was, in other words, a son of Dabney Carr and Jefferson’s sister Martha.  It is impossible to believe that Jefferson abandoned his love for Maria Cosway to force his affections on even the most beautiful adolescent girl.” (p.477)
            I bet that statement is a little embarrassing now!  DNA reveled in 1998 that Jefferson was the father of Sally Hemings’ kids.  So, on this issue, he is definitely wrong. 

            In America over the last seventy years there has been a great deal of debate over the Executive Branch’s use of military force without the consent of the Congress.  Many who feel offended by all such actions often cite the founders and the U.S. Constitution.  However if one looks at what the Founders themselves did when managing the government of the Constitution, and they might find themselves coming to a far different conclusion. A good example is Jefferson’s actions against the pirates.

“At the first full cabinet meeting on May 15, President Jefferson confronted his first foreign policy crisis, one he had tackled first as minister to France fifteen years earlier.  Tripoli had attacked American ships in the Mediterranean.  Putting into effect his long-held views on the subject, Jefferson had already assembled an American naval squadron at Norfolk that was ready to sail.  An American navy sailing off Tripoli, he told his cabinet, ‘might lead to war.’  He wanted his cabinet’s opinions and approval.  All five members agreed on sending the squadron but disagreed over Jefferson’s authority to act while Congress was adjourned.  Navy Secretary Smith and Treasury Secretary Gallatin backed Jefferson’s position that the president could use military force to defend the United States, but Attorney General Lincoln argued that without a formal declaration of war by Congress, American warships could destroy North African pirates wherever they could be found.” (p.549) 
Thomas Jefferson: A Life is good book about a very complicated figure.  James Madison once warned people who study Jefferson to be ready for a great deal of twists and turns when going through his mind.  Randall acts as fairly good guide. 

{Video is taken from the HBO John Adams series}

Monday, July 2, 2012


A review of David McCullough’s John Adams (2001)

(Rating: 5 of 5)

It has been a few years since I first read John Adams.  I decided to re-read the book for the purpose of reviewing it.  McCullough’s work as an author is a testament that history does not have to be boring.  When one thinks of all the titans of this era, in some ways Mr. Adams comes up a little short.  Regulated to history as ‘number 2’ the one-term president who follows George Washington and who precedes Thomas Jefferson, John Adams is not typically thought of as the most interesting of the founders.  That was until 2001, when McCullough wrote this stunning book about a man whom without there may not have been a United States of America.
Young Abigail and John Adams

            McCullough traces John Adams time as a young lawyer who is a loyal subject of the British Empire.  After the abuses to what Adams believes are the rightful liberties of British subjects that the colonists are entitled, he would go to Congress and take up the cause of independence.  His performance at the Congress was second to none.  It was John Adams that nominated George Washington to command the continental army.  It was Adams, who with Jefferson and Franklin, would bring the Congress around to declaring the nation’s independence from the British crown.  McCullough also shows how it was not as neat in tidy as in the classic paintings.  In fact, the Founding Fathers themselves contributed to that misconception.
“In later years, Jefferson would entertain guests at Monticello with descriptions of black flies that so tormented the delegates, biting through their silk hose that they had hurried the signing along as swiftly as possible.  But at the time Jefferson wrote nothing of the occasion, not did John Adams.  In old age, trying to reconstruct events of that crowed summer, both men would stubbornly and incorrectly insist that the signing took place of July 4.” (p.138)
Franklin, Adams, and Jefferson

            After securing the nation’s independence Adams spends a great deal of time abroad in foreign courts trying to win over allies to the American cause.  In this he often becomes loggerheads with Ben Franklin.  Adams was one of the diplomats who help negotiate the Treaty of Paris (1783) where American independence was recognized by the British Empire.  He would be the first American to represent his country in the Court of St. James.  Adams found he rather liked King George III, all things considered, and McCullough points out the two men had a great deal in common.
“His Majesty the King of England and the new American minister to the Court of St. James’s were not without common interests and notable similarities.  Like John Adams, King George III was devoted to farming.  Seldom was His Majesty happier than when inspecting his farms, or talking crops and Merino sheep with his farm workers at Windsor.  Like Adams, the King had a passion for books.  The difference, as with the farming, was mainly a matter of scale.  His private library was one of the treasures of Britain.  During Adams’s earlier stay in London, the American painter Benjamin West had arranged a tour of the royal quarters at Buckingham House, and for Adams the high point had been seeing the King’s library.  He wished he could stay a week, Adams had said.” (p.333)
Mr. Adams meets the King

            A good deal of the book is dedicated to Adams relationship with his children, his daughter ‘Nabby’ (Young Abigail), his future president son John Quincy, and his other two useless sons, Charles and Thomas.  Most important however is the relationship with his life partner, Abigail.  America clearly has many Founding Fathers, if it were to have any Founding Mothers Abigail Adams would certainly be a strong candidate for the title.  In many ways she was her husband’s superior especially where money was concerned.  Jefferson pointed out the reason Adams was better off than he was financially, is because of Mrs. Adams running of their family finances.
“As she predicted, the bill for the Bank of the United States passed by a sizable majority, despite opposition from Madison and Jefferson, who urged the President to exercise a veto on constitutional grounds.  But Hamilton’s views carried greater weight with Washington, who signed the bill on February 25.
            Better versed on financial matters than her husband, Abigail wanted to invest immediately in government securities, but as she told Cotton Tufts, ‘Mr. Adams held to his faith in land as true wealth.’” (p.428)
            When Adams returned from Europe he was elected Vice President of the United States.  The first to hold this office, the record that Adams would set tie breaking votes he would cast as President of the Senate is a record that still stands to this day.  In 1796, he would go on to win the first contested presidential election in U.S. history.  As the first president ever to succeed a president he had no history to turn to.  He kept Washington’s entire cabinet that was loyal to Hamilton, instead of him, in office.  Adams would still manage to keep this country away from war with France and do so with America’s honor intact.  Yet he would lose the election of 1800.
“What was surprising—and would largely be forgotten as time went on—was how well Adams had done.  Despite the malicious attacks on him, the furor over the Alien and Sedition Acts, unpopular taxes, betrayals by his own cabinet, the disarray of the Federalists, and the final treachery of Hamilton, he had, in fact, come very close to winning in the electoral count.  With a difference of only 250 votes in New York City, Adams would have won with an electoral count of 71 to 61.  So another of the ironies of 1800 was that Jefferson, the apostle of agrarian America who loathed cities, owed his ultimate political triumph to New York.” (p.556)
            In his final public act he would choose John Marshall as Chief Justice of the United States.  As the famous scene played out Adams asked Marshall who he should appoint.  Marshall in response says he does not know.  Adams responds with ‘I think I will appoint you'.
“But it is probable that Adams knew exactly whom he would choose before Marshall even entered the room.  In many ways the nomination was inevitable.  Few men had so impressed Adams as Marshall, with his good sense and ability.  Nor had anyone shown greater loyalty.  He was Adams’s kind of Federalist and one who at forty-five—‘in the full vigor of middle age,’ as Adams said—could be expected to serve on the Court for years to come.  On January 31, 1801, at the President’s House, Adams signed Marshall’s commission as Chief Justice, which the Senate confirmed without delay.  In its far-reaching importance to the country, Adams appointment of Marshall was second only to his nomination of George Washington to command the Continental Army twenty-five years before.  Possibly the greatest Chief Justice in history, Marshall would serve on the Court for another thirty-four years.” (p.560)
John Adams is an incredible book about an incredible man.  McCullough writes in a manner that it is both readable and enjoyable.  The best part is you do not even have to study history on a regular basis to enjoy it.
{Scenes are taking from the HBO John Adams mini-series based on the book}