Sunday, May 2, 2010

Why John Adams is important

A little while ago I posted some thoughts on the men I thought were the top 4 American Founders.  One of those men was John Adams, and my choice of Adams resulted in some puzzlement.  Why Adams?  Well, I was going to write up a big blog post on my own summarizing why I think that Adams is probably the second most important American founder, but I found a very concise and complete statement by historian John Patrick Diggins, and I thought that it would be a bit more decisive coming from him rather than me:
America's second president, John Adams, was the first political leader who had to face democratic politics as we know it today, whereas his predecessor, George Washington, enjoyed an unchallenged charismatic authority as the glorious hero of the Revolution.  But what Washington won on the battlefield as a general, Adams won at the conference table as a diplomat:  a vital loan that helped finance the Revolution and the favorable peace terms of the Treaty of Paris in 1783.  As president, Adams dealt with international relations, civil liberties, and domestic rebellion with a keen sense of power, fairness, and justice.  He had a better grasp of where America was heading than did Thomas Jefferson, and had it not been for the political institutions Adams defended -- a strong executive, the Supreme Court, the Senate, the military -- America's democratic ideals would have had no means of realization.  This is Adam's legacy.
John Patrick Diggins, John Adams (American Presidents Series, vol. 2, Times Books:  2003).

I would also add my original observation that Adams was the first president in American history to lose a re-election bid and retire peacefully to his home.  And being first matters.

1 comment:

Tom Van Dyke said...

As president, Adams dealt with international relations, civil liberties, and domestic rebellion with a keen sense of power, fairness, and justice.

As a non-admirer of John Adams, this also applies to Bushes 41 and 43, and the Current Occupant as well. I see no merit in this argument, if it even is one.

That Adams evacuated the presidency after he lost the office to Jefferson in 1800 under the election rules of the US Constitution accrues to him no great credit. He lost the election based largely on his and his party's [Federalists'] Alien and Sedition Acts, acts of tyranny and violations of America's very first amendment to its constitution.

Even if I had voted for Adams, if he would had refused to leave in defiance of the Constitution, I'd have ridden him out of town along with the Jeffersonians, and have brought the tar and feathers meself.

As it turned out, even Adams' own party didn't really back him. Like the George Herbert Walker Bush [Bush 41] I compare him to, John Adams was the quintessential one-term president. Even the people who liked him didn't like him all that much.