Just finished the David McCullough bio of John Adams and enjoyed it thoroughly. Hard to do justice to such a lengthy book about such a towering historical figure. Some initial thoughts. The author commented in his intro that we cannot learn enough about our funding fathers, a sentiment with which I very much agree. Makes me once again wish that I had majored in history in college. My presidential reading continues to remind me of my lack of historical education. I shudder to think of how American history is taught or not in public schools today.
It was delightful to read the many excerpts from the letters of Adams and his wife Abigail. Their correspondence numbered well over a thousand missives of which about half have been published. It is quite remarkable how enduring was their relationship in light of the quantity of time they spent apart. Over the course of their first 14 years of marriage they had been apart over half that time. Of course with communication and travel in those days being what it ways, even their communication was difficult. Letters from the United States to France or England of Holland took months and sometimes never made it at all. There as at least one incident in which a packet of her letters was lost at sea when an American diplomat about to be captured by the English threw them overboard along with other sensitive documents.
i observed to my wife after finishing the book that I probably knew more about the Adams’ family and its manner of living than of my own parents, thanks to their prolific correspondence. In contrast, Adams’ contemporary,Thomas Jefferson,destroyed all such family correspondence. His was somewhat limited however,since his wife Martha died at age 33.
There is much to write about in reflecting on the ” colossus of independence” as Jefferson called him and I will attempt to do some justice to our second President, who seems to me as somewhat overlooked in the pantheon of early American leaders.
…only as one looks back with hindsight’s 20/20 vision. What was the year? 1776! We date the very birth of our country from that year, focusing our attention primarily on the “doings” in June and early July that culminated in Mr Jefferson’s finest work, although it was not his alone, the Declaration of Independence.
Quite a phrase that is, even 233 years and 9 months hence. But as David McCullough writes in his excellent book of the same name, 1776 was known maybe more for its failures than successes at least as far as the Revolutionary War itself. He writes of the Battle of Brooklyn that was an American disaster, the retreat from Boston, a crushing defeat at Ft Washington and on it goes. Were it not for the near miraculous crossing of the Delaware and the victories at Trenton and Princeton, all could have been lost.
What fascinated me even more were the insights into George Washington, both good and bad. He was indeed highly thought of by his men and officers, but there were flaws. He was somewhat lacking in strategy and tactics, particularly in the early days. He showed several marked examples of poor judgment as well. But, perhaps the key as McCullough writes, he never forgot what was at stake and he never gave up. In both his words and deeds, the concept keeps recurring, perseverance. As Nathaniel Greene so aptly foresaw,” he will be the deliverer of his own country.”
But perhaps for me this next showed Washington at his best and foreshadowed his attitude towards the presidency and the near hero worship status he was accorded. In late 1776, Congress gave him, for a period of six months, near dictatorial powers. A lesser man could have done irreparable damage to the country while edifying himself above civil authority. In our time , in many countries, we have seen that very thing. But this was his response.
” Instead of thinking myself freed from all civil obligations by this mark of their confidence, I shall constantly bear in mind that as the sword was the last resort for the preservation of our liberties, so it ought to be the first thing laid aside when those liberties are firmly established.”
The Father of his county indeed and a good example to follow.
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