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    Stuff I Learned: John Adams

    My reading of The American Presidency by Alan Brinkely continues. Chapter Two: John Adams. Here's what I learned...

    Adams grew up in the country town of Braintree, Massachusetts. They later changed the name of the town to Quincy to disguise the fact that the uncommon intelligence of the townspeople was attributed to a tea made from the leaves of the magical tree.

    When he was a boy, Adams really wanted super really bad to be famous. He thought and thought about which path he should take to worldwide superstardom and ultimately went with becoming a lawyer. It wasn't his last miscalculation.

    His wife’s name was Abigail. She was also super duper smart, although it’s not clear if she started out that way or if they made her drink the Braintree tea on her wedding night.

    In 1785, Adams was appointed the first American ambassador to Great Britain, which couldn’t have been the easiest job in the world, seeing as how the Brits hated the Americans for kicking their assess out of the colonies. I’m sure Adams was able to deftly smooth all the bad feelings with his charm, wit, and grace. Hah, I’m just kidding. Adams was a prick. He might have been singlehandedly responsible for the madness of King George.

    In 1788, Adams was elected the first vice president of the United States of America. So, he went from having a job that sucked because nobody liked him to having a job that sucked because nobody noticed he was there.

    When he ran for president in 1796, Adams spent the whole campaign at home. Surprisingly, it was considered a bit unseemly for candidates to go out and campaign for themselves. They relied on others to stump for them. Adams had Alexander Hamilton and Jefferson had Aaron Burr. Of course, Aaron Burr would have the last laugh in that battle.

    When the results were decided, Adams wrote a letter to his wife in which he stated, “John Adams has never felt more serene in his life,” referring to himself in the third person and thereby initiating the most annoying habit politicians have ever employed.

    Adams' one term in office was marred by hyper-partisanship. Each side was convinced that the other side was going to absolutely wreck the country. It came very, very close to erupting into another armed conflict. Little known fact: the guy who wrote West Side Story modeled the Sharks and the Jets after the Federalists and the Republicans.

    This might be my most favorite sentence I’ve ever read: “Voluble, opinionated, censorious, impulsive, vain, and touchy, Adams possessed the gift for political disaster in a republican government.” (Page 23)

    Although Adams couldn’t take criticism and was super tetchy, he knew it was a short-coming and he was kind of tortured that he couldn’t overcome it. For all his good intentions, he just couldn't avoid being a prick. I'm sure that was a consolation to his son. (More on that in Chapter 6.)

    During all of the years of his presidency, he was focused on desperately trying to keep the United States neutral in the war between France and England. His own party wanted to fight the French and the Republicans were convinced that Adams was saying one thing publicly and then working behind the scenes to do exactly the opposite. Somehow, Adams managed to walk that tightrope and delay the decision while he worked to come to an agreement with France, even while French and American navy ships were engaged in combat at sea.

    During Adams’ term, the Federalist majority in Congress passed the Alien and Sedition Acts into law, providing for increased time before immigrants could obtain citizenship and criminal penalties for critics of the government. Both acts were wildly unpopular with the public but the Federalists didn’t really give a crap and Adams signed them into law. This reminds me of that one time that the government started to torture political prisoners and wiretap citizens’ phones without cause. That administration didn’t give a crap either. You guys remember that? What was that president’s name again? I wonder if I’ll be reading about him later in the book.

    In early 1799, Adams returned to Quincy to visit Abigail, and he stayed for 8 months. Wow.  During this time, a new nation hung in the balance and everybody wondered whether there would be war with France. And the president takes an eight month vacation? Kinda puts Bush staying in Crawford and ignoring a hurricane for a couple of days in perspective.

    In the 1800 election campaign, Adams ran with Pinckney and that crazy-ass Hamilton thought he would better be able to control Pinckney, so he worked to sabotage Adams. Jefferson won. Sounds a lot like a full scale party implosion. I’m reminded of this other time when a once-moderate Republican ran for president but he had some crazy-ass partisans that he needed to kowtow to in order to win. Only then he risked losing the support he had in the middle. I forget how that worked out for him.

    The Federalists never again won the presidency and the party basically collapsed. Here’s hoping the modern day equivalent to the Federalists suffers the same fate. (And by equivalent, I mean hyper-partisan, self-righteous, and backbiting.)

    Poor Adams was humiliated and he rarely left the White House (where he and Abagail had moved in early 1800) until his term ended. But he did work hard to fill the judiciary with Federalists before he left, starting another presidential tradition that has endured the test of time. (That’s how the Supreme Court got John Marshall. Another neat aside: Although Jefferson and Marshall were political enemies, they were cousins.)

    Adams did manage to avoid war with France. An accord was signed in October 1800, and  the news didn’t reach the United States in time to help Adams win reelection. Ironically, the peace he had worked so hard to secure helped to make Jefferson’s presidency wildly successful. So now we have a Jefferson Memorial and poor John Adams, the not-so-skinny kid from Braintree whose only dream was to be famously known as the smartest man in the world, has some high schools named after him.

    Not strictly related to presidential history, Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr (the early 19th century equivalents of O’Reilly and Olbermann), tried to finish each other off in a duel. Hamilton lost. In the next edition of Stuff I Learned, we’ll delve into how shooting a guy in the face isn’t the only experience Burr has in common with Dick Cheney.


    O, thanks for reminding me of this cultural history:

    Amazing. And that, reminded me of this...


    a most excellent and witty synopsis, O. great history lesson. but didnt john adams get that huge HBO special with Paul Giamatti or am I thinking of someone else?

    I think so. But I didn't watch it, so I can't be sure that Giamatti portrayed our 2nd president with just the right tone of prickishness. I didn't read the 400,000 page, 40 pound biography that the bio-pic was based on either. I prefer to rely on 20 page chapters to give me all the information I need. That way I don't have to worry about stupid stuff like nuance. Plus, he's been dead for like 200 years. Who really cares anymore? 

    (Pssst...Except for not reading the bio or seeing the HBO thing, I really didn't mean any of that. I just know that Adams is A-man's most favorite president ever and I'm conducting an experiement to see if I can make his head explode.)

    This is good, O. I like the way you've turned into a complete bastard.

    And your experiment seems worthy of some sort of public support as well. Mebbe you should add a few more of those facts we discovered about Adams. Like the thing with ferrets. And gettin' jiggy with Siggy Freud's sister-in-law. That was nasssssty.


    BTW. If A-man's head explodes, are you expecting there'll be more light, or dark, meat? I got some leftover cranberry sauce. No sense wasting.

    Isn't your thanksgiving in October? That cranberry sauce has been sitting in your fridge for a long time now. Might want to turn it over the lab instead of consuming it.

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