Yep. It happened. I got behind on Unputdownables’ John Adams Read-A-Long. It’s that crazy-ass time of year again (summer soccer season) where I barely have time to keep my legs shaved, much less keep up on reading. In defense of myself, these next few chapters were so long that I was distraught to find I had only read two chapters in the last three weeks. I was sure it was three or four. Now it taunts me from my bedside table, hanging over my head much like Thomas Jefferson’s unpaid bills.
Oh, well. We’ve got a lot to catch up on, so let’s get right to it!
The Adamses finally return home from their British sojourn, only to find out that now Adams is going to be elected Vice President. Later they find out he could have been the First Big Man himself, were it not for the scheming, financial genius Alexander Hamilton, who we’ll discover in the next two chapters is always up to something no good behind the scenes. (How weird would it have been to plan a trip to Adams, D.C., instead of Washington, D.C.??) So Adams takes his lumps and gets elected to the Vice Presidency, which we discover is probably the worst job in the world for an opinionated, passionate, and outspoken guy like Adams, who doesn’t make any friends in his new position at first, since he can barely keep quiet during Senate sessions and wants to call the new President “His Majesty”. He eventually learns “his place” and is reduced to simply tapping his pencil case to keep order during Senate sessions, only voting when a tie needs to be broken. How interesting that the Vice Presidency was originally decided by who came in 2nd place in the voting, rather than the President and VP running together as a ticket. The impracticality of this plan will become more obvious once Adams is elected President and Jefferson is elected VP.
Political parties begin to ramp up after Washington’s election. Major jerk-off Hamilton leads the Federalists, who support a strong central government, and two-faced Thomas Jefferson leads the Republicans, who believe the people should have a greater say in the government. Looks like the sliminess of politicians was an early development in our history! Americans begin to take sides, and the partison press begin to ramp up their attacks on the opposition. Not even Washington is safe. Jefferson turns on Adams, disparaging him both publicly in writing and behind closed doors and avoiding him as much as possible, and even Washington wants very little to do with his VP. I always assumed that the Founding Fathers all got along, but boy, was I wrong! Ben Franklin kicks the bucket in this chapter, and the country decides (thanks to a slimy backdoor deal involving….you guessed it, Hamilton….and a bottle of Jefferson’s best wine) to make its permanent capital on the Potomac River between Maryland and Virginia, appeasing both northern and southern states.
Something that has amazed me from this book was how frequently everyone got sick. It seems like some epidemic was always sweeping the nation every ten pages. And it wasn’t just people getting sick here and there; it was wiping out entire families and towns. Abigail is on the brink of death at least twice. Every year Congress breaks up to flee the big cities thanks to yellow fever. How scary would that be? Thank God big outbreaks like that don’t happen anymore.
I was also impressed to see how John and Abigail always tried their best to live within their means. Although he held high offices and many of his friends were independently wealthy, the Adamses always tried to make ends meet without going into crazy debt like Jefferson did. Adams spent many months alone in Philadelphia in a boarding house so that they could save money by not having to rent a house, and later on when Abigail joined him, they would make do without a coterie of servants and live modestly in a smaller home. I made the mistake of thinking all of the Founding Fathers were rolling in money, and I was actually glad to see that one of them wasn’t. It made him more human.
Meanwhile, the French Revolution has crowned heads rolling off the guillotine, and political parties are more divisive than ever back here at home over the issue. Jefferson strongly supported the revolution, feeling that America had done much the same (without the guillotine, of course) during our own break with Britain. Keeping his eyes on France (and apparently not on his bank balance), he decides to level Monticello and build an even more grand estate.
Although Washington is talked into a second term, which he serves reluctantly, he will not run again for a third, and Adams’ name is on the ballot to replace him in 1798. Will he win, or will Hamilton’s scheming once again prevent him from his highest goal?