We’re making our way slowly through the rest of David McCullough’s John Adams for Unputdownables’ Read A Long. Probably everyone else is long done with the book by now, but I feel a need to make it to the finish line too!
“Beds of roses have never been his destiny”, wrote Abigail Adams not long after her husband John succeeded to the role of the 2nd President of the United States in March of 1797. For a man who had labored long and hard to bring about the break with England and the ensuing peace following the Revolution, it might have been the capstone to a great political career. But Abigail’s words would more than sum up the tumultuous years of the Adams presidency.
Adams wins the Presidency by only 3 votes over his former pal Jefferson. Unlike his unquestioned loyalty to Washington as President, Adams would find he could not count on this same loyalty from his own VP, whose support of France and the ongoing French revolution would cause turmoil in their professional relationship. Plus once again one of Jefferson’s personal letters where he bags on everyone in the government makes it into the newspaper. Does the guy ever learn?? Adams makes the stupid move of keeping on Washington’s original cabinet members, not realizing they are all in the crafty Hamilton’s pocket and will only support Adams’ measures if they are supported by Hamilton also. He arrives at the new White House, which sounds like a real dump, lacking furniture and housing drunk, unruly servants. Plus he is once again minus Abigail, who makes even the worst situations easier for Adams. He would later beg him to join her, pleading that he ‘cannot live without her’. (Awwww!).
If the craziness of party politics doesn’t take up enough room on Adams’ presidential plate (there was an episode in the House where Congressmen were spitting on each other and going after each other with fire tongs!) there’s the brewing situation with France. After three American diplomats were refused to be seen unless they paid bribes to the French government (the XYZ Affair), it looks like America has no choice but to go to war. Adams finally gets his way with getting the American Navy started, and just in time, too. Although Adams is averse to war of any kind, he realizes it may be a distinct possibility, and makes the politically sound move of putting the retired Gen. Washington in charge of the new army. Unfortunately, Washington decides to make the crafty Hamilton his second in command. As the country is buoyed by a wave of patriotism, Adams gets lucky when France decides they will work with one of the three diplomats, and the prospect of war is avoided. He doesn’t get lucky when he passes the Alien and Sedition Acts, one of the worst moves of his presidency, where in a fit of paranoia Adams made anyone ripping on him in public or in print a crime. Apparently someone forgot to inform Adams about that little thing called the First Amendment.
My thoughts on this chapter: Why does everyone run off and get married without telling their parents? Both Charles and John Quincy get married and tell their parents like two months later. My mom would have killed me if I did that.
I also thought it was interesting that Adams spent much of his presidency away from Washington up in Quincy, which in hindsight probably wasn’t a bad idea since the White House sounded like a real hole. He was criticized for this and many felt he would be permitting others to take over if he were not there to hold the reins of government, but I appreciate he stayed where he was happiest.