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A Personal Look at the Second President

Updated on November 6, 2015

Adams the Radical

John Adams wasn't a liberal. He was too far left for his time to be called that. He was a radical.

Adams' politics--The identity of political parties of Adams' time in terms of policies is best left unsaid because it was too long ago, and the relationship to any political party in America today would be impossible to describe.

Today, America has what are called liberals and conservatives by way of a broad generalization of Democrats and Republicans.

Mr. Adams was what's known as a Federalist. Although that party later merged into the early Republican Party, a Federalist would not be welcome in a Republican caucus today for one thing because a Federalist, as the name implies, believed in a strong central government. Instead, today's Republicans welcome Libertarians who believe in practically no government at all.

But in another sense, a Federalist was very much a modern-day Republican. The Federalists, although America had just gained independence from Britain, wanted to stay on the good side of England and be close partners for economic trade.

Many people, contemporaries of those who sacrificed their lives for the sake of freedom in the Revolutionary War against England, believed Federalists were awful people for wanting now to go back and be friends with the same England whose soldiers slaughtered American families, as depicted in the Hollywood movie "The Patriot" starring Mel Gibson.

Thomas Jefferson was such a person who believed the Federalist attitude of friendship toward England was all wrong.

Adams in context--Although many people know that John Adams was America's second president, few know that he was George Washington's vice president. Adams had a son, John Quincy Adams, who became the sixth president, just as George Bush, Sr., had a son, George W. Bush, who became president. But there are differences between John Adams and George Bush. They lived about 200 years apart.

John Adam's vice president, Thomas Jefferson, became the next president after Adams. Vice presidents and presidents back then were opposing presidential candidates. The one with the second highest number of votes became vice president.

Personal beliefs--Mr. Adams was from Massachusetts. He lived to 90, an amazing age in those times. His son, John Quincy Adams, had a middle name that was the Adams' family's home town. Abigail, John Adams' wife was a formidable intellectual who was very prominent and influential. She and her children all lived in Quincy, a suburb of modern Boston, Massachusetts.

John Adams graduated from Harvard and was a man ahead of his times, radical in his belief in democracy, disliking slavery, and saying that poor people accused of crimes had a right to a court-appointed lawyer.

In Adams' time, it was radical enough just to believe in democracy. The world, throughout all of known human history, had lived according to monarchies. The idea of giving a voting power to the general populace to chose the leader of a nation was considered outrageous by most people.

The further idea of appointing an attorney to represent someone too poor to hire a lawyer was even more outrageous. People accused of crimes had no such rights back then.

But Adams was like an ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) lawyer. He believed in defending even people whom the public thought of as the "bad guys."

In the so-called "Boston Massacre," which took place prior to the Revolution, John Adams, himself an attorney, stood up for the right of British soldiers, who had killed American colonial citizens. Adams insisted that the British soldiers have a fair trial and have adequate representation by counsel.

Perhaps because of such radical beliefs, John Adams lasted only one term as president before Jefferson beat him in 1800.

George Washington never lived in the White House. Adams was the first president to live in the home that became today's White House.

Adams had a broad overview of history and was highly educated. He was not egotistical enough to be secure in his hope that democracy would sweep the world and become the way of government of all the leading nations, which it eventually did.

He was aware that democracy was a milestone, but believed that later generations might consider it a bad thing. To Adams, the future of democracy, then a completely new, idealist invention in government, depended on what kind of people would rise to world power in the future.

The irony of death--Adams and Jefferson died the same day, the Fourth of July holiday in 1826. They were political enemies who ultimately became friends. In fact, Adams, who did not know of Jefferson's grave illness in another part of the country, said on his deathbed, "Jefferson still lives." With that, John Adams passed away.


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