Ken
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I just finished off another biography that's worth a mention - McCullough's John Adams.

John Adams is an interesting character - often remembered as vain, irascible, pompous, and overly ambitious. This particular treatment of Adams recognizes these "flaws," but describes how this particular picture of Adams arose over time. While there was little question that Adams was quite ambitious and interested in how the public perceived him, this did not tend to drive actions on his part in the form of campaigning, responding to attacks, publishing political essays, etc. that promoted his own person.

The book does an excellent job of discussing the influence that Adams had, both as a part of the founding movement and after. Paraphrasing McCullough (and other writers), if Jefferson was independence's pen, Adams was its voice - arguing for a declaration in the first place and Jefferson's work once presented to Congress. And his arguments were telling in moving the Declaration through to a successful vote.

The book explores Adams' particular view of partisan politics and parties, his views on government's relationship with religion (which changed over time), his particularly interesting relationship with Thomas Jefferson (which serves as a contrast between the two and their approach to politics). It describes how Adams behaved in a wide range of situations, including his thoughts regarding regional, factional, and partisan issues.

What I found particularly interesting was Adam's focus on "doing the right thing" as he saw it. For example, Adams was unquestioningly a religious individual and his writings, speeches, and political philosophy reflected this in a variety of ways. And this is reflected in his views on the importance of religion in government when he drafted the Constitution for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Yet this view changed over time, influenced by time he spent in Europe and interactions he had with American non-Christians to the point that by the time the Constitutional Convention was held he had switched to supporting the Establishment clause. He also ignored political pressures from both the Federalists and the Democratic Republicans regarding the "quasi war" with France following the French Revolution, which ultimately helped to cost him the next election.

McCullough treats his subject very fairly, presenting the information in a non-judgmental fashion that exposes Adams at both his best and his worst. He describes where Adams' decisions were sound and brave, and doesn't shirk from presenting critical opinions that show insight into the way Adams thoughts and approach occasionally did not serve him well. This is no mythologizing of Adams, but a fair and interesting discussion of the man, his thoughts, and his influence (which was considerable and may have been more than you expect).

Edit to add: I don't know how I managed to neglect mentioning the considerable correspondence between Adams and his wife. The quotes from these letters add considerably to the narrative and demonstrate that Adams was incredibly well paired with an intelligent, active woman who acted as a grounding point for nearly everything in his life. His reliance upon and interaction with his wife is a fascinating revelation of what many would consider a "perfect" marriage, with each contributing incredibly to the stability and happiness of the other.

Well worth the time.
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Agreed. I read this book several years ago. It's fantastic. Completely changed my perception of Adams.
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Wray Cason
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You say he "switched" to supporting the Establishment clause. Is that really the case? Did he ever oppose the clause? If so, why?

Thanks for bringing this up. This is a book I am interested in reading.
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Ken
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Wrayman wrote:
You say he "switched" to supporting the Establishment clause. Is that really the case? Did he ever oppose the clause? If so, why?

Thanks for bringing this up. This is a book I am interested in reading.


When Adams wrote the constitution (a task he was assigned to individually, amazingly enough) for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in 1779, he included an article that called for explicit government support of religion and legislation that bound people to participate in public worship. If you search for it, it's very easy to find. This somewhat conflicted with the article that appeared immediately before it, which provided every citizen the right to worship in whatever manner they chose so long as it did not create a public disturbance.

By the time of the drafting of the Constitution, he'd changed his position completely, and supported a prohibition on both practices as he'd come to the conclusion that government-sponsored religion would ultimately lead to oppression rather than piety and participation since the government could not be trusted to enforce an orthodoxy that limited individual choice.

Further, when the Commonwealth met to revise their Constitution late in his life, he was selected as a delegate to that convention and explicitly argued that the state should completely reverse that article (which lost at the time).
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Wray Cason
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perfalbion wrote:
Wrayman wrote:
You say he "switched" to supporting the Establishment clause. Is that really the case? Did he ever oppose the clause? If so, why?

Thanks for bringing this up. This is a book I am interested in reading.


When Adams wrote the constitution (a task he was assigned to individually, amazingly enough) for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in 1779, he included an article that called for explicit government support of religion and legislation that bound people to participate in public worship. If you search for it, it's very easy to find. This somewhat conflicted with the article that appeared immediately before it, which provided every citizen the right to worship in whatever manner they chose so long as it did not create a public disturbance.

By the time of the drafting of the Constitution, he'd changed his position completely, and supported a prohibition on both practices as he'd come to the conclusion that government-sponsored religion would ultimately lead to oppression rather than piety and participation since the government could not be trusted to enforce an orthodoxy that limited individual choice.

Further, when the Commonwealth met to revise their Constitution late in his life, he was selected as a delegate to that convention and explicitly argued that the state should completely reverse that article (which lost at the time).
Thanks.

How did he (did he?) differentiate between the role of state and federal government on this point?
 
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To my knowledge, he didn't do so explicitly. But then he also was a prime mover in shaping the Constitution (despite not being at the convention) and may very well have found that the framework it provided was sufficient to answer that question.
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I've been reading this myself. Unfortunately, though I like McCullogh, I find the book a little heavy on detail and light on editing.

Like you, I have been very intrigued by Adams. Though not a christian myself, I do find in him a very kindred streak of needing to "do the right thing". It seems to have cost him politically as you point out. Sort of makes one wish that the current crop of politicians were both more interested in doing the right thing while flexible enough to learn and modify their positions on prinicple without fear of the "flip flop" label.

McCollughs body of work on the revolutionary era is quite good. John Adams is certainly a worthy read.
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Ken
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Come to think of it, it was a bit more quote-heavy than other books of his that I've read. That may simply be because there's sooo much source material for Adams that he felt it better to let the man and the correspondence do the talking than try to do it for him.

I do think that the both parties have things to learn from Mr. Adams.
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His passage on education is even more interesting:
http://books.google.com/books?id=up9ajhkAjf0C&pg=PA15
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perfalbion wrote:
Come to think of it, it was a bit more quote-heavy than other books of his that I've read. .


Thats the sign of a good book.

Darilian
 
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Ken
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Darilian wrote:
perfalbion wrote:
Come to think of it, it was a bit more quote-heavy than other books of his that I've read. .


Thats the sign of a good book.

Darilian


Yes and no. It can be.

Certainly, when the notes section is something north of 20% of the content, that's typically a sign of a well-researched one.
 
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