“Mausoleums, statues, monuments will never be erected to me. I wish them not. Panegyrical romances will never be written, nor flattering orations spoken, to transmit me to posterity in brilliant colors. No, nor in true colors. All but the last I loathe.”
-John Adams to Benjamin Rush, March 23, 1809
John Adams, first-born son of a father of the same name, might have happily remained in obscurity as a simple Massachusetts farmer, but fate and family would not have it so, and in truth, neither would Adams’ own ambition. Yet, while not the only one, Adams has long stood as the quintessential “forgotten founding father.”
A complex man of pride and modesty, he shied away from touting his own abilities, yet often worried what others thought of him. While many of his countrymen in Massachusetts clamored for violent action in answer to British repression, Adams called for even-measured yet stern response. Yet, when he was surrounded by reconciling tongues in the Continental Congress, Adams’ strong words rose over the crowd, calling out for action in word and deed.
John Adams stands in the shadow of the likes of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. Yet it is important to note that Adams essentially drew them out of their own shadows into prominence. He nominated Washington (over his Massachusetts compatriot John Hancock) to lead the Continental Army, and suggested a usually quiet Jefferson to draft the Declaration of Independence. Here was a man who knew not only when to lead, but when to let others take that lead. John Adams is an understated powerhouse in the fight for independence.
As the second President of the United States, it is hard to be well remembered. As the first vice-president, he discovered it to be “the most insignificant office that ever the invention of man contrived.” There is, at present, no national monument, no permanent currency, no grand marker to signify or commemorate this strong speaker and leader. While there are not the typical tributes afforded to him as to Washington, Franklin, or Jefferson, he was just as important in history…and just as respected by his peers. Now, with the recent surge of biographies, television series and other presentations about him, John Adams is at long last achieving that which he always hoped for: to be well-remembered.