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  • Writer's pictureProfiles in Catholicism

John Adams, From Revolutionary Warrior to Founding Father

by Carmen Julia Rodriguez

“These are the times that try men’s souls… They sift out the hidden thoughts of man…and hold them up in public to the world.”
Thomas Payne

William Shakespeare said it well: “Man is light and shadow.” If it is true that challenging times do require extraordinary deeds from ordinary men, it is absolutely undeniable, on the other hand, that at any given time every man must summon a disciplined character to manage his “shadow.” John Adams ( was such a man. The son of farmers and direct descendant of Puritans, John Adams was a lawyer and a case for contradiction. A fierce American, loyal only to his country, he also defended seven British soldiers accused of murder after the Massacre of Boston. Known to gush about the glitz and glamour of European nobility, he also believed that the rich would rather have the rest of us dependent on them for our daily bread. A man who once complained it had cost him a lot of money to procure the service of indentured servants was perhaps the only founding father of the nation who, out of principle, never purchased or owned slaves.

“Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passions, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.”
John Adams, 2nd USA President

This rather plumb, simple man is recognized among contemporary scholars as a committed politician with a sound, legal mind. John Adams shares with George H. W. Bush (41st USA President) the distinction of fathering a President, John Quincy Adams (6th USA President). He was married to whom many would consider today one of the first feminists in the continent, Abigail Smith. Upon been the first resident of the White House, he did pray: “God bless this place… May none but honest and wise men ever rule under this roof.”

"Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power."
Abraham Lincoln, 16th USA President

Why ( are we talking so much at this time about a man who in his time not only had to endure the stiff upper lip and scornful stares of the British Court as Ambassador to England, but the derision of his own fellow citizens at the US Congress who addressed him as “His Rotundity”? Among that group of first Americans, John Adams came across as prickly and blunt. Still every single document produced by the founding fathers was revised and edited by this one man with the punctilious, incisive, legal mind - from the Declaration of Independence to the treaties negotiated by the young nation with its partners abroad. What he lacked in emotional intelligence he more that overcompensated with steadfast commitment and honest work.

“Ambition must be made to counteract ambition.”
James Madison, 4th USA President

This idea mirrors what John Adams passionately believed: “There is danger from all men. The only maxim of a free government ought to be trust no man living with the power to endanger the public liberty.” In fact he openly condemned others in this group of first Americans whose ambition in his opinion obfuscated their judgement and endangered the common good. His public clashes with Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, and Thomas Jefferson to name just a few give us a good idea of why his fellow citizens often resented and ridiculed him. And still this man stopped at nothing to serve his country. That is why, we are talking so much about him today.

“Ask not what your country can do for you.
Ask what you can do for your country.”
John F. Kennedy, 35th USA President

Time and again, he answered the call to duty. He waged the war as skillfully as he waged the peace. Once each and every battle was over, he was the first one to approach the adversary with an olive branch. To the King of England he offered to restore friendship among peoples who share similar language and traditions – even though he might have agreed with Winston Churchill who famously said that people in America and England are rather divided by a common language. John Adams loved his family and he loved his country. Not a perfect man by any stretch of the imagination, he suffered setbacks from his share of miscalculations and misfortunes. Yet whenever his country needed him, he was there - no if’s, but’s, or and’s about it. Wise men usually live to a grand old age; John Adams died at age ninety with an open heart and a clear conscience. We cannot help talking so much about him at this moment because we sorely need such leaders to continue this dream we call America. A dream that remains very much a work in progress.

“America is a constant work in progress… the project that never ends… Our founding fathers could not have dreamt up the Future they set in motion…”
Barack H. Obama, 44th USA President

That dream however is in constant need of visionaries willing to dream together a never ending dream of freedom and peaceful solidarity among many peoples who although diverse yearn to be judged, not by the way they look or their particular accent, but by the content of their character. America: our collective dream did begin long ago as the individual dream of simple folks like John Adams who dared to envision a different future and gave to that vision everything they got. May we find it in our hearts to be bold, to summon the courage required to continue “the never ending project” of America into the FUTURE… so help us God!

“Power must oppose power, and interest must oppose interest.”
John Adams, 2nd USA President
“ONE Nation, under God, INDIVISIBLE,
With Liberty and Justice
For ALL”


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