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Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Here's to you, President Adams

In reading a review of several books about John and Abigail Adams I learned that there's an Adams Memorial planned for Washington, D.C., somewhere near the White House.  It has to be an official effort -- there's legislative authorization  for a foundation, which has a website (though to judge from it, apparently not much else yet).

I like the idea, and wish it well.  There's something quite attractive about honoring a non-charismatic, by all accounts plodding, but careful and thoughtful figure.  Absolutely -- he engineered the Alien and Sedition Acts, and his legacy will always carry that.  But there was a lot that he did that was right.  John Marshall, keeping us out of war with France, and generally keeping the system running when it could have collapsed in the absence of George Washington.

But more than on the merits, I like the symbolism of the idea.  As I said, there's something especially attractive about honoring someone non-charismatic.  Jefferson's statue in his memorial is undeniably heroic. Lincoln's is stately but melancholy, maybe because how we know his Presidency ended.  Roosevelt's is almost lost, and is certainly de-emphasized, by the "wandering through history" sense you get from visiting his memorial.  Adams' -- if it's true to what we think we know about him -- won't be any of those.  For a country that has become so charisma and fame-obsessed, it's nice to imagine a memorial to a President who wasn't dashing, didn't become fabulously wealthy or live on an estate, and who earned his place through plodding hard work.  And in our current age, we could learn from his example in defending the hated British soldiers accused of murder over the Boston Massacre.

So here's to you, President Adams.  And to the Memorial Committee: as soon as we see a model of the statue, I'll be sending in my penny.

Posted by Bill Araiza on December 29, 2010 at 04:26 PM | Permalink


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Here's what I would put on an Adams Memorial:

"Fame and glory will come to you if you live long enough and exchange many, many letters with your spouse, and others, that include a tad of self-promotion, and which are preserved so that historians can write nice things about you and make a few bucks at the same time."

Posted by: Shag from Brookline | Dec 31, 2010 9:33:43 AM

I appreciate the comments, and I have to admit that it's been several years since I read McCullough's biography. My basic point was that he was not a military leader like Washington nor a dashing figure like Jefferson. It's obviously a trivial point, but earning the nickname "His Rotundity" for his height/weight combination doesn't suggest he had the type of physical stature that either his precedessor or successor had. Glory comes easier to military heroes and dashing plantation owners, which is a lot of the reason I like the idea of honoring someone who was neither.

Posted by: Bill Araiza | Dec 30, 2010 5:13:06 PM

Lets not forget Marbury v. Madison and Adams' role in judicial appointments late in his presidency and Marshall's political role under Adams before Adams appointed him to the Supreme Court and how it all played with CJ Marshall's opinion in Marbury. Did CJ Marshall have a conflict of interest? Should the decision in Marbury have been more limited? Wasn't Marbury more about politics than the Constitution? If the Marbury decision had been more limited, what might have been the course of constitutional law?

Posted by: Shag from Brookline | Dec 30, 2010 5:15:51 AM

I agree with Marc. If the McCullough biography is accurate (and I think he had significant access to Adams's correspondence), Adams was hardly plodding.

Posted by: Jeff Lipshaw | Dec 29, 2010 5:55:26 PM

Hi, Bill. I've always liked Adams very much -- maybe even as much as any of the famous founders. But I wonder why you say that he was not charismatic. Maybe his writing style was not that of Jefferson's, but even in Ellis's book (I think), Adams comes off as vain and with other defects, but witty, learned, politically astute, and enormously personally appealing.

Posted by: Marc DeGirolami | Dec 29, 2010 5:19:30 PM

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