I recently read David McCullough’s biography of John Adams. Having lived outside of the United States for over four decades, my knowledge of U.S. history had become embarrassingly rusty. I’ve wanted for some time to remedy that situation.
The book read like a novel, grabbing my interest from the first page. I was fascinated. John Adams became for me a real person, lovable with his strengths, weaknesses and foibles. His insistence on living a simple life and his love of rural America held special appeal for me. His stubborn belief in his opinions and grasp of critical political situations proved in the long run the wisdom of many important decisions. As third president of the United States, knowing the horrors of war, for years he held out for peace, finally achieving it, with belligerent French and English governments amidst the calls of war by his detractors.
When many colonists were in doubt, he had clear the need for independence, writing pamphlets and newspaper articles to convince others. It’s amazing to think of the task that our forefathers faced: to create a unified government where none had ever existed before. What should the government of those newly-created United States look like? What should the Constitution look like? Adams insisted on a three-branch government, containing a system of checks and balances. He believed in strong executive powers, while his opponents fought for more powers in the individual States. This later group called themselves “Republicans” as opposed to the “Federalists.” Sound familiar?
The parallels with today’s U.S. politics almost leaped off the page. The same forces and belief systems vie for power today. Is history repeating itself? Have we learned nothing in over two hundred years? We Americans need the perspective of the past in order to understand the present. If I were in position of power, I would make David McCulllough’s John Adams required reading in every civics class across the country.