There are many reasons to praise historian David McCullough. He has written a number of remarkable books on American history, celebrating our nation’s heroes and reminding us of their accomplishments. Last summer, I thoroughly enjoyed his book, 1776, about (what his arguably) the most crucial year in American history. He showed how after suffering great losses, George Washington, rallied his troops on (what then seemed) a quixotic quest to take on the British and their Hessian mercenary supporters.
McCullough shows through sheer determination — against great odds, the Father of our Country snatched victory from the jaws of what seemed inevitable defeat for the first American patriots. It was that determination which would lead that great man through five more years of war, the constitutional convention and eight tumultuous years as the First President of this great nation.
And much as that book paid tribute to our First President, it was a book McCullough published five years ago for which I — and countless other patriots — am especially grateful. You see, since I was a boy, I have long been a fan of our Second President, John Adams, a truly great man whom, until recently, all too many in America seem to have forgotten. In our nation’s capital, we have great monuments to Washington and Thomas Jefferson, our Third President, but only one building of the Library of Congress named for this remarkable man from Massachusetts.
And yet were it not for John Adams, we would not have achieved the independence we celebrate today. While George Washington led patriots to victory on the battlefield and while Thomas Jefferson penned the Declaration of Independence, it was John Adams who fought “fearlessly for every word” of the great charter written by his good, but taciturn, friend from Virginia. As Thomas Jefferson himself said (as McCullough recounts on page 135 of his biography of our nation’s first Vice President):
No man better merited, than Mr. John Adams to hold a most conspicuous place in the design. He was the pillar of its support on the floor of Congress, its ablest advocate and defender against the multifarious assaults it encountered.
No text survives of the great speech John Adams gave on July 1, 1776, moving passage of the Declaration, but so compelling were his words that the New Jersey delegation whose members arrived an hour after the speech had begun, begged him to “repeat what they had missed.” After some prodding, Adams complied. New Jersey’s Reverend John Witherspoon offered a slight correction to a statement by his Massachusetts’ colleague:
The distinguished gentleman from Massachusetts remarked that when we came in that the colonies are ripe for independence. I would like to add that some colonies are rotten for the want of it.
The remarks of the distinguished gentleman from Massachusetts carried the day and the Continental Congress unanimously approved the Declaration. As Jack Shepherd wrote, “Adams’s persistence won.” Where we have George Washington’s determination on the battlefield, Thomas Jefferson’s eloquence on paper, we have John Adams’ persistence in debate.
Thanks to David McCullough’s biography of this great man, the American people once again recognize the greatness of this oft-forgotten founder. The success of the book delighted me. It quickly climbed to the top of a number of bestseller lists — and stayed there for many months.
Tonight, in honor of that great man, I will watch a movie with the same title of one of David McCullough’s books, 1776, a somewhat cheesy flick which has long been one of my favorites. This film retells, in musical form, how John Adams pressed his reluctant colleagues in the Continental Congress to vote for independence. And while it is not entirely historically accurate (it, for example, does not show the great friendship between Adams and Jefferson), it is quite entertaining and even touching at times. One duet between Adams and his beloved wife Abigail nearly always brings me to tears.
What better way for a gay patriot to celebrate July 4th than to experience a musical rendition of our nation’s founding. A story which allows us once against to remember and the passion and persistence of one of our nation’s greatest men — and first patriots. John Adams.
-Dan (AKA GayPatriotWest): GayPatriotWest@aol.com