Even before David McCullough’s biography of John Adams topped the bestseller charts, I had been a fan of our nation’s second president. Perhaps it is because he, like yours truly, was outspoken for the causes he championed.
Had it not been for his persistence in pushing independence, our great nation might never have been born. He pressed his friend Thomas Jefferson to write the Declaration of Independence and led the fight to move its passage in the Continental Congress, winning him the nickname, the “Atlas of Independence.” He later helped negotiate the peace treaty which ended the American Revolution and made real that declaration. He was our nation’s first Vice President. And yet despite all his accomplishments, he feared history would not remember him and give short shrift to his role in our nation’s founding.
Indeed, until McCullough’s biography, he seemed to be the forgotten founder, known primarily to those who had memorized the list of American presidents or fortunate enough to have seen a stage production of 1776 (or its screen adaptation). There are no great monuments honoring him in our nation’s capital as there are for his friend Jefferson and George Washington, his presidential predecessor. Perhaps it pained him that Jefferson enjoyed greater recognition than he did in his lifetime. And he would surely have groused if he had known that his immediate White House successor had retained that fame after they both had gone.
But, as I watched the John & Abigail Adams, a PBS production on this great man’s life — and great love, it struck me that in the great scheme of things, he was better off than Mr. Jefferson. He had had one thing which his fellow founder lacked. The Virginian’s beloved wife, Martha, died in 1782, leaving him a widower for the better part of his life whereas Adams’ wife Abigail predeceased her husband by only eight years, having been married to him for 54 years. She provided him comfort in the difficult early years of the nineteenth century after his painful election loss in 1800. That he had her companionship for the better part of his life certainly made this and other difficulties easier to bear.
John Adams was certainly one of the most married presidents in U.S. history. He was not only devoted to Abigail, but respected her judgment and appreciated her intelligence.
Mr. Jefferson may have had the greater fame, but Adams had the deeper and more long-lasting marriage. His path may have been more difficult, but his comfort and companionship were so much greater. His journey was far less lonely than that of his frequent friend and sometime rival from the Old Dominion. What he lacked in fame, he made up for in his marriage.
Given how much John Adams treasured Abigail, I dare say that in his later years, he realized that he had been far more fortunate than had been Mr. Jefferson.
– B. Daniel Blatt (GayPatriotWest@aol.com)