This is a guest post, written by my daughter, to whom I generally refer on Twitter as Herself. Herself saw one link too many to the Adams Diss Rap from Hamilton, the musical, and produced the following (before, during, and immediately after Art History class.) I am persuaded. Adams did what was right. And he has quite an eloquent defender, of whom I am immensely proud.
Hamilton has done Adams a massive disservice by characterizing him as an old man who either did nothing or worse while failing to follow the grand act of our One Flawless President, Here-Comes-the-General George Washington. <drumroll>
That treatment of Hamilton might be less prevalent in the public mindset if not for the total and absolute removal of Adams from the history books, a trend that has only recently been addressed as ‘hugely fuckin’ inaccurate.’ That 1776 scene in which Adams describes the future history of America being “George Washington, Franklin, and the horse conducting the entire revolution by themselves” is not only HIGHLY ACCURATE, it is also based on an ACTUAL COMMENT made by the alarmingly prescient Adams. Perhaps, if we had actual history books discuss Adams, we might have a better idea of who he was and what he did.
However, that isn’t the case, and as a result, we have a single POP CULTURAL source from which everyone in the 2010’s is getting their first impression of Adams since APUSH. A single source which is about the life of John Adams’ number one opponent within his own party.
Now, to be sure, he did a hell of a lot of things in office that we can fight with. Alexander Hamilton certainly did. The Alien and Sedition Acts should not have been signed into legislation. But that fantastic Hamilton line “John Adams doesn’t have a real job anyway?”
Firstly, based on the context on the song in which that is said, ‘Take A Break,’ this is during (here-comes-the-general) WASHINGTON’S <drumroll> presidency, in which Adams is the vice president. A role Adams himself described as “the most insignificant office that ever the invention of man contrived or his imagination conceived.” This was not a job intended for people to do things in.
Do you know what Adams did within that incredibly limited position? He broke the tie in the Senate an unmatched TWENTY-NINE times, and was so active that legislation was threatened to further reduce his role until Adams quieted the fuck down in order to preserve his chances at becoming the next president.
I repeat, Adams was so active that he was threatened with AN ACTUAL RESOLUTION TO MAKE HIM STOP DOING SO MUCH.
Secondly, that “eight-month vacation.” Let’s give that some context.
For one thing, it was seven months. But okay, that’s quibbling with details. Seven months is still a hell of a lot of time to go awol. Especially in 1798, during the Quasi-War with France.
Do you know what else happened in 1798?
Abigail Adams got very, very sick.
John Adams returned to Massachusetts to take care of her. To be with her.
Now, thank gods, Abigail Adams did not die, and the world had another 20 years her glorious life to benefit from. But she was dangerously ill that year. We have seen through their immense collection of letters what John and Abigail Adams meant to each other, and I will not fucking blame him for going straight home to take care of her when she needed him there.
Now, Adams faced huge mockery for his decision to return to Massachusetts, and it’s been theorized that was one of the reasons he only had the single term (Rechavia.) And yes, it’s pretty bad if a president goes off on vacation at the peak of a conflict with another country and does nothing about it.
That wasn’t what he did.
DESPITE his wife’s illness, DESPITE the fierce opposition of his own party due to what can only be called ALEXANDER HAMILTON’S RELENTLESS WARMONGERING what is generally considered one of the major accomplishments of Adams’ presidency is the PEACEFUL RESOLUTION OF SAID CONFLICT.
And all that after (because, you know, how the fuck was he to know if his own damn country would actually listen to him and not wage war) Adams had already built up the US Army and Navy, which, as we will recall from descriptions both in Hamilton and 1776 and actual history, was a disreputable collection of ill-equipped farmhands that endangered the lives of teenagers and old men by enlisting them due to a lack of able-bodied trained soldiers.
I refer all this back up to the earlier comment about Adams not doing much even while at/in the White House, because I will fight anyone who maintains that creating a fucking peace while opposed by his own party AND his former best friend and strengthening national forces to allay risking the brutality of the American Revolutionary War ever be repeated is NOTHING.
(As a side note, I will say all of this in defense of Adams because he fucking deserves it, however, I have a problem with the very first tweet’s logic regardless of what Adams does. There is no connection between ‘country survived president abandoning post’ and ‘country surviving any of the potential next presidents.’ One does not guarantee the other, one does not even RESEMBLE the other. There is no similarity of situation, we aren’t worried about the next president taking a long vacation in the middle of a war, we aren’t even at a phase in the election in which we can be worried about that.
And if the point is to bring up the worst possible thing a president could do, to show ‘hey, we made it through this, there’s nothing to fear from any other president now?’ Then holy crap, EVEN IF ADAMS HAD ACTUALLY STRAIGHT UP TAKEN A ROCKET TO OUTER SPACE AFTER PERSONALLY DECLARING WAR ON FRANCE, BRITAIN, AND LIECHTENSTEIN, IT WOULD STILL NOT BE A GOOD OR RELEVANT EXAMPLE OF THE WORST POSSIBLE THING FOR THE UNITED STATES TO HAVE SURVIVED DUE TO DIRECT PRESIDENTIAL ACTIONS.)
Now, to be fair, I do have to recognize a few things – I may rag on public perception of Adams being entirely due to his portrayal in Hamilton, but I am inordinately fond of John Adams in part due to his wonderful depiction in 1776, which in some ways conflated him with his firebrand cousin, Samuel Adams. But every historical detail I bring up here is something that actually occurred outside of the scope of that musical. Regardless of his personality, these events happened. Hamilton is great, but, as with 1776, it’s a story told through the eyes of people alive at the time, with their own biases and connection to events. We can’t cite musicals, even great ones, for historical fact.
However, if we do want to talk about musicals, yes, I have heard the Adams Diss Rap, and the last line of it is a reference to the first song of 1776 – Sit Down John. Also, Mom, the line is “I’m obnoxious and disliked, you know that sir,” not ‘so.’
That oft-repeated line comes from another actual quote by Adams, although one he wrote late in his lifetime looking back on his career. It’s generally accepted Adams was actually quite well-respected and that his description of himself had been colored by, I don’t know, continuously being silenced in the role he originated as vice-president, a half-decade of attacks from both his opposition and his own party while in office, and being viciously attacked in his second campaign with cases of being called a hermaphrodite by Jefferson’s supporters before losing the vote.
So, in conclusion.
Adams did a hell of a lot in every job he had, despite constantly being hindered, ignored, and attacked. Most of his perceived faults tend to have stemmed from the descriptions of him made by the people specifically attempting to damage his reputation, and his own bitter retrospect on several decades of hard, unglamorous, unthanked work. He is in no way a good example of one of the worst presidents, and of all the actions he took that could have damaged the US, going home to his sick wife is hardly one of them. Honestly, we forget how new his positions were, there wasn’t a significant precedent, and given that, he did remarkably well holding together an incredibly fragile little country during some very difficult years. John Adams did good.
Give John Adams a break.
And watch 1776.