Friday, July 1, 2011

Who’s Your Favorite Historical Figure?

Dear Riley,

I love history and I love reading. I encourage you to love both, especially reading.

I want to tell you who my favorite historical person is and why.


John Adams is not the most well-known historical figure, and I have to admit I’ve learned much about his since reading John Adams, by David McCullough. It’s my favorite book.

John Adams was a founding father from Massachusettes, from Braintree, Massachusettes. Isn’t that an interesting name? I thought so.

John’s father was a simple farmer who dreamed of sending his son to Harvard. Through hard word and dedication, John graduated from Harvard and passed the bar to practice law in Massachusettes.

John was a struggling attorney in Boston, when he was asked (basically begged) to represent the British soldiers accused in the Boston Massacre. First of all, it wasn’t really a massacre. Five New Englanders did lose their lives, but it was because they were pestering the British soldiers. One New Englander actually yelled out, “Shoot us!” After one of the soldiers was hit in the face, shots rang out.


I’m sure you can imagine the controversy during the time: Americans were tired of having to submit to British rule, and mainly their taxes. Not to mention beer flowed freely.

John Adams was approached to defend the British soldiers. At first he declined, but after some pleading and learning the facts, John agreed to represent the soldiers. I should point out, John Adams lost his first case, so he didn’t have GREAT confidence in his abilities as an attorney. Not to mention, many New Englanders were upset that one of their own would represent the British soldiers, including John Adams’ cousin, Samuel Adams (yes, from the beer).

Despite the high tension, John Adams won the case. The British soldiers were freed (and advised to leave the country!). This victory was a great boost to John’s self-confidence. He was a very moral and wise man.

When talk of separating from Britain began, John Adams was a central figure. Although he wasn’t very tall and had a beak-like nose, John Adams was very respected. While serving in the Continental Congress, he was a fierce advocate for American liberties and freedoms. John Adams made the suggestion of George Washing to lead the new military, and eventually the new young country.

John Adams was eventually nominated to serve the American people overseas. From Great Britain, Holland and France, John Adams left his family to serve our country.

Perhaps my favorite story of John Adams occurs on his first trip to Great Britain. His son, John Quincy Adams travelled the 3000 miles with him onboard a ship. During the crossing, a British vessel was spotted in the distance, and John’s boat ordered to take arms. The captain even consulted John on this point. John Adams ordered his young son below deck, and to his surprise, the captain even ordered John below deck as well. John went below for a time, but eventually emerged holding his own pistol! The future POTUS! The British vessel was at last captured and sent to American soil.

He and his wife, Abigail Adams, spent many years with an entire ocean separating them. Their letters are proof of a phenomenal love. John Adams referred to Abigail has his “dearest friend” and after one particularly long absence told Abigail, “If I were near you, I would soon convince you that I am not above 40.” Of course, John was well above 40 years old, but I think this line just speaks of his deep love for Abigail.


In her own right, Abigail was one smart lady. John Adams would defer to her opinion on many occasions. He truly valued her advice and was noticably happier when she was with him.

As John and Abigail aged, John retired from public service. He longed to spend his time on his farm, Peacefield, surrounded by Abigail and his children.

Little did John know, he would next spend 8 years as Vice President, and then go on to serve 4 years as President of the United States. Things were much different in those times, so John was able to spend short breaks at Peacefield.

John Adams’ family was not perfect, in fact, far from it. John had two sons who suffered from alcoholism, his only surviving daughter had a disastrous marriage and then had to undergo a mastectomy with no anesthesia.

John Adams was ultimately able to spend his final years at Peacefield tending his farm. He and Abigail celebrated over 50 years of marriage together. When Abigail passed away John said, “I wish I could lay down and die beside her.”


(A scene from the HBO miniseries, John Adams, showing John Adams on the left and George Washington on the right. The miniseries was awesome! Of course, read the book first!)

On the 50th anniversary of America’s independence from British rule that was due in very large part to himself, John Adams passed away hours after the only other surviving founding father, Thomas Jefferson.

In my opinion, America was shaped by John Adams. He was a very wise man and I am truly glad I have been able to learn so much about this man.

Riley, I hope you can find your own favorite historical person. It will be well worth your search.

Love, Mama

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