Copyright 2005 Mark Cole
“I must be independent as long as I live,” John Adams once said.
And so it all began, life of this incredible man: lawyer, patriot, diplomat, President, husband and father – and above all else, a man of independence.
His father was a minister and naturally enough was eager for his son to follow in his footsteps. But what Adams as a boy really wanted to do was to become – gasp! – a farmer. Horrified by this presumptive career choice, Reverend Adams organized a demonstration day of sorts where they would work together for a day, father and son, in fields under burning sun, just like farmers. He would show young John what life of farmer entailed, day in and day out. Surely that would break young boy of his belief that life of farmer is a good one. Or so he thought.
The day was long and work was hard. Reverend Adams toiled and sweated. In secret delight, boy struggled to keep up pace with his father.
Later, in debriefing over dinner, a famished, aching and sun-scorched Reverend Adams confidently asked John, “Well, John, are you satisfied with being a farmer?”
“Yes, sir, I like it very much,” boy proudly answered.
His father’s attempt to straighten out his thinking about farming having failed, John was nonetheless sent back to Latin school.
Institutional school was never Adams’ strong suit. He found teachers pedantic, boring and slow. The young Adams was either way behind, or, when inclination took hold, as it often did with mathematics, he would dash ahead and do exercises for entire book while rest of class plodded along together at a more leisurely pace.
Out of desperation, his father sent John to study one-on-one with a local scholar, Joseph Marsh. Marsh reported back that John had an exceptionally keen mind – though he also reported to Reverend Adams that he was, according to Adams biographer Page Smith:
“…a curious combination of traits – sober and reserved, passionate and intense, stiff and shy yet affectionate and responsive; impulsive, headstrong, sharp-tongued, with an aggressive self-assurance….”
Rarely has a more accurate description of a human being been set forth. Impulsive? Headstrong? Aggressively self-assured?
As time went on, John Adams lost his exclusive fondness for farming, developed a passion for intellectual pursuits (at least those which interested him), and, no doubt to relief of his father, attended Harvard and then settled on a legal career.
His legal skills rapidly led him to become most prominent attorney in Boston. It was not long before he took up cause of American independence, linking arms with his cousin Sam Adams and fellow Bostonian John Hancock. In aftermath of Boston Tea Party he wrote, “The die is cast. Swim or sink, live or die, survive or perish with my country was my unalterable determination.”
At 38, Adams was elected to Continental Congress as a resolute and steadfast proponent of independence. He forcefully advocated patriot position every chance he got. But he was more, much more, than just an orator. John Adams was a tireless worker. Eventually he served on some fifty committees, chairing half of them. His legendary work ethic earned him nickname “The Atlas of Independence” as so much of movement was on his shoulders.
In 1776, time had arrived. Continental Congressman Adams chaired a special committee charged with duty of crafting a declaration of independence. The others on committee were Benjamin Franklin, Robert Livingstone, Roger Sherman, and of course, Thomas Jefferson. Adams and Jefferson were responsible for creation of document. Jefferson did actual writing. When task was complete, each of committee members, together with 51 other men, pledged their lives, fortune and sacred honor for cause.
John Adams was often right about things. But he was convinced he was always right. And he simply would not compromise with or tolerate those who disagreed with him when he was in this mode, even referring to other men as “fools” right to their faces.