Happy Birthday, Mr. Adams!!!

With less than two weeks to go before the opening of “My Dearest Friend” by Mary G. Kron, we’re putting the finishing touches on the performance. Apart from rehearsing, we’ve spent part of the week touching up the PowerPoint and tweaking sound effects (see, it’s a multi-media show!). But here at GEM Theatrics, we think a lot of Mr. and Mrs. Adams, so we’re taking a little time off to celebrate John Adams’ 276th birthday! You might want to do the same at your house, so here’s a little life background on the birthday boy.
John Adams was born on October 30, 1735 (October 19 if you go by the Julian calendar used at the time — the calendar change is way too complicated to go into here), the eldest of three sons of John Adams, Sr. and Susanna Boylston Adams, in Braintree, now Quincy, Mass. His father was a “good New England farmer” and deacon in the Congregational church.  At age 16, he began his studies at Harvard College with the intention of becoming a minister also. After graduation, he taught school in nearby Worcester, Mass. as he pondered his choice of a career. He finally decided that the ministry wasn’t for him and began to study law with the prominent Worcester lawyer, John Putnam. At about this time, he met Abigail Smith, the daughter of the Congregational minister in Weymouth. Just five days before his 29th birthday, he and Abigail were married and their 54 year odyssey of love and life began. They would eventually have six children, only three of which would survive infancy, and only one of which, John Quincy Adams, would live beyond age 50.
By the end of the 1760s, the drive in America for independence was in high gear. Great Britain had begun to increase taxes on the colonists to pay for the French and Indian War. John was a prominent antagonist to those taxes, writing articles in newspapers and giving speeches. His argument was that the taxes were invalid in Massachusetts because Massachusetts had no representation in Parliament.
In 1770, a street confrontation between civilians and British soldiers resulted in five civilian deaths and was instantly branded by Paul Revere, Samuel Adams (John’s cousin) and other revolutionaries as the “Boston Massacre.” The soldiers were arrested, but could not find defense counsel, even among the loyalist Tory attorneys. John, believing that “counsel is the last thing a free man should be deprived of in a free country”, took their case. He argued eloquently to the jury that the soldiers had merely been defending themselves against a mob out to do them harm. Six of the eight soldiers were acquitted outright; the other two were convicted of the lesser charge of manslaughter and punished by a branding on the thumb. Adams later called his defense “one of the best pieces of service I ever rendered my Country.”
In 1774, Massachusetts chose John as one of its delegates to the newly-formed Continental Congress. Although personally distrusted and disliked by other members, he became the leader of the faction determined to effect a separation from Great Britain. In 1776, he was appointed to the committee that drafted the Declaration of Independence. He proudly signed that document, despite being well aware “of the toil and blood and treasure that it [would] cost this country to maintain this Declaration and to support and defend these states.”
During the Revolutionary War, John was sent to France to attempt to form an alliance. The trip was a personal failure, his New England habit for bluntness clashing with the French penchant for tact and indirectness. So, on his own authority, he left France and traveled to Amsterdam to attempt to obtain a loan. That he was able to persuade the parsimonious Dutch to lend his struggling nation badly needed funds is a testament to his persuasiveness and tenacity. At the close of the war, John participated in the negotiation of the treaty of peace and was appointed our first Ambassador to Great Britain. Despite the former hostilities, the mission was a success, all the more so for John because, after years of being apart, Abigail was able to join John in England.
John and Abigail returned from England after the passage of the Constitution and John served two terms as Vice President under George Washington. He found the office an “empty, annoying, taxing title, without authority and with little influence. In 1796, however, he was elected the second President of the United States.
As he always had, John performed his duty as President to the best of his abilities. It was a time of great upheaval. Revolution was stirring in France, causing a rift in his Cabinet between those seeking a war with France (such as Alexander Hamilton) and those urging U.S. support for the revolutionaries (such as VP Thomas Jefferson). Adams tended to side with the wary, which destroyed for years his close friendship with Jefferson, who would succeed him to the Presidency. Despite his jaundiced view of the French revolution, he was determined to avoid a war with France, feeling certain that the new young nation could not afford another global conflict.
His vanity and arrogance did not serve him well in the Presidency (this is a birthday celebration, so the less said about the Alien and Sedition Acts the better). He was soundly defeated by Jefferson in 1800 and he and Abigail left the newly constructed Executive Mansion the night before Jefferson’s inauguration and retired home to Braintree.
Eventually, the separation between Adams and Jefferson was closed and their letters in later life make for fascinating reading. The rest of John’s retirement, however, was not without challenges at the home front. In 1800, his second son, Charles, died an alcoholic, and in 1813, his only surviving daughter, Abigail (called ‘Nabby’) died of breast cancer. Then, on October 28, 1818, just three days after their 54th wedding anniversary and just two days before John’s 83rd birthday, Abigail Adams, John’s confidant and counselor, died of typhoid fever.
John lived on in failing health for eight more years, finally dying on July 4, 1826. It was the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence and his son, John Quincy Adams, was President of the United States. His reported last words were “Jefferson still survives.” John was wrong; Jefferson had died earlier that same day at this home, Monticello.
As Mary Beth and I prepare to bring a bit of the lives and love of this most modern of historical couples to life November 11 -13 at Dog Story Theater, we raise a glass and say, Happy Birthday, Mr. Adams!

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