Most jurists and constitutional scholars today would probably contend that the most controlling precedent to be set in the early republic was laid down in the 1803 Marbury v. Madison decision. While a formidable ruling, it was not, however, the decisive moment—at least not to people at the time. The hinge event in the early history of the judiciary was President John Adams’s appointment of John Marshall as chief justice of the Supreme Court in 1801.Read more »
The swing to conservatism in American politics and culture is one of the most remarkable facts of our age. The signs of this conservatism are all about us. After generations of exile from respectability, the word itself has been welcomed home with cheers by men who, a few short years ago, would sooner have been called arsonists than conservatives.Read more »
By the time John Adams arrived in Paris in early 1778 to replace American diplomat Silas Deane, there was only one American name on everyone’s lips: Ambassador Benjamin Franklin. “His name was familiar to government and people,” groused the envious Adams. “To foreign courtiers, nobility, clergy and philosophers, as well as plebians, to such a degree there was scarcely a peasant or a citizen, a valet de chambre, coachman or footman, a lady’s chamber maid or a scullion in a kitchen . . . who did not consider him as a friend. . . .Read more »
When John Adams set out with his little son on a perilous voyage early in 1778, he was full of misgivings. He had every right to be worried, but the journey turned out to be the adventure of his life—and a revelation of his essential character.
JOHN ADAMS REACHED HIS HOME IN BRAINTREE, MASSA- chusetts, by horseback in the last days of November 1777 and for two weeks did little but relish the comforts of his own fireside. He was home to stay, by preference and of necessity, he said: “It was my intention to decline the next election, and return to my practise at the bar. I had been four years in Congress, left my accounts in a very loose condition. My debtors were failing, the paper money was depreciating. I was daily losing the fruits of seventeen years’ industry.Read more »
During the first contested presidential election in American history, the voters were asked to choose between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. In this millennial year, voters will choose between George W. Bush and Al Gore. At first blush, the caustic observation of Henry Adams appears indisputable: The American Presidency stands as a glaring exception to Charles Darwin’s theory of evolutionary progress.
John Adams thought Americans would commemorate their Independence Day on the second of July. Future generations, he confidently predicted, would remember July 2, 1776, as “the most memorable Epocha, in the History of America” and celebrate it as their “Day of Deliverance by solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.”
John Adams and Thomas Jefferson stood together in America’s perilous dawn, but politics soon drove them apart. Then in their last years the two old enemies began a remarkable correspondence that is both testimony to the power of friendship and an eloquent summary of the dialogue that went on within the Revolutionary generation—and that continues within our own.
John Adams said Thomas Jefferson’s mind was “eaten to a honeycomb with ambition, yet weak, confused, uninformed, and ignorant.” Ulysses S. Grant said James Garfield did not have “the backbone of an angleworm.” Theodore Roosevelt called Woodrow Wilson “a Byzantine logothete.” Wilson called Chester Arthur “a nonentity with sidewhiskers.” Harry Truman summed up Lyndon Johnson with a curt “No guts!”Read more »
Two hundred years ago Philadelphia was the natural place for the constitution-makers. There was nothing unexpected about that. Philadelphia had one hundred years behind her that were as respectable as they were impressive. Two generations after her solitary founder, William Penn, had set foot on the right bank of the Delaware, Philadelphia had become the largest city in North America, and the fourth (perhaps the third) largest city in the entire British Empire.Read more »
How precise is the educated American’s understanding of the history of our country? I don’t mean exact knowledge of minor dates, or small details about the terms of laws, or questions like “Who was secretary of war in 1851?” ( Answer: Charles M. Conrad.) But just how well does the average person remember the important facts—the laws, treaties, people, and events that should be familiar to everyone? Read more »