Friday, April 14, 2006

John Adams: A Life

I just finished reading a great book and wanted to pass along some very brief thoughts on it. The book is John Adams: A Life by John Ferling. I was turned on to John Ferling after listening to another of his books on tape, Adams vs. Jefferson: The Tumultuous Election of 1800. As a newly admitted history buff, especially 17th-19th century America, I am trying to read a biography of each of the founding fathers. John Adams: A Life is a very detailed look (454 pages) at the entire life of the United States first Vice President (1792-1800) and our second President (1800-1804). This book delves into Adam's early life, his incredible drive to become a man of importance, his family life, especially his relationship with his wife Abigail, his rise to political prominence from a cautious advocate of independence from Great Britain to possibly the most outspoken advocate of independence when the fledgling movement needed leadership the most, especially among the New England States.

The book goes into much detail also on the attitudes of the citizens during the revolutionary era, and does a good job of over viewing the differences between the two main political parties which arose during the revolutionary war and after, namely, the Federalists and the Republicans. Adams was a federalist, though not a high federalist and Jefferson a republican, though Adams became more of a republican near the end of his lifetime. Between this book and Adams vs. Jefferson, you can get a pretty good picture of this man, and also of Jefferson.

There are so many quotes from the book that would be interesting, but for lack of time I am going to focus on one quote. I was interested in John Adam's religious views, as I am all the founding fathers. This topic was broached on a very surface level throughout most of the book, noting Adams would occasionlly discuss theological subjects and owned theological books in his large library. It also mentions him as a dedicated attender of the Congregational Church. Adam's led a long life and near the end many of his friends and family have died. This, naturally, has Adams contemplating death more often. Near the end of the book Ferling offers this analysis of Adam's religious beliefs:

"From this point on, Adams dwelt more than ever on the mysteries of life and death. During his early adult years, Adams had turned away from the strict Calvinism of his youth. He thereafter referred to himself as a "church-going animal" and as "a fellow disciple" to all Christians. In his final years, however, he moved toward a Unitarian position. He continued to believe in the existence of a Supreme Creator and in an afterlife, but he rejected the notion of Jesus' divinity and denounced institutional Christianity as a purveyor of fraud and superstition. The Christian church, he declared, was the cause of much pain and suffering on earth. Nevertheless, he continued to believe that Christ's teachings and his "universal Toleration" offered the best guide to human conduct. "My religion", he remarked in 1815, "is found on the love of God and my neighbor; on the hope of pardon for my offenses...I believe, too, in a future state of rewards and punishments, but not eternal." The one notion to which Adams remained committed was his belief that religion was necessary for the general populace; without some such belief system to constrain the masses, he said, "their World would be something not fit to be mentioned in polite Company, I mean Hell." P. 433-435, John Adams: A Life by John Ferling.


Very interesting quote, and Adam's beliefs here seem to be more Jeffersonian than Christian. Although, I look forward to seeing if further reading on these men confirm or confuse the sentiments expressed here. Adams never lost his belief that mankind was not inherently good, but suffered a base nature, of which government must be contoured and shaped around. According to this book, this is the view that formed Adam's thoughts on government.

I highly recommend this book if you enjoy history. It is long, but when I was done I felt I had accomplished a great deal! It was well worth it and I look forward to continuing to delve into the hearts and minds of the men who founded our country.

1 comment:

Integrity said...

I'll think aout reading

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