Author: Pontifex Maximus
Original Thread: Contributions of John Adams
Contributions of John Adams
The success of the revolutionary war and the initial security of the United States could be attributed to several different men, but one man in particular distinguished himself as being a key contributor in both these scenarios. John Adams was seen and identified as an early leader in the Continental Congress by his peers, and his influence greatly aided the formation of the Declaration of Independence and the cause of separation from Great Britain. As an educated middle to upper class Bostonian, his background enabled him to take important roles in the colonial government. His foundation as a political figurehead was established from the beginning days of the Continental Congress and climaxed the day he left office as President of the United States. His energy and zeal for the cause of independence is noted by historians and his peers alike. Without the contributions of John Adams, the chances of success for the revolutionary war would have been greatly diminished, as his contributions were vital to success.
John Adams was an exceptional man. Before his formal, national role in the political arena began, he won renown as a lawyer in Massachusetts colony. It was in 1770 that he began more than simply a blip on the radar of the sons of Liberty and American Patriots. In the wake of the Boston Massacre in 1770, Adams was the only lawyer in Boston that would take the case of the British soldiers. In doing so, Adams risked everything. His reputation (which he highly valued, being a lover of Cicero), business, and respect could be severely tarnished by taking the case, which he did nonetheless. Adams appealed their case before the Massachusetts court, the jury was composed of Bostonians. Chances of an innocence verdict were slim. Eight soldiers were tried, and out of those, only two were found guilty and six were exonerated. The mere fact that Adams was able to present the case to such a biased jury, (probably due to his disdain of mob violence) and have the majority of his clients freed is astonishing. Furthermore, by representing the men when it was so unpopular to do so, Adams demonstrates much about his character. He was a just and intelligent man. To his surprise, the case also led Bostonians to respect him more than they ever had, instead of leading to his unpopularity and rejection from society as Adams had expected. These qualities and skills demonstrated in the Massachusetts courtrooms would aid in his rise to prominence.
This case seemingly launched his political career (as well as business career) into new heights as he was first appointed to the Massachusetts legislature by the city of Boston, and then appointed delegate for Massachusetts to the First Continental Congress in 1774. The main result of the congress was to enact a full embargo on British materials until the congress reconvened in May of 1775. This, of course, affected Boston very little, since their port was already being blocked by British frigates as a result of the Boston Tea Party, since the citizens of Massachusetts refused to pay for the tea they had destroyed.
When Adams returned to Philadelphia in February of 1776, independence was on the lips of every Northern delegate’s lips. A newly converted supporter to the cause of independence, Adams realized that the decision for independence had to be unanimous in Congress. Among those standing in opposition to independence was Benjamin Harrison of Virginia. Those in the south were far from the turmoil and mob activity in the north, therefore far removed from civil strife, and Adams realized that he must treat the opposition respectfully if they are to be won over. John Adams handled himself intelligently in countering the opposition’s points that reconciliation should be foremost in the minds of the colonists. Adams dispelled the belief that New Englanders were war-mongers by admitting that every attempt to rectify the situation with the mother country should be tried, but Adams regarded it as a futile effort. Based upon events and disturbances Adams himself witnessed including the Battle of Bunker Hill, he believed that the British would be hesitant with accepting the terms of the colonists for peace. Throughout the next several months, and following the publication of Common Sense, Adams debated the concept of independence with fervor. As time went on, evidence shows that Adams’ and the other pro-independence efforts in Congress had taken effect on the mindset of the congress as a whole. On March 14, 1776, an act passed that effectively unarmed Tories in the American colonies. While independence was still being debated upon, this action by congress shows that they were willing to take measures to protect themselves from British loyalists in the preparation for war, which at this point seemed inevitable. In addition, on March 23, 1776, Congress voted to raise and fund two swift moving privateer vessels to defend American merchants from British frigates. Adams was appointed to the naval committee and took an active role in laying down regulations and was credited with helping found America’s navy. This appointment was an acknowledgement by the other delegates of Adams competence in organization and administrative duties and his leadership qualities. In a short time, Adams was able to convince other delegates that action must be taken to help defend from British aggression. At the same time, talk of an alliance with either Spain or France was also a topic of hot debate on the streets and bars of Philadelphia. Although few formal plans had taken form, thoughts were vocalized and ideas were formed about the issue.
Adams was a visionary even in these premature times. He envisioned an America consisting of a government with an executive authority that would be elected by two houses (bicameral legislature), similar to the British model, but also bearing resemblances to the ideals of the Constitution which was to be drafted later and then only after the initial Articles of Confederation failed. His thoughts on the matter were published in his work Thoughts on Government, in spring of 1776,but few supporters could be found. It seems his ideas were in fact premature, and perhaps could be called upon later on. Adams thought of himself as a poor writer, and was said to lament that he had insufficient time to complete his work.
Although his ideas of how the government should be formed were published a decade too early, Adams contributed to convincing southern delegates, particularly the South Carolinians, that independence was the only route to take with Britain; that all attempts for peace have expired. The southerners, who had much hoped a precarious peace was still an option, held fast to the hope that if concessions were made, the King would not be as forceful in his actions. Adams enlightened these delegates as to the situation in the north and explained that British tyranny would only expand to encompass the south if it was allowed. Adams was able to demonstrate to them that peace was no longer a viable option. It was not until April that delegates from the southern states were granted permission from their colonial assemblies to support independence. At this point in time, it had become the mindset of the congress as a whole that independence was the last option to be had, and was increasingly becoming the only option. On June 10, 1776,
the Congress reconvened to vote on independence, but what remained of the opposition in the middle colonies requested a delay in order to seek new direction. In the meantime, a committee was appointed by the congress to draft a declaration of independence. Adams was chosen to be a part of this most prestigious committee.
Initially, it was agreed that Adams, being the crusader of the independence movement in Congress, be the one to draft the document, but in his wisdom, Adams refused. Adams reasoned that Jefferson be the one to write it because if Jefferson, a Virginian, were to draft it, it would show support from the southern colonies, which were generally opposed to the idea of independence. Adams also considered Jefferson to be a significantly more talented writer than himself. Humorously enough, another reason Adams was hesitant to draft it was that he considered himself “Obnoxious, suspected, and unpopular”. On July 1, 1776, the Congress reconvened after the recess, and the Declaration was ratified in this session. Independence was announced on July 4, 1776, with much jubilation on the part of John Adams. His long fought legislative battle for independence was finally won. Adam’s support of the cause of independence was crucial in Congress. Without his support, it is doubtful that the motion would have passed, or would have been significantly delayed due to the need of a majority. Adams was able to argue the need for independence and expound on it’s need to the point of ubiquitous agreement in Congress.
Unknown to him at the time, Adams would only be allowed to spend some time at home before he was again called to serve his country. After the ratification of the Declaration of Independence, Adams returned home, briefly, to tend to his increasingly estranged family. His absence from his family was lamentable in his own mind, but a necessary evil as the country began to suffer as a result from the British blockade and military presence. The year following the ratification of the declaration was defined by military defeat in the north at the hands of the British. The American position was becoming precarious.
After a year spent at home, Adams was once again called on December 22, 1777. At this time he was appointed minister to France and was to leave to join Benjamin Franklin and Arthur Lee. A concern of the congress was Benjamin Franklin’s ability to complete his duties in France because of his age. Although a competent minister and brilliant diplomat, at this point Franklin could be considered elderly by colonial standards and the congress was concerned about his health. Adams seemed the likely candidate to appoint to France to ensure a degree of vigor in the diplomatic pursuits.
The importance of establishing a military alliance with a major European power could not be overstated. With the revolution faltering and the regular army in shambles, aid was required to stop the onslaught of the British and their Hessian mercenaries. Although Adams was unaware, he was to spend the next decade of his life abroad, vying for military and financial aid of various European powers including France, Britain and Holland. His achievements in each and all of the countries aided America in important cases.
Adams set sail from the New World aboard the Boston, and became immediately involved with the ship’s maintenance. He spent long hours talking with the surgeon of the vessel, a Frenchman, and many hours more learning about the ship. Along the way, he braved countless storms and after a British frigate gave chase to the Boston, even took part in the fighting from which the American vessel emerged victorious. Adams landed on February 6, 1778 and was taken to the Paris where Adams was taken back with it’s beauty. It was at this point Adams was taught how to win the French over by his most learned senior, Benjamin Franklin. The key to flattering the French, was to immerse completely in their culture, which many times held Adams in an awkward position, since he knew very little French and was hesitant, at first, to become involved with their luxurious lifestyle. In fact, so important was the need to learn French, Adams spent much of his free time studying French in his free time. Such was his devotion. This was one aspect of diplomacy that he found hard to adapt to. With Franklin’s connections, Adams quickly rose and his presence became noted as he took on many of Franklin’s friends.
Thus far, American pleas for help had fallen on uncaring French ears.
The French were eager to exact revenge on their long time enemies, the British, the French Government was hesitant in doing so, fearing they would support a cause headed for ruin. Of course, up to that point the Americans hadn’t proven that their cause was headed for success. The years leading up to 1777 were marked by military defeat and retreat, with few exceptions at Trenton and Princeton in New Jersey, but these were considered minor skirmishes compared to the crushing victories won by the British in the earlier part of the year. In the fall of 1777, a British invasion force composed of 9,000 men headed southward from Canada to attack New England. The American militia force, headed by such notable men as Benedict Arnold, encompassed the British force, and eventually forced their surrender.
This was a decisive victory in the north that not only kept the hope of Americans alive, but sparked French interest. The Americans were able to prove that while the odds are against them, their zeal for the cause could allow them to overcome overwhelming British military might.
This victory gave Adams and Franklin the ammunition they needed to win over the French. The diplomats were invited to Versailles in May of 1778. The French monarch and his court were impressed with the way Adams carried himself, and at the improvement in his French. It was a crucial time for the diplomats, and knowing this, much time was spent in preparation. Adams, clothed completely in French attire, spoke in sufficient French to the King directly. Conveniently enough for Adams, the French government had already pledged support for the cause before he landed. News of American victories in New England swayed the monarch over to the American cause. Soon, a French fleet bearing supplies, troops, and money was to make way for the New World. Victory was now a reality for the Americans. Within the same year, Adams received word that he was needed back in Congress, and was being recalled from France. His contributions in France had been vital to the success of the American diplomacy triumvirate. In a parting letter, the King complimented Adams on his aptitude and hisgreatly improved French. Adams had made an impact, and even the French monarch recognize see it.
After Adams had returned to America, life once again took on a semblance of normalcy. Adams was again elected to the Massachusetts congress and he resumed his law practice. Although the war had swung in favor of the Americans, inflation and shortages were abundant. It wasn’t long, however, until Adams would once again say goodbye to his family, as Congress appointed him once more to perform diplomatic duties in France, but this time to secure continued French involvement, a job as important and vital to the nation as getting the French involved in the first place.
Adams set sail with a small group including his two sons and a secretary in November of 1779, and once again, things would not go as planned. The ship began to leak and immediately pumps were brought out. The voyage in it’s entirety was spent pumping, by both passenger and crew alike, until Spain was reached in December. Once in Spain it became obvious that the ship’s repairs could take some time, time that Adams didn’t have. Adams must make it to France soon to begin deliberations. Adams had to make a hard decision to instead travel to France by the dangerous passes of the Pyrenees. This was to be a one thousand mile land journey, but France would be reached sooner, so they set off. After a trip defined by hardships and toil, the party arrived in France. The goal of the American envoy was to ensure continued French presence in and around the United States. In early days of deliberation, Adams went head to head with illustrious French ministers. One thing that France remained abstinent about was loaning money to the new American government. The French coffers were already drained from expenses of the war. After some time, Adams received new directives from Congress, urging him
to travel to the Dutch Republic to secure loans.
Securing funds for the government was crucial at this time. Congress was bankrupt from the war. Adams accepted this appointment, as he was growing tired of the French diplomatic scene, and soon departed for Amsterdam. The Dutch had been sympathetic to the American cause even before the French were approached after the war had begun. During the revolution, they aided the colonists with gun smuggling efforts in the New World, helping to arm many Americans. Despite the Dutch feelings toward the American revolution, it soon became clear to Adams that the Dutch would do little to help financially in the form of loans. Dutch banks had ties to the British by loans as well, and it was considered dangerous to do anything to anger them. Also, Dutch noblemen were unsatisfied with American credit, which at that point was not established in the least bit. The aggressive attitudes displayed by British diplomats in the area were more reason for caution on the Dutch part. In response, Adams wrote a sixteen page pamphlet titled “Memorial” in which Adams appealed for help and aid. He cited the many links the Dutch and Americans had with one another, including the fact that the colonies of New York and New Jersey had initially been settled by Dutch immigrants. Within weeks, the letter was published in French and Dutch. His pamphlet, once translated into Dutch, won the support of the common Dutch citizen, as the American plight in the colonies became highly publicized. Although considered propaganda, Adams’ pamphlet led to increased American support in Europe. By the time Adams recovered in November of a Dutch fever, word reached his house in Amsterdam
of the historic victory at Yorktown that had dealt a decisive blow to the British. The matter of recognition of the United Stated in the Netherlands became a topic of hot debate throughout the country in the wake of the victory and Adams made it his goal to play on these sympathies. The people were sympathetic to the American cause and petitioned the government. The Dutch officials and nobles, however, had no desire to throw support behind a fledgling nation that had yet to decisively win it’s independence from Britain. As time wore on, and the effects of the victory became clear, and the surrender of Cornwallis was verified. Once again, timing favored Adams, and after a combination of his appeals, letters, and writings, the Dutch government finally recognized the United States and plans for a loan were drawn up. By spring of that year, America was fully recognized by the Dutch, and thus loans could be sought. In June of 1782, Adams secured the first loan of money by any European nation to America at two million dollars. This money was needed to rebuild America, but also important for establishing credit in Europe.
Adams was hailed by the Prince of Orange as the most influential American to yet grace their country. The Dutch credited Adams as being solely responsible for the loans that the United States secured. A Dutch vessel, Heer Adams, arrived in the New World, carrying word that the Dutch Republic had recognized the United States. Without this loan from the Dutch, the American government would have remained bankrupt and forced to rely on tax revenue from a people plagued with inflation and economic strife.
Adams played a pivotal role in obtaining separation from England. His contributions were not by the sword, but by administrative, diplomatic, and personal contributions which helped the United Colonies as much as any military triumph. Without the influence of Adams and his constituents, European powers never would have sympathized with the American cause to such an extent. His sacrifices to ensure the nation’s success were remarkable. His contributions to the United States didn’t stop with the end of the revolution. Adams went on to serve as minister to Britain, Vice President, and President of the United States. Adams’ devotion to his duty and his capacity as an administrator launched the American government on a successful course from early on.
Last edited by Sir Adrian; December 31, 2013 at 10:00 AM.
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