The American Presidency and Poetry: Second President John Adams
Born in Braintree (later renamed Quincy), Massachusetts, on October 30, 1735, to John and Susanna Boylston Adams, John Adams was a descendant of English Puritan ancestors. He had two younger brothers. He attended a common school in Quincy, and later earned a scholarship to Harvard College, from which he graduated at age 20.
John’s father was a farmer, who prized education, and he encouraged his son to develop his intellect so he would not have to labor so had as he had done, but the younger John seemed to enjoy physical labor.
A story is told that one day the younger John’s father asked him what line of work he’d like to prepare for, and the younger man said he’d like to be a farmer. So the next day the father took the son to fields and worked him very hard, and then at night asked him again what he thought about farming, and the young man said, “I like it very well, Sir.” Despite this claim, John Adams became a highly intellectual man, who is considered one of the brightest thinkers in American history.
After graduation from Harvard, Adams taught school for a while and then studied law and was admitted to the bar in 1758. He did not enjoy teaching; he would let a bright student lead the class while he sat and wrote. It was during this time he starting writing his famous journals. His career as a lawyer had a less than stellar beginning, when he lost his first case because he forgot to put the name of the county on the brief.
In 1764, Adams married Abigail Smith, who became the first First Lady to be the mother of a president. The only other, of course, is the late First Lady Barbara Bush. Adams was the first Vice-President under George Washington. He was an active participant in the American Revolution, helping to draft the Declaration of Independence and helping structure the Constitution.
Elected as the second president in 1797, Adams served only one term. It was during his presidency that partisan politics developed with the Federalists and the Democratic-Republicans led by Thomas Jefferson clashing over issues from foreign policy to banking.
The partisan differences that were emerging not only centered on policy disputes but also on the nature of the offices of government. At this time in our young country’s history the limits of power were not clearly drawn.
After his presidency, Adams returned to his farm in Quincy, Massachusetts, where he composed his letters to Thomas Jefferson. Adams died on July 4, 1826; it is said that his last words were, “Thomas Jefferson survives.” But unbeknownst to Adams, Jefferson had died at his own estate of Monticello a few hours before Adams.
Abigail Adams Drying Laundry in the East Room
Poetry and the Adams Presidency
In a letter to his wife May 1780, John Adams wrote, ''I must study politics and war that my sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy. My sons ought to study Geography, natural History, Naval Architecture, navigation, Commerce and Agriculture, in order to give their children a right to study Painting, Poetry, Musick, Architecture, Statuary, Tapestry, and Porcelaine."
This attitude demonstrates that President Adams felt that he was living in times that required concentration on the scientific, material, technical aspects of life as opposed to what he hoped would evolve into a more artistic, leisurely life for his descendants.
By the time the second president died, Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803–1882)was 23 years old, Henry David Thoreau (1817–1862) was 9 years old, Walt Whitman (1819–1892) was 7, while America's first lady of poetry would be born four years later (1830-1886). Thus the literary giants of poetry were well on their way to providing America with its astonishing canon.
President John Adams has left no poems among his writings, but Denise Rodgers, who curates a Web site dedicated to poetry, Classroom Poems!, has penned a poem about the president:
The White House was Brand New
(A John Adams Poem)
They moved in when the White House
was not done and hardly finished.
With most rooms bare and windowless,
their awe was not diminished.
The land around the White House
was still wild and kind of boggy.
The air was moist and damp and cold,
the mists a little foggy.
Small houses scattered on the land,
between the stumps and trees,
with not much city built to feel
the firm Potomac breeze.
The White House lawn was barren,
and because this, I suppose,
was why they used the East Room
to dry all first family clothes.
Despite this frontier feeling
for John Adams and his wife,
they met their stately functions
and kept up with public life.
He was our second president;
the White House was brand new.
But only two months later,
when his office term was through
He crept out of the capital
before the morning light,
left power to his rival
with no guns, no swords, or fight.
It's true he loved his country;
Independence was his pride.
July 4th, 1826,
a patriot, he died.
This poem as well as remaining a tribute to the second president reveals the interesting tidbit of information that the Adams used the East Room to hang their wet laundry.
In another patriotic poem, Christopher Rudolph, curator of the Rudolph Academy, has also demonstrated his admiration for the second president in his "John Adams Poem":
John Adams Poem
Adams our 2nd President
Won the election of 1796
His party was Federalist
A great philosopher of politics
From Braintree Massachusetts
A lawyer he became
A graduate of Harvard
He gained a lot of fame
For opposing the Stamp Act
And supporting the Patriotic Cause
At the Continental Congress
He earned delegates’ applause
He signed the Declaration
That made our country free
America was Independent
From British tyranny
He was a US Ambassador
To both England and France
Elected Vice President twice
Not just by happenstance
In Presidential election
Thomas Jefferson lost
John Adams was victorious
As President he was boss
Yet “His Rotundity” unpopular
He gravely was attacked
For signing into law
The Alien and Sedition Acts
He lost election of 1800
Served but one term as President
Losing the right to Jefferson
To be the White House resident
He retired to his home
He called it Peace Field
Gardens and orchards
Flowers and apples yield
He saw son and daughter pass
And it surely made him cry
His greatest loss was Abigail Smith
His wife in 1818 died
But he saw John Quincy rise
The election of 1824 won
He became our Sixth President
Like father now was son
Jefferson was his adversary
But in old age became friends
Pens making amiable amends
But in 1826
Occurred an unlikely incidence
Both died on Independence Day
Quite an unusual coincidence
These amateur poets have offered valuable, historical information about the second president. Their patriotic devotion attests to the pride Americans hold for the Founding Fathers, who created an American republic where freedom allows each citizen to grow and flourish.