It’s Monday, which means it’s the start of a brand-new work week, and that means another installment of posts from Upbeat Authors. Today’s topic My Favorite Historical Figure. Really, I should say figures, plural, because my favorites are a couple. I don’t think one could have done what they did without the other.
Though I love history, and many people could actually qualify for my list of favorites, John and Abigail Adams take top honors. I first became fascinated by them many years ago when I read Those Who Love by Irving Stone. Stone wrote several books back in the 60s about women in history–the woman behind the famous man, so to speak. I was fascinated by Jessie Benton Fremont, Mary Todd Lincoln, Rachel Jackson, and, of course, Abigail Adams.
Years later, I read John Adams by David McCullough, and became enamored of President Adams and his First Lady all over again. Somewhere in between, I stumbled across the movie, 1776, based on the stage play of the same name. I have several favorite songs from the production, but one of my favorites is this one:
And then, of course, there’s the amazing TV mini-series based on McCullough’s book, starring Paul Giamatti, I still get chills every time I hear it. If you haven’t read the book, read it. If you haven’t seen the play or the mini-series, watch them.
When I think of the courage and conviction all of the Founding Fathers showed, and particularly (at least for the purpose of today’s blog post) John and Abigail Adams, I’m in awe. Comparing myself to them makes me feel small and petty. When I read the book or watch the mini-series, I want to be a better person. Ive promised myself to read the book at least every 3 years just to remind myself. I wonder whether I would have the courage, the energy, the determination, the sheer grit, to stick with something I believed in, despite such strong opposition? I want to think I would, but the truth is, I’m not sure.
Adams was the first citizen of the brand-new United States of America to appear in court before his former king, King George III. That act alone had to take an incredible amount of courage. What must it have felt like to walk into that court, knowing that everyone in the room considered him a traitor to King and country, and that the man on the throne might still believe he had the right to order Adams’ execution for treason?
He and Abigail were separated more than they were together as man and wife, especially during the middle years of their marriage when John was serving in Congress and fighting just to get the question of independence on the table for discussion. Then there was the long, contentious battle to get Congress to agree, unanimously, to declare independence. He fought so hard on the question of slavery but, in the end, had to compromise to get the Southern delegates to vote for independence. Even then, he knew it was a fight yet to come, and one he ardently hoped would be won the way it ultimately was.
He not only appeared in front of King George, he fought the battle to get he USA recognized as a country by other countries in Europe, and went hat in hand to the Netherlands to ask for a loan to keep the fledgling country running.
He ran for President and lost to George Washington, but instead of retiring and writing books about his experience and the election, his loss put him in the uncomfortable position of serving as Vice President for a President determined to ignore him. After enduring an uncomfortable time in office as Vice President, he became the country’s second President. He and Abigail have the honor of being the first couple to live in the White House, but it wasn’t really such an honor since the house was still under construction at the time,, which meant it was cold and damp and dirty–certainly not the elaborately decorated place it is today.
While serving his country or years on end, he battles his share of personal problems and family issues, as well. Admittedly, it was in a different time. No inconvenient text messages received in the middle of important affairs of state, but sometimes I think it would be worse to find out weeks after the fact that someone had been injured or had died.
John and Abigail were stern and demanding parents, and I’m not sure I would have wanted to be their child, but as historical figures go, there are few I admire as much as I admire the two of them. One of my favorite travel experiences was standing inside John Adams’ modest birthplace in Quincy, Massachusetts and then traveling a few miles to stand inside Peacefield, the “mansion” to which he and Abigail retired when they left the White House.
I stood in awe of the portrait of George Washington in the dining room, almost speechless with reverences when I realized that the portrait (the original!) and George Washington had been in the same room at the same time. Tears came into my eyes when I saw the chair Adams sat in, the dishes he ate from, and the bed he slept in. It was a heady one-degree-of-separation moment for me.
I’ve toured other homes of other historical figures, but none of them ever filled me with quite the same amount of reverence I felt in the presence of John and Abigail Adams.
Now you know mine. If you have a favorite historical figure, I’d love to know who it is.