No series on leadership and success should be complete without including John Adams and his son, John Quincy Adams. Space does not permit full acknowledgement of their accomplishments. So, only a brief look is possible here.
It’s not hard to find success in the Adams family, speaking of John Adams and John Quincy Adams, that is. It’s a father-son combination, both of whom were elected President of the United States. And both exhibited remarkable courage during their lives.
John Adams was President number two, following the presidency of George Washington. But he is basically the forgotten President, for reasons lost in the mists of history. Not having a memorial in Washington D.C. undoubtedly plays a large part in John Adams not being remembered as a founding father, alongside George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. It is unfortunate that John Adams is largely a forgotten President, because he played a very large part in the founding of the United States as a sovereign nation.
John Adams was of course a well-known, influential Boston lawyer. His successful defense of British soldiers brought to trial in 1770 as a result of what is remembered historically as the Boston Massacre was a tribute not only to his skill as a lawyer but to his belief in the rule of law. But it was his leadership in the Continental Congress where he relentlessly advocated the cause of independence for the American colonies from Great Britain where he really should be remembered. The play and movie “1776” is illustrative. While it contained no memorable music (in my opinion), the story line, undoubtedly based in fact, featuring the build-up in congress towards the final vote for independence was convincing and dramatic. It depicted Adams’ fierce devotion to the cause of independence for the colonies, as well as his leadership, which paved the way for the ultimate vote approving the break from Great Britain. It also showed his courage in withstanding and overcoming the strong opposition from those members who initially opposed independence and favored remaining a British colony. His contribution to America’s independence was preeminent and should not be forgotten.
The other member of the Adams family that we focus on, John Quincy Adams, the country’s sixth president, was also no stranger to courage, but in a different way. My information in this respect is based in large part on the late John F. Kennedy’s book, “Profiles in Courage,” written while he was still a Senator. In an unusual anomaly to many of today’s politicians, John Quincy placed service to his country over adherence to party ideology, bringing upon himself the enmity of the Federalist Party.
The year 1807 is an exemplification of John Quincy’s courage. In the build-up to the War of 1812, Great Britain had seized countless American merchant ships and tons of cargo while impressing thousands of sailors to involuntary service in the British navy. In an attempt to counter British actions, President Thomas Jefferson’s administration had pushed through Congress an embargo upon British goods being imported into the country. This act was particularly distressing to New England merchants who depended in large part on the imports for their livelihood. John Quincy, then a member of the Senate, broke with his party and State and supported the embargo as being in the national interest, an act which infuriated fellow Federalists. They were particularly outraged for the further reason that, in taking this action, he not only broke party ranks but supported the very man, Thomas Jefferson, who was not only a member of the opposition party but was responsible for the defeat of his father, John Adams, for the presidency!
It was an act of supreme courage for John Quincy, under the circumstances, to put the national interest ahead of party loyalty. As was written in the Foreword to Kennedy’s book, “Senator Kennedy treats of a special kind of courage: the moral courage of a parliamentary leader who in behalf of principle confronts the passions of colleagues, constituents and a majority of the general public.” John Quincy’s action precisely fits this description.
Arnold G. Regardie