John Adams on Leadership

John Adams


John Adams, a grand visionary, achieved his dream of securing America's independence. Even more important, he preserved it.

Lesson No. 1: Be a self-learner

John Adams loved to skip school to fly kites, to ice-skate, and hunt rabbits when taught by the boring Mr. Cleverly at age ten. Alarmed at his son's lack of interest in education, his father asked him what he wanted to do when he grew up. John said he wanted to be a farmer. He had his son stay home and work the fields with him from sunset to sundown. To his father's surprise, his son preferred this to school. John's father had his heart on his son going to Harvard College and becoming a lawyer.

Lawyer and a Farmer

He finally listened when John asked for a better teacher in place of the public school. At age fourteen, he began to study under John Marsh, a creative teacher, who aroused his interest in math, Greek, and Latin -- and most of all taught him to love learning. Adams graduated from Harvard College, becoming both a lawyer and a farmer. He chopped his own firewood and planted his own wheat.

Throughout his life, he put his Harvard education to good use. He declared. you always have a friend with a poet. He read Thucydides in Greek, Virgil in Latin, and Cervantes in Spanish. His lifelong passion was reading. He had a standing order with booksellers in London to send him the latest books on law and other interests.

Lesson No. 2: Speak up!

Years later, the Thirteen Colonies would hear his voice as the Massachusetts delegate to the First and Second Continental Congresses in Philadelphia. His speeches and writings (especially a newspaper series signed "Novanglus" in 1775) advocated American Independence. As a result, his friend Thomas Jefferson called him the "Colossus of Independence."

Lesson No. 3: Be Better Prepared than the Opposition!

In the spring of 1769, John Adams defended four American sailors charged with murdering a British officer in course of resisting impressment into the British Navy. The case appeared to be helpless. Adams went home to study his law books. He discovered a law of Parliament. It forbid the impressment of any sailor in American waters. The next day, he explained the accused had acted in self-defense under the law. Judge Thomas Hutchinson, the Royal Governor of Massachusetts, had no choice but to agree with Adams.

Lesson No. 4: Be on the Side of Justice

Just before the American Revolutionary War started, John Adams' toughest legal case involved defending five British soldiers. They were charged with killing American civilians as part of the infamous "Boston Massacre." The jury consisted of American colonists who were not sympathetic to the British. Although Adams hated the presence of British troops in Boston as much as any Patriot, he believed that the soldiers had a right to protect themselves against a lawless mob.

John Adams showed that the Americans had provoked the British soldiers with snowballs full of rocks. The jury decided that the British soldiers were guilty of the excessive use of force. The soldiers were branded on their thumbs with the letter Am for manslaughter instead of being hanged. Adams chose to do the right thing by defending the British soldiers even though this made him unpopular.

Unfortunately as president, he approved the Alien and Sedition Acts. The former increased the waiting period to complete the process of naturalization from seven to twenty-one years. The latter penalized people for criticizing Congress and the President on the grounds that these were disloyal actions.

Lesson No. 5: Put the Right People in Charge

Adams helped to unite the Thirteen Colonies by putting the right people in charge. John Adams convinced the First Continental Congress to appoint George Washington as the nation=s first military leader. Adams argued that Washington was the most experienced military man in the Thirteen Colonies. It would be a good move to have a southerner most populous of the Thirteen Colonies, Virginia, in charge of a large northern army.

Adams convinced the Second Continental Congress to set up a committee that he chaired to write a paper on why the Thirteen Colonies should become independent. He drafted Jefferson to write At The Declaration of Independence of which the rest of the committee then did some editing. Adams then convinced the Second Continental Congress to declare our national independence even though he claimed most delegates found him to be Aobnoxious on this issue.

Lesson No. 6: Never be Afraid to Negotiate

Adams never fought in a war as a soldier but he put his life on the line in advocating the independence of the Thirteen Colonies. He sat on ninety committees and chaired twenty-five, directing the Board of War, which oversaw the Revolution. He had to be a good negotiator to get people to work together. Not a bad record for someone who described himself as Aobnoxious.

Adams then served our third national government, the Articles of Confederation by securing a loan from the Netherlands in 1783. As one of the negotiators at the Paris Peace Conference, he helped to negotiate a favorable peace treaty with England in 1783.

Adams negotiate with the French

As our second president, John Adams found the nation teetering on the edge of war with France in 1798. American and French naval ships fired upon each other in an undeclared conflict. When Adams sent diplomats to negotiate with the French Directory, they reported that the French negotiators demanded bribes. A new slogan emerged, A Million for defense, not one cent for tribute. This was known as the XYZ affair. Adams built up the navy. He called upon Washington as our most experienced military commander to head the army. People wanted war.

John Adams flouted the warmongers in his own cabinet. They saw war as the best means for Adams to win reelection over his former friend, Thomas Jefferson. Adams, like Washington, knew that our young country could not survive a war so soon after securing its independence. Adams waited and waited and waited for the French out. Napoleon Bonaparte seized power in France.

He directed French energies at conquering Europe instead of threatening the United States. The danger of war abated, Adams kept the peace and saved lives. For Adams, the peace was the high point of his career. "If there is one statement I would like on my tombstone it would be, 'He made peace with France.'"

Lesson No. 7: Do Your Duty

As George Washington's vice-president, he called it "the most insignificant office ever the invention of man contrived." But he did his job as vice-president to get the new

U. S. Constitution launched.

Lesson No. 8: Celebrate!

John Adams wrote his wife on July 3, 1776, that "the most memorable epoch in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward for evermore.

Lesson No. 9: Keep Your Friends

John Adams was 40 years old when he first met the 32-year old Thomas Jefferson at the First Continental Congress in 1775. Although they differed in style and personality, they shared a common love of country and the best of friends. The friendship broke` when they political rivals to succeed George Washington as president. After they retired politically, their mutual friend, Dr. Benjamin Rush of Philadelphia, with the support of the prudent Abigail Adams, restored their friendship. They corresponded on subjects they agreed about instead of fighting over the differences that had divided them.


John Adams secured our country's independence, got the right people to maintain it, and preserved our national destiny by avoiding war.

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