John Adams by David McCullough

2203Yes, I have finally finished this tome! It’s only taken me four and a half months of reading on and off, but I really did enjoy it. Perhaps Mr. McCullough’s only criticism could be that he likes details just a bit too much. He skillfully wove the letters, papers and diaries of Mr. Adams and his peers into the writing, but there were some things that I could have lived without. I didn’t need to know the location of every business in Philadelphia in 1775, for example. But nonetheless, it was a great look at our second President, about whom I knew comparatively little.

One final quotation, this one written to his granddaughter, Caroline:

You are not singular in your suspicions that you know but little. The longer I live, the more I read, the more patiently I think, and the more anxiously I inquire, the less I seem to know….Do justly. Love mercy. Walk humbly. This is enough….

(p. 650)

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more John Adams quotes

The end of the institution, maintenance, and administration of government is to secure the existence of the body politic; to protect it; and to furnish the individuals who compose it with the power of enjoying, in safety and tranquility, their natural rights and the blessings of life; and whenever these great objects are not obtained, the people have a right to alter government, and to take measures necessary for their safety, happiness, and prosperity.

The body politic is formed by a voluntary association of individuals. It is a social compact, by which the whole people covenants with each citizen, and each citizen with the whole people, that all shall be governed by certain laws for the common good. (p. 221)

These are the times in which a genius would wish to live. It is not in the still calm of life, or the repose of a pacific station, that great characters are formed. The habits of a vigorous mind are formed in contending with difficulties. Great necessities call out great virtues. When a mind is raised, and animated by scenes that engage the heart, then those qualities which would otherwise lay dormant, wake into life and form the character of the hero and the statesman. (p. 226)

You invite me to you. You call me to follow you. The most earnest wish of my soul is to be with you – but you can scarcely form an idea of the conflict in my mind. It appears to me such an enterprise, the ocean so formidable, the quitting of my habitation and my country, leaving my children, my friends, with the idea that perhaps I may never see them again, without my husband to console and comfort me under these apprehensions – indeed, my dear friend, there are hours when I feel unequal to the trial. (Abigail – p. 291)

But let no person say what they would or would not do, since we are not judges for ourselves until circumstances call us to act. (Abigail – p. 293)

little things revealed

I am currently reading John Adams by David McCullough and though I’m only 25 pages in, it’s proving to be the interesting read I had hoped it would be. It’s amazing to me how much information can be gathered by historians from such innocuous sources.


The strong clarity of her handwriting, the unhesitating flow of her pen across the paper, line after line, seemed at odds with her circumstances. Rarely was a word crossed out or changed. It was as if she knew exactly what was in her heart and how she wished to express it–as if the very act of writing, of forming letters, in her distinctive angular fashion, keeping every line straight, would somehow help maintain her balance, validate her own being in such times.


As a quasi-historian myself, it makes me curious what might be said about my handwriting, my letters. What am I unconsciously putting out there in the world for history to find?