Posts Tagged ‘John Adams’

Well, it’s been quite a while since I last put fingers to keyboard, but I’ve got a good excuse.  We took a vacation to Clearwater Beach, Florida.  I actually took the laptop with me, figuring I’d have time for a bit of work and maybe bit of typing.  Such was not the case.  The weather was absolutely perfect (bright sunshine, blue skies, beautiful beaches, and temperatures in the 70s), the condo was fabulous, and there were plenty of things to do.

I love to eat fish, and being on the Gulf meant there was plenty to be had…all of it was great.  But then we found The Gondolier, an East Coast chain that specializes in pizza.  Their food was outstanding…so good in fact that on our last evening, we simply went back there a second time.  Had we tried that place first, we may have eaten every meal there.  If we go back to Clearwater (and that’s a pretty serious possibility), we may do just that.

The long and short of it is that the laptop stayed mostly parked on the dresser.  But now we’re back to reality (and single-digit temperatures), so I’m hoping to get going this year.  Last year averaged fewer than eight pieces per month, so I’d like to improve on that.

“On January 20, 1791, a bill to charter the Bank of the United States for twenty years virtually breezed through the Senate.”

It’s a pretty simple statement taken from Chernow’s biography of Alexander Hamilton, and one that’s easy to just gloss over because we’re so used to banks in the 21st century.  We have banks of every shape and size on nearly every corner.  We can bank online, at the teller window, in the lobby, at an ATM machine, or on a smartphone.  Banks are as common as grocery stores.

In the 18th century, that was not the case.  And while there are people today that don’t trust banks and bankers, 18th-century opinions against the banking system was almost violent.  For Founders like James Madison and John Adams, their political differences found common ground in their opposition to banks.  Jefferson wrote, “I think our governments will remain virtuous for many centuries as long as they are chiefly agricultural…”  He would describe banks as “an infinity of successive felonious larcenies.”

For those against, banks were seedbeds of corruption and vice, turning honest men into money-hungry, money-grabbing monsters.  I think of a bank as a place to store our money safely and earn a bit of interest.  Men like our third President, through the lens of the 1780s, saw it as an oppressor of the poor and a creator of a class-based society…somewhat ironic considering Jefferson’s adherence to slavery despite his vocal abhorrence of the practice.

Some would say that Jefferson and Madison and Adams and those on their side were somewhat backwards in their stance.  Sure, America was largely agrarian now.  But was agriculture the only industry with a future in brand-new America?  Manufacturing and heavy industry, while not a major force at the time, would certainly increase in importance.  They required large amounts of capital to get started…the kind of capital only a bank could hold.  Furthermore, a national bank would help establish credit with other countries as well as manage and reduce the nation’s outstanding debt.

But for James Madison, it went beyond class and oppression and ended at the Constitution.  Alexander Hamilton had authored the idea of the bank using that most famous little piece of our founding charter…Article 1, Section 8.  We know it best as the “necessary and proper” clause.  It gave (and still gives) Congress the power to pass legislation “necessary and proper” to exercise its delegated duties.  Madison didn’t see a bank as “necessary”.  Nice?…maybe.  Convenient?…maybe.  Necessary?…absolutely not.

Madison had argued for the Constitution’s elasticity when writing pieces for The Federalist, but he believed a national bank pushed that elasticity beyond the breaking point.  Many agreed with him.  Hamilton had also argued for flexibility in the Constitution and believed the bank fit nicely under that clause.  And more Senators agreed with him than with Madison, so the bill passed the Senate.

Curious about the bank’s ultimate claim to fame?  How about the party system we enjoy (or loathe, depending on your bent) today?  Yep, it was along the banks of the “banking river” that political parties were born.

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The Battles of Lexington and Concord convinced a goodly number of Colonial doubters that war with the British Crown was inevitable.  Bluster and pontification, threat and proclamation…they were all one thing (I’m not sure that’s grammatically proper, but oh well).  Muskets and shot, bloodshed and death…well, that was altogether different.

But still, there were those Colonists who wanted to avoid going to war against a superpower.  They recognized that there were serious issues that needed to be resolved, but believed a peaceful solution was still possible.  On July 8, 1775, these men prevailed upon the remaining members of the Second Continental Congress to send the Olive Branch Petition to King George III.  In it, they addressed their grievances, but also maintained their loyalty to the Crown.

Of course, 18th-century communication was slow, so it took some time for the Olive Branch Petition to arrive in the King’s hands.  But it mattered little because King George had already received word of the incidents at Lexington and Concord.  And his men had intercepted correspondence (particularly from John Adams) advocating war.  The King refused to even open, much less read, the Olive Branch Petition.

On August 23, 1775, King George III issued his response: A Proclamation for Suppressing Rebellion and Sedition.  In it, the Colonies were declared to be in open rebellion against the Empire, and it gave officials permission “to use their utmost endeavours to withstand and suppress such rebellion.

And while the war of words would continue for a period of time, it was clear that words were no longer going to fix the tenuous situation.  The time for Revolution had truly arrived.

Recommended Reading: American Sphinx

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Without a doubt, the most important treaty in the history of America was the treaty that finally established the existence of a free and independent America.  The Treaty of Paris, signed on September 3, 1783, officially ended the American Revolution and recognized the Thirteen Colonies as autonomous states.

“Revolutionary” fighting had ended on colonial soil in 1781 with the Battle of Yorktown.  But it’s important to note that, in 1781, the British didn’t consider the war lost…or even over.  They had plans to continue the conflict, but they were fighting the French elsewhere, and things were going badly enough that the British felt that peace with America would actually weaken the Franco-American alliance.  So the British presented a treaty proposal to Benjamin Franklin recognizing the colonies as independent, which somewhat upset our ally.

But then successes by the British Navy in the Mediterranean weakened the French position to the point that the French fell into agreement with the treaty as well.  It’s somewhat ironic that the French and British signed the treaty due to their weakened positions relative to each other as much as they did because of American strength.  But sign they did, as did our representatives in Paris: John Jay (who co-authored The Federalist Papers), John Adams (who became our 1st VP and 2nd President), and Benjamin Franklin (who spent the war in France as our Ambassador).

The birth of America, first begun more than seven years prior, was now complete.

Recommended Reading: Benjamin Franklin: An American Life

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On March 5, 1770, British troops stationed in Boston to maintain order fired into a mob and killed 5 civilians.   This event immediately served as propaganda for the American colonists – even as questions arose as to who was really responsible for the outbreak of violence.

Who rung the fire alarm bells that turned a small angry group of would-be brawlers in a verifiable mob of close to 400?  Who was the mysterious figure at the waterfront, dressed in a wig and red cloak, who ran around encouraging the off-duty workers to go downtown in search of fights?

Eight soldiers and their captain, Thomas Preston, were put on trial several months later – once the passions died down a bit.  And who was the lawyer who represented these accused killers?  None other than our 1st VP and 2nd President, John Adams.  Though he was extremely senstive to public criticism, he set aside his (enormous) ego because of his sense of duty to the law.  Preston was acquitted, and in a separate trial, only 2 of the 8 soldiers were found guilty of manslaughter.  Adams’ reputation was hurt in the short-term, but once the War was over and the job of building a country began, his defense of the hated British in the face of such adversity was eventually seen as a remarkable character trait.

For an ongoing discussion of the Boston Massacre, see the esteemed Boston 1775 blog.

And of course, YouTube is the perfect place to go for historical reenactments.

Recommended reading: John Adams and A Leap in the Dark: The Struggle to Create the American Republic

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