In the latest five-minute video for PragerU, Clemson professor Brad Thompson breaks down the life of Founding Father John Adams, and explains how Adams saved the United States before it had even begun.
Thompson, a professor of political science and author of “America’s Revolutionary Mind,” said that a single speech from Adams convinced the Second Continental Congress to declare independence from Great Britain and launch the Revolutionary War.
On July 1, 1776, in Philadelphia, “when the forces against independence appeared to have the upper hand, Adams rose to his feet. Without notes and without any preparation, he made the case for independence. By the time he sat down, the case had been won,” Thompson said. “We don’t have a transcript of what he said. If we did, Adams might rank even higher than he does now among the Founding Fathers.”
The professor noted that Adams’ fellow Founding Father Thomas Jefferson praised Adams years later as “our Colossus on the floor,” giving a speech so powerful in “thought and expression” that it “moved us from our seats.”
Adams was a difficult man to get along with. Born in 1735 near Boston, Adams was driven. He was “brilliant, demanding, meticulous, but often irascible,” Thompson said. He would inevitably fight with anyone he came to work with, yet Adams’ character and intellect earned respect and appreciation from his colleagues, as well.
“Adams relentlessly pushed himself to rise early, work hard, and live a moral life. He strove — in the language of the day — for a life of virtue over vice,” Thomson said. In 1765, Adams came to the public’s attention with a speech opposing the Stamp Act, and dedicated himself to the struggle for American independence for the next 18 years.
During the Revolution, Adams, then in his forties, served as an emissary and diplomat, crossing the Atlantic four times despite deadly storms, disease, and potential execution at the hands of British authorities. Adams played a key role in securing French support in the Revolutionary War, and in negotiating the Treaty of Paris in which the British crown officially recognized the United States as an independent country.
“For all these efforts, Adams was paid virtually nothing. But fortune was never his aim. Creating a new, better, freer country than the world had ever known was all that he cared about,” Thompson explained. “As one delegate to the Continental Congress said, ‘The man to whom the country is most indebted for the great measure of independence is Mr. John Adams.’”
After the war, Adams followed George Washington as president of the United States. Adams held the post for one term marked by two major achievements: convincing Congress to build a navy in order to secure America’s future, and refusing to get the U.S. entangled in a war in Europe despite pressure from France.
Adams remained a patriot dedicated to American independence for the remainder of his life.
“As the fiftieth anniversary of the Declaration of Independence approached, a 91-year-old Adams was asked to provide a toast for the upcoming celebration,” Thompson said. “He offered two words: ‘independence forever.’ It turned out to be his last public utterance. How fitting.”
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