Sunday, February 10, 2013

John Adams and the fourth of July myth

Just finished "John Adams" by David McCullough, which I've enjoyed as much as any political biography I've ever read. I knew nothing about him until I saw the HBO mini-series. If anything, that series undersells him.

John Adams and Thomas Jefferson were known as the voice and pen respectively of the American Declaration Of Independence. Their lives, while completely different, were intertwined. They both served as President. They both lived far longer than any of their contemporaries and died, hundreds of miles apart, on the same day, the fourth of July, 1826, which was the nation's 50th birthday.

Although the declaration is dated July 4th it was actually passed by Congress two days earlier and celebrations didn't take place until July 8th. At the time Adams said that July 2nd would be the date that would go down in history. According to McCullough's book Jefferson actually spent July 4th shopping for ladies gloves. However in later life both Adams and Jefferson bought into the national tradition so completely that they would argue vehemently that it all happened on the fourth. So much for primary sources.


  1. David McCullogh is tops and all his books make for compelling reading.Recalling his account of the Potsdam Conference in Truman gives me the shivers still.

    The USA produces, in my humble opinion, the best writers of history in English.

    I regularly check to see who the winners are of various US history book prizes and am never disappointed.

    If anyone wants to be kept up till the early hours then may I recommend Robert Caro's monumental and justly celebrated biography of LBJ.

  2. I really enjoyed John Adams. It was slow in places and huge passages of time would pass rapidly it seemed but it was great history. The bit about Jefferson and Adams dying on the same day, 50 years on from 4th July deceleration signing was repeated many times at Christmas by me.

    Lincoln struck a similar tone I thought.

    I just bought this book to continue the USA history lesson

  3. I have placed a reservation at the library. More occasional book recommendations please.