I’m inspired by the life of John Adams, our country’s second president. This month we celebrate President’s Day and we focus on George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, but John Adams also has much to teach us, too. His story is one of giving to those who needed him, of serving those who called on him. Here’s the home in Quincy, Massachusetts where he was born and raised and began his career as a lawyer.
John Adams led our country during war, during its formative years, through criticism and conflict. He spent the prime of his career traveling back and forth to Philadelphia, then abroad in France and the Netherlands, then in the newly built capital in Washington, D.C. He was at the helm when America was so spanking new no one knew if it would survive. When he was not elected to a second term as president, he retired to this lovely home, Stonyfield Farm, about a mile from where he grew up.
Here’s what I find fascinating. This industrious, energetic man went from president of the United States to countryside farmer in the space of one bumpy carriage ride. How did he handle this drastic change?
“The only question remaining with me is what shall I do with myself,” Adams wrote in a letter soon after arriving at Stonyfield. He referred to himself as Farmer John. He expressed concern that, after the decades of total dedication to his role in assisting the birth of a nation, the stillness “may shake my old frame . . . . Something I must do, or ennui will rain upon me in buckets.”
Battered by years of mean politics and an absent spouse, his wife Abigail Adams focused on the beauty and tranquility of farm life. One day, looking out on the garden, she contemplated the blooms and wrote, “Envy nips not their buds, calumny destroys not their fruits, nor does ingratitude tarnish their colors.”
In their later years, John and Abigail lost their only daughter to cancer. Adams wrote that death was no stranger, as he had lost children and grandchildren, but the pain of these losses did not diminish. Still, he approached life with fortitude. Abigail wrote to her son, John Quincy Adams, during this time of the good remaining, including “the life, health and cheerfulness of your father. Bowed down as he has been . . . he has not sunk under it.”
He endured loneliness, loss, rejection, illness, estrangement from friends, and the death of his children. Yet he enjoyed the blessings of love and accomplishment and of living on a peaceful farm that still stands.
“The phrase ‘Rejoice ever more’ shall never be out of my heart, memory, or mouth again as long as I live, if I can help it.” Words of John Adams worth emulating . . .
For more inspiration, I highly recommend David McCullough’s book, John Adams, and the superb miniseries based on the book.