John Adams is the unsung hero of yesterday’s inauguration of Barack Obama; yet, few if any pundits on television or in print media acknowledged Adams’ role on at least two levels.
Adams was in vehement opposition to slavery and was one of the few Founders who did not own slaves nor probably ever considered buying and trading in the slave trade. The connection to Obama and other modern day civil rights advocates should be obvious.
The second level could be observed yesterday in the smooth transition from one politician of one party (Bush) to another politician of another party (Obama). John Adams was America’s first small “d” democrat. As a Federalist who ran for re-election in 1800, he was humiliated by the electorate (actually the electoral college as few individuals got to vote for president) when he came in third behind Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr. Both Jefferson, who finally won out the election in the House of Representatives on the 36th ballot over Burr, was a Democratic-Republican, a newly formed political party, which wasn’t even acknowledged in the Constitution.
Adams and Jefferson became bitter enemies even before the election of 1800 over slavery and their high opinions of England and France, respectively. They feuded for more than twenty years before and after both had left the office of the presidency. Ironically, they carried on a lengthy correspondence until both died on the same day, the Fourth of July, 1826.
Adams’ presence yesterday was due to his willingness to give over the powers of the presidency to a bitter enemy of a different political persuasion. No where in the modern world of the first years of the 19th century had produced such an event: a peaceful transition of power. George Washington, of course, turned over the office to John Adams but they were of the same party and the same political persuasion.
While there isn’t a single memorial to John Adams in Washington, DC, nor even a statue of him in the capital, we can witness John Adams’ leadership and commitment to democracy every four years and especially yesterday when a Democrat took over all of the nation’s powers from a Republican at 12 noon, just like Mr. Adams’ constitution says it should happen.