My takeaways from First Family

As promised, here are the notes and takeaways from the book I read based on John and Abigail Adams’ correspondence, journals and others from that period of history. 

I learned so many things about the roots of the Revolution, a refresher for parts of history that I remember learning but had forgotten and just a sense of however much things change, they really stay the same in many ways because we are humans fighting the same battles within and with each other over the years. 

These are just snapshots of information gleaned so I hope I don’t bore you:

  • The first and then subsequent elections in this country were very different from today. No one “ran for office”. To campaign was considered in the worst of vanity and taste. The one with the most votes was president and the next highest vote count was the Vice President. Also, the VP could only preside over the senate with NO input. Adams struggled with this and blew it during his time as VP (which came following his years as president, if you can imagine.)

Okay…I interrupt my notes and ask you to pause a moment and just consider how that would look in our times. Imagine if you will, Joe Biden is president and Donald Trump is Vice President but can’t give any input.

I know. Mind-boggling.  

However that is EXACTLY what it looked like. Because the top two usually represented the divide in the nation over how the country and government should be run. So half voted one way and half another. CNN and Fox would have a field day.

  • “Parties” started early – on the heels of the Constitution and Washington being the first President. And they were viciously opposed to each other.
  • While it was in poor taste to campaign for yourself, smear campaigns, power plays and agendas were stronger than the power of a president to run the country and government. When Adams was president, his opposition put key people in places of power within the administration and basically ran the country instead of Adams.
  • There was a great divide between government that was run independently at state level versus a unified “federal” government. 

Ahem…sound familiar?

  • The relationship between Abigail and John was fascinating. They were a loyal and loving couple. She was his balance and constant. He had runaway passions and a strong drive for fame, control and power that sometimes caused him to act rashly and foolishly. She evened him out. 
  • Through their journals, correspondence with each other and key figures during this period of history, we see the personal flaws and glitches of our founding fathers (and mothers) and we see how these relationships were interrupted and eventually repaired, or seething and eventually severed in the midst of political drama here and in Europe. 
  • I was grossly ignorant of the role Europe played in the growth of this country and the amount of time our “founding fathers” spent on foreign soil. 
  • While John and Abigail had a strong and very modern approach to their partnership in marriage, the absence of John from the daily life of his family had trickle down tragic consequences for all of the children. Even John Quincy, who later became a president, had strong issues due to the parenting foibles of John and Abigail. 
  • When John Adams was defeated by Jefferson, who had worked effectively to discredit him behind his back, John Quincy wrote his father that he should not be surprised by being “hurled from office, since such was the fate, by his own analysis, awarded all public servants determined to lead rather than listen to popular opinion.” (Sorry I already loaned book and don’t have page reference!) I thought how true this remains. Our politicians like to be popular, not run against what the populace wants, even if they know in their hearts what is best.
  • The divide between Adams and others who were opposed to slavery and desired an economy based on industry contrasted with Jefferson and others who desired an agrarian approach that would, according to them, require slavery to succeed certainly is an issue that led to the Civil War and continues in much of the divide that still persists in our country. 
  • Abigail was ahead of her time in many ways. She was actively involved in John’s career and had wise counsel, for the most part, for him. She was an advocate for women’s rights to be included in the original Constitution and while John agreed with her and knew it was something that would need to eventually happen, he did not want any added pressure on writing a Constitution for a new nation that needed to be as unified as possible to gain credibility around the world. 
  • The last thing just smacked so much of the kind of stuff we see in our own shenanigans between politicians to this day. As a young lawyer before the Declaration of Independence was even written, John was asked to defend the British soldiers who had opened fire on a mob protesting against England. While John and Abigail knew this would make him unpopular and could ruin his career, he took the task because of two reasons. First, he believed that if the colonies were a place where everyone deserved a fair trial, then the soldiers also deserved a fair trial. Second, he believed firmly that Samuel Adams and the Sons of Liberty had instigated some very unsavory characters to start the protest knowing they would carry it too far and the soldiers would have to self-defend. He was correct in this assessment. 

Not a proud moment in history is it? 

I am not disillusioned about our country after reading the book. I am just more aware of what I have always felt. We cannot put our leaders on pedestals and we cannot make an idol of democracy. I also think (and always have) we need to remember that while the foundations of our country were based on a centralized belief in God, we cannot assign to all the figures who worked for the formation of this country a dynamic faith based on salvation by grace through the blood of Jesus Christ shed for us. John, who was a Christian, also wrote of a desire for heaven as a place where he would be reunited with Abigail.

While we do long for those reunions, that is not the main desire of our heart but rather to be in the living presence of the one who died to bring us peace with God.

There were many aspects to this, just as there are many aspects today. We look at political leaders and question their claim to be Christians, yet the same was true from the beginning of this country. 

As I read Adams words with Abigail, they said what I have always felt in my heart. As far as opportunity for equality and for people to be able to live quiet lives – a democratic republic is probably the best government system. I love this country, but it is far from perfect.

America, who wins the election and what party has the most power is not what I put my faith in. 

The reality is you cannot please all the people all the time. 

The truth is, God’s Kingdom is not a democracy, but for those of us who are subject to Him, we must figure out how to live in whatever government system we have been placed in for such a time as this. 

The book is a good one and I would encourage anyone to take the time to read it. 

Blessings and hopes for a good day if you made it this far <3

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