Meet a President on President’s Day

It’s that time of year again – President’s Day! This is one of my favorite holidays because I get to ask random people about their most beloved President. I usually get an odd look, and some people even feel offended as if I’m probing into their political ideology. Usually, I get the following answers: Barack Obama, Ronald Reagan, George Washington, and Abraham Lincoln. Almost like a game of Pokemon, I try to find people with rare favorites like James Buchannon or Andrew Jackson. My favorite President is by far Theodore Roosevelt and if you like to learn more about his extraordinary life click here, here, and here. These past few weeks have been heavy with posts on Presidents, and it is partially because of today’s holiday commemorating George Washington’s birthday. This is a special post because it marks my last Founding Father to report on – John Adams. I read John Adams by David McCullough and highly recommend it to understand this peculiar second President of the United States. Who knows, maybe after reading this, you’ll have a new favorite.

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John Adams was born in Quincy, Massachusettes on October 30, 1735, to a pious farming family. As a direct descendant of the original Puritans, Adams began his life steeped in a culture of morality and tradition. Adams did not care for his early schooling and at one point wanted to be a farmer – this was vetoed by his father, and he was sent to Harvard College in 1751. While in school, Adams excelled in his studies and eventually became a lawyer with a promising career in Boston. It was during this time that he met his future wife, Abigail Smith, and they would go on to have six children – two dying early in life. While in Boston, Adams became an active opponent of the Stamp Act and unfair taxation by the British Government. He would actually go on to represent the British Soldiers who were responsible for the Boston Massacre – believing in the justice of the court and eventually receiving massive publicity from the trial. His reputation as a sharp lawyer and proponent of liberty led to his election in the First and Second Continental Congress. He was responsible for pushing the government into a bicameral legislator and the final passing of the Declaration of Independence – Jefferson said that Adams was the “pillar of the Declaration’s support on the floor of Congress, its ablest advocate and defender against the multifarious assaults it encountered.”

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With his success in the Continental Congress, Adams was elected Ambassador to Britain where he negotiated the final treaty ending the Revolutionary War in 1783. He became Vice President under Washington and took the Presidency himself as a Federalist in 1797. Adams’ Presidency could be best summarized as a placeholder for Washington’s policies. Adams was pro-British and supported Atlantic trade between the two countries; he prevented war with France and balanced a tightrope of European powers trying to take advantage of the young republic. In the end, Adams’ presidency was nothing to do backflips over. His personality while in office was prickly and somewhat aloof – preferring the opinion of his wife over his cabinet members. Adam loved to argue, and he was not one to sway with public opinion. He had a strong moral foundation, but an excessive paranoia of opponents which led to the Alien and Sedition Acts – limiting the inalienable rights of the citizenry.

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He was viewed by Thomas Jefferson and the Democratic-Republicans as a tyrant. Adams lost his reelection and eventually went into retirement near his birthplace in Quincy. He would stay active in political opinion and eventually mend his friendship with Jefferson in later life. John Adams did not excel in the public eye and was always best suited for the intellectual backrooms of government. Although he had difficulties appeasing the masses, he became a role model in respects to morality which surpassed most Founding Fathers. Unlike the Virginian leaders, Adams was an abolitionist from birth and never owned a single slave. He corresponded with his wife with a love that was genuine and uncompromising. Adams was a modest and shrewd businessman – living without the suffocating debt ubiquitous for southern leaders. Adams and Thomas Jefferson would end up dying on the same day – the 50th Anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence. Adams is one of my “honorable mention” Presidents because what he lacked for social skills he made up for in reading and writing. He had a library of over 3,000 books and believed these words full heartedly…

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“Let us tenderly and kindly cherish, therefore, the means of knowledge. Let us dare to read, think, speak, and write.”

Happy Presidents Day everyone! 

The Labor of Adversity

Happy Labor Day everybody! Today most of us are eating a bounty of grilled food, spending time with family, and catching up on well needed rest. In honor of Labor Day, I wanted to write a post about my most recent book All Souls: A Family Story from Southie by Michael Patrick Macdonald. This book is a memoir which tells the author’s story of growing up in the south Boston projects during the 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s. The area he specifically grew up in was referred to as “Southie” and was primarily inhabited by poor white-Irish Americans. The name Southie was given to this area because of its geography and because of its long history of racial tensions. In the 70’s, the city of Boston decided that Southie needed more integration and subsequently started busing black students into neighborhood schools. This led to riots, murders, and a host of drop outs by Southie teens who didn’t want to deal with dangerous race wars in between class hours. In addition to school integration, Boston began to give Southie housing to immigrants which added fuel to the already racially hostile neighborhood. The race riots and integration protests eventually subsided but the tight-knit Irish community had one big problem that would never go away. That big problem was Whitey Bulger. Whitey ran a drug syndicate that brought more cocaine per capita into Southie than any other neighborhood in the country. This cocaine led to a plethora of drug related violence, deaths, and jail time for all age groups in the Southie projects. The author grew up with 10 brothers and sisters who were all raised by his single mother. The book is full of tragic stories about his siblings and their involvement with illegal activities. In the end, four of his siblings died because of murder, suicide, or negligence by the healthcare system. Sadly, all members of the Southie neighborhood directly knew of someone who was affected by drugs. The ironic thing about Southie was that people refused to talk or snitch to the police and most upheld Whitey Bulger as a celebrity. The FBI would eventually pursue Whitey and force him to flee his beloved Boston. The hardships of this book are quite depressing but the author decided to stay in Southie and would lead support groups for those who had lost loved ones and bring out the truth of Southie’s violent inner workings.

The story of Southie is a sad realization that there are places in America where kids and families are constantly surrounded by hate, violence, and addiction. The beautiful thing about America is that people have opportunities to move up and out of neighborhoods like these and make better lives. The author of this book lived in Southie but chose a different path then his drug dealer friends.  I commend all those people who have worked hard to overcome adversity and they are the ones I will think of this Labor Day. No matter what your current condition is, you can work to improve yourself and your environment. I have been blessed with a very privileged life and I know it is easy for me to say these things; T\that is why I loved this book because MacDonald is a perfect example of someone who lived through the worst and came out of it with his head held high. This Labor Day let’s assess our own situation, work towards a better future, and always believe that we can make the best out of any circumstance.