Writing in The Washington Post, Alexander Heffner recently asked, “Why doesn’t John Adams have a memorial?”
It’s a good question. Adams, the second president of the United States, was a seminal figure in the American struggle for independence. Without him it is highly unlikely that the revolution would have unfolded as it did.
Nonetheless Adams, unlike George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, has never received the accolades that have been awarded to his contemporaries. Even Benjamin Franklin, another key figure in the adoption of the Declaration of Independence, has a statue on Pennsylvania Avenue outside the Old Post Office Building.
For Adams, however, there is virtually nothing. His name is affixed to one of the three buildings in the Library of Congress complex but he does not have a memorial or a statue of his own and it’s about time he did.
Consider his accomplishments. As a lawyer he successful defended the British soldiers involved in the Boston Massacre, establishing the importance of the principle of due process and preventing the whole business from degenerating into a case of “mob justice.”He was the driving political force behind the adoption of the Declaration as a delegate to the first and second Continental Congress. As difficult as it was it was he--and almost he alone--who brought the northern and southern colonies together in support of independence.
During the war he spent considerable time in Europe as one of the new nation’s first diplomats, service that continued past the cessation of hostilities.
After the war he helped ensure America’s survival by securing a line of credit from the Dutch and was one of those who negotiated the peace treaty with Great Britain that ended the conflict.
He wrote the constitution for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, a document that largely remains in force as he envisioned it. And, as president, he kept America out of war--what Washington referred to as “messy foreign entanglements”--which may have cost him a second term but which made sure that America survived, rather than once again be occupied by the British or the French.
Certainly he had his failures--like the adoption of the Alien and Sedition Acts but--in the main, Adams was a central figure in the creation and establishment of the United States as a nation, on par with Washington and Jefferson. He deserves a better memorial that what the nation has thus far provided to him--perhaps, as historian and Adams expert David McCullough once suggested to me, some kind of garden, on or near the national Mall containing a statue as well as the presentations of some of his most famous writings.
Adams was important to the nation’s birth and he remains so today. It is time he received the appropriate honor from a grateful nation.