The Grand Marshalls for the 2015 River Hill Community Association Independence Day parade will be John Adams and his wife, Abigail – reenacted by River Hill residents Michael and Bonnie Cornell. For the past 16 years – since the parade’s beginning, the Association has used as the inspiration for our parade a quotation from a letter that John Adams wrote to his wife Abigail in July of 1776. Adams wrote these words following the vote for independence by the Continental Congress:
“… I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival…. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forevermore. You will think me transported with enthusiasm, but I am not. I am well aware of the toll and blood and treasure that it will cost us to maintain this Declaration and support and defend these States. Yet, through all the gloom, I can see the rays of ravishing light and glory, I can see that the end is more than worth all the means…”
The letters written between John and Abigail Adams during the period from 1774 – 1777 captured both the activities of the Continental Congress in Philadelphia where John Adams served as a representative from Massachusetts and the activities of Abigail at home in Braintree, Massachusetts. During John’s absence, Abigail continued to raise the family, run the family farm, support the local militia, and observe key events in the war for independence. Both were brilliant intellects who recognized the critical time in which they were living, and were driven by the sense of duty to their country.
John Adams has perhaps been a lesser known “Founding Father” when compared to Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, and Benjamin Franklin; but, John Adams played an equally important role in the founding of our country. John Adams was a brilliant lawyer with unquestioned integrity, and he was a gifted speaker who led debates for independence on the floor of the Continental Congress. Thomas Jefferson remarked that John Adams spoke “with a power of thought and expression that moved us from our seats.” John Adams was the “voice” of Independence; Thomas Jefferson was the “pen” of independence.
Abigail Adams, by all who knew her, was a powerful intellect equal to her husband. In addition to being best friends, John Adams considered his wife Abigail to be his “ballast”—the stabilizing force that kept him grounded. Not only did John turn to Abigail for information and counsel, she was the person who made it possible for him to do what he did as a “founding father.” While he was off in Philadelphia, Abigail kept the farm and his law business going, coped with the shortages of goods and food caused by war, and cared for the children and the old people — all the while fending off British soldiers. When Abigail wrote describing the British preparations for war, John’s advice was, “If it gets really dangerous, fly to the woods with our children,” as she was on her own. Abigail was able to provide a play-by-play account of the Battle of Bunker’s Hill, since she, with little John Quincy in tow, had watched from a perch on nearby Penn’s Hill. John Quincy Adams later recalled the terrible time of 1775. “For the space of twelve months my mother with her infant children dwelt, liable every hour of the day and night to be butchered in cold blood, or taken and carried to Boston as hostages by the same hands which on the 17th of June lighted the fires of Charleston. I saw with my own eyes those fires, and I heard Britannia’s thunders in the Battle of Bunker’s Hill.”
In recent times, the publication of the book, “John Adams” by historian David McCullough in 2001, and the subsequent HBO mini-series based upon the book, increased the visibility of the key role played by John Adams in the founding of the United States. In addition to being the “Colossus of Independence” in Philadelphia leading debates within the Continental Congress, John Adams’ influence extended much further.
It was John Adams that nominated George Washington in 1775 to lead the new provisional Continental Army.
It was John Adams that led debate in the Continental Congress to establish a continental navy in 1775.
It was John Adams that wrote the Constitution for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in 1780 that served as a model for the US Constitution written in 1787-1788. With three branches of government to balance power, Adams’ Massachusetts constitution established an independent judiciary, with judges of the Supreme Court appointed, not elected, and for life (“as long as they behave themselves well”). This Massachusetts Constitution remains the oldest functioning written constitution in continuous effect in the world.
John and Abigail exchanged over 1100 letters—beginning during their courtship in 1762 and continuing throughout John’s political career until 1801. These warm and informative letters are now maintained by the Massachusetts Historical Society, but are also available online at www.masshist.org.
The River Hill Community Association is honored to represent John and Abigail Adams as “Grand Marshalls” of the annual Independence Day parade. We thank Michael, who just completed eight years as the River Hill representative to the CA Council and a CA Board Member, and Bonnie for their continuing contributions to our community and willingness to portray Abigail and John Adams who contributed so greatly to the founding of our Nation.