John Adams deserves a statue on the Hillsdale Liberty Walk. The Walk already includes George Washington and Thomas Jefferson to commemorate the American founding. While both of these men are meritorious figures, the absence of Adams, who was critical to the success of these men and our country, leaves the Liberty Walk incomplete.
John Adams signed the Declaration of Independence and negotiated peace with the British in the Treaty of Paris. The end of Adams’ presidency marked the first successful transfer of power from one party to another under the new Constitution — ensuring the stability of a young republic. As the author of 11 books and numerous shorter works, he was one of the most prolific writers of the Founding Era.
In addition to these accomplishments, Adams performed many indispensable yet underappreciated services to the country. He recruited Jefferson to help draft the Declaration of Independence. As part of the drafting committee, Adams helped temper some of Jefferson’s more radical tendencies, molding the Declaration into the timeless statement of truth we still recite to this day.
Furthermore, Adams recommended George Washington as commander of the Continental Congress. As the Revolutionary War progressed, he raised loans from foreign countries. Pulitzer prize-winning historian, David McCullough, in 2005, gave a lecture on Hillsdale’s campus entitled “A Man Worth Knowing” in which he credits Adams for salvaging the Revolution, “[John Adams] got the Dutch to give us massive loans, which really saved our Revolution. We would probably have lost the war with England had it not been for Holland. He went to the Netherlands on his own, knowing nobody. He didn’t speak Dutch. He didn’t have authorization from Congress because he was out of touch with Congress. But he succeeded.”
While Adams’ accomplishments as a statesman are more than enough to recommend him as an addition to the Liberty Walk, his role in arguing for the importance of education and its link to politics make him especially relevant to Hillsdale. Adams defense of the liberal arts and citizenship are the same ideals the college seeks to cultivate in students and praise in statesman. Adams spent his whole life devoted to this cause.
“I must study politics and war that my sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy.” he wrote to his wife Abigail in the midst of the Revolution. “My sons ought to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history, naval architecture, navigation, commerce and agriculture, in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry and porcelain.”
Adams understood that the link between politics and education meant that for freedom to last, people must not only have political freedom, they must use that freedom to educate themselves in order to rise to self-government. In a letter he sent to the Third Division of the Militia of Massachusetts, Adams asserted, “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”
This sentiment aligns with the words expressed in the preamble of the college’s Articles of Association. Approved in 1855, the Articles state… “grateful to God for the inestimable blessings resulting from the prevalence of civil and religious liberty and intelligent piety in the land, and believing that the diffusion of sound learning is essential to the perpetuity of these blessings.”
In the years following the passage of the Constitution, Adams used his influence to help raise funds for education so that the blessings of liberty could be protected and handed down to the next generation. A statue of Adams on Hillsdale’s campus reminds students of the importance of the link between liberal education and citizenship. It is time to gaze at the Liberty Walk and see a statue of a man who embodied these ideals—a man who studied politics and war so that we could study the liberal arts.
John Gage is a senior majoring in American studies.