WHERE TWO PRESIDENTS WERE BORN
John Adams was born and spent his boyhood in a simple farmhouse near Braintree (now Quincy), Massachusetts. It has been described as a ” plain, square, honest block of a house, widened by a lean-to, and scarcely two stories high.” This house, built in 1681, Daniel Munro Wilson says was ” the veritable roof-tree, under which was ushered into being the earliest and strongest advocate of independence, the leader whose clear intelligence was paramount in shaping our free institutions, the founder of a line of statesmen, legislators, diplomats, historians, whose patriotism is a passion, and whose integrity is like the granite of their native hills.”
It is a remarkable fact that John Adams and John Hancock, who stood shoulder to shoulder in the fight for American independence) were born within a mile of each other, on days only a little more than a year apart. The baptismal records show that October 19, 1735, was the birthday of John Adams, while John Hancock was born on January 12, 1737.
From the modest home in Braintree John Adams went to college. Later he taught school and studied law. Soon after he returned home in 1758 he wrote in his diary :
” Rose at sunrise, unpitched a load of hay, and translated two more leaves of Justinian.”
After the death of his father, in 1761, the burden of the home fell on his shoulders, and in the same year he was called to serve the country. His diary tells of the call:
” In March, when I had no suspicion, I heard my name pronounced (at town meeting) in a nomination of surveyor of highways. I was very wroth, because I knew better, but said nothing. My friend, Dr. Savil, came to me and told me that he had nominated me to prevent me from being nominated as a constable. ‘ For,’ said the doctor, ‘ they make it a rule to compel every man to serve either as constable or surveyor, or to pay a fine.’ Accordingly, I went to ploughing and ditching.”
Thus John Adams showed the spirit of service that later animated his son, John Quincy Adams, who, after he had been President, became a representative in Congress, and made answer to those who thought such an office beneath his dignity, ” An et-President would not be degraded by serving as a selectman in his town if elected thereto by the people.”
During those early years the young lawyer had other occupations than ditch-digging. The records of the family show that he was assiduously courting Abigail Smith, daughter of Rev. William Smith, minister in Weymouth, near by. Probably he first met her in the historic house, for she was a frequent visitor there.
The marriage of the young people on October 25, 1764, excited much comment. In Puritan New England the profession of the law was not a popular calling, and many of the people thought Abigail Smith was ” throwing herself away.” Parson Smith was equal to the occasion; as he had helped his eldest daughter out of a similar difficulty by preaching on the text, ” And Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her,” so, on the Sunday after Abigail’s marriage, he announced the text, ” For John . . came neither eating bread nor drinking wine; and ye say, He hath a devil.”
The year of the marriage witnessed the beginning of John Adams’ fight for independence. For it was the year of the iniquitous Stamp Act. In his diary he wrote :
“I drew up a petition to the selectmen of Braintree, and procured it to be signed by a number of the respectable inhabitants, to call a. meeting of the town to instruct their representatives in relation to the stamps.”
The following year, when a meeting was held in Braintree to take action in consequence of the failure of Great Britain to heed the protest against the Stamp Act, he wrote: ” I prepared a draught of instruction at home, and carried them with me. The cause of the meeting was explained at some length, and the state and danger of the country pointed out. A committee was appointed to prepare instructions, of which I was nominated as one. My draught was unanimously adopted without amendment, reported to the town, and accepted with-out a dissenting voice. . . . They rang through the state and were adopted in so many words . . . by forty towns, as instructions to their representatives.”
Less than two years later, on July 11, 1767, in the town close by his own birthplace, to which John Adams had taken his bride, John Quincy Adams was born.
The delights of the new home have been pictured in a pleasing manner by Daniel Munro Wilson :
” Elevated was life in this ‘ little hut,’ but it was real, genuine, beautifully domestic. The scene of it, visible there now to any pious pilgrim, and reverently preserved in many of its antique appointments by the Quincy Historical Society, assists the imagination to realize its noble simplicity. The dining-room or general living room, with its wide open fireplace, is where the young couple would most often pass their evenings, and in winter would very likely occupy in measureless content a single settle, roasting on one side and freezing on the other. The kitchen, full of cheerful bustle, and fragrant as the spice isles, how it would draw the children as they grew up, the little John Quincy among them ! Here they could be near mother, and watch her with absorbing attention as she superintended the cooking, now hanging pots of savory meats on the crane, and now drawing from the cavernous depths of the brick oven the pies and baked beans and Indian puddings and other delicacies of those days. We can more easily imagine the home scene when we read these words written by Mrs. Adams to her husband : Our son is much better than when you left home, and our daughter rocks him to sleep with the song of ” Come papa, come home to brother Johnnie.” ‘ ` Johnnie’ is the dignified President and ` old man eloquent’ that is to be.”
When it became evident that there must be Revolution, the patriot Adams was compelled to leave his family and go into the thick of the fight. He did not want to go. ” I should have thought myself the happiest man in the world if I could have returned to my little hut and forty acres, which my father left me in Braintree, and lived on potatoes and sea-weed the rest of my life. But I had taken a part, I had adopted a system, I had encouraged my fellow citizens, and I could not abandon them in conscience and in honor.”
From the old home Abigail Adams wrote him letters that moved him to renewed efforts for his struggling countrymen. In one of them she said, ” You cannot be, I know, nor do I wish to see you, an inactive spectator; but if the sword be drawn, I bid adieu to all domestic felicity, and look forward to that country where there are neither wars nor rumors of war, in a firm belief, that through the mercy of its King we shall both rejoice there together.”
The wife rejoiced when her husband’s ringing words helped to carry the Declaration of Independence; she urged him to make the trips to France which Congress asked him to undertake; she encouraged him when he was Vice-President and, later, President, and she made home more than ever an abode of peace when, in 1801, he returned to Braintree, to a house of Leonard Vassall, built in 1731, which he bought in 1785.
In this house husband and wife celebrated their golden wedding, as John Quincy Adams was to celebrate his golden wedding many years later. Here, for many years, the son enjoyed being with the mother of whom he once wrote :
” My mother was an angel upon earth. She was a minister of blessings to all human beings within her sphere of action. . . . She has been to me more than a mother. She has been a spirit from above watching over me for good, and contributing by my mere consciousness of her existence to the comfort of my life.
There is not a virtue that can abide in the female heart but it was the ornament of hers.”
And in this house the mother died, on October 28, 1818. John Quincy Adams lived there until his death, on July 4, 1826.