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Soldiering On With US Presidents


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Vincent Valentine, MD
University of Texas Medical Branch
Galveston, TX, USA
vgvalent@utmb.edu



Perhaps it's no accident that the first six Presidents were from the original permanent English settlements of the New World: Virginia in 1607 at a place named Jamestown and Massachusetts in 1620 a placed called Plymouth. As informed or forewarned in the prior issue of the links, we continue our very brief study of the U.S. Presidents. After George Washington, we start with John Adams and finish with John Quincy Adams. The first five Presidents represent the Founding Fathers and the sixth President the son of a Founding Father and a child witness of the American Revolution. The Father-son Adams clan balance out the Virginia dynasty which in a contradictory fashion represented a remnant of aristocracy within a new democracy. They were originally born British subjects. We will conclude with a few other notable founding fathers for their brilliance and contribution to the Declaration of Independence and US Constitution.

First, there is John Adams of Braintree, Massachusetts, a town just outside Boston. He was born on October 19, 1735. Adams was known as the "Atlas of Independence," and he demanded of himself that "I must study politics and war that my sons may have liberty to study mathematics and politics." He graduated from Harvard College in 1755 and became a top lawyer. In 1765, he argued against British taxation without representation and in 1770 as a man of principles, he ensured that the British soldiers involved in the Boston Massacre received a fair trial.

Although Adams was the second President of the United States, he was the first President to live in the White House. In the State Dining Room of the Executive Mansion he inscribed - "May none but honest and wise men ever rule under this roof." As a leading patriot, Adams devoted his life to his country. He argued brilliantly for independence and helped write the Declaration of Independence. He was never a popular figure and was considered according to one historian, "an independent tough-minded, somewhat opinionated and irritable Yankee-but always a courageous patriot and scholar." Along with Thomas Jefferson, John Adams died on July 4, 1826, the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence most likely from heart failure related to arteriosclerosis. His last words were "Thomas Jefferson still survives." Jefferson actually died five hours earlier at Monticello.

Thomas Jefferson was born on April 13, 1743 on his family's plantation in western Virginia. He attended William and Mary, studied law and was considered one of America's most brilliant legal scholars. Jefferson is the "Father of the Declaration of Independence" and was known as the "Sage of Monticello." He was an architect, a musician, inventor and a scientist who embodied many paradoxes. He championed State's rights, and felt that the federal government should be limited. He was America's foremost champion of freedom and democracy, yet he was a slave-owner. He was best known as author of the Declaration of Independence. He served as governor of Virginia, minister to France, Secretary of State, and Vice President under John Adams. Along with Patrick Henry he authored the Anti-Federalist Papers. He was elected third President of the United States in 1800. The highlight of his two terms was his decision to pay France $15 million for the Louisiana Purchase, doubling the size of America in 1803. During his retirement he founded the University of Virginia and designed many of its buildings. He is considered the "American Sphinx".

He died on the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1826 of unknown causes ranging from natural causes to sepsis.

James Madison was born in Virginia on March 16, 1751. Because of his key role in framing the document that created the U.S. government graced by his words, "We the people...," he is known as the "Father of the Constitution." Among many of his ideas from the 1787 Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, he strongly advocated for a strong federal government and encouraged the states to approve the constitution by helping write the series of essays known as The Federalist Papers. Out of a compromise with the anti-Federalists, the Bill of Rights (originally drafted by him as the first 10 amendments) was included in the US Constitution. He became the 4th US President and under his term, America fought the British in the War of 1812, termed by his enemies as "Mr Madison's War." He and his wife, Dolley, left Washington in 1814 when British troops burned the White House. On June 28, 1836, he was apparently found dead in his bedroom, sitting in front of his untouched breakfast tray, six days short of the 60th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. It has been pointed out "that even in the 1800s, breakfast trays were handed to patients without realizing they were dead?"

James Monroe was born in Virginia on April 28, 1758. He was the 5th President of the United States from 1817-1825, a time of national expansion and optimism. This period was known as "the Era of Good Feeling." Thomas Jefferson praised Monroe, "He is a man whose soul might be turned wrong side outwards, without discovering a blemish." His most important achievements as President were in foreign affairs. An agreement had been achieved with England over the disputed border between the US and Canada. He bought Florida from Spain and limited Russian expansion along the Pacific Coast. There was the Monroe Doctrine of 1823 which he was best known for warning that the US would not allow European nations to establish new colonies in the Americas or to interfere in the affairs of the Western Hemisphere. He supported the anti-slavery movement but also the Missouri Compromise which allowed Missouri to be admitted as a slave state while Maine a free state. He quoted, "let us by wise and constitutional measures promote intelligence among the people as the best means of preserving our liberties." He died of heart failure and tuberculosis on July 4, 1831, and he was the last of the Founding Fathers elected President, of which three died on the Fourth of July.

John Quincy Adams was born in Braintree (Quincy), Massachusetts on July 11, 1767. He was among the first unpopular Presidents. John Quincy, son of the second President John Adams and Abigail Adams, always did what he thought was best for America even if it angered others. Alongside his mother, he witnessed the Battle of Bunker Hill from Penn's Hill near the family farm. He frequently accompanied his father on missions to Europe seeking help for the colonies. As an heir apparent with experience, he was appointed by Presidents George Washington and James Madison to be minister to several European countries - remnants of Old World aristocracy in a newly developed democratic nation. He represented Massachusetts in the Senate from 1803 to 1808 and was later President Monroe's Secretary of State. He was among the first true American politicians, especially when supporters of Andrew Jackson accused Adams and Henry Clay of having made a "corrupt bargain." During the 1824 election, Adams finished second to Jackson in the popular vote. Since none of the candidates received enough electoral votes to win, the decision for president fell to the House of Representatives. Clay gave his support to Adams who was then elected. As a result, he was known as the "Accidental President." As an ineffective President, he was easily beaten by Jackson in 1828. Following his lost, he did serve 17 years in congress where he earned admiration for his passionate opposition to slavery. Notably, as Secretary State under Monroe's administration, Adams wrote the Monroe Doctrine which effectively ended European influence in the Western Hemisphere. This allowed the United States a greater degree of independence on the world stage. He died on February 23, 1848 after suffering a massive cerebral hemorrhage.

Benjamin Rush was not a President but he was a physician, social reformer and patriot. He was a Founding Father born on December 24, 1757 in Pennsylvania just outside Philadelphia. Because hundreds perished from yellow fever and many others fled the city to avoid this deadly disease, Philadelphia was a ghost town in the summer of 1793. Dr Benjamin rush remained despite the danger, treating nearly 125 patients a day. He was one of the American colonies' leading physicians and the first professor of chemistry at the College of Philadelphia. He wrote one of the first works on personal hygiene: Sermons to Gentleman on Temperance and Exercise, published in 1772. Rush advocated for the improvement of education for girls, prison reform, humane treatment for the mentally ill and an end to slavery and capital punishment. As a Pennsylvania delegate to the Continental Congress, he signed the Declaration of Independence and served as surgeon general in the Continental Army. He established the first free clinic in the United States. He was later named treasurer of the U.S. Mint and served from 1797 until he died of typhus on April 19, 1813.

Thomas Paine was born in England January 29, 1737. He was a hero of the American Revolution for his writing, not for his bravery as a soldier. Initially, he believed the colonies should make peace with England, but later changed his mind after the battles of Lexington and Concord. He became a patriot and wrote a pamphlet, Common Sense, the first American best-seller, which sold more than 100,000 copies in three months which motivated Americans to declare independence and carry on the war. When things were looking bad for the Americans, Paine wrote, "These are the times that try men's souls." He emphasized that independence was worth the suffering. He apparently suffered with alcoholism and died June 8, 1809.

Alexander Hamilton was born on the West Indian Island of Nevis, January 11, 1755. He was a statesman and first Secretary of Treasury. Along with James Madison and John Jay, he was the chief author of the Federalist's Papers arguing over the importance of establishing a strong central government. These Papers were an influential series of essays supporting ratification of the Constitution. This arose out of his fear that the "violence and turbulence of the democratic spirit" would undermine the newly independent United States. He ranked among the most influential of the Founding Fathers. As Washington's Secretary of Treasury, he created a national bank. He was killed by his political rival, Aaron Burr in Weehawken, New Jersey, in the most famous duel in American history. During which, Hamilton deliberately fired into the air while Burr aimed at his foe with deadly accuracy on July 11, 1804. He died the next day on July 12. ■

Disclosure Statement: The author has no conflicts of interest to disclose.


References:

  1. Middlekauf, American Revolution
  2. Ron Chernow, Alexander Hamilton
  3. Joseph Ellis, The American Sphinx: The Character of Thomas Jefferson
  4. Merrill Peterson, Thomas Jefferson and the New Nation
  5. Garry Willis, Inventing America: Jefferson's Declaration of Independence
  6. Irving Brant, The Fourth President: The Life of James Madison
  7. W. P. Cresson, James Monroe
  8. Samuel Flagg Bemis, John Quincy Adams Vols 1 & 2
  9. Steven W Allen, Founding Fathers: Uncommon Heroes
  10. Joseph Ellis, Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation




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