Monday, May 4, 2009


"He agreed with his old friend Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts, who thought a large standing army was like a swollen penis, proving 'an excellent assurance of domestic tranquility, but a dangerous temptation to foreign adventure.'" -- from Chapter Five, "Rivalries Irritated To Madness," of Presidential Courage: Brave Leaders And How They Changed America 1789-1989

I died laughing.

The "He" in question is second U.S. President John Adams, who was faced with the dilemma of how to respond to the aggressive actions of France at the end of the 18th century. I'd expect brilliance from a book about the U.S. Presidents, but brilliant and racy? I'll have to seek out the other works of Presidential historian Michael Beschloss the next time I'm in the states.

In the next chapter, Beschloss mentions an article in the Aurora newspaper that described Adams as "bald, blind, crippled." "Told of the insult," he writes, "Abigail Adams chuckled that she should be consulted by anyone who doubted her husband's manhood."


I can't address his manhood, but John Adams certainly was one of the most underrated U.S. Presidents. For all his qualifications, his temperament was perhaps not particularly well suited to politics (think a more academic George Costanza in a powdered wig and patrician colonial garb), and he had the misfortune of being sandwiched between the Father of His Country and the larger-than-life Thomas Jefferson. But they don't make Emmy/Golden Globe-winning HBO miniseries about second-rate historical figures.

I missed Paul Giamati and Laura Linney's performances as John Adams and his wife Abigail, but I'll have to put the John Adams DVD on my to-get list the next time I'm back in the USA. I hope it has as a many no-they-did-NOT-go-there moments as the book.
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