Pulitzer Prize-winning author David McCullough spoke last night about John Adams and his belief in the pursuit of happiness to members of The American Academy of Arts ‘ Sciences and The Boston Athenaeum at Harvard University’s Memorial Church.
John Adams, the first president to live in the White House and the first vice president of the United States, believed people should make the most of their minds, McCullough said.
“We cannot maintain our rights and liberties without wisdom, knowledge and virtue,” McCullough said, referring to Adams’ strong belief in education.
Adams believed a self-governing nation could not exist without education. “It’s the duty of the government to educate everybody,” he said.
For Adams, education included knowing everything from economics to literature, with no barriers preventing the learning process, McCullough said.
Adams grew up as the son of a farmer and later became of the leader of the United States of America. His life is a perfect example of the power of education, McCullough said.
Adams constantly read, and “never stopped growing intellectually,” McCullough said. Often, he could be seen in his Quincy homestead sitting at his desk, surrounded by books.
“John Adams believed that we should make the most of our minds all of our lives,” McCullough said.
However, Adams also maintained the public must take education seriously and fulfill its own responsibility to serve the country because the government depends on its citizens, McCullough said.
“John Adams never failed to answer the call of his country to serve,” he said. “Adams believed that is what is expected from its citizens.”
Through the six years he spent researching the lives of John and Abigail Adams, McCullough said he learned many lessons.
One such lesson he said he learned is that there is “no such thing as a self-made man or woman.”
“All of us are the result of people who have guided us throughout the years,” McCullough said.
Just as Adams did, people today have teachers, family and even strangers that help to shape our lives, McCullough said.
“Also, surely all of us have been influenced by the founders,” McCullough said.
As with the rest of the founding fathers, John Adams was an imperfect person, McCullough said. Adams was abrasive, cranky and stubborn, but he was also determined to provide education and liberties to society, he said.
McCullough emphasized the importance of understanding the period of the Revolutionary War and the years following. Adams and the other founding fathers were trying to do something that no other colonist had done, McCullough said.
“Nobody knew how it was going to turn out anymore than we do today,” McCullough said. “The colonials did not know that they were going to succeed.”
“It’s a miracle that these imperfect human beings rose to the occasion and did what they did,” McCullough said.
Credit for John Adams is long overdue, he added.
“He was generous, affectionate, loyal and funny,” McCullough said. “We are all his beneficiaries.”
Louis Cabot, vice president of The American Academy of Arts ‘ Sciences, said McCullough has “given new and deeper insights into John Adams.”
“Today, more than ever, we work to uphold Adams’ commitment to the independent mind and spirit,” Cabot said.