Today in History
History's Happenings for October 30
The second president of the United States, a direct descendant of a Mayflower passenger, was born on October 30, 1735 in Braintree, MA.
Originally considering the ministry, Adams wound up studying law at Harvard. As a lawyer, he defended patriots charged with smuggling, and also defended the British soldiers accused in the 1770 Boston Massacre. With his cousin Samuel he helped to found the Sons of Liberty in Boston.
A member of both the First and Second Continental Congresses, Adams is also credited with having persuaded that group to make George Washington commander of the Continental Army, to declare independence from Britain, and to incorporate stars and stripes on the first American flag. His signature appeared on the Declaration of Independence. In 1782, he led the delegation that negotiated the Treaty of Paris, formally ending the Revolution.
Elected independently in 1787 as our first vice president under President Washington, Adams declared the position to be "the most insignificant office that ever the invention of man contrived or his imagination conceived." Since he didn't sign the Constitution, we suppose we should forgive him that remark. Besides, too many vice presidents have since agreed.
The election of 1796 broke the mold of unified leadership espoused by Washington, who detested the concept of warring political parties. The election was not only the first contest for the presidency -- Washington had been unopposed -- but also the first to involve different parties.
During Washington's administration, despite his views on faction, his cabinet drifted in to two distinct schools of thought. The federalists, led by Alexander Hamilton, favored a strong central government run by the wealthy. The republicans, gathering around Thomas Jefferson, instead wanted more power for the states, and more participation in governance by all the people.
Adams, running as a Federalist, gained the presidency in a very close race with Jefferson, the latter becoming vice president under the original constitutional rules. President Adams retained Washington's cabinet, but factionalism began to divide them from the President. Meanwhile Hamilton worked from the outside to turn the Federalist Party against Adams when he declined to make war on France in 1797. Instead, he strengthened the navy, bade Washington return from retirement to command the army should it be needed, and managed to keep the peace.
The reaction of the Federalists was to force through Congress the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798, a set of laws generally unpopular at the time, and viewed today as unconstitutional for their constraints on free speech and due process. Although the Acts were intended as a rebuff to Adams, they reflected badly on the Federalist Party generally, and contributed to Thomas Jefferson defeating Adams for the presidency in 1800.
In the last hours before Adams left office, he appointed a large number of judges, an act which earned him ridicule, especially from the incoming Democratic-Republican Party. However, it is noteworthy that one of those appointments was the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court -- perhaps the finest it has ever had -- John Marshall.
At the very end of his term, Adams became the first president to live in the new Executive Mansion -- much later styled the White House -- which was completed in November, 1800. He lived to see his son, John Quincy, become president in 1825.
The elder John died on July 4, 1826 -- just fifty years since he had signed the great Declaration. His last thoughts were that Jefferson had outlived him. He hadn't. Thomas Jefferson had died only hours before.
If you chanced to turn on your radio on Halloween Eve, 1938, you may have learned from urgent program interruptions that Martians had landed on the U.S. east coast. If you happened to live in, say, New Jersey, without listening further you may have bundled your loved ones into the family car and headed for the hills.
You would not have been alone.
When the Mercury Theatre, founded by writer and future actor-director Orson Welles, broadcast its version of H.G. Wells' War of the Worlds, it did so in typical breaking news fashion, having warned its listeners at the beginning of the program that it was only entertainment.
But for those that tuned in in the middle of the broadcast, seemingly ordinary program offerings were frequently interrupted with growing details of an invasion from Outer Space. Panic set in, especially on the east coast where the initial sightings had supposedly occurred, as people attempted either to flee the onslaught, or find it.
Needless to say, Martians had not landed. But the broadcast helped launch Welles' career as a producer. In 1941 he co-wrote, directed and acted in one of the most acclaimed motion pictures ever made -- Citizen Kane.