The Rotary Club of Pismo Beach / Five Cites
Lucy Rebecca Wickstrom, First Place
Grade 10, Coastal Christian
Teacher: Alison Limon
A trip to Washington, D.C. would be a great excitement for many people across the United States, and when I received the opportunity to visit our nation’s capital as an eighth grader, I was absolutely ecstatic. As a devoted American history lover, nothing seemed more ideal to me than to see the very center of all the events I had read about in history books. I thoroughly enjoyed all the monuments and memorials and could not have been happier about my experience. However, while I was there, I noticed that someone seemed to missing from all the recognition and acknowledgement in D.C. I didn’t notice any monuments dedicated to one of my favorite founding fathers, John Adams. I’m frequently confused by the lack of appreciation this incredible man receives today, because of his honesty, courage, and devotion to his country. Even Adams himself was rather dismayed by the little recognition he received in his own time, once stating bitterly, “And then Franklin smote the ground and up rose George Washington, fully dressed and astride a horse! Then the three of them, Franklin, Washington, and the horse, proceeded to win the entire Revolution single-handedly!” This sarcastic recounting of the American Revolution may seem humorous, but I honestly believe that, then and now, Adams was and is quite underrated. Although the Rotary Club’s Four Way Test had not yet been put into words in John Adams’s day, I see many evidences of him using the integral principles that it is based on to make crucial decisions in his life. I believe that John Adams used the questions “Is it the truth?”, “Is it fair to all concerned?”, “Will it build good will and better friendships?”, and “Will it be beneficial to all concerned?” to influence decisions that would help make him into the estimable man that I wish more Americans would remember to acknowledge.
The first question, “Is it the truth?”, is evidenced in an exemplary fashion in John Adams’s decision to defend the British soldiers who killed four Americans in the Boston Massacre. He was a young lawyer and had already proclaimed himself loyal to the Patriot cause, and was even contemplating running for public office. There were no other lawyers willing to defend the British soldiers, so after much personal debate, Adams agreed to defend them to ensure a fair trial. His commitment to the truth superseded his political views and even his personal protection. He was aware of the fact that his decision to aid the infamous soldiers, whom the Patriots saw as the murderers of their brothers, would prove very dangerous to himself, his wife, and his three small children; it was not unlikely that some of the more radical Americans may riot against him due to his seemingly traitorous choice. However, John Adams would not see possibly innocent men condemned, even if it might hurt a cause he strongly supported. He found a myriad of evidence that proved the men innocent, and during the trial compelled his fellow countrymen to look toward truth by stating, “Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.” Despite all odds, he succeeded in proving the British soldiers innocent, and truth was upheld. By agreeing to do something completely out of his comfort zone and that disagreed with his personal views, he managed to sustain the truth when everyone else was too cowardly to do so.
The Four Way Test’s second question asks, “Is it fair to all concerned?” John Adams exhibited justice and fairness many times in his life, and an excellent example of this is seen in his involvement in the writing of the Declaration of Independence. Although he was offered the chance to write this historical document, he insisted that it be done by young Virginian Thomas Jefferson, who he believed was a better writer. Jefferson wrote the first draft of the Declaration, and then it was edited by a committee of five, which included John Adams. He proposed many ideas to include in this Declaration, which by its very nature is a statement of the necessity of fairness. The British government was severely mistreating the Americans, and justice needed to be reborn. Furthermore, Adams wanted fairness for all people. At the urging of his wife, Abigail, he remembered to seek justice for the women of America and not just the men; he also stood for the abolition of slavery and, unlike most of the other founding fathers, never owned a slave in his life. He once stated that all a man had to do was “Do justly. Love mercy. Walk humbly.” Justice was exceedingly important to him in all circumstances, and many things in his life pointed to the fact that he always wanted what was fair for all concerned.
The third question, “Will it build good will and better friendships?”, is evidenced in multiple ways throughout John Adams’s life. As the American Revolution progressed, he was asked to journey across the ocean to France to be America’s ambassador to the French court. This involved a highly dangerous voyage by ship with winter storms and British vessels to fear. And perhaps even worse, it meant that he would have to leave his wife, his young children, his friends, his hometown, and everything he had known for an undetermined amount of time. However, he decided to accept all these unfavorable circumstances so that he could serve his country. In doing this, he helped to build good will and good relationships with the people of France, as well as other countries such as Holland, and even England after the war was over. By putting aside his own wishes, he created lasting relationships with other nations that would greatly benefit his country. It was not an easy thing to do, by any standard; when he left for Paris, his youngest son was six years old, and he would not see him again until he was a fifteen year old Harvard scholar. Adams provides an excellent example of the fact that often, when trying to build good will and better friendships, difficult sacrifices will quite possibly have to be made. In my opinion, John Adams was an extraordinary individual because of the amount of sacrifices he was willing to make to benefit his country.
The final question challenges people to ask “Will it be beneficial to all concerned?” Not surprisingly, Adams only continued to make unbelievable sacrifices to benefit his people. When his eldest son, John Quincy, who had accompanied him to France and was his only companion there, was fourteen years old, he agreed to send him to Russia as the secretary of the American ambassador. It could not have been an easy decision to send his young son nearly 1,200 miles away; and Adams recorded that by doing this, he “deprived [himself] of the greatest pleasure [he] had in life.” Although this was against his wishes, he allowed it to take place because it would benefit the new ambassador and, in turn, the whole^United States. This happened again and again as Adams’s life progressed, and it even played a part when he accepted the Vice Presidency under George Washington. Instead of refusing to serve in the new government due to the fact that Washington was unanimously voted in as President, he agreed to take the much less glamorous role of Vice President because that was where he could best benefit his country at that time. This humility was apparent many times throughout Adams’s life, and it demonstrated an obvious passion for benefitting all individuals concerned.
In conclusion, I believe that, because of John Adams’s undeniable virtue and contributions to America, he should be much more respected and valued in our country. Adams once wrote to a friend, “Popularity was never my mistress, nor was I ever, or shall I ever be a popular man.” I think that we should make an effort to prove him wrong by honoring the incredible man he was. He was definitely not perfect, but none of us are, and I think he was certainly close enough to deserve a monument in our country’s capital. Without his wisdom, honesty, and courage, and the sacrifices he was willing to make, our nation might not be the extraordinary place it is today. The principles of the Four Way Test were clearly present on many occasions in this man’s life, which proves the timelessness of those four questions. Using those pivotal ideas, he became an outstanding husband, father, lawyer, patriot, ambassador, Vice President, and even the second President of the United States. He also raised a son who would grow up to become the sixth President of the United States. I only hope that I may be able to apply the Test as well as he did; and then I’m confident that I will become a much more truthful and honorable person. As John Adams himself often told his children, “To be good, and to do good, is all we have to do.”