Know Your Americans: John Adams

In the first installment of our Know Your Americans series, we learn about the often-overlooked 2nd President John Adams.

When an old president or someone from back in the day is brought up, generally the first question that comes to my mind is “How many slaves did this guy own?” It’s natural to think about how you would have gotten along with that historical person, which ones we would have liked to have a beer with, etc.

With that in mind it makes sense that I’d think about the person’s stance on slavery, because to a lot of them black people wouldn’t even be considered people, so hypothetically having that beer or anything like that wouldn’t be a realistic option in the first place.

Some would argue that “you can’t blame them because that’s how the times were and everyone was doing it” or “If you were a white person in that time you probably would have owned slaves too.”

I hear y’all I really do, and I don’t want to condemn people too much who are just a product of their time and environment. It’s fine to not condemn them, but my question is why do we have to still honor them now?

Like Ramsey said to me one night, “Think of that one slave who was owned by George Washington and all his life he was thinking ‘fuck George Washington’ in his mind”. I identify with that slave because to me he’s just as valuable a person as George Washington was.

John Adams was the second president but he’s one of the least known. He owned no slaves. He also has no currency with his face on it, no monuments in D.C., and no institutions of higher learning in the entire country are named after him.

Of the first five presidents — those considered to be the founding fathers — John Adams was the only one NOT to own any slaves. Coincidentally (or not) he’s also the only one among the first five presidents to never have a monument, currency or college.

I’m no expert on presidential history and I’m not going to get too much into that here, but it seems a bit odd and hard to believe that this is the only dude that didn’t do anything important enough to be remembered. After all, he did write a lot of the constitution.

1) First President George Washington owned hundreds of slaves. In addition to having the city of Washington named after him and the Washington monument erected in his honor, he is featured on the quarter and the dollar. George Washington University and several schools across the country are also named after him. But OK, he’s the first president, so maybe it’s not fair to compare.


3) After John Adams, third President Thomas Jefferson owned hundreds of slaves. His face appears on the nickel and the $2 bill and the Jefferson memorial is one of the main attractions on the D.C. Mall. He also has several schools and small colleges named after him.


4) Fourth President James Madison owned hundreds of slaves and is remembered by Virginia’s James Madison University as well as the James Madison College of public affairs and international relations within Michigan State University.

5) Fifth President James Monroe owned dozens of slaves. Monroe College in New York is named after him.

Adams’ son John Quincy Adams became the sixth President of the United States, and took after his father as only the second to NOT own slaves.

My earlier question of why we still honor these men but choose to forget Adams is something to think about. It’s like the history writers chose to punish Adams by diminishing his role. I’m not assigning fault for that oversight to any person or group of people. I just think one of the issues with our country is the fake history that’s perpetuated and the mandatory reverence/patriotism that everyone expects for these ‘heroes’.


Shout out to you John Adams.


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