John Adams

Portrait by Gilbert Stuart, 1793

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QUICK FACTS
BORN:
30 October 1735 in the north precinct of Braintree, Massachusetts (now Quincy)
  DIED:
4 July 1826 at his home, Peacefield, in Quincy, Massachusetts
Buried at Quincy, in a crypt at United First Parish Church.

AUTHOR OF
  • Novanglus; or, A History of the Dispute with America, From Its Origin, in 1754, to the Present, 1775
  • Thoughts on Government, 1776
  • A Defence of the Constitution of Government of the United States of America, 1787
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He is vain, irritable and a bad calculator of the force and probable effect of the motives which govern men. This is all the ill which can possibly be said of him. He is as disinterested as the being which made him: he is profound in his views: and accurate in his judgment except where knowledge of the world is necessary to form a judgment. He is so amiable, that I pronounce you will love him if ever you become acquainted with him. He would be, as he was, a great man in Congress.

Thomas Jefferson in a letter to James Madison, 1788.

Portrait to come. See entry in Wikipedia.

Yet there is no doubt that his natural abilities were what most distinguished [John] Marshal from other lawyers and jurists. His head, said Senator Rufus King, is the best organized of anyone I have known. Marshal could grasp a subject in its whole and yet simultaneously analyze it parts and relate them to the whole. He could move progressively and efficiently from premise to conclusion in a logical and rigorous manner and extract the essence of the law from the mass of particulars. In the words of Justice Story, he had the remarkable ability to seize, as it were by intuition, the very spirit of juridical doctrines. Even Jefferson acknowledged Marshall’s talent, but he scarcely respected it. Jefferson told Story that when conversing with Marshall, I never admit anything. So sure as you admit any position to be good, no matter how remote from the conclusion he seeks to establish, you are gone. So great is his sophistry you must never give him an affirmative answer, or you will be forced to grant his conclusion. Why, if he were to ask me whether it were daylight or not, I’d reply, Sir, I don’t know, I can’t tell.

Gordon S. Wood
Empire of Liberty: A History of the Early Republic, 1789–1815 (2009)