Happy REAL Independence Day!


When I returned from Memphis, the first episodes of the HBO miniseries "John Adams" had arrived from Netflix. I’m saving them for the weekend, but in anticipation, I felt it proper to honor my favorite Founder by noting that, as he said at the time, July 2nd is the day we should mark as the date upon which our independence was declared. That’s the day the vote took place in Congress.

As he wrote to Abigail on July 3, 1776:

    But the Day is past. The Second Day of July 1776, will be the most memorable Epocha, in the History of America.
    I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance by solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.
    You will think me transported with Enthusiasm but I am not. — I am well aware of the Toil and Blood and Treasure, that it will cost Us to maintain this Declaration, and support and defend these States. — Yet through all the Gloom I can see the Rays of ravishing Light and Glory. I can see that the End is more than worth all the Means. And that Posterity will tryumph in that Days Transaction, even altho We should rue it, which I trust in God We shall not.

Declaration_committeeAdams did the heavy lifting that led to our declaration, fighting for independence before the Continental Congress. When the matter was sent to a committee (shown at right) that included him and Ben
Franklin, Adams urged that Jefferson should do the writing of the version for posterity — not because he had done anything to bring it about (Jefferson had sat like a lump through the debates), but because had had style as a writer.

Adams would live to see the wrong day celebrated with "bonfires and illuminations," and Jefferson lionized as the Author of Liberty. Which wasn’t fair then, and isn’t fair now. Short, chunky, irritating, brilliant Adams always deserved infinitely more credit.

We people who can occasionally turn a phrase get way too much credit in this life. My moderate skill in that regard enabled me to B.S. my way through school whenever an essay test was given (I dreaded a well-crafted multiple-choice, which measured factual knowledge rather than mere verbal razzle-dazzle), and Jefferson’s has made him way more of a hero than he deserves to be.

So let’s pause today to honor John Adams, who did far more to lead us into nationhood.

8 thoughts on “Happy REAL Independence Day!

  1. Lee Muller

    The revisionist history in the current bestselling book and TV docudrama exaggerate the role of John Adams, and completely omit is condescending attitude towards some of those common people whom he expected to take risks, such as Paul Revere.
    But all the Founders did a great job, and would be sorely disappointed in the current crop of politicians, especially traitors like Obama, Clinton, John Kerry selling out their birthright. Of course, they had their Benedict Arnold.

  2. Brad Warthen

    Just FYI, folks… said "revisionist history" is not recent. It predates Mr. McCullough’s book. I formed the same impression — that Adams deserved far more credit than Jefferson — when I was in college in the early 70s, earning a second major in history, with particular emphasis upon that period…

    When I read McCullough several years back, I thought, "Yeah, that’s the way I saw it when I was in school…"

    The great irony is that those who lift Jefferson the highest tend to be Democrats and libertarians, who are (at least with regard to fiscal matters, and the proper role of gummint) so much at odds today. Being neither a Democrat nor a libertarian, I’m more comfortable with Adams, who was so UNcomfortable with the hyperpartisanship of his day (led to polar extremes by Hamilton in his Federalist Party, and Madison among the Democratic-Republicans).

  3. Phillip

    Yes, Adams was “so uncomfortable with the hyperpartisanship of his day” that he and his party foisted the Alienand Sedition Acts upon the nation. That’s one way to try to get rid of that pesky domestic political discord. (No truth to the rumor that Dick Cheney pilfered the original Sedition Act document from the National Archives and sleeps with it under his pillow every night.)
    I agree that Adams is finally getting some of the credit for his role in the nation’s founding that he has always deserved, but don’t sell Jefferson short. Sometimes the power of an idea can only be realized when it is brilliantly distilled to its pure essence by the tools of language. (Take note, all ye who tsk-tsk at Barack Obama’s way with a phrase…words ARE important). Jefferson’s words hold us together and inspire millions worldwide to this day. Moreover, his other ideas and beliefs expressed before and after that day in 1776 continue to play a major role in our domestic politics in 2008. Giving proper credit to Adams should not take anything away from Jefferson.
    Anyway, Madison had them all beat. And anyway, how many kids graduating from public high school in America could name our first four Presidents, or any four Founding Fathers, or more than two or three items in the Bill of Rights?

  4. Lee Muller

    Graduating? Naming the Presidents is grammar school basics. My nephew could name them all before he could read. I think it qualifies as part of that “minimally adequate education” the court says public education is required to provide.
    Graduating? Almost 50% of SC students don’t earn a diploma.

  5. Brad Warthen

    His party foisted the Alien and Sedition Acts on the country. He signed them. He deserves responsibility for that. But I believe one reason he went along with it was from the same aversion to bitter polarization that caused him to decry parties. I think he saw the extremes of political rhetoric and activity to be a very real threat to the delicate, infant country he had devoted his life to bringing about.
    I realize that to libertarians, the Alien and Sedition Acts mean that Adams should burn in hell no matter what else he did in his life.
    I don’t look at people, or at history, that way. I look at the fact that he did more than any one person, including Washington, to bring this country into being and give it a strong start. He made the case for independence, and represented our case at the most difficult time in the most difficult conceivable venues — those of Paris and London. Not least among his achievements, he left office peaceably when he lost the bitter election of 1800, a precedent in the peaceful transfer of power between factions that was necessary to the country’s survival. (That one thing, for me, outweighs the political intolerance of the Sedition Act.)
    No one is perfect. But no one did more good for this country in that generation, with the POSSIBLE exception of Washington (but I’d still choose Adams).
    Finally, in his old age, he reconciled with the former-friend-turned-foe who had been the beneficiary of the glory of Independence. The correspondence between him and Jefferson in the years just before both of them died — within hours of each other, on the nation’s 50th birthday — should serve as a guide to right action for today’s partisans.

  6. Lee Muller

    Thomas Jefferson wasn’t the only libertarian. All of the Founders were libertarians.

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