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.
Adams 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.