Thank you, John Adams (Jefferson, too)

On this day — two days later than the day he thought we would celebrate — I like to remind my fellow countrymen that John Adams deserves more credit for the fact of independence than Thomas Jefferson.

Give Jefferson credit for being on the right side. Give him great credit for his talent with words. I place great store upon words, as they have been and are a great source of my living, and I love them. Adams himself recognized Jefferson’s ability in that area, and suggested that he be the one to write out the resolution that had already been decided upon.

But the really hard work had been in bringing the representatives of the 13 colonies to the point of deciding upon independence (a vote dramatized in the clip below). And the man who worked hardest, who poured out his energy in arguing and debating, and pushed and pulled and harried fainter hearts into taking this irrevocable step, was John Adams. Jefferson did not speak during the debates.

Give both men credit for their tremendous, very different, contributions to the establishment of this country. They both meant so much to this young republic, and it meant so much to them. They both died, far apart, on the Fourth of July 50 years later. Their lives were entirely wrapped up in what that celebration was and is all about. But I stress Adams more on this day because, starting in his own lifetime, he was never as recognized for his contribution as Jefferson was for his. And it grieved him.

So on this day, I take particular care to celebrate John Adams.

37 thoughts on “Thank you, John Adams (Jefferson, too)

  1. Lee Muller

    The biggest shortcomings of John Adams was that he did no fighting and not much of the risk taking. He was not only a small and weak man who was not a good soldier, but he considered himself to be a leader, who got people like Paul Revere to do the work.

    For a long time, he was like Franklin and others who thought of themselves as Englishmen, asking for their rights as Englishmen. Sam Adams and Patrick Henry were out in front on revolution.

    Ooops! Time to join the next revolution, at the 2009 Tea Party.

  2. Sam

    Both Adams and Jefferson died on July 4, 1826 which is quite a national irony. Great post here, Brad. If you haven’t already done so, you will most likely enjoy reading David McCullough’s biography of John Adams. Exceptionally good thread on the hatred, then unlikely friendship between Adams and Jefferson. The book inspired me to visit Adams’ home in Massachusetts which is now a national park. Have a great 4th.

  3. Randy E

    Well done, Brad.

    Interestingly, today many are discussing the ramblings of a governor who offered an incoherent resignation statement stemming from some political calculation, with her secessionist husband at her side.

    You share a post on two founding fathers, one who was a master with words and the other who did so much to create this country (as opposed to running from it). I’m sure they would react to Palin, especially yesterday’s circus show, with great disgust.

  4. SGMret

    My impression after reading McCullough’s book was that both men, Adams and Jefferson, each found something admirable in the other that they found lacking in themselves. Thus, each developed a grudging respect and kinship (albeit, perhaps more on Adam’s part than on Jefferson’s) for the other for having that which they lacked themselves.

    Such introspection and self-awareness were among the qualities that made such men great, though. However, their absence in most people is nothing new, to include Mark Sanford and perhaps Sara Palin (only to name the pols in the news today). I’m sure Adams and the other great ones had their own contemptuous thoughts for many of their contemporaries. There’s no need to judge our contemporaries through the eyes of Adams or others, though. We’re perfectly capable of that ourselves.

    One might also keep in mind that the revolution was not born whole. It should be no surprise or point of criticism that many of our Founding Fathers agonized over the ever widening divide between the Colonies and the Mother Country and the likely consequences of declaring independence. Our independence resulted from as much evolution as revolution.

    Perhaps we live in such an evolutionary time ourselves.

    Hope y’al had a good 4th!

  5. Lee Muller

    The Revolution became inevitable when men like Adams, Franklin and Jefferson realized there was no compromising with those who wanted to rule them, English lords who saw the Americans as Americans.

    When the Americans saw themselves as Americans, the die was cast.

    So will it be when enough people realize there is no compromising with those who rule from Washington, DC today, and see themselves as Americans, who have to rid America of non-Americans.

  6. Bart

    SGMret, good observations. I agree with you on the Sarah Palin point. She has resigned. Mark Sanford should resign. Let the publicity surrounding these two along with Michael Jackson subside to reasonable levels and let us once again focus on the real issues we face.

    One aspect of our history we as Americans fail to observe on the 4th was the fate of so many of the men who signed the Declaration of Independence. It would do us good to do a little research on the ultimate fate of the lesser celebrated individuals who sacrificed life, family, property, freedom, and so many of the cherished rights and privileges we enjoy today.

  7. Bart

    Even if you are a harsh critic of Rush Limbaugh, this is a good piece to read. It will give you a quick history of the fate of some signers of the Declaration of Independence. It is worth reading and is not a right wing rant or mainfesto by any stretch of the imagination.

  8. doug_ross

    Two John Adams quotes (copied from

    Remember democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide.

    -John Adams, letter to John Taylor, April 15, 1814

    — I would say we’re just about reaching the point where we need to put
    — Dr. Kevorkian on speed dial. Sarah Palin’s supposed viability as a
    — candidate for President in 2012 is enough to signal the end is near.

    The moment the idea is admitted into society that property is not as sacred as the laws of God, and that there is not a force of law and public justice to protect it, anarchy and tyranny commence.

    -John Adams, A Defense of the American Constitutions, 1787

    — The perfect explanation for abolition of all property taxes. Once you
    — purchase something with your own money, the government should
    — not ever have any claim on it.

  9. Lee Muller

    Bart, some people may not read that speech because they think it by Rush Limbaugh, of talk radio fame, and let their bias get in the way. It is, of course, by his father, who was a well-respected lawyer. Rush Limbaugh’s brother is also an attorney, and the family had several judges.

    We have been so comfortable since World War II that most of the people in two generations have no idea of what suffering or hardship is. I have been researching my family tree for some years, and I see entire populations oppressed by brutal kings, over egotistical demands of subservience to the state religion, or some Duke or Earl on the inside.

    America is being taken back to the rule of men, and the economic and social destruction on the horizon has the potential to be worse than anything since 1865. Most people can’t imagine that the idiot socialists in power now can be that destructive. They can’t imagine missing their favorite TV show.

  10. Randy E

    Palin’s viability (which is still in tact for many) signals the possible end of the republican party.

    Actually, I do believe it represents a serious problem evolving in our democracy. For example, many in the GOP were thrilled with Palin’s performance in the debate. She read from note cards, could offer no substantive insight into the problems facing the nation, and sounded like she was running for prom queen.

    Brad can provide more background, but my understanding is that Adams and the federalists helped consolidate power at the executive branch while Jefferson did the opposite.

  11. Lee Muller

    As I wrote in an article for the LP News in 1977, no one really owns their house or farm as long as taxes can be collected on it every year, or a lien placed against it by a government clerk, without a jury trial.

    Property taxes are anathema to liberty, and must be abolished.

  12. Randy E

    “We have been so comfortable since World War II that most of the people in two generations have no idea of what suffering or hardship is.”

    Great point, Lee. The government stepped in after WWII with the GI Bill and new mortgage plans. The middle class exploded – government making a positive difference!

  13. SGMret

    The GI Bill and VA Loans were not universal social welfare programs.
    They were rewards to a special class of citizens who had earned them through extraordinary sacrifice. Government didn’t make a difference; individuals who were motivated to improve their lot in life through hard work made a difference. Government simply provided an opportunity, not a handout.

    There are more than just a few “serious problem[s] evolving in our democracy.” A couple of nutty GOP governors and weakness in the Republican Party are the least of them. The “serious” problems cross party lines. They are fundamental in nature and go to the core of what kind of nation we should be.

    The questions are:

    Are we a nation which goal is provide and protect the conditions of individual liberty and freedom, allowing each person to seek and strive with the least infringement on those liberties and freedoms from others (to include the “government”)?

    Or, are we a nation which goal is to provide and guarantee some universal standard-of-living created by the forced reallocation of resources according to plans established by vox populi of the very same people who will receive that wealth from others?

    At least the 18th Century Federalists did not hide behind the skirts of women and children claiming the power they wished to consolidate was for the benefit of the impoverished. They were quite clear in their philosophy that the common man and the various states were not capable of running the country and that power should be held and wielded by the elite few.

    Contrariwise, today’s politicians are self-serving panderers who hide their personal power agendas by promising anything to get the votes they need to stay in office. This problem is not just a “Sarah Palin – Mark Sanford – GOP” problem, but rather one that infects both parties and is found at all levels of government.

  14. Bart

    America entered WWI and over 2 million soldiers served out of a population of 92 million. The “Great War” ended in 1919. Ten years later, we entered the Great Depression that lasted until the late 30s and our entry into WWII. In 1940, the population of America was around 142 million and approximately 16 million soldiers fought or served in WWII. Given the sheer number of veterans returning home and the fact that those who stayed home were established and the wives of many soldiers worked outside the home, the social structure/fabric of America had changed.

    The government had no choice but to reward these soldiers for a job well done. It was a unique time in our history and without effective programs for our returning soldiers, chaos would have ensued and massive unemployment would have been the result. The programs were intended for those who served in the military and their dependents, not social engineering or entitlement programs.

    There is no honest equation between what we did after WWII and today. To try to draw any correlation between the two is disingenuous. In fact, I find it contemptuous to attempt to justify actions taken during the current crisis with the honorable actions resulting from our national sacrifices during and after WWI and WWII on behalf of our soldiers.

    America was weary and tired of war and internal conflict at home. Then, in the early 50s, we entered another war in Korea, then shortly afterward Korea, Vietnam.

    What is before us today is the result of massive greed and political ambition from Wall Street and Washington, DC. There are no innocents and no one with clean hands be it Democrat, Republican, Independent, broker, unqualified borrowers, predatory lenders, unregulated lending practices, or unchecked social engineering.

  15. Randy E

    Sarge and Bart affirm that the government made a difference. Now that we’ve crossed that line, it’s no longer a discussion on Big Government is inherently bad. It’s a matter of the use of Big Government.

    Fannie Mae was a similar program and has done a world of good. To buy a home in the 1920s, one had to pay 50% down and the mortgage lasted just a few years. Most could not afford this. The government steps in and makes housing affordable – the middle class explodes.

    In NYC, poor people are eating fish they are catching in local waters and these fish have high levels of mercury and PCBs. . Using the “compassionate” conservatism approach of every man for himself, the government should do nothing about this?

    Men are taking contaminated food home to their wives and kids because they can’t afford the food prices. Apparently, family values means gay marriage is an atrocity but polluted rivers and poverty are not priorities.

  16. Birch Barlow

    Men are taking contaminated food home to their wives and kids because they can’t afford the food prices.

    Those who would take the position that government is useless are simpletons. Of course, I have seen but a few take this position and I wish they would be ignored rather than drive your topic of discourse. And if you believe that most conservatives or libertarians or whatever those people are called think that way, then you are simplifying others’ beliefs to the point of distortion — though, in my opinion, the blame for this lies largely on their shoulders for making too many generalized observations (“government is too big!”) without ever getting into specifics.

    But you just identified a problem that government should be able to solve. Why can’t those who polluted those local waters be sued to clean it up in government courts? And if it is the general population that is doing the polluting, why can’t they be taxed to clean it up?

    That seems like something even the every-man-for-himself compassionate-conservative strawman would even go for.

  17. Lee Muller

    Statists like Randy want to shut down discussion by declaring the debates over Gigantic Government and every intrusion to be “over”, that “a consensus has been reached”, “the people have spoken”, “we won the election”.

    It is a Big Lie.

    July 4, 1776 was the dawn of a new era that frightened all statists, from the monarchs of Europe to the socialists plotting their overthrow by a new dictatorship of the proletariat.

    SGT is right – Social Security of 1934 and the GI Bill were nothing like the welfare programs of today. Social Security cost 1% tax to support those too old to work. The GI Bill was an opportunity for those who earned it with blood and sweat, to move up from labor jobs to management, sales, and engineering.

    But the politicians and bureaucrats subverted Social Security into a massive wealth redistribution scheme, so expensive that it destroys private savings and the incentive to work.

    Academics didn’t want that gusher of money dry up in the 1960s, so they got politicians to create student loans programs, so working families could pay outrageous tuition and faculty salaries on the installment plan for 30 years.

    Statists have been trying to roll back the clock ever since 1789, just as George Washington warned they would.

    But this July 4, there were more Americans demonstrating against Obama’s socialism than demonstrated all last month in Iran against their dictatorship.

  18. Lee Muller

    Anyone, like Brad Warhen or Randy, who thinks conservatives and libertarians have not been specific in their criticisms of oppressive government, and in their plans to reform government to its proper and lawful role, is simply uninformed.

    There are magazine articles and books from the 1930s to 2009, with specifics criticisms and detailed alternatives that have been proven to work much better.

    I suggest you purchase a subscription to REASON magazine, and buy Robert Poole’s 1970s book, “Local Problems, Libertarian Solutions”.

    Then read the Grace Report, issued in Reagan’s first term.

  19. SGMret

    Of course “government makes a difference.” That’s about as profound as saying that “water is wet.”

    And, no, just recognizing that “government makes a difference” is not to concede that “big government is [not] inherently bad.”

    Fannie Mae (and presumably Freddie Mac, since you went there) is only superficially similar to VA Loans. The fundamental difference is, of course, that those programs were intended from their inception as social engineering through the redistribution of wealth to anyone who satisfies some arbitrary standard of need. The explosion of the middle class is not the result of home ownership, however. If there’s a relationship, it’s home ownership is the result of the middle class.

    In so far as how well “big government” has succeeded in managing those programs, well, do you really want to go there? The collapse of the “housing market” and the consequent damage to the economy overall is a direct result of social engineering policies which mandated by law that persons who weren’t financially able to pay for homes be given loans and that the government would ultimately insure those same loans.

    “What a fine mess you got us into, Ollie.”

    I don’t advocate “compassionate” conservatism. There’s no such thing, nor for that matter, does “compassionate” liberalism exist either. The place of government is not “to level the playing field” nor “float all the boats on a raising tide.” The place of government is to protect individual liberty and freedom while encroaching as little as possible on either. “Compassionate” is the word used by politicians of all stripes to justify the policies they promise when pandering for votes from the people who will benefit from that government “compassion.”

    Beyond the fact that you’re taking up stall space intended for other practical purposes, I couldn’t case less if you want to bugger or be buggered in the men’s room. As for family values, they matter only in so far as indicators of hypocrisy. You live your private life contrary to your publicly professed values; I don’t trust you. It’s the same as lying.

    If NYC has contaminated sewers and streams (Imagine that, a million people per square mile, and there’s pollution! Oh my gosh!), then the people of NYC can elect some politicians and pay some taxes to clean up their mess. After all, they made it.

    It’s not that any government is bad, it’s just that government that robs Peter to pay Paul just because Paul got some guy to write some laws that it’s OK to rob Peter is bad.

  20. Randy E

    I think Sarge and Birch make substantive points even as they contradict me – minimal personal insults and much in the way of topical points. I tip my hat to you both.

    Birch, my reference to “every man for himself conservatives” is appropriate and certainly not simplistic. In the GOP primary debates this past year, poverty was mentioned only by Huckabee. This issue is routinely ignored by the conservatives as a whole – if the shoe fits… Sanford turns a blind eye to poverty in this state. In his last campaign site he addresses health by suggesting we exercise more. His ENTIRE effort to solve to the health issue is to ride a bike more!?!

    Sarge, home ownership has not effect on middle class status? A great deal of wealth in this country is tied to home equity. I’ll grant that home ownership was not the only cause but “social engineering” facilitated by the government most certainly positively impacted the middle class boom. Fannie Mae was instituted in the 30s along with other progressive initiatives. Taxes for the wealthy up to the 70s were vastly higher than today.

    Robbing Peter to pay Paul ironically refers to the Bible. In it, Jesus spends more time addressing poverty than any other topic. Jesus most certainly expected his followers to take care of orphans, widows, and the poor.

    Regarding the NYC pollution, MERCURY in the water is not simply some candy wrappers on the street. The poor likely did not put it there. My point was not that some red asses in another part of the country should clean up NYC but that government plays an important role and this requires money.

  21. Lee Muller

    To be accurate, the “middle class” are shopkeepers and businessmen, in the middle between landed gentry at the top and laborers and peasants below.

    Today, the term is misapplied to those of “middle income”.

    Giving a house to someone who can’t afford it with a junk bond loan does not suddenly make them “middle income”, much less “middle class”.

    Poverty has not been eradicated one bit by $10 trillion of government programs. The welfare solution not only failed, it created more poverty.

    The only solution to poverty is having a skill, working hard and continuously, and being frugal. That means not having babies out of marriage, not dropping out of school, not using alcohol and drugs, and depending as little on government as possible.

    I find it offensive for atheists to quote the Bible in support of socialism and their secular religions like environmentalism.

    The Bible tells us to take care of the poor as individuals, them and us.
    It does not say to create a class of poor people who expect to remain wards of a giant, corrupt system that has a vested interest in keeping them poor and using them to tax and control the honest working class.

  22. SGMret

    Well, Randy, not to start some warm and fuzzy mutual admiration society thing here, but I have to say that you’re fightin’ the good fight all by yourself here lately. I don’t think we’re gonna agree, but it’s good exercise even so.

    Despite how these few paragraphs here might sound, I’m not some hard-hearted bastard watching out the window as the little match girl freezes to death. And, although I freely admit before a jury of my peers, that I have libertarian leanings, I know and understand that the clock cannot (nor do I think it should) be completely turned back to some earlier frontier time.

    However, I will also say that I don’t believe in the philosophy of “economic justice” where some (indefinable) standard of living is a basic human right. I do recognize, though, that society in general is benefited by reducing poverty to some (indefinable) level.

    Why? Because the conditions of liberty and individual freedom are advanced and guarded when the tendencies of lawlessness and chaos are limited in those who would be non-productive.

    I also believe, for example, that public education is a benefit to society, not because it is some basic right, but because education is a cornerstone of a rational and productive life. In short, my standard of living is better if I’m surrounded by rational productive people rather then the opposite.

    I like roads, too. The list goes on and on.

    Again, it’s not that all government is all bad, but how much government is enough? It’s like Goldilocks. This government is too small: This government is too big: This government is just right.

    And it’s not just a debate over how much wealth CAN be redistributed, but rather a debate over how much SHOULD be redistributed. It is, of course, a complicated issue. I concede that the absolute principles of libertarianism cannot be applied; we’ve gone too far down the path already. The camel has his nose under the tent already. I just don’t want the big stinky thing any further inside than he already is.

    So just how much wealth redistribution is too much? For me, too much is when I start asking myself is it worth it to keep working or to work more relative to the amount of taxes that I pay?

    The answer to that question is: I’m just about there. For me, taxes are a disincentive to work any more than I already am. In fact, I’m tempted to reduce the amount of work in order to pay less in taxes.

    I suspect that if I’m wondering about whether it makes any sense to keep producing while the government extorts by threat of force so much of my earnings, then there are many, many other people in the same boat. Here is the problem of “big” government.

    While in theory, productive capacity may be unlimited, in practice, there is a balance between human incentive and production. Take away the incentive, production diminishes. Take away too much incentive, and production reverses. Without that production, there are no taxes to support the “economic justice” standards of living that are provided by the government.

    As for that home ownership thing: Since we have property taxes, and a failure to pay those taxes results in the government seizing “your” property by force and violence, all of that wealth represented by those homes is illusory. It’s really the government’s property that all those middle class people are sinking their wealth into. “We the people” don’t actually own anything anymore. Fannie Mae and Freddy Mac are a (bad) joke on us.

  23. SGMret

    I quit. I see I’m guilty of that which I just accused “Mary Rosh” of doing, a too long-winded posting.

    Apologies everyone.

  24. Bart

    SGMret, your post is nothing like the ones posted by “Mary Rosh aka Mike Toreno”. Logical, explanatory, and cohesive in thought. Good post.

  25. Maude Lebowski

    “I find it offensive for atheists to quote the Bible in support of socialism and their secular religions like environmentalism.”

    Most conservative Christians are offended when someone points out their hypocrisy, i.e. the discrepancies between the teachings of Jesus and Libertarian ideology.

  26. Lee Muller

    I have never seen anyone “point out the discrepancies between the teachings of Jesus and Libertarian ideology.” Why don’t you try being the first to do so.

    Jesus never said anything about the State being his chosen instrument for charity. All his teachings are for individuals to serve other individuals, without the initiation of force or use of fraud.

    Libertarians follow the Golden Rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” They also donate more to charity than do socialists, progressives and liberals.

  27. Bart

    “…..Obama has surrounded himself with legions of ‘fixers.’ Bright men and women who have Ivy League law degrees, business school credentials, PhDs in the social sciences, and academic pedigrees in science, humanities, and engineering. Quite impressive, these Platonic Guardians of the soon to be perfect state. But most of their careers in finance, government, business, and academia have been well-paid jobs critiquing, administering, regulating, nuancing, writing about, and hectoring those who create things–builders, developers, industrialists, farmers, truckers, transportation execs, retailers, lenders and investors…”

    Now, for the money quote……………..

    “……We are being run now by film critics, not directors, book reviewers not writers, music columnists, not musicians….”

    And then, the final truth…………………….

    “……..And it is far easier to fault than to birth, nuance rather than build. The irony is that the muscular classes carry the regulating and talking classes on their backs. They don’t mind being whipped occasionally and even bridled, but like any good mule will suddenly stop and no longer move when they feel the rider either does not know where he is going, or is going to kill the mule with his switch, spurs, and yanking on the bit…..”

    Victor Davis Hanson.

  28. Bart

    Lee, once again I find myself pointing out the obvious. Look up the movie, The Big Lebowski and read up on one of the characters, Maude Lebowski. Then you will understand.

    The more I am exposed to some on this blog, the more I admire and respect my polar opposite, Randy E.

  29. Lee Muller

    Is something is so obvious, you should be able to provide some example.
    Referring to a movie or TV show is something Brad Warthen does.
    If I ever see this second-rate film, it will not be by choice. I still have too long a list of classics to read and good films to see again.

    Is “Maude Lebowski” your other pseudonym?
    If not, then perhaps that person I challenged for an example will attempt to elaborate on the unChristian nature of Libertarian volunteerism.

  30. Lee Muller

    I did enjoy your post about the amateurism of Obama and his henchmen.

    Instead of my viewing a second-rate film, why don’t you read a first rate book on Libertarianism, perhaps one on charity, like, “The Examined Life”.

  31. Bart

    Lee, I suggested you look up a write-up of the film to understand that this Maude Lebowski is probably another pseudonym for another fictional poster on this blog. Nothing more, nothing less.

    Again, take a deep breath. I don’t post under any other name but Bart. My last name is Rogers and believe me, if I have a challenge for you, you will know it. I don’t need pseudonyms or fictional names to hide behind.

  32. Brad Warthen

    Lee really hates movies and other fun stuff. And yet, if he’d kick back and let himself enjoy such things, I think he’d be happier…

  33. Maude Lebowski

    Hey guys, this is the only name I post under. Pinky swear.

    I read Limbaugh Jr.’s piece and will look into The Examined Life.

    I’m not sure what people are referring to when suggesting you watch The Big Lebowski – as far as I can tell it’s entertainment and doesn’t contain any political or social insight.

    Jesus v. Libertarianism. I need some time to research (I’m certainly not an expert on either) but I’m game…

  34. Bart

    Sorry Maude, if I reached the wrong conclusion. The coincidence was too much to overlook. I never watched the entire movie myself since I am not much of a Jeff Bridges fan but from what little I watched, the Maude Lebowski character was interesting to say the least and would be a likely name for someone to use as a blind when posting irrelevant comments.

  35. Lee Muller

    Brad, I actually like movies. I very nearly went to The California Institute of the Arts, back when it was run by Disney, to study film making. My tastes run to better films. Television is devoid of any decent comedy, much less drama. How people immerse themselves in that drivel and relate everything in the real world to forgettable entertainment is beyond me.

    Bart, I don’t know why you have such a chip on you shoulder. Perhaps it is because you are in agreement with me on 95% of things, and that bothers you. Don’t worry about “challenging me”. Challenge yourself and learn something about libertarianism, instead of dismissing the unfamiliar as “obvious”.

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