Posted by mlajoie2 on 16 July, 2009 at 9:19 am. 3 comments already!


“Have you considered the meaning of that word ‘worthy’? Weigh it well….I had rather you should be worthy possessors of one thousand pounds honestly acquired by your own labor and industry, than of tens of millions by banks and tricks….I had rather you should be worthy makers of brooms and baskets than unworthy presidents of the United States procured by intrigue, factious slander and corruption” Letter of John Adams to his grandson

“It is an idea of the Christian religion, and ever has been of all believers of the immortality of the soul, that the intellectual part of man is capable of progressive improvement forever. Where then is the sense of calling the ‘perfectibility of man’ an original idea or modern discovery….I consider [this idea] as used by modern philosophers [e.g. French Enlightenment thinkers] to be mere words without meaning, that is mere nonsense.” – Letter of John Adams to Benjamin Rush

The last month or so, I’ve been enjoying the Pulitzer Prize-winning book on John Adams by David McCullough. [It was recently turned into a highly acclaimed HBO miniseries starring Paul Giamatti with McCullough serving as consultant.] It’s pretty LARGE in more ways than one. It’s funny how examining ‘roots’ helps us figure out what feathered ‘wings’ we’ve got fluttering around our ears these days. There are several correlations between then and now I would like to point out.


Adams:  Clear-sighted & Accurate Predictor

One thing that has become clear to me is just how far ahead of the curve Adams was in several important ways. It is almost breathtaking how much Adams saw and predicted things correctly, but the flip side of that is just how unappreciated this was at the time. He foresaw that Washington would be THE leader because of his character, morality and determination, and his unique circumstances, despite his lack of experience as a general. He foresaw that the Navy would be the critical factor in the coming War and beyond. Almost alone, he sensed that help should be gotten from France, Holland, Prussia and Portugal without becoming entangled in their political battles; just about everyone else wanted to back some horse or another. Looking back, he was almost certainly THE key figure in pushing “independency”, in getting financial help from Holland and in providing the theoretical backdrop for the New Constitution. He saw that human nature demanded the bicameral legislature and strong executive with an independent court system and that the unicameral model was fraught with enormous danger. He was right about the good outcome of the first in America and the violent, chaotic outcome of the French Reign of Terror in the second. He predicted what happened before it did because his analysis was dead on. And yet, he was smeared as being a little crazy, much too old, a closet royalist (!) and hopelessly out of touch!

John Adams was almost a sitting duck for criticism in that his ethic precluded his benefiting from what he saw as his duty. Adams was a very unusual diplomat and politician in that he was almost apolitical in certain ways. He consciously battled his own ambition and made love of country and heroic virtue his standard. He lamented the standard view of diplomacy as deception, deep compromise and double-mindedness in favor of polite but spirited preaching of the attractiveness and power of true principles coupled with an ingenious insight into human character and motivations.

Oh, he had his faults. The musical “1776” lampoons his famous lack of sensitivity to others and his own oversensitive nature. His writing was sometimes slap-dash, not organized and not well-expressed. His thoughts seemed to others at times to come out of nowhere in ways that were strange and weird. But lack of perseverance, charity and regard for others were certainly not among his faults. His character and capacity for deep friendship were recognized even by his enemies.

Adams vs. Jefferson: Faithful Realism vs. Ambitious Idealism

This brings us to a second great theme of this book: the love-hate relationship Adams experienced with Thomas Jefferson. They were the two key collaborators on the Declaration of Independence. They had become bosom friends in the many years they spent together in Europe, to the point where even Abigail Adams helped Jefferson with his daughter and corresponded with him on a regular basis in an impressively deep way.

They grew apart in the first years of the new Republic. Jefferson, surreptitiously, became the main moving force of the Anti-Federalist Party. He stopped writing to and visiting the Adams family. Adams, meanwhile, deplored political parties and angered people of both parties. Though he often spoke ill of the character of Hamilton from his own Federalist Party, he rarely spoke publicly about Jefferson. He made several overtures of regard toward Jefferson and, at the beginning of Adams’ Presidency, for a fleeting moment, it seemed they were going to work together, but Jefferson drew back again.

Privately, Adams worried about the character flaws he saw in his old friend. The one amazing thing McCullough hits on is that Adams was more correct about his appraisal of Jefferson’s character and motivations than Jefferson was about himself! Adams saw that despite Jefferson’s brilliance in linguistic expression and his sharpness of insight in things impersonal and mechanical, he was, unbeknownst to himself perhaps, truly driven by ambition and a theoretical idealism which did not fit reality. He trusted in his own persona and tended to think anything was justifiable because he was right about his pro-French stance. He even wrote, after most were horrified by the Reign of Terror in France, that all the violence was entirely justified! ‘Let only an Adam and Eve be left in every country if that is the way it has to be.’ Such an ‘ends justifies the means’ attitude seems to betray a disquieting self-centered radicalism that anticipates the Marxism of our day.

Jefferson eventually came to admit implicitly much that Adams had seen long before. He was ashamed of some of the political underhandedness to which he had resorted. He was so scarred by his experience as President that he deliberately did not mention it on his gravestone. His secret rationalism and lack of personal faith warmed in later years, I believe. Though he had criticized declarations of days of prayer, intercession or thanksgiving being declared by Washington and Adams, he ended up doing such things himself when he became President.

In fact, the two great Founders would become intimate friends again by the time they both died on the same day, amazingly the Fourth of July 1826, the fiftieth anniversary of their Great Collaboration. Adams said, “Oh, yes, it is the glorious fourth of July. God bless it. God bless you all…Thomas Jefferson lives.” And Jefferson said, a few hours before, “I resign my spirit to God, my daughter and my country.” Despite his complicated personality, Jefferson seemed to die with a laudable faith and a renewed regard for the insight of Adams.

[By the way, I am not condemning Jefferson. I admire and honor him. The Revolution would not have happened without him and his work on the Declaration. He was absolutely right in a great deal of his thoughts and was brilliant in expressing them. We wouldn’t have key elements of our common political faith without his further emphases on the Bill of Rights, for instance. Everyone, including Washington and Adams, had notable faults, too. However, there can be little doubt that Adams’ laser-like insight was right again about Jefferson in that he wasn’t very consistent about practicing what he preached and this affected his politics.]

Contrast in Leadership Styles

The big lesson here is about leadership attitude. Washington and Adams modeled a serviceable humility as opposed to ideology and ambition. We can’t presume to decide what the mission is; we have to find out what the Lord’s mission is for us on the basis of submission to human nature and nature’s God. The law has to be greater than the man. John Adams understood that; Jefferson didn’t, though he sometimes professed it. That’s why Adams accurately predicted the outcome of both the French and the American Revolutions and Jefferson was dead wrong. Like his friend Washington, Adams routinely appealed to Providence and grace in regard to the nation’s destiny and purpose. Jefferson earlier tended to worship his reason as a god; Adams worshipped God for good reason.

(By the way, the one big rap on Adams’ Presidency was the Alien & Sedition Acts. McCullough concedes it was public relations fiasco, but points out that the context was imminent war. EVERYONE thought war with France was GOING to happen, and the XYZ Affair indicated the espionage threat, so some radical measures had to be taken.


Obama et al: Ambitious Idealists

Now what about Obama, Reid, Pelosi et al? Can there be any doubt that theirs is well-concealed but rabid ambition matched with blind far-left idealism that is also driving them, that they are the antithesis of what was good about Adams? Because their orientation is not a humble faith attitude and realism, their ability to see what’s really going on and to predict what will happen is seriously crippled. Their expectation of ‘perfectibility’ or constant progress is nonsense.

It seems very clear to me that Obama, like Jefferson, has enormous faith in his own reason, charm and personal appeal. Meanwhile, the founding principles are sloughed aside. We are NOT a Christian or religious nation, he says, we are secular in origin (although Turkey is a Muslim nation!). He can sometimes talk a good game about democracy and the founding principles on the surface, but many of his other words and all of his actions betray the Marxist marination he undoubtedly has experienced in his life. So, he waits for long agonizing days as the pro-democracy demonstrators in Iran suffer, then he jumps on the perfectly legal deposing of a Marxist dictator in Honduras.  Like Jefferson, his vision is skewed by his secular faith.

The new Triumvirate seems to want to overpower, circumvent and frustrate the checks and balances the Federalist Founders Madison, Adams et al so wisely put into the Constitution. As Obama let slip early on, he sees the Constitution as a barrier to his purposes. He is setting up “Czars” beyond the reach of appeal, responsibility or reason at a record-setting clip while he relies heavily on the Presidential pen-wielding he criticized so much in his predecessor.  They mouth the catch-words of “bipartisanship” or “no politics as usual” while brutally overpowering any remonstration or even thought; we can’t even read the bills. It is a violent legislative Reign of Terror rationalized because the ends will justify the means.

How are Those Promises and Predictions Going?

Obama said he would be able to ‘talk’ with North Korea and the Iranian despots. Things are not going quite as he said they would, are they? He stood at the Caterpillar plant and said they’d be hiring very soon. They’re firing. He made many promises about levels of taxation. Any and all of those promises have now quite obviously and laughably gone up in smoke. He promised to close Guantanamo and then accepted the status quo. He heartily criticized Bush’s Iraq Policy and then did the same. He rejected Presidential directives as imperial and now is doing more of them than ever…and on and on and on.

Jefferson was totally blindsided by the violence in France but still predicted they would defeat England and spread ‘democracy’ throughout Europe within a very short time. Adams predicted the violence and said a dictator would surely follow. Jefferson was totally shocked by the rise of Napoleon; Adams said ‘I told you so’. Who does Obama resemble more?


We can only hope that these people, like Jefferson, will come to their senses before they, too, meet their Maker; let them change like Jefferson before all the likely economic chaos and loss of freedom they might cause!

Obama fails to see as John Adams did that “our constitution was made only for a moral and religious people”. An American President should take Washington or Adams as models. It wasn’t all about them, their genius or their persona; it was about humble but strong service. Adams would feel shame that the founding vision is being so abused. If Adams’ words and example cannot melt Obama’s pride, it’s a damned shame.

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