The Wisdom of John Adams This Independence Day

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Waxing patriotic on July 4th is nothing new for most Americans. But with today’s political climate and anxieties, it might be worth revisiting the sage observances and advice of a patriot, indeed, the quintessential patriot.


The name of John Adams is fairly synonymous with the word “integrity.” He was truly a man of great wisdom, a decent man certainly, of strong ethics and morality, but he never won a popularity contest. He was cocky, vociferous, disliked, and rebuffed on many occasions. But he was one of this country’s Founding Fathers and probably the most ardent mover and shaker for independence from Great Britain.


On the eve of independence, in early July of 1776, he wistfully and proudly wrote his beloved Abigail:


“I am apt to believe that [Independence Day] will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great Anniversary Festival. … It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shows, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.”


Yet Adams knew, for all its gaiety and celebration, independence meant ignominious sacrifices and the very real threat of treason:


“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.”


In going deeper into collective ideologies, Adams wrote on the subject of equality in this newly-created nation:


“Common sense was sufficient to determine that it could not mean that all men were equal in fact—but in right—not all equally tall, strong, wise, handsome, active, but equally men … the work of the same Artist, children in the same cases, entitled to the same justice.”


Sage advice, to be sure, but he instinctively sensed, then saw political corruption even in the early days of our country:


“Unfaithfulness in public stations is deeply criminal. But there is no encouragement to be faithful. Neither profit, nor honor, nor applause is acquired by faithfulness …. There is too much corruption, even in this infant age of our Republic. Vice is not infamous. Virtue is not in fashion.”


“Virtue was the word John used most often in discussing the goal of a parent and child. In John and Abigail’s minds, virtue began with the child’s devotion to the values and precepts for living. In eighteenth-century life, righteousness started with youthful devotion to parents…”                               —author Paul Nagle, Descent From Glory


As Adams was the first president to occupy the newly-built, but still-in-progress President’s House, in closing, perhaps the penultimate quote of President John Adams is inscribed upon the mantle of a fireplace in the White House. A more fitting sentence could not be more apt for this Independence Day, 2010:


“I Pray Heaven to Bestow the Best Blessings on this house and on all that shall hereafter inhabit it. Let none but honest and wise men ever rule under this roof.”

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