Wednesday, September 20, 2006

On John Adams

I've just finished reading David McCullough's excellent biography of John Adams, signer of the Declaration of Independence, U.S. Ambassador, first U.S. Vice President, second U.S. President and father of the sixth U.S. President. You know: a classic underachiever. Anyway, a couple of thoughts:

Anyone longing for the "good old days" of civil discourse is deluding themselves. Compared to the beginnings of the republic, this IS the age of civility. And the press today are more than timid. In some of the kinder comments, Adams was repeatedly referred to "pretty fat and flourishing" and a "pharisee of liberty." And that was just by the British press. In the U.S., he was mocked as "His Rotundity" and "the President by Three Votes;" a tool of the British and a "a man divested of his senses." And though they later patched up their friendship, Thomas Jefferson told a French ambassador that "Mr Adams is vain, irritable, stubborn, [and] endowed with excessive-self love."

But Mr. Adams believed strongly in conscience over party; in doing what he thought was right for the country rather than what was right for his political party. Something we could use a little more of these days.

While reading, I constantly found myself trying to draw parallels to the current goings-on in the political world and it was with difficulty that I restrained myself. After all, it's easy to find parallels when you bring your own biases to the party. But from one line (now inscribed on a mantelpiece in the State Dining Room) Adams wrote after moving in to the White House, I think I have a better understanding of why Bush is so uncomfortable spending time there: "May none but honest and wise men ever rule under this roof."

No comments: