Sunday, October 30, 2011

Happy Birthday, John

John AdamsThe Atlas of Independence, the Sage of Braintree, John Adams, born this day in 1735 (if you don't count the 11 days 'lost' to the Gregorian calendar in 1752; his birthday was October 19, 1735 by the Old Style, Julian calendar. I don't know what Adams thought of that, but Washington is on record as feeling as though those days had been stolen from him). (On the other hand, these were people who could handle New Year on 25 March.)

Adams defended British troops charged in the Boston Massacre in 1770 (and got most of them off and two convicted of manslaughter only) - an action he later called "one of the most gallant, generous, manly and disinterested actions of my whole life, and one of the best pieces of service I ever rendered my country." Contrary to the 'obnoxious and disliked' image fostered in the play 1776, Adams was one of the most respected advocates for Independence in the colonies; Washington's nomination as general and Jefferson's as writer of the Declaration were both his ideas, and it was Adams who stood up on July 1, 1776 and spoke in favor of independence, extemporaneously, for two hours . Unfortunately, because he spoke without notes and no one took any, we don't have a record of this speech, but Jefferson later said that Adams spoke "with a power of thought and expression that moved us from our seats."
But a Constitution of Government once changed from Freedom, can never be restored. Liberty, once lost, is lost forever.

Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.
—'Argument in Defense of the Soldiers in the Boston Massacre Trials,' December 1770

There is danger from all men. The only maxim of a free government ought to be to trust no man living with power to endanger the public liberty.

(And Writer's Almanac last year featured a pessimistic quote we must prove wrong:) Democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There was never a democracy that did not commit suicide.
I highly recommend Passionate Sage by John Ellis, and then John Adams by David McCullough, for those who want to know more about this least known of the great Founders - or Ellis's Founding Brothers for an overview of that remarkable group of men.



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