Friday, June 28, 2013

A Man Worth Knowing

I enjoyed re-reading an article by John Adams' biographer David McCullough entitled "A Man Worth Knowing." Good 4th of July reading.

McCullough also covers the life of Adams' wife, Abigail. He notes,
Something I always like to emphasize is that there never was a simpler past. We hear often, "Oh, that was a simpler time," but it's always wrong. In one plaintive letter, [Abigail] writes: "Posterity who are to reap the blessings will scarcely be able to conceive the hardships and sufferings of their ancestors." And we don't. We don't know what they went through—epidemics of smallpox or dysentery, which could take the lives of hundreds of people just in the little town of Quincy, Massachusetts. It was by no means a simpler time. They had to worry about things that we don't even think about any more, and suffer discomforts and inconveniences of a kind that we never even imagine. We have little idea of how tough they were. 
After recounting a day in the life of Abigail Adams, McCullough concludes:
Her day didn't end until 9 or 10 at night when the children would go upstairs to their bedrooms, where it could be so cold that the water in the bowls that they used to wash their faces was iced over. And then she would sit down at the kitchen table with a single candle and write some of the greatest letters ever written by any American.
Abigail's letters put the majority of American bloggers to shame.

A couple of clarifications:

Without taking anything away from McCullough's definition of "happiness," one should add the connection with "blessedness."

Second, McCullough buys into the "myth of the revolutionary minority" -- the idea that only a minority of Americans supported the Revolution against Britain. Not true. As John Adams recalled,

“The revolution was in the minds and hearts of the people and in the union of the colonies, both of which were accomplished before hostilities began.” 

Today a majority of Americans do in fact repudiate the ideals of the American Founding. A majority believe that the government is God, because the government brings us salvation. Adams would see this new American Civil Religion as the central danger we face today. Not taxes. Not representation -- Congress represents all too well the entitlement mentality of a majority of Americans. The central issue is religion. Or as Adams would call it, "idolatry."

And Adams is partly to blame. The Supreme Court of the United States declared decades ago that it is "unconstitutional" for your local public school teachers to teach students that the Declaration of Independence is really true. It can be taught as historical myth or irrelevant artifact, but not as Truth.

Tragically, much of this can be laid at the feet of Adams, insofar as he appointed John Marshall to the Supreme Court. McCullough naively recounts this appointment as one of Adams' "accomplishments."