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Adams and Eve By: Lowell Ponte
FrontPageMagazine.com | Wednesday, July 11, 2001


THE HERO IN GEORGE ORWELL’S NOVEL 1984, Winston Smith, served Big Brother as a re-writer of history. Whenever Big Brother re-defined what was Politically Correct, the history books would be revised accordingly to show that Big Brother had always been correct. Who controls the present controls the past, wrote Orwell, and who controls the past controls the future.

Thank heaven our nation is not like that – or is it? As Slate’s David Greenberg observed on July 2, Thomas Jefferson’s reputation has declined in recent years, during a steady barrage of negative propaganda.

Jefferson’s fellow Founding Father John Adams’ reputation has risen sharply, in large measure because a glowing biography John Adams by David McCullough has spent many recent weeks atop best-seller lists. History, said Napoleon, is but a story agreed upon – and McCullough, a master storyteller, is expert at lighting even the poorest features of his subjects in ways that flatter. Most Americans were never taught, or have forgotten, the less attractive aspects of John Adams.

Among their contemporaries, and for roughly two centuries afterwards, Jefferson was seen as by far the brighter of these two stars. Why and how is this assessment by those who knew both men now being revised?

Slavery is one stated reason for today’s revisionism. Thomas Jefferson in word opposed slavery, but in deed this Virginian depended for his income upon the labors of about 200 human beings over whom he held deeds of ownership. This brutal fact has prompted the Democratic Party, which traditionally claimed Jefferson as its own founding father, in several liberal cities to end its annual Jefferson and Jackson Dinners.

Adams wanted to abolish slavery, never owned a slave, and came from Massachusetts where the "peculiar institution" held no sway. Viewed from 2001, his are much more modern views.

But would John Adams win awards for his Political Correctness in one of today’s Leftist universities? Certainly not if his behavior vis-à-vis the Boston Massacre were known.

In March 1770 British troops fired into a crowd, wounding six and killing five people. One who died was Black freeman Crispus Attucks, honored as the first African-American martyr in the cause of American liberty.

Trial lawyer John Adams, then 34, successfully defended the British soldiers who did this killing. McCullough, a more honest historian than the late Catherine Drinker Bowen, faithfully repeats the key words Adams used to win in court:

"We have entertained a great variety of phrases to avoid calling this sort of people a mob. Some call them shavers, some call them geniuses. The plain English is, gentlemen [it was] most probably a motley rabble of saucy boys, Negroes and mulattoes, Irish teagues and outlandish jacktars. And why should we scruple to call such a people a mob, I can’t conceive, unless the name is too respectable for them."

Adams went on to describe how this "rabble" of "Negroes and mulattoes" and others "attacked a party of soldiers" and precipitated the incident.

"Facts are stubborn things," Adams told the jury, "and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictums of our passions, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence."

But any lawyer in court today making such a denigrating statement about the racial and cultural makeup of people to a jury would stand instantly convicted of playing the race card in the court of Political Correctness.

And as part of the Congress and very committee that worked on the Declaration of Independence, Adams went along with the demand of Georgia and South Carolina to remove Jefferson’s denunciation of King George III for the slave trade. Adams, too, was willing to accept moral compromise on this issue as a price of unity for independence.

John Adams, as McCullough shows with many telling details, was a moral and loving husband to proto-feminist Abigail Smith (related to Winston?) Adams and a devoted father to four children.

Jefferson, after vowing to his dying wife that he would not remarry, according to liberal historians, bedded and had children by her half-sister, one of his young slaves.

The possibility of Black descendants of Jefferson’s slavemaster passions was heavily promoted by historian Joseph Ellis during the height (or depths) of President Bill Clinton’s sex scandal. The message was clear: Clinton was no less virtuous than this giant among our Founding Fathers. Clinton, wrote Ellis, should not be impeached.

But the best-informed researchers have already returned to the pre-Ellis view that at least 25 men, including Jefferson’s troubled nephews, could have inserted a Jefferson family gene into Sally Hemings lineage. The presence of Jefferson DNA in Hemings’ descendants is not proof of Thomas Jefferson’s paternity.

Ellis, an ardent liberal and Clinton apologist, has been exposed in recent weeks for his own history of lying about service in Vietnam and other non-existent accomplishments.

Should it surprise us that Ellis expressed adoration for John Adams both in his 1992 biography Passionate Sage and latest book Founding Brothers, but belittled Jefferson in his biography of the Sage of Monticello American Sphinx: The Character of Thomas Jefferson?

This brings us to the crux of today’s revisionism, elevating Adams and diminishing Jefferson. In our history, Jefferson has been the patron political saint for those who believe in small government, decentralized power, low taxes, and individual liberty. Thomas Jefferson, in other words, is the icon of everything today’s Socialist-Marxist Left wants to destroy. They are delighted to minimize and demonize him.

Few Americans remember what John Adams stood for, in large part because the Federalist Party he led collapsed in the wake of his wretched Presidency. (McCullough on book tour is fond of saying that Adams and his son John Quincy Adams were "the two Presidents with the highest I.Q.," which is nonsense to any student of Jefferson’s accomplishments. If both Adams were geniuses, they were so in the same sense as Jimmy Carter, all three being horribly failed Presidents rejected by the people after single terms.)

Adams was eclipsed by the rising sun of Jefferson’s Democratic-Republican Party as its views expanded through Jefferson’s two terms as President beginning in 1800 and succeeded by his Virginian proteges James Madison and James Monroe.

As President, Adams raised taxes, sent the national debt spiraling, traded arms (a fully outfitted warship) for hostages with the Barbary pirates, and found himself wallowing in the scandal and anti-French war fever of the XYZ Affair.

Adams advocated a permanent, professional 50,000-man standing army. Its purpose, he made clear, was to give the government the power to put down any rebellion by the people. Adams, unlike Jefferson who preferred to defend the nation with an armed peoples’ militia, distrusted that "rabble" of "Negroes and mulattoes" and other dissonant voices called "the people." He tended always to divide humankind into two groups: those who agreed with him, and those who were wrong. Adams apparently preferred monarch-like governance to democracy. Today’s Left, of course, agrees with this wholeheartedly.

Nowhere were Adams’ latent dictatorial tendencies more clear than in his 1798 Alien and Sedition Acts. The Alien Act gave him the power to expel French Nationals (most of whom supported his rival and at that time Vice President Thomas Jefferson) from the country.

The Sedition Act made it a crime to speak or write against the President or Congress "with the intent to defame" or to bring them "into contempt or disrepute." At least 25 men were arrested under this law, including several Republican editors who, in historian Samuel Eliot Morison’s words, "were silenced by heavy fines or jail sentences." Many others stifled what they dared say or write out of fear of Adams’ law.

One critic of Adams’ Federalists was sentenced to four years in jail under the Sedition Act.

Vermont Jeffersonian Congressman Matthew Lyon was sentenced to four months in jail for a personal letter in which he called Adams pompous and selfish. He was reelected while locked in a freezing cell for the crime of exercising free speech as the First Amendment supposedly guaranteed.

Adams’ "Federalist Reign of Terror," as courageous Republican journalists called it, was ended by Jefferson’s election as President in 1800. Even then, the petty and petulant Adams strove to use Congress to block the will of the people, then used his last days in office as a lame duck packing the courts with high-handed ideological Federalist judges (especially Jefferson’s cousin John Marshall), and then refused to attend Jefferson’s inauguration.

What if Adams, by hook or crook, had prevailed and gotten a second term as President in 1800?

If Adams had kept power, it is not implausible that America could have slid into dictatorship – as England did under Cromwell, France under Napoleon, and Russia under Lenin, Stalin, and their successors.

Today John Adams’ Sedition Act might still be in place, and this columnist along with the editors and writers of FrontPageMagazine.com could be in prison for the crime of criticizing President Bill Clinton or Leftists in Congress.

Thanks to Thomas Jefferson, Adams did not prevail. Thanks to Jefferson, a residue of liberty remains – and we are free to question why liberal historians are so eager to shrink Jefferson and inflate this authoritarian Big Government advocate John Adams.

I agree with David McCullough that Adams has been too little studied or understood. Compared to today’s politicians, he was a genius and a giant who genuinely wanted to do the right thing at the dawn of an uncertain democratic Republic. Only as he stood among the towering sequoias like George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson does a large, stout oak like Adams seem short by comparison. Even his sometime-rival, sometime-friend Jefferson called Adams "the colossus of independence."

It’s good to learn of John Adams’ many strengths – and many weaknesses. He should be taught to schoolchildren as a great patriot of the Revolution who, when entrusted with political power, nearly brought the evening of our Republic – and took our young nation to the eve of a long, dark night of dictatorship as happened before and since with other revolutions. Thank God that we had Jefferson to rescue us and our liberties.

But once again Big Government is growing. Free speech is stifled when modern Sons of Liberty like David Horowitz appear at our universities, where a new Sedition Act of implied or explicit speech codes impose their own political correctness, intimidation, and self-censorship. Foes of Big Government such as Jefferson are declared non-persons, while advocates of Big Government such as John Adams are lionized and honored.

The sun hovers near the horizon, and little politicians cast large, long shadows across our lives. As Benjamin Franklin pondered, are we witnessing a rising or a setting sun? It is always morning in America, as Ronald Reagan said, but only if enough of us have the courage to renew our liberties and oppose those politicians always eager to enslave us.

"There is danger from all men," the fierce orator and thinker John Adams wrote. "The only maxim of a free government ought to be to trust no man living with power to endanger the public liberty."

By his deeds, John Adams became the perfect example of the truth of his words.


Mr. Ponte co-hosts a national radio talk show Monday through Friday 6-8 PM Eastern Time (3-5 PM Pacific Time) on the Genesis Communications Network. Internet Audio worldwide is at GCNlive .com. The show's live call-in number is 1-800-259-9231. A professional speaker, he is a former Roving Editor for Reader's Digest.


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