Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Everything Was Against Them

As we prepare to celebrate the 230th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, the birthday of our country, allow me to share with you some excerpts from a masterful essay by the historian David McCullough about John Adams, our second president and a truly remarkable man whom McCullough considers “as devout a Christian as ever served in our highest office”* (Matt Soper, 7/2/06).

Though he is often imagined as a rich Boston blueblood, John Adams was born into a poor farm family. In 1756 at the age of 20, he wrote in his diary: “I am resolved to rise with the sun and to study Scriptures on Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday mornings, and to study Latin authors the other three mornings… I will rouse up my mind and fix up my attention. I will strive with all my soul to be something more than persons who have had less advantages than myself.”

Adams went to Harvard with the implicit understanding that he would become a minister, but he was never really drawn to that calling. [He became a lawyer and then took an interest in politics]. By the time he became president in 1796, he had served a multitude of duties for his country. He had been one of those who explained the philosophy and principles of the American Revolution to the people of the time through what he wrote in newspapers. He had defended the hated British soldiers who were arrested and put on trial after the so-called Boston Massacre, when nobody else would defend them. Adams more than anyone got the Continental Congress to vote for the Declaration. Keep in mind that only about a third of the country supported the Revolution. Another third was opposed. The remaining third, in the human way, were waiting to see who won. But Adams got the Congress to vote for the Declaration. He put the name of George Washington in nomination to become the commander-in-chief of the Continental Army; he chose Thomas Jefferson to write the Declaration of Independence.

Adams never failed to answer the call of his country to serve, and he was called upon again and again, always to the detriment of his livelihood and often with risk to his life. He was asked to go to France during the Revolution, and set sail with his 10-year old son, John Quincy, in the dead of winter. British cruisers were lying off the coast of Massachusetts, just waiting for someone like Adams to make a run for it to try to obtain French war support. Had he been captured, he would have been taken to England, to the Tower of London, and hanged. Everyone who signed the Declaration of Independence was putting his head in a noose. When our founders pledged their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor, that wasn’t just rhetoric. They were up against the greatest military power on earth and had very little military experience. They had no money – there wasn’t a bank in all of America in 1776. And no colonial people had ever successfully revolted against the mother country. Everything was against them.

* These excerpts are reprinted by permission from IMPRIMIS, the national speech digest of Hillsdale College,


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