Author, Lecturer, Ethicist

A Brief Interview With Jefferson & Adams on the Fourth of July

An introductory note: Today, the Fourth of July, is the nation's 240 birthday.  On this day, in 1776, the Declaration of Independence - next to the issuance of the Magna Carta way back in 1215 - arguably the most important political document in human history - was unanimously adopted by the Second Congressional Congress in Philadelphia.  Its two primary authors, Virginia's Thomas Jefferson and Massachusetts' John Adams, were classically-trained men of soaring intellect and political brilliance. They were also obdurate, supremely self-confident and as personally different from one another as is a voluptuary from a prig.  Jefferson would serve as Adams Vice President and then defeat him in the election of 1800 - one of the nastiest campaigns in American history.  Jefferson's camp accused President Adams of having a "hideous hermaphroditical character, which has neither the force and firmness of a man, nor the gentleness and sensibility of a woman." In return, Adams' men called Vice President Jefferson "a mean-spirited, low-lived fellow, the son of a half-breed Indian squaw, sired by a Virginia mulatto father." As the slurs piled on, Adams was labeled a fool, a hypocrite, a criminal, and a tyrant, while Jefferson was branded a weakling, an atheist, a libertine, and a coward. Even Martha Washington succumbed to the propaganda, telling a clergyman that Jefferson was "one of the most detestable of mankind."  The venom between the two was so lethal that Adams pointedly snubbed his successor by leaving Washington, D.C. shortly before Jefferson's inauguration. 

And yet, despite the political and personal animus between these two historic giants, they eventually managed to mend the chasm between them and engage one another in what would turn out to be a most noteworthy relationship.  For the last 13 years of their lives, they wrote one another constantly.  Their dozens of letters covered topics running the gamut from the past, present and the future to religion, economics, literature, ancient languages, France, slavery and native Americans.  Chillingly, these two American icons died within hours of one another on the Fourth of July, 1826, the fiftieth anniversary of their greatest joint accomplishment, the Declaration of Independence. Of course, had the two lived today, they would never have seen fit to speak to - let alone correspond with - one another.  For today, partisanship, generally speaking, eclipses patriotism, and reasoned compromise is - in most circles - considered the work of the Devil.  Then too, it is highly doubtful that either could even get elected to high office in the 21st century.  Maddeningly, we live in an era when a polymath like Jefferson would likely be rejected as being too effete and a devoted legalist like Adams for lacking the common touch.   

And so, with this introduction, what follows is a brief interview with Presidents Adams and Jefferson on the nation's 240 birthday.  Their responses are all direct quotations from their writings . . .

Question: Barack Obama is now in the final months of his presidency.  Could you perhaps sum up what he has exemplified during his eight years in office?

T.J. That nothing gives one person so much advantage over another as to remain always cool and unruffled under all circumstances.

J.A.  If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.

Question: We live in an era of gross partisanship where "reaching across the political aisle" is all but impossible. Any thoughts or advice on the subject?

T.J. I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, as cause for withdrawing from a friend. . . .Every difference of opinion is not a difference of principle.

J.A. The essence of a free government consists in an effectual control of rivalries

Question: Increasingly in our era, there has been uncovered a vast chasm between public protestations of faith, probity and rectitude and private venality and rapacity.  As a result, far too many Americans have lost faith in leadership.  Any thoughts?  

J.A. Public virtue cannot exist in a nation without private, and public virtue is the only foundation of republics. There must be a positive passion for the public good, the public interest, honour power and glory, established in the minds of the people, or there can be no republican government, nor any real liberty; and this public passion must be superior to all private passions.

Question: Any thoughts about Donald Trump?

T.J. He who permits himself to tell a lie once, finds it much easier to do it a second and third time, till at length it becomes habitual; he tells lies without attending to it, and truths without the world's believing him. This falsehood of the tongue leads to that of the heart, and in time depraves all its good dispositions.

J.A. Nip the shoots of arbitrary power in the bud, is the only maxim which can ever preserve the liberties of any people. There is danger from all men. The only maxim of a free government ought to be trust no man living with power to endanger the public liberty.

T.J. Nothing on earth can stop the man with the right mental attitude from achieving his goal; nothing on earth can help the man with the wrong mental attitude.

Question: Any thoughts on who you would endorse in the 2016 presidential election?

T.J & J.A. We will take this to be a question asked tongue-in-cheek, for obviously, having been deceased for 190 years, we cannot vote.  However, still having a strong stake in the country we helped to create, there is really only one choice . . . and that is our former Secretary of State, Hillary Rodham Clinton. For in her, we find a person as well schooled in the art of governance as anyone in the past many generations. Although in life we did not agree on much, in this we are as one . . . Hillary Clinton for President of the United States!

Wishing one and all a Happy, healthy and meaningful Fourth of July . . . along with our eternal thanks to Presidents Adams and Jefferson.  May their conversations and debates up in the celestial balcony continue from now till the end of time. 

We conclude with the last words of history's most fascinating, illustrious and contentious of friends:

T.J. Is it the fourth? I resign my spirit to God, my daughter to my country, and

J.A. It is the glorious Fourth of July. It is a great day. It is a good day. God bless it. God bless you all. . . . Thomas Jefferson survives!

Copyright ©2016 Kurt F. Stone