Thomas Jefferson: More on Religion

In his own words- what he thought of Christianity:

"To the corruptions of Christianity, I am indeed opposed; but not to the genuine precepts of Jesus himself. I am a Christian, in the only sense in which he wished any one to be; sincerely attached to his doctrines, in preference to all others; ascribing to himself every human excellence, and believing he never claimed any other."

(Never published, but found in The Papers of Thomas Jefferson)


Thomas Jefferson: Views on Religion

In an age where Protestants were burning effigies of the Pope and Catholics were very recently burning Protestants, it's amazing that Thomas Jefferson held the views he did.

We live in a time where even the Clintons must go to church regularly to show themselves as good citizens and it's not a real controversial idea that government funds go to 'faith based' (Christian) initiatives. It goes without saying that in Jefferson's day- the religious fervor of the masses burned even hotter.

Everything tended to be pro religion, just in different ways ie. would you be for the religious orthodoxy (Catholic or Anglican depending on where you're from) or be against the orthodoxy (Puritan or Methodist Evangelical). But the basis of the argument was who represented religious Truth, not if religion was Truth.

So the fact that Jefferson in the evenings while a sitting president and later in retirement went through the Gospels of the Bible and cut out all the 'superstition' (miracles) sort of blows my mind. Among the things he removed were the Virgin birth, water in to wine, walking on water etc. His bible ends with the rock being rolled in front of the tomb and never moving again.

In his view, the death of Jesus was a powerful scene, just one more in the tradition of Socrates drinking hemlock because he didn't want to ignore the laws of Athens after he had been accused of corrupting the youth.

Jefferson wasn't an Atheist either though like his French Revolutionary contemporaries that razed churches and built 'temples of reason'. His faith was in the general goodness of mankind and he didn't need a crutch to find purpose in life.

What do you think it says about the times we live in that the single biggest slur against Barack Obama was that he wasn't a Christian?


Thomas Jefferson: Brave New World

If one thing surprised me when I read the biography of Thomas Jefferson, it was how radical he was, even for the revolutionary age.

He viewed devotion to empire and country as something that one should be suspicious of. Too many wars were fought for the personal glory of the few.

This dawning age he thought would create an agrarian republic with each according to his need and ability.

Jealousies between the classes would fade away as people leave the cities and 'return to the land' where they would use the abundant natural resources of the new nation. With an endless supply of land, the old European problems of scarcity of resources would in a large part be eliminated.

As people would leave the crowded and infested cities for the countryside, he believed problems like poverty, disease and crime would greatly diminish as there would no longer be a landless group of people living on the dole.

In addition to his beliefs in the future communal nature of the country, Jefferson also harbored an immense skepticism of the Christian religion and the banking industry. He believed them both to be instruments of the aristocracy used to manipulate the common people.

The extent of Jefferson's scepticism of religion and banking are worthy of an entirely different post in fact.

What does 'Jeffersonian Democracy' mean to you?


Thomas Jefferson: The Dreamer

There was no greater friend in the history of this country to the American Revolution and 'the people' than Thomas Jefferson. In his writing, he endlessly spoke of the inexorable march of liberty and the trampling out of tyranny in the world.

In France he praised the revolution and dismissed the bloody atrocities committed as indiscretions. He was steeped in the classics and spent hours in his library every night reading the works of philosophers.

He felt that the true nature of man is good and not evil (key difference with Adams and Washington) and rather than restrain their 'passions' they should promote them.

To Jefferson, if Americans would work the earth by day and read philosophy by night- we could create a sort of utopia the world has never known before. A sort of Greek version of the Roman myth of the Noble Farmer.

He felt all the evil in the world comes from superstitious devotion to distant governments and nationalism.

He was an intriguing character and about as much of a left turn in the course of the country as you can imagine.


John Adams: Poor Man Rich Man

Maybe we all want what we can't have or never knew.

John Adams was a 'new man' who was from a Puritan background in the Northeast. He didn't grow up on a great estate or have real land or title compared with his Southern colleagues like Thomas Jefferson, but you may have not guessed that from his writing.

John Adams praised the aristocrats as those of high breeding and of the 'most capable' stock.

Never before and never after was a president so accused of being a Monarchist. He wanted pomp and circumstance and a sense of awe in government - politicians and military men should have been able to earn fanciful titles such as His Excellency.

He justified these old world ideas of title and honor in government because he felt that in a society, there will inevitably be a group of oligarchs that rise up to form an aristocracy and having a 'higher' office will make them work for the state and not against it.

This is all logical, but in his letters and writings, you can't help but get the sense that he genuinely admired this gifted/moneyed class even though he himself had no regard for his personal interest.

He was certainly not a poor man, but by the standards of the times, he was not a rich man either- he just thought like he was.


John Adams: World's Most Unlikely Feminist

As one who does not trust the implicit goodness of his fellow man, I found it surprising that John Adams had such liberal views on women as a person of his times.

He was friends with an early female advocate of the revolution, Mercy Otis Warren. This doesn't seem like a big deal, but for the time, it was.

He came to her defense when newspapers questioned her role in writing a propaganda play during the revolution as similar to the condescension that Great Britain treated its American subjects with.

The stoic Cato of his times remarked on learned ladies to her "I have such a consciousness of Inferiority to them (learned ladies), as mortifies and humiliates my self-love, to such a degree that I can scarcely speak in their presence."

This doesn't sound like the crotchety old Adams we all know.


John Adams: Tough Founding Father

I said before that John Adams was the uncool founding father that made you cut your hair short and come home before curfew, so it's only fitting that he was so demanding of his son, the future President- John Quincy Adams.

"You come into life with advantages that will disgrace you if your success is mediocre." "And if you do not rise to the head not only of your Profession, but of your country, it will be owing to your own laziness, slovenliness and obstinacy." John Adams in a letter to his son, John Quincy Adams.

Talk about harsh!


John Adams: The Most Famous Forgotten Founding Father

John Adams was one of the founding fathers, most people know that. But what most people don't know was what he did and why he occupies this high place in history.

I chalk it up to his poor political instincts and/or sado masochism. All his life, he seemed to relish taking on unpopular causes. He always wanted to play the role of the unpopular leader, making the tough decisions that populists could not/would not.

He only served one term, leaving the oval office in the middle of the night - not staying around for the inauguration of his former (redeemed later in life) friend Thomas Jefferson.

He had a huge impact on the early country- making the intellectual case for a break with the British empire, working with Madison on constructing an entire way of government, helped Washington with wartime strategy from his extensive readings on military histories, was the first Vice President and second President.

But his personality alienated his own friends, he had huge outbursts of anger and had high level feuds with his own party, so as much as he wanted to be remembered by history- it seemed like he was determined to not be loved by his people.

Maybe he's the founding father we all thought was uncool when we were teenagers.


John Adams- For the People, but not of the People

Politically, Adams was a paradox.

He was an unrepentant pessimist on mankind and its greatest defender. He rejected the Divine Kings of the continent and also rejected the desire of the southern states to create a radical system of democracy (white men only with land of course)

He was accused of being a monarchist by his opposition and was accused of being too liberal by his own party. His theory on government was essentially that the lower house gives the appearance of freedom and choice to the common people while the senate/upper house keeps the aristocrats honest and by putting checks and balances on them, prevents them from being oligarchs. (similar to the system of ostracization in ancient Greece) The president tries to strike a balance between the two competing forces of populism and aristocracy and steer the ship of state on a safe path.

On top of it all, Adams did not believe as Jefferson that America was completely new and different than the old world and that if careful limitations on either the power of the people or the power of the emerging aristocrats were not put in place, the young country would not survive. Late in his life, as tensions were rising between the North and the South, Adams must surely have felt a smug sense of satisfaction.

Adams felt that through discipline and study- he could help humanity rise above the passions that had been tearing it apart for so long.


The World We Live In- The War on Terror

I don't know how John Adams would feel about the so called War on Terror, but I know how I feel.

I feel that it's not exactly a humble foreign policy and also have several strategic and moral issues with it.

1) What does the War on Terror mean?

Is it a war on the tactic of terror? If so- how could a country- even a country with the most powerful army in the world win that war?

If this truly is a war on the tactic of terror and we're fighting anyone that targets civilians, does that mean we need to weigh in on the Sri Lanka conflict? Do we have to fight the Tamil Tigers? What about the Mexican drug lords- they're targeting innocent people- are they terrorists that also must be defeated by America?

2) What are the conditions for victory?

If this is a war on tactics/terrorists- how could we possibly win? Can we win and then one guy blows himself up and then our victory is erased?

Are we to remain at a constant level of readiness forever?

3) How do we win this war?

Do we kill every man, women and child in countries/wildernesses hostile to us?

Do we give up our freedoms to preserve our freedom? (I belive someone said that one who gives up his liberty for security sacrifices both)

Do we air drop Feminist scholars into Wazaristan, force feed them big macs and make them watch MTV?

4) What are we trying to do?

Rebuild nations in our own image? Have clients states with puppet governments we install? Keep ourselves safe? Fight a Crusade? Moderate people's religion?

5) What are reasonable costs for victory?

How much money? Do we retrain our whole Army to be swat team members for the world and its safety? How much blood?

If anyone has answers to even one of these questions, I'd love to know and I'm sure John Adams would too.


America First

I alluded to Adam's desire before to be loved by history but loathed by the people and nothing speaks to this more than his refusal to take action against Britain or France during his term when both countries were slapping the young republic around.

"If virtue was to be rewarded by wealth, it would not be virtue. If virtue was to be rewarded with fame, it would not be virtue of the sublimest kind."

Neither country was treating America with much respect.

The New England delegation of Adam's own party- the Federalists were pushing for warmer relations with Britain while the Jeffersonians wanted better relations with France.
As the French grew more bold and insulting towards America, many were screaming for the country to declare war on France. At this point, French privateers were seizing American commercial ships.

When an American peace delegation went to Paris, they were literally asked for a bribe. Adams however, refused to give in to the gut reaction of declaring war and continued to press for peace.

He built up the Navy as a way to form a 'wooden wall' around the country, protect commercial vessels and prevent foreign invasions while not provoking war. He recognized that either an alliance with France or Britain would force the young country to war against the other and the best options was to remain as Switzerland would in the 20th century.

As a man who was offended so easily, it's surprising that Adams had such a 'humble' foreign policy.

I wonder what he would think of the 'War on Terror' we're fighting today?


The Separation of Powers

Adams was one of the first and greatest proponents of a bicameral legislature. While Thomas Jefferson's Democratic-Republican party was pushing for a more Athenian style democracy in America with one house of directly elected representatives, Adams pushed back with demands that there be a senate with the more aristocratic members of society as well as a Supreme Court.

Adams knew the power of populism and emotion and looked at it as something that needed to be controlled rather than promoted. As one who was fit to rage and sending letters that he may have later regretted, he understood better than anyone the dangers of a pure democracy where the mob's raw emotion rules the day.

He studied the French Revolution and the writers who influenced it and saw not the triumph of the many over the few, but the inevitable path to despotism. He was right, as it turned out, that the masses when given pure democracy would be disorganized and would eventually look to an authority- Napoleon, to give them the law and order they no longer enjoyed.

He always felt that what the common man wanted and what was the fad of the day, would never be what's best for the long term health of the young country.

John Adams would not have been a fan of Joe the Plumber as the new face of the Republican Party.


#2 John Adams- The Original Maverick

I really didn't know much about John Adams before I started reading this book.

I knew that he was a 'founding father' and helped write the declaration of independence and was the second president.

Beyond that, I didn't know much.

John Adams seems to have both needed and deplored political success. He was a crotchety man who always complained about 'the passions' and keeping them under control

He was known for incredible outbursts of anger and he was not an easy person to work with in the Continental Congress. He has a bad mark in history (unjustified perhaps) for leaving the White House on the night before the inauguration of Thomas Jefferson.

All these faults however could not outweigh the impact his great mind had on the founding of this country and the construction of its government.