Conversations Before Independence Day

July 2, 2012

by Chidem Kurdas

The July 3rd, 1776, letter John Adams wrote to his wife, Abigail, after voting for the declaration of independence, is justly famous for his prediction that the occasion will be celebrated “by succeeding Generations, …..solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.”

In fact the letter starts with a complaint about the ill effects of the decision being delayed for seven months. It ends with the admission that independence carries a high cost in “Toil and Blood and Treasure.” This is the sort of thing that gave John Adams the reputation of being grumpy.

Then you realize that his words are like gold, no matter how crotchety he gets. Between his pride in the declaration and annoyance that it took so long, he provides a model of how major national decisions should be made.

In the letter, Adams blamed the delay for America’s failure to form alliances with other countries and take over Canada, though he blamed also a smallpox epidemic in the army—“a Frown of Providence upon Us, which We ought to lay to heart…”

Then he switched to a cheerier mood and looked at the bright side of the delay. It allowed the population to discuss and think through the question of independence, coming to a ripe judgment. People not only talked the matter over at formal meetings, they were sufficiently engaged to have private chats about it.

“Time has been given for the whole People, maturely to consider the great Question of Independence and to ripen their judgments, dissipate their Fears, and allure their Hopes, by discussing it in News Papers and Pamphletts, by debating it, in Assemblies, Conventions, Committees of Safety and Inspection, in Town and County Meetings, as well as in private Conversations…” Adams wrote.

While intellectuals certainly had their say, there were debates at all levels that led to a ballpark consensus. Had this not been the case, had independence been declared by political players without widespread agreement, the result might have been less happy. Adams, an early proponent of the cause, feared social “Convulsions.”

So he was glad that agreement was reached, that “People in every Colony of the 13, have now adopted it, as their own Act.”

One could object to his definition of “People.” It did not include Indians – many of them allied with the British – or Africans. Abigail, John’s correspondent, could not express her opinion in a vote, though she seems to have expressed it every other way. Nevertheless, Adams set out well-informed near-consensus as the model for national decision making.

7 Responses to “Conversations Before Independence Day”

  1. Roger McKinney Says:

    The founding fathers were wise men. Unfortunately, they could not see the day when judges would stray from original intent as the only honest principle of hermeneutics.

    Aristotle laid down the first principles of hermeneutics, which are nothing but reason applied to interpreting communications. His principles reigned for millennia. They were so obvious that no one at the time of the writing of the Declaration of Independence could even imagine anyone abandoning them, let alone judges. They assumed that if people disagreed with some part of the Constitution they would follow the process of amending it.

    Yet for over a century judges have found it easier simply to abandon principles of hermeneutics, and thereby any attempt at honesty, and interpret the document in any way necessary to achieve their goals.

    Since sound hermeneutics should be the only method allowed for interpreting laws, and especially the supreme law of the land, the Constitution, don’t interpretations that fail to follow original intent, or “strict constructionism”, make the members of the Supreme Court the greatest criminals in the history of the US?

  2. Bill Stepp Says:

    The members of the SCOTUS are among the greatest criminals in American history, but the Constitution is not the supreme law of the land, as Mr. Spooner pointed out in No Treason: The Constitution of No Authority, No. 6.
    The so-called founders were a secret criminal gang, who had no one’s power of attorney to create a so-called supreme law of the land. If you like the Conjob, read the monopoly clause, Art. 1, sect. 8. It’s just a bunch of monopolies, a real haven for the rent-seeking caste.
    A few years ago, The Economist claimed that Al Hamilton created the American government. If so, that makes him the greatest criminal in American history.
    Move over, Lincoln.

  3. N. Joseph Potts Says:

    Informed consensus remains illegitimate for purposes (to which it is frequently put) of dispossessing minorities (racial, conscience, wealth, or other) in favor of the majority. Most people, in their zeal for “majority rule,” forget this, and trumpet the right of the majority to oppress minorities of all stripes and persuasions.


  4. Happy 4th of July to all!


  5. I think you are right. And that’s a difference between then and now — political factions try to push their plans through without any serious public deliberation or consensus… whether it’s health care, social security reform, another war, or whatever. What passes for public discussion is whatever the professional media feel like telling us for our own good. Little wonder that people across the political spectrum feel disaffected (the political class excepted, of course).

    Happy Independence Day.

  6. Roger McKinney Says:

    Bill, From an anarchist perspective you’re right. But from a statist perspective the Constitution is the supreme law of the land. Statists judge themselves guilty of crimes and treason with their dishonest translations of the Constitution.

  7. Roger McKinney Says:

    Jerry, Thanks for causing me to reflect. As bad as it gets in the US, there aren’t many places in the world where people have it so good.


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