Monday, October 13, 2008

The Cost of Partisanship

Did you see the HBO mini-series on John Adams? I did not see it but I have it on my Netflix list and I have recently read the book by David McCullough from which the mini-series was taken. I don't know how the mini-series treats all the amazing correspondence that the book includes. Maybe we should leave email and sound-bites and go back to the pen and ink correspondence of John Adams day where principles and concepts were carefully developed in letters and pamphlets. You can read about the respect he had for others, for the land and for his country through the massive correspondence that he produced. And you read of a most incredible love and partnership in the correspondence that he exchanged with Abigail. And unfortunately you can also read about false and negative campaigning even in the early days of the USA.

The whole book has been especially meaningful for me because I've read it during this election campaign as well as our current financial crisis. All I could think of when the House and Senate were going back and forth about the 'bailout' bill (I still can't call it a 'rescue' bill) was what Adams thought of political parties.

"There is nothing I dread so much as a division of the Republic into two great parties, each arranged under its leader and converting measures in opposition to each other," Adams had observed to a correspondent while at Amsterdam, before the Revolution ended. Yet this was exactly what had happened. The "turblent maneuvers" of factions, he now wrote privately, could "tie the hands and destroy the influence" of every honest man with a desire to serve the public good. There was "division of sentiments over everything," he told his son-in-law William Smith. "how few aim at the good of the whole, without aiming too much at the prosperity of parts!"

John Adams was a man with an amazing mind, a visionary and yet a man who loved the simple life of farming. Reading this book brought me back to the vision and principles on which the United States of America was created. I wish we could go back there again.

5 comments:

Steve Cotton said...

I thoroughly enjoyed McCullough's book. Reading it reminded me how far we have come and how little we have travelled. The same divisions that existed then still exist. Madison was probably more realistic than Adams. Adams saw us as citizens of Athens -- if the republic was to survive. Madison saw us as evictees from Eden who needed a political system that would keep our more base instincts in check.

And you just described why I wish I could bring my library south with me.

Bob Mrotek said...

Billie,
John Adams rediscovered what the Greek Philosopher Plato discovered long ago, only back then the parties were called the Democrats and the Oligarchs. He even wrote a book called "The Republic" to try and put things on the right track but nobody would listen. The problem is that 45 percent of the general population are wired one way and another 45 percent are wired a different way and the 10 percent in the middle do the real choosing. Nothing we can do about it..that's just the way things are until the Lord comes back and rewires us :)

Billie said...

Steve, since you aren't going to sell your house right away, you don't have to get rid of your books. See what is happening and how you feel when you find the place to settle. If you still want your library, you can bring them. I do miss my collection of photography books but I keep ordering new books so I'm beginning to feel better about having left them in storage. And I'm gradually filling up the book shelves here. Having books around makes me feel very wealthy.

Bob,the John Adams book made me realize what a classical education most of the founders of the USA had. They were learned men. Now we seem to embrace those who are 'like us' who do not have as much education or a wider view of the world.

pitchertaker said...

I have several times been honored to met and talk with McCullough -- once I drove him from Boston to Worcester, just the two of us in the truck. When he learned I was a photographer, he started pointing out things he would photograph had he been a "pitchertaker" rather than a writer. What has always struck me about McCullough is how like John Adams he, himself, is.

P'taker

Billie said...

Frank, I wondered if he did some of his research at the Antiquarian Society. What a thrill it would be to see any of these pieces of correspondence. I wonder how much history our children learn in school today. As they become adults they can't keep the country steady if they don't know the rock it was built on.