John Adams, Facts, & Brett Kavanaugh: A Primer

It was March 1770 when a crowd of Boston colonists began angrily harassing a British sentry. Soon other soldiers came to his aid. In the confusion, amidst the clamor, the throwing of snowballs, ice, and stones, and even being threatened with clubs, the soldiers misunderstood a command from the officer in charge and began firing into the crowd. Five colonists lay dead and six more were wounded. It became known as the Boston Massacre.

Emotions ran high. Would the soldiers have any hope of a fair trial? Into this tension-packed atmosphere, John Adams entered and volunteered to defend the soldiers. Adams was not in favor of British policies, but he believed the soldiers had been provoked into the attack, and therefore all the facts had to be taken into consideration.

He took a chance by standing up for them. He could have become the most hated man in Boston. Yet he showed that the crowd had been more of a mob than a simple crowd of people standing around. He argued for the soldiers while simultaneously critiquing the British government’s decision to place soldiers in the streets, thereby increasing the tension.

The result? The officer in charge was acquitted, as were most of the soldiers. Two were found guilty of manslaughter and sent back to England. Given that death would have been the sentence if a guilty verdict of murder had been returned, this was quite an achievement for Adams as he stood for the concept of the rule of law—a concept that is currently little understood, even less appreciated, and constantly under attack.

One of Adams’s statements in these trials has come down to us today, repeated by those who understand the basis for the rule of law. Here’s what he said:

Facts are stubborn things, and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.

At different times in American history, emotions have run rampant and caused no small amount of anguish, civil disturbances, and assaults on the rule of law. I point out John Adams’s strong character in this blog today as a reminder that we must not allow passions to run wild. We must always make all our decisions on the basis of evidence, not mere emotion.

All I have seen in the accusations against Brett Kavanaugh up to this point is pure emotion, stripped of any genuine evidence of wrongdoing. The FBI has now been tasked with another round of interviews to find out if there is any corroboration at all for the allegations against him. This came about through one of the most disgusting displays of partisanship ever seen in Congress, and that’s saying a lot considering what has transpired many times before.

Thus far, all we have is the word of women who are basing their testimony on strong emotion . . . yet without even one piece of corroborating evidence. We are supposed to believe them because they are women.

Do women never lie? Are they always to be believed? Do they not also have agendas at times? Has the media looked into the backgrounds of those who are making the accusations, or are they focused on Kavanaugh only?

Whatever happened to the need for real evidence before convicting someone?

Yes, I know this is not a court of law, but someone can be convicted in the arena of public opinion to the point that truth no longer matters. Just believe, even when there’s no reason to do so.

Could Kavanaugh be lying? Well, if he is, he’s survived six previous FBI background checks. Further, women who have known him in high school have testified that he never acted like the accusers have said. Even further, dozens of women who have worked with him in government have stood solidly with him, attesting to his impeccable character.

But we’re supposed to believe someone, in the case of Prof. Ford, who has escaped all media scrutiny. Where have you seen any in-depth treatment of her background, moral behavior, or current political agenda? Maybe I missed it, but nothing I’ve seen has even broached the subject.

No, she’s a woman who came across as credible. Yet by “credible,” what is really meant is she came across as emotional enough to convince people she must be telling the truth.

Yet where is the evidence?

Thomas Sowell has been a favorite writer and commentator of mine for decades. I’ve come across a couple of his most poignant quotes lately, and they are appropriate for what we have been experiencing in this current controversy.

Facts are seldom allowed to contaminate the beautiful vision of the left. What matters to the true believers are the ringing slogans, endlessly repeated.

Emotions neither prove nor disprove facts. There was a time when any rational adult understood this. But years of dumbed-down education and emphasis on how people ‘feel’ have left too many people unable to see through this media gimmick.

He’s one of the new John Adamses in our day. May there be more.

Great Power or Great Responsibility?

So many people want to be president. Perhaps it would do them some good to remember comments by America’s first three presidents.

When Washington was elected to the presidency, he wrote to Henry Knox:

My movements to the chair of Government will be accompanied by feelings not unlike those of a culprit who is going to the place of his execution: so unwilling am I, in the evening of a life nearly consumed in public cares, to quit a peaceful abode for an Ocean of difficulties, without that competency of political skill, abilities and inclination which is necessary to manage the helm.

Washington understood the immense responsibility that would rest upon him.

When John Adams succeeded him eight years later, as he and Washington were leaving the scene of his inauguration, he later wrote:

Methought I heard him think, “Ay! I am fairly out and you are fairly in! See which of us will be the happiest!”

Adams had reason to be concerned. Imagine what it would be like having to be Washington’s successor, having to follow the man considered to be the Father of the Country. Regardless of Adams’s many accomplishments, he didn’t measure up to Washington in the eyes of the nation. Certain congressmen and senators, in a rather direct display of disrespect, even referred to him as “His Rotundity.”

Then there was Jefferson. He added the Louisiana Territory to the country, thus doubling its size. He sent out the Lewis and Clark expedition to see what he had bought. He was reelected easily. Yet, at the end of his second term, when he signed a bill stopping all shipping (in order to avoid a European war), he alienated all of the New England states, which made their living by that very shipping. The historian Paul Johnson comments that Jefferson left office a beaten man. Jefferson said:

Oh for the day when I shall be withdrawn from [office] ; when I shall have leisure to enjoy my family, my friends, my farm and books!

Too many individuals seek what they think will be greater power, only to come to the realization that the responsibilities can be overwhelming. I prefer to entrust power and authority to those who don’t want it so badly. Perhaps they will handle it more wisely.

I first posted this in January 2009. The message is still relevant nine years later.

A New Federalist Party?

Throughout my thirty-year teaching career, speaking to students about history, government, and politics, I’ve never had much good to say about third parties in the American political system. More often than not, they have caused a problem, their adherents allowing someone—usually not the right one—to win the presidency.

Third-party platforms are then absorbed into one of the two major parties and that third party ceases to exist.

For any new political party to rise up and be a major factor in the long term in our system, one of the current parties needs to be on its way out. That’s happened only once in American history.

After the demise of the first two-party arrangement, for a while there was only one party. We’re talking about the 1820s. Yet, as a testimony to differences of opinion, that one party was “one” in name only. In 1824, four men vied for the presidency within the supposed one party. John Quincy Adams emerged the victor, but the rancor following his win (decided only after a vote in the House of Representatives) led to Andrew Jackson leading his newly named Democrat party to dominance afterwards.

Those who opposed Jackson finally were able to organize sufficiently to call themselves a party, designated Whigs. The name was symbolic historically—Whigs in Britain opposed monarchs who stepped over the line. American Whigs saw Jackson as a wanna-be monarch, as highlighted in this particular political cartoon of the era:

The Whigs were basically an anti-Jackson party. Any party built primarily on a negative will not survive, and that’s what happened to the Whigs. Jackson passed from the scene eventually, and those who had assembled under its banner found themselves divided on issues, particularly slavery.

By the early 1850s, the Whigs were in rapid decline. It took that type of decline for a new party to arise—the Republicans.

Some are convinced that our present two-party arrangement is in decline as well, particularly conservatives devoted to the rule of law and the Constitution. They see the Republican party as only a shadow of its Reaganesque self; they want a new party to arise and take its place.

There is such a new party in the making. It’s called the Federalist Party of America, drawing its name not so much from the first Federalist party as from the term itself, which means that political power is to be divided properly among national, state, and local governments.

This new party is attempting to build from the grassroots, and aims not merely at getting a certain person elected president, but starting instead at the local level, seeking to gain a reputation by winning those elections.

All too often, third parties aim at the top and don’t take the time to form a solid foundation. Some came into being only to promote a charismatic candidate rejected by a major party—hence the quick rise and equally quick fall of the Progressive Party of Theodore Roosevelt in 1912.

The Federalist Party of America hopes to do things differently. What does it want to achieve? Its goals are clearly laid out:

  • The strength of America lies in its people, not in its government.
  • Government solutions, when necessary, should be pursued at the lowest level of government possible, that closest to the people they affect.
  • America has one overarching set of laws authorized directly by The People: The Constitution of the United States of America. That supreme governing document stands as is unless and until amended.
  • An ever-encroaching federal state threatens the general welfare of current and future generations of Americans. That encroachment can and must be reversed by democratic means.
  • A 28th Amendment to limit the number of terms that members of Congress may serve is necessary and justified to restore restrictions on federal powers as intended by our nation’s founders and delineated in the Constitution.

Except for that last one on term limits—a concept I’ve never before endorsed but am willing to reconsider—I like the goals.

But are we really at the place where a third party such as this can rise up to take over one of the two major spots in our system? Is the Republican party truly in demise?

Frankly, I don’t know. However, if the new Federalist Party has any chance of succeeding, it must follow the strategy of starting at lower levels and showing the electorate that its candidates can be trusted to carry out these goals.

This blog post today is not an outright endorsement, but I thought it important to make you aware of what is bubbling beneath the surface. I, for one, would welcome this challenge to a Republican establishment that has all too often offered only lip service to its stated principles.

So, Federalist Party of America, what will make you different? How will you ensure that your candidates will do more than talk a good talk? I’ll be watching—and hoping—that you are for real.

Our Historical Memory . . . Or Lack Thereof

It was 241 years ago today that the Continental Congress approved the wording of the Declaration of Independence. Although Thomas Jefferson drafted the document, there was a committee that was responsible for sending it to the floor of the Congress. Two of those committee members were John Adams and Benjamin Franklin.

Jefferson later said that he didn’t write anything original, that he was merely putting into words the consensus of the era concerning rights that come from God and the necessity of forming a new government.

The preamble tells us that there is a Law of Nature (a phrase traced back historically to the book of Romans in the Bible) and that our Creator granted men certain rights that government cannot take away.

The final paragraph included an appeal to “the Supreme Judge of the world” for the rightness of their motives in making the move to independence and ends with these stirring words:

And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, & our sacred honour.

They meant it. Many suffered for this action. They knew they were now prime targets, seen as traitors to the Crown.

What remains of our historical memory?

Point out this ignorance to some of our educators and what response might you get?

I remember very well the day in class when I found out that some of my students couldn’t write cursive. I was stunned. The loss of that skill is another blow against historical knowledge:

The Fourth of July became a major celebration for the first time on its fiftieth anniversary in 1826. Since Jefferson and Adams were still alive, they were invited to the celebrations, but both begged off due to their health. The nation was then startled a few days later by the news that both had died on the Fourth of July, exactly fifty years after their historic participation in the framing of the Declaration.

Odd as it may seem to some, that news sparked unity in the nation, as if God held off their deaths for that specific day to highlight the significance of American independence.

Unity. What a nice concept.

Are we worse off now than ever? As a historian, I know there have been worse times in some ways—the Civil War, the Great Depression. We came through those, but what about today?

Our problem may be worse today with the rapid decline in our culture’s Biblical worldview. As you go about your celebrations today, pray for God’s mercy on our nation.

Yesterday Was Independence Day

Yesterday, July 2, was the 241st anniversary of America’s independence. July 2? Is this historian displaying some historical ignorance here? Not at all. The actual vote for independence in the Continental Congress took place on July 2, not July 4. The 4th is celebrated for the acceptance of the official document, the Declaration of Independence, which is the rationale for what they did on July 2.

Many people today don’t know this fact because we have decided, for some reason, to focus on the Declaration itself.

John Adams, who was there on July 2 to vote in favor of independence, wrote to his wife on July 3, telling her what he hoped for the future of the new nation:

The second day of July, 1776, will be the most memorable epoch in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary Festival.

It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever.

Although he couldn’t see into the future with respect to which day we ended up celebrating, he was remarkably on target for what takes place on that day. He concluded his thoughts with these sobering words:

You will think me transported with enthusiasm, but I am not. I am well aware of the toil and blood and treasure that it will cost to maintain this Declaration, and support and defend these States. Yet through all the gloom I can see the rays of ravishing light and glory. I can see that the end is worth more than all the means.

Again, he was correct. It was a costly decision to declare independence, but I agree with him that the end has been worth the toil, blood, and treasure expended.

These days, I’m not sure how many people, particularly in the younger generation, have any concept of what this movement toward liberty cost the Founders. I’m sure many have their facts confused.

Let’s strive to overcome the ignorance whenever we can. I’m grateful that the Lord gives me that opportunity every semester in the classroom.

Preserving Freedom: Lexington & Concord

Among the innumerable examples of bravery in American history, the events surrounding the first battle of the American Revolution are prominent. Massachusetts was under martial law; Boston was ruled by a British general. A shadow government of sorts had been set up by those who were opposed to how the Mother Country was tightening her screws of control.

The two leaders of the resistance, Samuel Adams and John Hancock, were in the small village of Lexington, planning their passage to Philadelphia to be part of the Continental Congress. On the night of 19 April 1775, British regulars were dispatched from Boston with two purposes: capture Adams and Hancock for trial (and execution) in Britain; remove all the colony’s store of guns and ammunition in Concord.

Neither objective was achieved.

paul-reveres-rideRiders went out from Boston to alert the countryside. The best-known one, of course, was Paul Revere. No, he didn’t shout “The British are coming!” That would have been a redundancy—they were all still British. His message was that the “regulars” were coming out, which was a fearful matter. These were highly disciplined troops.

What did the colonists have to stand against them? Only farmers and shopkeepers, the local militia that had recently taken the name of Minutemen, since they had to be ready at a minute’s notice should an attack come.

Stand Your GroundAdams and Hancock escaped from Lexington just in time. The 700 regulars arrived to face a small contingent of Minutemen on Lexington green. There was never an intent on either side to have a pitched battle. Seventy townsmen facing 700 regulars would have been folly. They were simply making a statement. When ordered to leave the field, they were in the process of doing so.

Then a shot rang out. Accounts differ as to the source of that shot. Ralph Waldo Emerson, in a poem, later referred to it as “The Shot Heard Round the World.”

Eight Lexington men were killed. And the troops marched on to Concord.

minuteman-statueConcord was ready. All the stores of munitions were removed to safety before the troops arrived. Nervous Concord Minutemen stood by a bridge outside of town. When they saw smoke coming up from the town, they feared the troops were setting fire to their homes. That brought on a battle on the bridge.

Seeing that their goals were not achieved, the regular troops were ordered back to Boston, but now the entire countryside was up in arms—literally. That march back to Boston turned into a rout, as colonists, fighting in Indian manner, would shoot at them from behind hedges, trees, and fences, then run ahead to do the same again when the troops reached them in their new location.

Once the troops were back in Boston, 15,000 Massachusetts militia formed a ring around the city, to ensure they would not be attacked again.

Lexington and Concord signaled the opening of the war for independence.

john-adamsJohn Adams, writing to wife Abigail about what had occurred, penned some memorable words:

Posterity! You will never know how much it cost the present Generation to preserve your Freedom! I hope you will make a good use of it. If you do not, I shall repent in Heaven that I ever took half the pains to preserve it.

What of Adams’s words today? Have we done a good job of preserving what he and others of that Founding generation did to deliver freedom to us? Time will tell.

On Rigged Elections

This election is rigged. That’s been Donald Trump’s theme for a couple of weeks. Is that possible? Accusations of a rigged presidential election are rare, but there are a few examples.

john-quincy-adamsIn 1824, John Quincy Adams won the presidency after no one got the majority of the electoral votes and the decision was thrown into the House of Representatives. Henry Clay, Speaker of the House, was later chosen by Adams to be his secretary of state, considered at that time to be the stepping-stone to the presidency. Andrew Jackson, the loser even though he started with a plurality of the electoral tally, charged that it was a corrupt bargain. He lost the election, he said, because it was rigged against him.

What Jackson didn’t allow into his thoughts is that Clay, who undoubtedly used his influence as Speaker to put Adams in the presidency, felt that Jackson was unfit for the office and gave his support to Adams because he believed Adams was the better of the two men. That, of course, never stopped Jackson from thinking he was cheated out of the office and he held bitterness over it for the rest of his life.

rutherford-b-hayes-2The 1876 election was one of the most controversial in American history. Democrat Samuel Tilden won the popular vote but neither he nor Republican Rutherford Hayes had an electoral majority due to claims of voter fraud in some of the Southern states. This was after the Civil War and the rancor of Reconstruction.

A special commission had to be set up to determine the winner. It took until just a few days before the March inauguration to solidify Hayes’s victory. The only way Democrats accepted Hayes as the legitimate president was after he promised to serve only one term and bring Reconstruction policies to an end. Still, some Democrats refused to acknowledge Hayes as the legitimate president.

jfk-nixonThen there was 1960. Everyone knows John F. Kennedy defeated Richard Nixon, right? Well, that’s not necessarily true. Most historians admit that voter fraud was so plentiful in Illinois and Texas that those two states should have gone to Nixon, thereby making him the next president.

Chicago has been a source of voter fraud continually; it’s amazing how many dead people vote there every time. Texas was Lyndon Johnson’s home state, and he made sure there were enough votes counted to gain the victory there, regardless of how many actually voted.

Nixon was aware of the fraud and many in his circle encouraged him to challenge the result. Tempting as that was, Nixon instead chose to step back from any challenge for the good of the nation. He felt it would be damaging to the country, especially at a time of Cold War tension with the Soviet Union, to disrupt the government in that way.

Most people don’t know about Nixon’s selfless decision; all they ever think about is Watergate.

So, yes, voter fraud might take place. In fact, I’m convinced it does on a regular basis. However, here’s the real question: could it be massive enough to make a difference this year, as Trump intimates?

First of all, it would only matter in a very close vote within a state. Consequently, you can dismiss any issue of damage to the Trump campaign in states that are going for Clinton by wide margins. California, New York, and Illinois are lost causes for Trump anyway. Even if we were to wipe out all of Chicago’s graveyard votes, he will still lose Illinois.

The only real possibility of voter fraud affecting this election would have to focus on Texas or Florida, yet both of those states are controlled by a Republican majority who will guarantee that Trump won’t be trumped by Democrat tricks.

Let’s be real. Voter fraud, while always a concern, is not going to be any kind of determining factor this year. The determining factor is Donald Trump, pure and simple. Well, he’s simple, at least.

Donald Trump Addresses GOP Lincoln Day Event In MichiganHave you noticed that every time Trump loses, he has a scapegoat? Recall the Iowa caucuses. Why did he lose there, in his mind? Ted Cruz cheated. “Lyin’ Ted” cost him Iowa. That was his story and he was sticking to it. He pretty much used the same mantra wherever he lost.

Why? Because Trump believes he is a winner. Remember that he told Republicans he was going to win so much that they were going to get tired of winning. If he loses, it can’t be his fault; it has to be some kind of “rigged” election.

Much has been made of Trump’s comment in the last debate that he will wait and see if he will accept the results of this election. Some feel he is destroying the American electoral system by saying that. I don’t go there. I know there can be fraud, and I use 1960 as a prime example.

However, what really bothers me is what it reveals about Trump’s character. His ego is so huge and vast that he cannot even imagine losing due to his own uneven temperament, lack of knowledge of the issues, and moral turpitude.

He’s also preparing the context for his loss. You see, he didn’t really lose; the election was stolen by “Crooked Hillary.” By the way, she is Crooked Hillary, but he’s “Delusional Donald.”

He will never accept the hard truth that he is his own worst enemy. Rumors abound that once he loses, his next venture will be a media network to promote his views (whatever they may be next year).

Lose he will, and probably “bigly.” And it won’t be because of voter fraud. It will be because he is the worst candidate the Republicans have ever chosen as a standard-bearer.