Sunday, November 20, 2011

Less John Adams More Thomas Paine

There is no doubt that John Adams played a major role in the forming of America. The work Adams provided all sizzled out though by the time he became President.  Yet Adams is still revered and honored while a man who may have single handedly saved the cause for Independence goes almost forgotten. The reason he is forgotten lays in the hands of Adams and his Presidency. Thomas Paine maybe the main reason there is an America but more importantly the work Paine did would echo throughout history, while Adams would not be so lucky. It can be seen that there is a reason for this, aside from Adams criticism of Paine, Adams was very conservative and Paine until this day is seen as too radical. This is just another example of the difference between the two men that would lead them in different directions both in life and in legacy.


I am willing to bet every American has seen this picture at one point or another in their life, and I'm also willing to bet they can name all the gentlemen standing around the Declaration of Independence. Yet sadly I will have to admit that everything most people know about them relates to the Revolutionary War and not their later works. This is way Adams is still held in a high regards, as a Founding Father and a great American. Adams is remembered for his opposition of the Stamp Act (1765), his work done during the meetings of Continental Congress, for being the first ambassador of the United States, his work on the Declaration of Independence, his refusal to surrender to the British (see my entry, Party Like It's 9/11) and everything else that HBO showed about his work in the founding America. But what is not known is much about his Presidency. Most people know Adams as the second President but that's it nothing more. It is here that should be looked at to knock Adams down a peg or two and promote the great defender of liberty and equality, Thomas Paine.


So why go after Adams? Well he was kind of a jerk. As Adams was elected in 1797 he was on a path to dooming America. In the first days of his Presidency he delivered a very middle of the road State of the Union. The French were hijacking American ships and Adams knew it, Congress pushed for him to do something to those frog eating Frenchies, yet he did nothing. He could have ordered an increase in the American Navy, issued munitions to American ships, sought help from the British (I know crazy but that's what they are there for)  I mean he could have done anything and it would have been better then the nothing he did. So strike one is Adams lack of balls in facing the French. Strike two is the infamous XYZ Affair (1798), in which the French tried to set up a shady deal in order to lay off the American ships around the world. The deal included a public apology from Adams, loans to France and a bride to the French government. Even after this Adams did pretty much nothing, instead Congress called back George Washington to come up with a plan on what to do. This then lead to the Quasi-War (1798-1800) which Adams played a minimal role in. The war was mainly fought at sea so many people did not hear of the results until after the war, however even though the old stars and stripes claimed a victory it wouldn't help Adams win a second term. And if that wasn't enough in the middle of the war there was the Fries Rebellion (1799). The Quasi-War cost money, so Adams created a tax on land and slaves. Now if any would know how Americans feel about taxes, it should have been Adams. So of course there was some opposition to these taxes and the Fries Rebellion took of and spread through Pennsylvania. The rebellion was put down but the damage was done and so was Adams. So for some reason Adams got four strikes and he still wasn't out, yet his disaster tour wasn't over yet and the icing on the cake was right around the corner and Adams was going to squarely take the blame.


So there it is the crowning jewel in Adams terrible Presidency, The Alien and Sedation Acts. These Acts were a way for Adams and the Federalists to really stick it to the Democratic-Republicans. However, that issue is something way to long for this article and could best be described as two little kids fighting with each other, or the current Congress we have. First we have the Naturalization Act, required all immigrants to become American citizens. Second, the Alien Act, gave the President power to deport "peoples dangerous to the peace and safety of America." Third, the Alien Enemies Act which has no "sunset provision" which in short means that the Act could never expire. Finally, Sedition Act, which pretty much trampled all over the First Amendment outlawing "false, scandalous and malicious writing against the government." This act totally violated Americans first Amendment right to free speech. This really would spell the end for Adams, no second term and a Presidency that really should eclipse all the work he did in the founding of America.


Now why am I picking on poor little Johnny? Well a few reasons. First he was a terrible President. Second, there is this movement to get a monument dedicated to Adams. Both Washington and Jefferson have monuments that are in view from the White House's Truman Balcony, but not Adams. There has been in recent years push for the monument, the first was by the great Historian David McCullough in his book John Adams. After that there have been a few others that pushed for the monument and are wrong for doing so, that's right I am talking to you Peter Roff, (U.S. News) and Alexander Heffner (Washington Post). Now why are they wrong? Well because Adams was the first flip-flopper President. He was so in his domestic and foreign policies and he was so in his relationship with the man who single handedly saved the American Revolution...twice.


There is he is, Thomas Paine the man who saved the America Revolution. Author of Common Sense and the American Crisis, both pamphlets that kept the spirit of Revolution alive and kicking amongst the colonists. Yet we forget him and his works and remember people like John Adams. But the real question is why. The answer does not fall on Paine or anything he had done in his life, although he was technically the 18th centuries proverbial bad boy. However, it wasn't that but it was John Adams, he single handedly destroyed Paine's reputation during his Presidency as if Paine was just lone left wing hippie full of radical ideas that didn't apply to the founding of America. We will see though that it is Paine that should be given a monument before Adams ever does in our nations capital.

Common Sense (1776) a book almost ever American has read about in their high school American History class. Common Sense in short, is the argument given to American colonist that explained the reasons for separation from England. The importance of the pamphlet is that the idea of Independence was still being questioned by Americans. And Paine was no dummy, he knew the writing the pamphlet was an uphill battle so he used American ideals in the writing. He used Protestant beliefs to reach the moral side of Americans, including people like John Adams. He connected the personal identity of the colonist with the ideals that were forming America. Because of this the American colonialist rallied behind the cause of Independence and the numbers of supporters grew but more importantly began to turn the tide when it seemed the cause would never get off the ground. Now Adams was all for independence but he hated the idea that Paine appealed to the people and promoted a Democracy for the people by the people over a Republic which Adams loved so dearly. In plain English what this meant was Paine wrote Common Sense for the everyday colonist and invited them into the world of politics, a world which Adams and the elitist class of colonist felt was theirs to own. Now this wouldn't be the last time Paine saved the Revolution, and probably piss of Adams.


Paine's next big hit was The American Crisis (1776-1783). It was several essays written during the course of Paine's service as an aid to General Washington, another reason Adams could be jealous of Paine. But the essay is most famously know for it's opening line, "These are the times that try men's souls: The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of his country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman" but more importantly it should be known as the document that saved the cause of Independence. And guess what it did, it was read aloud to the Continental Army before the Battle of Trenton and guess what, it was at the Battle of Trenton that started George Washington and his armies Redcoat Ass Kicking Tour across New Jersey and would trap the British in New York City. In this pamphlet, again, Paine uses strong patriotic tones and expresses his Deist beliefs, for which Adams would later attack him, by expressing that King George was trying to take power away from God and use it for is own use. Yet he says, God is on the American's side for it is the Americans that created the idea of Independence, through the wisdom which God has give us a tool to use. Now Adams must have been throwing a temper tantrum at this point. Adams was quite the ideal and practicing man of faith and to hear Paine's ideas of God not directly being involved, well he must have been pulling his hair out. It is the difference in their religious views that Adams would use against Paine, hey John ever hear of the religious equality ideas that America was founded on? Or perhaps the separation of Church and State? He should have because he was there when both those ideas for formed. Either way it can be seen that Paine in two simple documents played a larger role in the American Revolution that Adams did, and to top it off Paine would continue to spread the ideas of Democracy well after the Revolution. It would be due to this and Adam's jealousy that Paine would be pushed out of the American conscience.


There it is evidence of Paine's contribution to the forming of America, and with good reason we can see why Adams should be and is jealous of the work of Paine. It wasn't until after the Revolution that Adams became vocal of his disdain for Paine. During Adams Presidency, the French Revolution was taking place and Paine the lover of Democracy was right in the middle of it. During that time Paine was right in the thick of it, and of course in support of the cause of French Independence. So as he did in America, he did the same in France and picked up his pen and fueled another Revolution. However, this time when revisiting the works of Paine, these two works were much different then his works in America. With Common Sense and The American Crisis, they were aimed directly at the American cause, but with The Rights of Man (1791) and Agrarian Justice (1797) it is almost as Paine was writing not just for the French during their revolution, but the rest of human existence as a beacon for the ideas of Democracy. Yet ironically it is these two pamphlets that would be the reason the Adams would really attack Paine and have America turn it's back on him.


So what could Adams find wrong with two the works of Paine when they speak of Independence and equality, the two ideas that Adams was supportive for during the founding of America? Well it's just that Independence and equality, the next works of Paine was speaking of a world wide liberation. In The Rights of Man, Paine argues that natural rights can not be dictated by a ruling class. It is the peoples natural right to stand up for themselves when their rights and persons are unprotected and when the government's interest does not reflect the needs of the People. Again in Agrarian Justice, Paine sets up a taxing system which would ultimately be established to support the working class, young and elderly. The common belief was that the classes were divinely chosen, Paine on the other hand knew that the division was a man made. The main idea was land owners were to pay a property tax in support of the needs of the middle and poor classes. He suggested that every person upon reaching the age of fifty receive a yearly payment in order for them to "enable them to live in Old Age without Wretchedness and, do decently out of the World." While at the same time Paine wanted a sum given to those upon reaching the age of twenty one as to "enable HIM or HER to begin the World!" So what do we have, Paine restating the American cause of Independence, equality, justice and everything good in the world. He goes one step more by trying to establish a fair system to enable a more economically balanced world as well. So of course the wealthy and ruling classes would be upset, but it would be Adams that would knock Paine from the American mindset and thus removing him from our history.


Let the 18th century main event begin. These two trade verbal blows back and forth for the start of the Revolution. Paine was truly for the people, by the people. While Adams was for himself, supported by the people. At the end of the War Adams said, "Without the pen of the author of 'Common Sense,'(Paine signed the pamphlet as, The Englishman) the sword of Washington would have been raised in vain.” Now that is a pretty big compliment, but Adams would quickly change his view and thus begin erasing Paine from the American landscape. The real split came when Paine publish The Age of Reason, in this pamphlet Paine expressed his Deist beliefs and applied them to the world and how governments us religious beliefs against it's people. Paine was not shy about his beliefs and was very well known for them. Yet Adams was quite the proverbial choir boy and well known for being a practicing Christian. Adams blasted the document claiming it was a betrayal to the Age of Enlightenment, and Paine's attempt to start the Age of Paine. By 1820 and the work of Adams to shut Paine out of political importance, The Age of Reason was completely forgotten by the world. So Adams succeeded, he demonized Paine as a "black liquor" which he spreads through his works. But Paine didn't not take this lying down, he was quoted once saying, “Some people talk of impeaching John Adams, but I am for softer measures. I would keep him to make fun of.” And that was pure Thomas Paine, a man who would defend the rights of others and thumb his nose to his critics as if he knew they were jealous of his cause.


So the real question behind all of this is, who deserves to be immortalized forever in the landscape of Washington DC. Is it Adams, a Founding Father who would later almost doom America to being over run by the French? A President who reacted late to everything that was presented to him? To the man who would demonize another man who sought only true justice and equality for the world? Or for Thomas Paine, a man who dedicated his life to the revolution of mind and body. To a man of humble means and only the ideas of freedom and equality? To the man who felt justice was a natural right and life should not be dictated down to the people? I have a feeling we will lean towards Paine. The works of Paine have remained relevant throughout American History, he has been quoted and an inspiration to President Abraham Lincoln, inventor Thomas Edison and Historian Mike Maring (sorry it was a shameless plug). So those, like Adams, that did not "get" Paine, it is time for you to take a look at him again. His works transcend time, for as long as there is inequality Paine's work will remain a driving force behind any cause of Independence, freedom, liberty, equality, justice, etc. It is time to let Adams' legacy drift off into the sunset and time for Paine's to be resurrected, for Thomas Paine once said of Adams, "John was not born for immortality.”

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