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Jewish World Review May 30, 2001 / 8 Sivan 5761

Don Feder

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You're no John Adams, Teddy -- There is no aspect of life where ironies abound more than in the politics. But Sen. Ted Kennedy cosponsoring legislation to erect a monument to John Adams scales the heights of incongruity.

With the publication of David McCullough's book, "John Adams," the glitterati have discovered our second president.

"The Adams family legacy of public service is notable for its consistent courage in maintaining their steadfast beliefs, even in the face of the shifting currents of their time," Kennedy intones.

Doubtless, Massachusetts' senator for life considers himself equally valorous in his devotion to big government over the course of four decades.

But Adams' principles were well considered and grounded in reality. Kennedy's agenda is obeisance to cliches to which he attached himself out of loyalty to the Camelot legend. It's difficult to imagine two men less alike -- in character and convictions -- than Adams and Kennedy.

That the former deserves a tribute in stone is undeniable. The neglect of this giant, who towered over a generation of great men, is scandalous.

In the Second Continental Congress, the barrister from Braintree, Mass., spearheaded the drive for independence. Just before the vote was taken on dissolving our ties with Britain, he summarized the case in a two-hour speech. Jefferson said Adams' "power of thought and expression ... moved us from our seats." What Lincoln was to the preservation of the Union, Adams was to its creation.

Adams drafted a constitution for Massachusetts that many believe served as a model for the U.S. Constitution. While he despised the French Revolution for its atrocities, atheism and mindless leveling, as president, Adams managed to keep us out of war with France. His belief in the separation of powers, a strong executive and an independent judiciary became standard wisdom.

Of all the Founders, Adams was most vehement in his opposition to slavery ("an evil of colossal magnitude"). Though theoretically opposed to the institution, Jefferson owned over 200 slaves and still was always in debt. Adams, a farmer's son with calloused hands, "had neither debts nor slaves and all his life abhorred the idea of either," McCullough writes. Kennedy's name is synonymous with doctrinaire liberalism. Adams was the intellectual father of American conservatism.

As soon as it is admitted "that property is not as sacred as the laws of God, and that there is not a force of public law and justice to protect it, anarchy and tyranny commence," Adams warned. Kennedy has spent a lifetime raising taxes, supporting the regulatory assault on property rights and waging class warfare.

Adams thought the idea of human perfectibility an absurd and dangerous notion. Kennedy is a committed utopian.

"The love of power is insatiable and ungovernable," Adams cautioned. Only "knowledge and virtue" would keep a people free. What would this politician with a philosophical bent have thought of a senator who championed the cause of a perjuring president?

Adams was a model of rectitude. Though he enjoyed the company of ladies, "no virgin or matron ever had cause to blush at the sight of me, or to regret her acquaintance with me," Adams proudly proclaimed. There are no stories about Abigail's husband rolling around on the floor of a popular Washington eatery or awakening his son and nephew to go out for "a couple of beers."

Adams was indeed a man of unbending principle. Though a patriot, he defended British soldiers who fired on a mob, memorialized as the Boston Massacre, because he believed the King's troops were in the right ("facts are stubborn things").

His comment, "If conscience claps, let the world hiss," might have served as Adams' motto. It was this integrity that led him to defy his own Federalist Party, which demanded war with France, and contributed to his loss of the presidency.

The man who lived long enough to see his eldest son in the White House, and died fittingly on the Fourth of July, needs no monuments. If Americans would but read his words and story, his greatness would be manifest.

At the thought of Kennedy clamoring for an Adams memorial, tears mix with mirth. I knew President Adams, Senator. And you're no John Adams.

JWR contributing columnist Don Feder's latest books are Who is afraid of the Religious Right? ($15.95) and A Jewish conservative looks at pagan America ($9.95). To receive an autographed copy, send a check or money order to: Don Feder, The Boston Herald, 1 Herald Sq., Boston, Mass. 02106. Doing so will help fund JWR, if so noted. He is also available as a guest speaker. To comment on this column please click here.

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© 2001, Creators Syndicate