- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 2, 2001

John Adams who Russell Kirk called the "founder of true conservatism in America" is receiving the strange new respect normally accruing only to Republican Party switchers. Safely dead for 175 years, our second president is getting rave reviews from Democratic congressmen and liberal pundits. David McCullough's new biography of Adams sits atop the nonfiction best seller list and is creating a buzz for Adams that living conservatives would kill to receive. Mary McGrory, Maureen Dowd and NPR have chimed in with worshipful pieces on Adams.
Miss McGrory has set Adams up as a foil to Ronald Reagan and is denigrating monuments to the latter until Adams is represented on the Mall. Miss Dowd mostly appreciates his wife, Abigail, and one senses NPR just likes Mr. McCullough. Democrat Tim Roemer from Indiana is sponsoring legislation to honor the little conservative man from Massachusetts (yes, Massachusetts had conservatives then). Modern conservatives cannot allow liberals to cast aspersions on modern men of the right by adopting Adams, and, as a matter of honor should protect the old man from being accused of liberalism.
Adams was unalterably opposed to the French Revolution and attacked Paine and Jefferson for siding with that bloody leftist revolution. Nonetheless, he scrupulously kept his country out of war with France. Further, he was for a republic, not a democracy, and insisted that the republic be supported and governed by men of faith. He railed against government in the "hands of men who teach the most disconsolate of all creeds, that men are but fireflies, and that this is all without a father." Take that Peter Singer.
He was strongly of the belief that men were morally equal and equal before God, but he opposed any teaching that they were or ought to be "born with equal powers and faculties, to equal influence in society, to equal property and advantages through life" and called any such teaching a fraud on the people. Indeed Adams thought men were unequal in physical and intellectual endowments by the will of God and that society had the right not only to recognize these but other inequalities as well. Take that ADA.
He did not believe that race, but circumstance and property, defined and ought to define the governing class. He wrote, "If John Randolph should manumit one of his Negroes and alienate to him his plantation, that Negro would become as great an aristocrat as John Randolph." Take that quota supporters.
In fact, John Adams was indispensable to the Declaration of Independence and to federalism, the basis of the Constitution. Again, the admiring Kirk: "Federalism has had a great share in keeping the United States the most conservative power remaining in the world, and thus in the middle of the 20th century the conservatism of Adams exerts an influence quite as strong as the radical social principles disseminated by his French adversaries." The beginning of the 21st century still feels that influence.
Liberals are holding up the nominations of conservative lawyers who belong to the Federalist Society, a group consciously respectful of the views of the Founders, Adams prominent among them. Worse, according to these opponents, some like Ken Starr and Ted Olson have taken controversial stands and defended unpopular causes. How can these same folks hold up John Adams as a hero? Adams defended soldiers accused of the Boston Massacre. In British America he took up the cause of Peter Zenger, who offended the crown. Today would he defend the liberties of despised tobacco companies? Gun owners? Insist on the impeachment of a president who lied under oath? Certainly those who rallied so quickly to then-President Clinton would have no truck with a conservative who seemed incapable of lying to please the crowd. Worse, how would Abigail compare to Hillary? What would the uxorious Adams and his acid-tongued wife have replied to the "they all do it" defense?
Until now, Adams has been neglected by scholars and posterity largely because he was conservative. Jefferson has ever been the darling of scholars and of the left. He believed in bloody revolution and the perfectibility of man. He (and Paine) were the great leftists of the time. Jefferson, while owning slaves, wrote about the limitless equality of men. Adams, while loathing slavery, resisted the leveling impulse. And we must never forget the Hollywood aspect. A tall, rich, handsome Southern landowner who constantly praised "the people" would always be more attractive than a short, heavy, tart-tongued conservative who lauded the rule of law and tradition over popular whim. Hollywood, in fact, has made a movie lauding Adams. In the musical "1776," Adams is the hero but nonetheless is repeatedly termed "obnoxious and disliked." Which, come to think of it, does identify him as the conservative.
Conservatives have few presidential heroes. George Washington is no doubt a conservative but belongs to no party and the entire nation. Two of the greatest conservative presidents, Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt, have been seized by the liberals. Jefferson, Wilson, FDR, Kennedy and even Truman already belong to the party of the left. Once Massachusetts had a man of the right who believed in faith and permanent truths. He is back in fashion. Let's make sure we keep him.

John Julian Vecchione is an attorney with Ludwig & Robinson.

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