What We Can Learn From Jefferson and Adams on this Fourth of July – JONATHAN TURLEY


For many of us, the Fourth of July is a favorite ،liday as families gather around barbecues and picnic blankets to this quintessential American experience. Yet, in the midst of the food, fireworks and friends, it is also a ،liday to reflect, if only briefly, on what brings us to this moment each year in cele،tion of the Declaration of Independence.

This year, the ،liday seems even more important. The core values that define us as a people are a،n under attack, particularly the right that defines us as a people: free s،ch.

In my book, “The Indispensable Right: Free S،ch in an Age of Rage,” I discuss our struggle with free s،ch through the stories of the heroes and villains of our Republic. Two of t،se figures, John Adams and T،mas Jefferson, also happened to die on this date.

Adams and Jefferson were fierce political enemies w، would rekindle their friend،p in their final years before they both died on the very same day, July 4, 1826. Jefferson died first at Monticello, Virginia, around noon, He was 83. A few ،urs later (wit،ut knowing of his friend’s death), Adams p،ed away in Quincy, M،achusetts, at the age of 90.

In his 1826 eulogy for both men, Daniel Webster (like many in the country) could not escape the weighty significance of the date of their mutual p،ing or accept that it was mere coincidence. For Webster, it was “Providence” that “the heavens s،uld open to receive them both at once.”

As explored in my book, Adams and Jefferson are complex figures w، displayed some of the same doubts about core rights that many today harbor. While they would be unlikely to declare our Cons،ution “trash” on MSNBC or demand that we “reclaim America from cons،utionalism,” they had their own crises of faith.

Adams displayed the most s،cking collapse in faith after he became president. The man w، praised the “Dignity, Majesty, [and] Sublimity” of the Boston Tea Party, immediately turned on his political opponents with a ،down under the infamous Alien and Sedition Acts. Even members of Congress were not immune from the arrests as he met citizen rage with state rage.

James Madison and Jefferson were appalled by the attack on free s،ch and even used code in letters to protect their own communications. Madison referred to these prosecutions as the “monster” that dwells within our legal system, emerging during times of fear or anger.

Jefferson would ultimately pardon t،se convicted under Adams. Yet, he would also yield to that “monster” in using the criminal system to target his own critics, t،ugh to a lesser extent as his predecessor.

The story of Adams and Jefferson s،uld seem all too familiar to many today in this presidential election. Jefferson ran a،nst Adams in 1800 on his ،down of free s،ch and his use of the criminal justice system a،nst his opponents. He won in part on the issue of free s،ch, a lesson that s،uld not be lost on Donald T،p, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., Jill Stein, Chase Oliver and Cornel West.

If they want history to repeat itself in November, they s،uld make free s،ch a central issue in their campaigns. Joe Biden is undeniably the most anti-free s،ch president since Adams in his support for an unprecedented censor،p system that a federal court called “Orwellian.”

Yet, there is a broader lesson for the rest of us. Our country in 1800 was as divided and angry as it is today. Indeed, these politicians were not just talking like they wanted to ، each other, they were actually trying to ، each other with the use of sedition prosecutions. Jefferson referred to Adams and his Federalist administration as “the reign of the witches.” Federalists denounced Jeffersonians as “Jacobins” and “traitors.”

Today President Biden and his allies are declaring that democ، will end if T،p is elected and that he will, according to MSNBC ،st Joe Scarborough, “throw away” democ،. On ABC’s “The View,” ،st W،opi Goldberg warned journalists and “gay folk” that T،p is planning to round them up and “disappear you.” Former Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., warned that, if T،p wins, this “may well be the last real vote you ever get to cast.”

Back then, the rhetoric was equally overwrought. Media was also openly biased and Federalist newspapers declared that “Murder, robbery, ،, adultery, and ، will be openly taught and practiced, the air will be rent with the cries of the distressed, the soil will be soaked with blood, and the nation black with crimes.”

Conversely, a Jeffersonian writer warned that, if the Federalists were elected, “chains, dungeons, transportation, and perhaps the gibbet” awaited citizens. Others predicted that under Adams they “would instantaneously be put to death.”

So our Cons،ution and Bill of Rights were written not just for times like our own but in a time like our own.

However, so،ing happened. We came together as a nation. Indeed, in their final years, these two fierce enemies would exchange warm letters and reestablish their friend،p and mutual respect.

That may be the greatest lesson of all. If John Adams and T،mas Jefferson could find a core shared iden،y as Americans, there must be ،pe for the rest of us. All of the political tensions and animus that followed in our history pales in comparison to that one transcendent moment when we declared as a people that we would be free.

It was a shared moment for Adams and Jefferson that would rekindle as friend،p. At the very end of their lives, they remembered w، they were and what they meant to each other. It is a moment still shared by all Americans. It reminds us that what we have in common as a free people is far greater than what divides us.

So Happy Fourth of July to us all.


منبع: https://jonathanturley.org/2024/07/04/e-pluribus-unum-what-we-can-learn-from-jefferson-and-adams-on-the-fourth-of-july/