The Federalist honors this 227th anniversary of the signing of
our Declaration of Independence by contemplating the courage and
character of the signers. We ponder what our Founders would say
of how we are tending this land of liberty -- how they would rate
the courage and character of their posterity. How do we measure
up against the Founders' standards?
One Signer of the Declaration of Independence has particularly
inspired us. We hope the spirit of our favorite Founder, Samuel
Adams, imbues our work.
Adams provides the most complete expression of ideas driving the
American Revolution, and he was among the earliest to recognize
the ultimate objects of growing British tyranny in the 1760s. His
prescience and precision in language earned him the descriptor
"incendiary"; his principles earned him the reputation of
"radical." But he was mistakenly so branded, as shown in this
passage from October, 1773: "We are far from desiring that
the connection between Britain & America should be broken.
Esto perpetua, is our ardent wish; but upon the terms only of
Adams often wrote anonymously, as do we; among his more
colorful pseudonyms were "A Chatterer," "Candidus," "Vindex,"
"Determinatus," and "Valerius Poplicola." He was also a devout
Christian: "First of all, I ... rely upon the merits of Jesus
Christ for a pardon of all my sins." Likewise, Adams affirms
our aspiration to humilitas, in "political literature ... as
selfless as politics itself, designed to promote its cause,
not its author."
Samuel Adams studied the classics and science, eventually earning
a master's degree from Harvard College. From an early career in
merchant trades, he later joined his father's brewery business.
He was never financially prosperous; at times, near poverty.
But his natural genius lay in politics.
Personally modest and unpretentious, he shunned powdered wigs and
other such stylish affectations. His cousin John Adams described
him thus: "in common appearance, he was a plain, simple, decent
citizen, of middling stature, dress, and manners."
But John also coined the term "working the political machine,"
complimenting Samuel as a master of those arts of practical
politics: from forming activist groups like the Sons of Liberty
and organizing galvanizing events such as the Boston Tea Party, to
literary agitation and revolutionary philosophy. His oratorical
skills incited passions for liberty, as John recalled: "Upon
great occasions, when his deeper feelings were excited ... nature
seemed to erect him, without the smallest symptom of affectation,
into an upright dignity of figure and gesture and gave a harmony
to his voice which made a strong impression on spectators and
auditors -- the more lasting for the purity, correctness, and
nervous elegance of his style."
A delegate to both the First and Second Continental Congresses,
Adams also voted to ratify the Constitution. When the colonial
governor offered a blanket amnesty to colonials who would lay
down their arms, he specifically refused to pardon only Samuel
Adams and John Hancock. Mid-career, Adams fell into disfavor
over his vehement opposition to a strong national government.
But his popularity had before then waxed and waned with the temper
of the times.
Adams believed, as we do, that liberty and virtue are inseparable:
"Liberty will not long survive the total extinction of morals."
And, "As long as the people are virtuous they cannot be subdued;
but when once they lose their virtue they will be ready to
surrender their liberties to the first external or internal
invader.... If virtue and knowledge are diffused among the people,
they will never be enslaved. This will be their great security."
His "The Rights of the Colonists," also called "The Report of the
Committee of Correspondence to the Boston Town Meeting, Nov. 20,
1772," contained original outlines of the political philosophy
undergirding both the Declaration and its subordinate guidance,
the Constitution. Indeed, his virtuous modesty produced so little
self-promotion that Adams is rarely credited sufficiently for his
contributions to our nation's founding. Referring to this Adams
essay, the Massachusetts colony's Governor, Thomas Hutchinson,
noted, "the Grand Incendiary of the Province prepared a long
report for a committee appointed by the town, in which, after
many principles inferring independence were laid down, many
resolves followed, all of them tending to sedition and mutiny,
and some of them expressly denying Parliamentary authority."
If Samuel Adams were present today, he would be appalled at
the eroded state of American liberty, and nowhere would he find
liberty more threatened than the descent of our nation's courts
into increasingly tyrannical usurpations of individual and
state-government rights and responsibilities. In particular,
Adams would have thundered against two of the Supreme Court's
rulings last week. He would scoff over the court's decision
that current racial discrimination is permissible for the sake
of redressing past racial discrimination: "Every natural right
not expressly given up, or, from the nature of a social compact,
necessarily ceded, remains."
As for the Lawrence v. Texas ruling, which overturned the Texas
state law prohibiting homosexual sodomy, Samuel Adams would inveigh
over judges arrogating to themselves rights of self-government
already claimed by the people of Texas through their state
representatives. Writing as Candidus, Adams proclaimed,
"...[I]f the public are bound to yield obedience to laws to
which they cannot give their approbation, they are slaves to
those who make such laws and enforce them." He would note the
unnaturalness of the act being protected, as contrary to the
rights of natural family formation: "The natural liberty of man
is ... only to have the law of nature for his rule." We can
envision Adams today demanding of the Supreme Court majority,
"And you still declare yourselves to be justices?"
But Adams would reserve his fieriest denunciations for this week's
11th Circuit Appeals Court conclusion that Alabama Chief Justice
Roy Moore strayed into constitutional impermissibility by placing
a monument depicting the Ten Commandments as "Laws of Nature and
of Nature's God," in his state's Supreme Court rotunda. Of this
legal commemoration of our law's foundation, that court declared:
"Any notion of high government officials being above the law
did not save ... [state's rights proponents] from having to obey
federal-court orders, and it will not save ... [Moore] from having
to comply with the court order in this case. ... If necessary, the
court order will be enforced. The rule of law will prevail."
Adams would note that this decision is most emphatically the
opposite of the rule of law. He wrote of that first Independence
Day, 227 long years ago, "We have this day restored the Sovereign
to whom alone men ought to be obedient." He would note that
Moore's appeal is going to the Supreme Court, where a relief
engraved with the Ten Commandments appropriately appears above the
Justices' bench and court sessions begin with the proclamation,
"God save the United States and this Honorable Court." He would
remind that the First Amendment states plainly: "Congress shall
make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting
the free exercise thereof..."
On this greatest of threats to our liberty, Adams would recall
the words of his fellow Founders: "The Constitution which at
any time exists, 'till changed by an explicit and authentic act
of the whole People, is sacredly obligatory upon all." (George
Washington) "...[T]he danger is not, that the judges will be
too firm in resisting public opinion, and in defence of private
rights or public liberties; but, that they will be ready to yield
themselves to the passions, and politics, and prejudices of the
day." (Joseph Story) "The opinion which gives to the judges the
right to decide what laws are constitutional and what not, not
only for themselves in their own sphere of action but for the
Legislature and Executive also in their spheres, would make the
Judiciary a despotic branch." (Thomas Jefferson).
But what would Adams do?
Most assuredly he would advise as he once did, "The liberties
of our country, the freedom of our civil constitution are worth
defending at all hazards: And it is our duty to defend them against
all attacks. We have receiv'd them as a fair inheritance from our
worthy ancestors: They purchas'd them for us with toil and danger
and expence of treasure and blood; and transmitted them to us with
care and diligence. It will bring an everlasting mark of infamy on
the present generation, enlight'ned as it is, if we should suffer
them to be wrested from us by violence without a struggle; or be
cheated out of them by the artifices of false and designing men.
Of the latter we are in most danger at present: Let us therefore be
aware of it. Let us contemplate our forefathers and posterity; and
resolve to maintain the rights bequeath'd to us from the former,
for the sake of the latter. Instead of sitting down satisfied
with the efforts we have already made, which is the wish of our
enemies, the necessity of the times, more than ever, calls for our
utmost circumspection, deliberation, fortitude and perseverance.
Let us remember, that 'if we suffer tamely a lawless attack upon
our liberty, we encourage it, and involve others in our doom.'
It is a very serious consideration, which should deeply impress
our minds, that millions yet unborn may be the miserable sharers
in the event."
Adams would urge better representative leadership amid cultural
conflicts: "We cannot make events. Our business is wisely to
improve them. ...It requires time to bring honest men to think and
determine alike even in important matters. Mankind are governed
more by their feelings than by reason. Events which excite those
feelings will produce wonderful effects."
He would advise, "Since private and public Vices, are in reality,
though not always apparently, so nearly connected, of how much
Importance, how necessary is it, that the utmost pains be taken
by the public, to have the Principles of Virtue early inculcated
on the minds even of children, and the moral sense kept alive,
and that the wise institutions of our ancestors for these great
purposes be encouraged by the government. For no people will tamely
surrender their Liberties, nor can any be easily subdued, when
Knowledge is diffus'd and Virtue is preserv'd. On the contrary,
when People are universally ignorant, and debauch'd in their
Manners, they will sink under their own weight without the Aid
of foreign Invaders."
He would counsel that religious liberty requires faith-minded
(and faithful) defenders, as "...Our enemies have made it an
object, to eradicate from the minds of the people in general
a sense of true religion and virtue, in hopes thereby the more
easily to carry their point of enslaving them." And he would
caution remembering which are first principles: "...[N]either the
wisest constitution nor the wisest laws will secure the liberty
and happiness of a people whose manners are universally corrupt."
This, which Samuel Adams penned in April, 1773, could as easily
describe The Federalist's mission today: "It is no wonder that
a measure calculated to promote a correspondence and a free
communication among the people, should awaken apprehensions; for
they well know that it must detect their falsehood in asserting
that the people of this country were satisfied with the measures
... and the administration of government."
Adams himself would chide us, "...No people ever yet groaned
under the heavy yoke of slavery, but when they deserv'd it. ...The
truth is, all might be free if they valued freedom, and defended
it as they ought. ...If therefore a people will not be free; if
they have not virtue enough to maintain their liberty against a
presumptuous invader, they deserve no pity, and are to be treated
with contempt and ignominy."
Of those who have forsaken the Founders' legacy of liberty,
he would condemn, "If you love wealth better than liberty,
the tranquillity of servitude better than the animating contest
of freedom, go home from us in peace. We ask not your counsels
or arms. Crouch down and lick the hands which feed you. May your
chains set lightly upon you and may posterity forget that ye were
Let us honor the sacrifices of Samuel Adams and the other
oft-forgotten Founders this Independence Day -- by defending
freedom as we ought and striving to rebuild the foundation they
so carefully laid for their posterity.
Today, we stand in reverence of, and in the immeasurable debt
of all those who have fallen in defense of freedom in the 227
years since the signing of our Declaration of Independence.