All 10 years I lived in the DC area, my home was within walking distance of Jefferson Davis Memorial Highway.
I always thought it was weird that the road leading into our nation’s capital should be named after someone who openly fought against that nation.
Of course, nowadays this stuff is national news – with riots against monuments to Confederate leaders. As the movement continues, rioters have (inevitably) turned their attention toward not just Confederate but national heroes: George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were both slaveholders, after all, and Andrew Jackson’s military campaigns against American Indians got him stripped from the $20 bill.
In our world of two Americas, we also have two histories. One is that America is the greatest country the world has ever seen, with some transgressions in its past. The other is that America became great only on the backs of those against whom it transgressed.
So, what’s the solution to this? Because it would be better to find a solution than to just keep rioting, right?
What’s needed is an American hero who balances these two narratives, who is able to speak to the long-held, traditionally patriotic virtues that made our nation strong, without the taint of the recently constructed sins that … made our nation strong. Above all, he has to be a hero that everyone can get behind.
See we already have that hero, and he’s one who enjoys no national monuments and appears on none of our currency: John Adams, our nation’s first vice president and second president.
As far as red state America goes, he’s a slam dunk:
What would blue state America say? On the troubling issue of slavery, Adams’s record is spotless. He wrote:
“I have, through my whole life, held the practice of slavery in such abhorrence, that I have never owned a negro or any other slave, though I have lived for many years in times, when the practice was not disgraceful…”
Never owned slaves ✓
Not only was Adams never a slave-holder, but the Declaration of Rights that he wrote into the Massachusetts Constitution provided the legal framework to abolish it in the Bay State in 1780. Furthermore, his wife, Abigail, his cousin, Samuel, and his son, John Quincy, were all opposed to slavery – with JQA hating it so much that he fought it in Congress as an ex-president – so we have a family tradition against the “peculiar institution.” ✓✓✓
Did not kill any American Indians ✓
So we’ve got a pretty good resume there. Pleasing conservatives on this front is never going to be as difficult as pleasing liberals (“conserve” means you like keeping things the way they are). And conservatives aren’t going to engage in protests, vandalism, or political violence the way the modern left does. So let’s go a bit farther in rounding our Mr. Adams resume.
It is hard to imagine an America without John Adams; it is likewise hard to imagine one without Abigail – our first Second Lady and our second First Lady.
Has his own mini-series on HBO ✓
How is Bill Mahr going to complain about Adams getting a monument when his own network has sung his praises? Heck, Tom Hanks, Laura Linney, and Paul Giamatti would come to the dedication of any memorial so the subversive Hollywood elite would be on board.
As this debate continues, elevating Adams’s national status could mollify warring sides. Do some people want Jefferson off the nickel or the $2 bill? Fine. Put John on one and Abigail on the other – they’ve deserved that kind of recognition for centuries.
But speaking more broadly … believing that the two “troubling” parts of American history – slavery and native displacement – are idiosyncratic to America is, frankly, idiotic.
See, we have the luxury to view killing and/or enslaving your enemies as distasteful, I went into this in detail last year when I described how attacking Christopher Columbus is racist. For the overwhelming majority of human history, killing and enslaving was how your country got ahead of your rivals – and a necessity to keep them from doing the same thing to you!
The very definition of progress is that the current generation’s achievements are predicated upon the sacrifices and successes of antecedent ones. Forgetting that is ungrateful and intellectually lazy – but the protest industrial complex demands far more emotion than it does reason. Let’s have less of the former and more of the latter.
Applicable to this situation is this great quote from none other than Adams himself (which I’m going to paraphrase) “I study war so my son can study science so his children can study art.”
Of course, nowadays, President Adams would have to add, “So my great-grandchildren can complain about it on the Internet.”