I came across this thought from John Adam’s while reading a book on the tremendous impact that the 18th century education in Roman philosophers and statesmen had upon our first four Presidents (Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison). The book*, itself, is interesting for its review of what was taught to young men of means, and how it likely influenced each of the four, based on their own writings – and also of how the slight age differences mattered. As did Jefferson’s time in Europe, and Washington’s lack of formal education

What struck me, as I read this, was the reminder how much our founders relied on their belief in the essential virtue of those that would govern to design our government. Our entire system was predicated on a notion that society would always understand, honor and respect the classical ideal of Virtue – and how our founders recognized that should that not be the case, we would fail. Although this is apparent in other writing by most of the founders, the proximity to the Independence Day holiday drew my attention to the portion of a letter John Adams wrote to Abigail on July 3, 1776:

“The new Government . . . will require a Purification from our Vices, and an Augmentation of our Virtues or they will be no Blessings. The People will have unbounded Power. And the People are extreamly addicted to Corruption and Venality, as well as the Great.—I am not without Apprehensions from this Quarter.”

And here we are. This is not our first time of deep internal strife, and hopefully, it will not be our last. We’ve manage to prevail, but each erosion cuts deeper, so the question really is how much longer our system can survive and thrive with continuing threats from within. I doubt our founders thought that we’d get this far – few governmental structures do.

A less-than-sunny thought to bring to the weekend, but a necessary one, since it is up to “we the people” to bring us back to some measure of the principles and ideals that form the base of nation.


* “Founding Principles“, Thomas E Ricks, Harper, 2020

Portrait of John Adams borrowed from whitehouse.gov