Hoystory reads

Matthew Hoy
By Matthew Hoy on July 11, 2006

I just finished reading Richard Brookhiser's "What Would the Founders Do?" It's a pretty good general survey of the founders views on a variety of issues. Perhaps the most interesting tidbit that I discovered was that there was agreement in both the Federalist and Democratic parties that something like an interstate highway system would require the Constitution to be amended. (The specific case the founders dealt with was the Erie Canal, but the principal is the same.)

I also wanted to highlight this bit on Sam Adams, Thomas Paine and religion.

Unlike [Thomas] Jeffersion, [Thomas] Paine found Jesus' moral teachings neither sublime nor benevolent: turning the other cheek meant "sinkinig man into a spaniel."

Samuel Adams and Paine went head-to-head over religion in 1803. Adams started it, writing a letter to Paine praising him as "a warm friend to liberty," but hammering the "defence of infidelity" he made in The Age of Reason. "Do you think that yoru pen ... can unchrstianize the mass of our citizens, or have you hopes of converting a few of them to assist you in so bad a cause?" Paine's answer reaffirmed his faith in God (the deist one), downplayed somewhat is anti-Christianity, and tried to patch things up. "If I do not believe as you believe, it proves that you do not believe as I believe, and this is all that it proves."

It was an uncharacteristically mild performance on Paine's part, and there was a reason for this. When Paine was involved in controversy, he tended to pull rank as a revolutionary. Paine was the second most radical man in America, the most blazing writer, and the earliest advocate of independence. "Common Sense" called for a break with Britain in February 1776, five months before Congress got around to it. But he was not the most radical man; that was Samuel Adams. Paine urged men to fight for their rights; Adam sent mobs into the streets (he did it as early as 1765). Paine mocked monarchy and its agents; Adams had their houses burned down. Paine was theory and glorious rhetoric; Adams was action. Paine defied tyranny; Adams broke laws. Beside Sam Adams even Tom Paine felt a bit like a spaniel.

The book is well worth reading, though a little short. It's probably best to wait for the paperback.


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July 2006



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