Fast Asleep in Philosophical Tranquility as Civil War Looms


In my April 2oth column, “For the Sake of Party or Principle,” I promised to follow-up on John Adams’ feelings regarding “party spirit” – that it was an impediment, a censor, a book-burner to the truth; … and then it really gets ugly.

Put party before principle, before truth, before thinking, before love of country Adams argued, then right on its heels come its natural companions: blind hatred, senseless violence, class warfare and civil war—just give it time.

In one letter, Adams discusses the tendency of party spirit to civil war. His target audience was “posterity, the present age, and [once again, Thomas Jefferson],” whom Adams believed was not as innocent of that spirit as he claimed – that is, both he and his party – involved as they were in the nasty and vicious business of presidential electioneering, or especially in the post election matter of setting free from prison a party scoundrel, libeler, and seditionist by the name of James Calendar, a man who brought much evil upon Adams, his country and, by and by, and here’s the law of what goes around comes around, upon Thomas Jefferson (See footnote 1)

Jefferson denied any connection to both Mr. Calendar and his ilk till his death.  Nevertheless, John Adams unloads in blunt, prophetic fashion as to how bad party spirit had gotten and would get if left unchecked.

Wrote Adams to Jefferson:

‘The sensations excited, in free yet firm minds by the terrorism of the day.’ You say, ‘none can conceive them who did not witness them, and they were felt by one party only.’

Not so, says Adams. Both parties were guilty:

To collect and arrange the documents illustrative of it, would require as many lives as those of a cat.

There was plenty of evidence. ‘Here, Mr. Jefferson, here is a brief sample of what your party of innocents caused’:

You never felt the terrorism of Gallatin’s Insurrection in Pennsylvania. You certainly never realized the terrorism of Frie’s, most outrageous riot and rescue, as I call it, Treason, Rebellion as the World and great judges and two juries pronounced it. You certainly never felt the terrorism, excited by Genet, in 1793, when ten thousand people in the streets of Philadelphia, day after day, threatened to drag Washington out of his house, and effect a revolution in the government, or compel it to declare war in favor of the French Revolution, and against England. The coolest and the firmest minds, even among the Quakers in Philadelphia, have given their opinions to me, that nothing but the yellow fever, which removed Dr. Hutchinson and Jonathan Dickinson Sargent from this World, could have saved the United States from a total revolution of government.

I have no doubt you [were] fast asleep in philosophical tranquility, when ten thousand people, and perhaps many more, were parading the streets of Philadelphia, on the evening of my Fast Day; when even Governor Mifflin himself, thought it his duty to order a patrol of horse and foot to preserve the peace; when Market Street was as full as men could stand by one another, and even before my door; when some of my domestics in frenzy, determined to sacrifice their lives in my defense; when all were ready to make a desperate salley among the multitude, and others were with difficulty and danger dragged back by the others; when I myself judged it prudent and necessary to order chests of arms from the War Office to be brought through by lanes and back doors: determined to defend my house at the expense of my life, and the lives of the few, very few domestics and friends within it.

What think you of Terrorism, Mr. Jefferson? Shall I investigate the causes, the motives, the incentives of these terrorisms? Shall I remind you of Phillip Freneau, of Loyd? Of Ned Church? Of Peter Markoe? Of Andrew Brown? Of Duane? Of Callender? Of Tom Paine? Of Greenleaf, of Cheetham, of Tennison of New York? Of Benjamin Austin of Boston? [Inflammatory writers and party hacks]

But above all; shall I request you, to collect the circular letters from members of Congress in the middle and southern states to their constituents? …

The real terrors of both parties have always been, and now are, the fear that they shall lose the elections and consequently the loaves and fishes; and that their antagonists will obtain them. Both parties have excited artificial terrors and if I were summoned as a witness to say upon oath, which party had exited, Machiavellialy, the most terror, and which had really felt the most, I could not give a more sincere answer, than in the vulgar style, ‘Put them in a bag and shake them, and then see which comes out first.’

Adams’ prediction of where it was all headed; and remember this was 1813:

The terror of a civil war, a La Vendee [a reference to the French Revolution’s war of villages against towns, and particularly on the middle class of the towns], a division of the states, etc. [emphasis added]

Mr. Adams could only “thank God that terror never seized on my mind.”

John Adams was being honest. He never had a hand in it. He was no politician. Jefferson claimed he wasn’t either. We’ll leave it at that. Someone, however, was stirring up party spirit, in its ugliest face, and the results were even uglier, and finally, as Adams predicted, the result was division of the states, and America’s bloodiest contest, the Civil War.

So what about each of us? What does the honest truth reveal about our tendency to party spirit, and thus to placing blinders over our eyes, and allowing hatred into our hearts, when it’s ‘them against us”, or when within our own party a Constitutionalist or honest and devout Christian takes a stand for principle over party, for exposing the hypocrisy, even occasional treason in our own ranks, and the party chiefs don’t like it – and give marching orders to the rank and file that winning the election is all that matters, and that since such talk might cost us an election, these men good and honest men are nothing better than wide-eyed fanatics and man-haters? Do we ever compromise the truth, our morals, our country, to win a debate or election, to defend our party right or wrong, to place our precious political, economic, or cultural faction above such eternal laws as thou shalt not bear false witness, thou shalt not covet, and Christ’s anti-marxian doctrine that righteous ends may not be achieved by unrighteous means, that a good tree may not produce bad fruit, nor a bad tree, good fruit?

The Founders came together for a miraculous revolution and the writing of an inspired Constitution, but once the miracles were wrought and the deeds done the Devil got to work and former friends and fellow patriots stood accused – with the utmost malignancy and mob-like spirit – of being monarchists and Tories on one side of the political aisle, and of anarchists and Jacobins (the equivalent of communist conspirators) on the other side – and yes, lest we forget, a half century later, as John Adams accurately predicted, came the Civil War, and then another half century after that, a socialism-based class warfare, indeed, a “La Vendee” that continues to our day, even to this very hour in 2015.

What party has wrought! What it still brings! A selfish, mindless crowd on both sides of the political aisle who daily sacrifice the Miracle of Philadelphia, our beloved Constitution, with its limited government, its separation of powers, its check and balances, its federalism, its God-given rights, and its reliance on a moral and educated electorate of self-reliant, independent minded, eternally vigilant citizens to uphold it enduringly, for what?, a bowl of party pottage!

We can do better. We must.

Steve Farrell is the Founder and Editor In Chief of Self-Educated American, one of the original pundits at (1999-2007), and the author of the inspirational novel, Dark Rose.


1. Jefferson pardoned the seditious Calendar, along with several others, when he revoked the Sedition Act. Then an ungrateful Calendar immediately turned on his liberator, blackmailing Jefferson for a job. Jefferson refused. Calendar retaliated by inventing the Sally Hemmings story (the black woman who supposedly fathered Jefferson’s child).

John and Abigail Adams, who knew Jefferson, and Hemmings, and Calendar, were certain the story was a fraud, but kind of snickered over it. The charge was so outrageous, Jefferson never responded to it; and it died a quick death until whipped up again by another unprincipled party hack in our day by the name of Fawn Brodie … and then more recently, it received another life as a Clinton friend in the Republican Party put an individual up to digging up dirt, real or invented, on previous American Presidents in order to make President Clinton’s sexual promiscuity look like the norm among U.S. Presidents. It wasn’t.