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On the eve of the Two Hundredth and Forty-Sixth Year of the Independence of the United States, I draw inspiration from the letters of our Esteemed Founders Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and John Adams. These Men were three of that Committee of Five charged with inscribing our Declaration of Independence.
This Art of Letter-writing is seemingly being lost to Time. The modern convenience of electronic communication in all its various Forms has reduced the Capacity of our Vocabulary and the attention available to commit to discussion of public Matters.
OK. I can’t keep writing in 19th-century vernacular. Or with 18th-century capitalization.
The Supreme Court’s recent decisions have adopted a “history-and-tradition” test for the constitutional assessment of various laws. Expect to start seeing a lot more “forsooths” in legal writing.
It is a bit of a dangerous path. If Aristotle’s maxim — the law is reason, free from passion — should hold true, “history” is an unstable foundation for reason. There are plenty of historical debates that ebb and flow with the passage of time. Reason is immutable. Our foundations should not shift based upon changing historical interpretations.
Nor should our confidence in institutions change based upon our happiness with the results of decisions. The Jan. 6 commission and recent Supreme Court decisions represent two sides of the same coin. Supporters of former President Donald Trump placed their faith in various — mostly Republican — state officials to try and “stop the steal.” When that was unsuccessful, they turned to the federal courts.
After they were rejected by the judiciary, they placed their hopes in Congress and their solemn effort to count the electoral votes. And when it became clear that Joe Biden was going to be announced as the winner of the 2020 presidential election, some spilled into violence. This was precipitated by their loss of confidence in our institutions.
Similarly, many on the left have been unequivocal in their loss of confidence in the Supreme Court. Some members of Congress — notably Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez — have called for impeachment. With deranged activists patrolling outside the homes of justices, the threat of violence isn’t theoretical.
That is why I go back to letter writing.
Jefferson and Adams famously had a great relationship, a massive falling out, and a later reconciliation. Notably, they died within hours of each other on the Fourth of July, 1826.
On Feb. 3, 1812, in the midst of their reconciliation, Adams wrote to Jefferson “Concordia Res parvae crescunt, Discordia Maximae dilabuntur.” It was a quote from Sallust, saying “small communities grow great through harmony, great ones fall to pieces through discord.”
Jefferson responded in June that it was the “general Principles” that gave unity to the revolutionary effort. In Jefferson’s eyes, those were general principles of Christianity and American Liberty.
Their correspondence continued on numerous topics. On February 15, 1825, Jefferson congratulated Adams on the election of his son to the presidency by the House of Representatives. “So deeply are the principles of order, and of obedience to law impressed on the minds of our citizens generally,” Jefferson believed that John Quincy Adams would be welcomed without acrimony.
Meanwhile, shortly after the end of the Revolutionary War, our other Committee of Five Member — Benjamin Franklin — sent a missive as he returned as a member of England’s Royal Society. Lamenting the then-late war, he stated his hope that humanity would ultimately “have Reason and Sense enough to settle their Differences without cutting Throats.”
Jefferson, Adams and Franklin helped craft the immortal words we commemorate this weekend. They helped bring forth a new nation founded on soaring ideals. And their private letters expressed fear that discord would rip a great nation apart, confidence that the rule of law was impressed on the American character, and hope that reason would trump violence.
This is our history. Because of it, we are entering our 246th year of independence. Happy Fourth of July, everyone. May God bless America.