Recently, I have been reading, “First Family,” by Joseph J. Ellis. This book, based largely on the letters between John and Abigail Adams shared throughout their lifetimes from shortly after their first meeting, through the American Revolution and continuing into their later years, is an excellent reminder of the insidious nature of tyranny and the tendency of good men and women to accept the status quo regardless of its inherent hardships.
In one passage, I was reminded of something originally written by Thomas Paine, writer of “Common Sense.” I agree with Mr. Ellis who states that “Common Sense, was arguably one of the most influential pieces of journalism in American history. Mr. Paine wrote:
“An island cannot rule a continent!”
Paine’s quote brought to my mind a question. Is this not the insidious tyrannical situation that is causing our inherent hardships today? Not from the island of Britain, and the isolated Parliament and King George III, noted by Paine, but the island of Washington DC and the isolated professional political class residing in less than the ideal temporary residence there.
At the beginning of the difficulties with England, John and Abigail Adams were firmly in the camp that reconciliation was not possible. At the beginning of the first continental congress, John knew that their views were in the minority and considered radical by many of the other delegates. In his letters to Abigail, it is clear he took the approach to move slowly with patience and tolerance, allowing circumstances to unfold while applying deft and delicate pressure to those who did not share his views.
The dominant view at the early stages of our revolutionary period was that of the moderates, willing to live with the status quo, who viewed England’s transgressions as misguided blunders by disconnected and uninformed policy makers in London and Whitehall. In contrast, John and Abigail, and at the time a growing group of others, saw King George and Parliament’s acts as purposeful subjugation leading to enslavement. The stark contrast of motives in the end became irrelevant as they yielded the same effect on the population of the colonies. The effects of the punitive actions by King George, and the ever increasing subjugation of the prosperity of the colonies by England derived the same end point. Quickly, the divide over the attribution of the motive was replaced by the pragmatic need to solve the problems. In the end, the results, despite the motives, were the same.
Our nation was founded based on the recognition, as Paine so succinctly put it, that an island could not rule a continent. It was not the motive that drew this conclusion. but the pragmatic recognition that disconnected, misinformed leadership – not tied to the lot and life of their constituents – could not govern but in the end could only enslave. Adams, and the rest of the founding fathers, created Washington DC – not as a state – but as an island, an independent locus for our national seat of government giving no advantage to any state. They felt this island could rule this continent because its leaders would be part-time citizen statesmen, fully connected by family and livelihood to their communities and constituents not as professional inhabitants of this particular island.
Today, few will argue that our full time professional politicians have evolved to a growing often disconnected, uninformed ruling class. Their fortunes are no longer tied to their successful relationships and local community businesses. Their current business model is based on votes tied to personal gains. Increasingly, this full-time professional political class is now often exempted from the rules and laws they so freely and prolifically propagate on the rest of us.
John and his wife often wrote that it was not government that would affect the necessary changes but a united people. Perhaps, like John and Abigail, we are again at destiny’s doorstep. Maybe we should review the original decisions of the founding fathers and once again revise the controls on our government and elected leaders. It is incumbent on all of us to find the changes necessary to again ensure the promise of America.
Perhaps it is time for us to remind ourselves and our leadership that,
“An island cannot rule a continent!“