“Posterity! You will never know, how much it cost the present Generation, to preserve your Freedom! I hope you will make a good Use of it. If you do not, I shall repent in Heaven, that I ever took half the Pains to preserve it.”
Letter from John Adams to Abigail Adams, 26 April 1777. Adams Family Papers: An Electronic Archive, Massachusetts Historical Society.
Each day as I come in from my morning routine, I find Linda in our library studying. She understands well the principle of “you, not them.” As we change self, we inspire others to remodel their lives as well.
It has been suggested that John Adams without Abigail would likely never have reached the pinnacle of public or personal success, nor happiness, he ultimately achieved—nor would she without him. Like John and Abigail, Linda and I know that education is the great liberator. Linda’s passion for education lit my own zeal for it. Education bestows greater freedom, equality, and joy on whomever it touches.
John and Abigail knew this price well when they exchanged these words in letters they shared.
“It feels as though we have spent a far greater portion of our marriage apart, than together. Strange how the sun rises and sets whether you be at my side or not. But in this cause we build a future—it is our legacy—freedom is the best gift we can impart to our children.” (Trotter, Brian P. The Miracle of America: Birth of a Nation. Captured Miracles Productions, 2010.)
Many months and years passed with only modest time together during the war as John served in Europe as a diplomat and Abigail took care of the farm, home economy and their children’s educations. John noted in a letter:
“It is indeed hard to be apart. The price we pay is dear—I marvel that our family remains intact and strong despite this grievous distance, and we both know the dire consequence we will face if unsuccessful in our endeavors—but this good work is ours to do—for in our sacrifice we lay the foundation of a nation that will endow all men with an equality and the ability to reach their greatest potential—and fill the measure of their creation!” (Trotter)
This exchange between Abigail and John Adams reflects the cost of building something greater and more noble than self. The prize today is the same as then—it is the secure and free futures of our children and grandchildren. Public virtue, or service for others, is hard. It is rarely convenient and there is a personal price paid to offer it. This is foundational to America, our communities, and to our freedom.
In December of 1779 John took his son Quincy at age 12 with him to France. Can you imagine leaving Boston for Europe in the dead of winter? Not only that but the ship sprung a leak and all were required to take shifts bailing water, including the passengers. They were told if the ship were found by the British they could not outrun, nor outgun, a challenge. They then travailed a few weeks to reach Spain. Was it worth it? Time and Providence proved it so. It was time to further Quincy’s education and be mentored in other ways by his father. Yet, note the beauty of this letter written by his mother, Abigail, and sent shortly after their departure encouraging her young son to greater virtue.
“These are times in which a Genious would wish to live. It is not in the still calm of life, or the repose of a pacific station, that great characters are formed. Would Cicero have shone so distinguished an orater, if he had not been roused, kindled and enflamed by the Tyranny of Catiline, Millo,2 Verres and Mark Anthony. The Habits of a vigorous mind are formed in contending with difficulties. All History will convince you of this, and that wisdom and penetration are the fruits of experience, not the Lessons of retirement and leisure.
Great necessities call out great virtues. When a mind is raised, and animated by scenes that engage the Heart, then those qualities which would otherways lay dormant, wake into Life, and form the Character of the Hero and the Statesman.
War, Tyrrany and Desolation are the Scourges of the Almighty, and ought no doubt to be deprecated. Yet it is your Lot my Son to be an Eye witness of these Calimities in your own Native land, and at the same time to owe your existance among a people who have made a glorious defence of their invaded Liberties, and who, aided by a generous and powerfull Ally, with the blessing of heaven will transmit this inheritance to ages yet unborn.” The whole of the letter can be found here.
Such powerful words spoken so eloquently and beautifully by a noble wife, mother and heroine to youthful and impressionable Quincy.
So as we conclude this month of reflection, improvement and stories of geraniums and classics I thank Linda for being my wife, best friend, confidant and inspiration. Her organizational and home-economic skills are extraordinary. She has motivated our own children, grandchildren, and many other youths in their love of learning. In short—no Linda, no John Adams Academy. She was classically educated and loves classical literature, music and art. She is the co-founder of John Adams Academy and a creator of beauty. When Linda creates something, it is done with elegance, style and grace. She was an active contributor to the John Adams Academy vision, mission, and core values. She alone had the inspiration for our model of teaching, our academy crest and the proper use of design in our schools. Much of the Academy artwork, its placement and hanging are her efforts. Her teacher introductions each year are insightful and legendary. She has been the mentor to me and many others in this classical journey.
“You, not them” is an invitation to liberate your life with interminable learning.
Image attribution: 1798 Watercolor of the Old House of John & Abigail Adams by E. Malcolm.