Thursday, March 8, 2012

My John and Tom (Part 3)

In January, in My John And Tom (Part 2), I shared a bit about what made Adams and Jefferson so different. In this third and final segment on Those Rebels, John and Tom, I wanted to share a bit about the themes that brought them together—and drive the narrative: commitment and compromise.

The whole time I’ve worked on the book, our current Congress has been…stalled. (OK, I must admit I debated which word to use here—there are so many to choose from! I read recently that the majority of Americans would prefer to have the current members of Congress replaced by names drawn randomly from the phone book.)

The state of today’s Congress is the perfect backdrop to appreciate all that the Continental Congress achieved.

They started in 1774—with nothing.

They had to decide everything. How would voting take place. Would voting be based on population or would each colony have one vote?

And that was just the start. In addition to the hours spent debating in Congress, there was all the committee work. In June of 1776, while Tom was busy writing the Declaration—in the hopes that Congress would vote yea—Adams himself was serving on 26 committees, prompting him to write to a friend, “I am weary, thoroughly weary.” Among his many duties, he chaired the Board of War—for while America had not yet declared independence, Americans under General George Washington were already fighting British troops.

This sense of commitment was epitomized by what Adams called “the greatest debate of all”—the life-or-death decision that Congress had to make. And I mean that literally—when the members of Congress voted for independence, they committed treason. If America had lost the Revolutionary War, the British could have hanged them all.

The men of the Continental Congress had such commitment to their cause that they were willing to die for it.

And yet, they engaged in this life-or-death debate in the spirit of compromise.

Sure, they didn’t have the two-party system with have now—there weren’t Democrats and Republicans back then.

But the delegates came from all over the colonies, and each colony had its own concerns. A lot of the delegates had never even met when they first arrived in Philadelphia. And yet, when it came time to decide the biggest questions, they set aside regional concerns and sought out compromises to answer those questions—for the good of the whole.

Those Rebels, John and Tom is an example of when Congress worked. It’s a timely reminder of how our government can and should work: not perfectly, not always easily, but always with our elected officials working together to move the country forward.

Commitment. Compromise. These are the themes of Those Rebels, John and Tom. (PS. A shout-out to Edwin Fotheringham, the illustrator of the book--aren't the illustrations great?!)


Rosalyn Schanzer said...

Hilarious phone book quote about today's Congress - thought I'd throw in a couple of funny quotes from our braver and more productive Founding Fathers as they discussed their chances of being hanged for supporting the Declaration of Independence. Here's what they said upon signing it:

Ben Franklin: We must all hang together, or most assuredly, we shall all hang separately."

Fat guy Benjamin Harrison to skinny guy Elbridge Gerry: I shall have the advantage over you because of my size. All will be over with me in a moment, but you will be kicking in the air half an hour after I am gone."

Barbara Kerley said...

Yes, a little gallows' humor -- literally!