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John Adams And The Freedom To Cultivate


“I must study politics and war that my sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy. My sons ought to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history, naval architecture, navigation, commerce, and agriculture, in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry, and porcelain.”

- John Adams, 2nd President of The United States Of America, from a letter to his wife, Abigail.

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I had heard and read this quote multiple times in the past few months, and I must admit that it is a simple yet inspiring concept to consider. I find it immensely potent but I am also immediately caught by how overly simplistic it is without any qualifications. It’s a beautiful thing to see a culture mature in standard to the point of producing great symphonies, great artistic centers, great movements of creative revolution. But can a generation stand on these works alone?

No. Every generation needs to maintain students of politics, war, economics, philosophy, mathematics, etc. While greater levels of cultural stability do bring a wider spectrum of what pursuits are available, leaving political and philosophical thought to our elders makes for bad art and, eventually, a crumbling nation.

A people who cannot be bothered to cultivate anything beyond their individual pursuits is a people who won’t notice when everything is falling apart. A people who consume through networking when they should be pouring into small communities is a people that won’t notice or take action when the wheels come off. We need proactive and continued connectedness throughout generations.

That’s why I use the phrase “Freedom To Cultivate.” While we often think of freedom to pursue happiness or freedom of speech as opportunities to get ahead as individuals, what a community, a culture, and a country really need is people who pursue cultivation. We have the freedom to build into local communities. To educate one another. To pour ourselves into making changes in the live of neighbors, families, and entire communities. Our freedom is, in reality, always going to require as much concerted effort as John Adams considered his own responsibility to carry. We have an ever growing freedom that automatically requires more willingness to serve, or it will crumble.

John Adams seemed to realize this. Check out the quote from the same man below.

“Democracy… while it lasts is more bloody than either [aristocracy or monarchy]. Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There is never a democracy that did not commit
suicide.”

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Further Reading

Wanna Change The World? Shake Someone’s Hand!

War Makes Good Art

Wendell Berry On The Cold War And His Children

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