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It's A Gray Area: Adams would fight for return of freedom

November 15, 2013|By James P. Gray

Our short series on classic American patriots continues with a focus on John Adams.

Fortunately, with the fairly recent publication of David McCullough's book "John Adams" (Touchstone, 2001), this somewhat crusty but likable American is finally beginning to be recognized as the hero that he was.

Tragically, unlike many naturalized citizens who lived under totalitarian regimes, most Americans who were born here take our freedoms for granted. But to the founding fathers like John Adams, freedom and liberty were what our country was all about.

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Those are slipping away because, as Adams warned, "Liberty cannot be preserved without general knowledge among the people."

It was Adams who helped Thomas Jefferson write the Declaration of Independence.

Generally this was the basis for Adams' beliefs: "The only maxim of a free government ought to be to trust no man living with power to endanger the public liberty." And today with the power that has evolved to our country's president, we are seeing Adams' fears realized.

What do you think that Adams and his fellow patriots would have said about the recently discovered PRISM program, in which the federal government has been gathering information about our telephone calls, including the length, to whom and how often? Or about drones flying overhead and surveilling our movements without a judicial warrant? Or about the incarceration of people at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba for years without any charges being filed against them, much less trials arranged?

In my view, Adams would rail against such practices. Why aren't we?

Adams said, "Fear is the foundation of most governments." And our government, with its so-called war on terrorism, has joined many tin-pot dictators throughout history in continuing that dark tradition.

Realistically, there is no way any society could stop random shootings like those in the movie theater in Aurora, Colo., or more recently at Los Angeles International Airport. We could arm the ticket-takers at all theaters and Transportation Security Administration (TSA) agents at all airports, and even allow the police to randomly search people on the streets, and still this would not stop tragedies like these.

Adams understood that there are risks in life that even governments cannot shield us from, and they should not be used as a means to cause unwarranted intrusions into our liberties. We should also understand that reality.

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