Awhile back, I took a break from my goal of reading all the presidents’ biographies because I was getting burned out with white men politics and I knew you guys were yearning for more variety. It’s been a few months since my last presidential post and with this season of Independence upon us, I decided to return to my mission. The next president on my list was John Quincy Adams and I picked up his biography by Harlow Giles Unger. I was excited to read about the son of John Adams because I enjoyed learning about the elder statesmen and his family through David McCullough. John Quincy Adams was born on July 11, 1767, in Braintree, Massachusetts. He accompanied his father to France in 1778 and from there went to Russia as a secretary assistant to the ambassador – he was only 14 years old. John Quincy was a precocious student steeped in classical education and was more worldly in his 20s than elder ambassadors at the time.
Excelling at diplomacy and statesmanship, his career accomplishments are staggering: American minister to six European countries; negotiated the end of the War of 1812; freed African prisoners on the slave ship Amistad; served 16 years in the House of Representatives; restored free speech in Congress; led the anti-slavery movement, and was the 6th president of the United States. John Quincy Adams’s actual time in the presidential office was not very successful because he appeared too aristocratic; his past-times included reading Tacitus and writing poetry – the opposite interests of Andrew Jackson who usurped him after one term. I want to focus however on Adam’s post-presidency accomplishments – accomplishments which changed the course of American history.
John Quincy’s later life is a lesson on how to respond to hardship. After losing reelection in 1828 and burying his son who committed suicide, he felt dejected and considered leaving political life forever. A flame of hope flickered for him when his local district in Massachusetts approached him to run for the House of Representatives. He became the first ex-president to sit in Congress and became a man on fire in the new role. For the past 30 years, slavery was a topic seldom discussed in government. It was such a hot-button issue that politicians didn’t even speak a word of it on the floor of the House or Senate. This changed however with the addition of the slave state Missouri and the ever-expanding Western boundary of the nation. New states were trying to come into the Union – with each addition, the balance of power between the south and north shifted.
John Quincy had always been an abolitionist, but it wasn’t until his time as a Representative that he pushed this mission into politics. He stood on the floor and spoke the unmentionable words – Southern politicians denounced him and his “traitorous” rhetoric. He wrote in his journal during this time…
“It is among the evils of slavery that it taints the very sources of moral principle. It establishes false estimates of virtue and vice: for what can be more false and heartless than this doctrine which makes the first and holiest rights of humanity to depend upon the color of the skin?”
He would bring up the issue of slavery so often that the Southern politicians created a “gag rule” which would table any mention of the subject. The “gag rule” prevented any debate or discussion and whenever John Quincy tried to talk he was screamed at by Southerners until he was forced to sit down. After countless petitions and arguments, John Quincy was able to argue for his case – at one point he held the floor for two straight weeks. All of his excessive arguing against censorship and slavery led to him being a national hero and beloved member of Congress for those in the north. His driving force would lead to laws that reversed the “gag rule.” His later debates on abolition would influence a young representative from Illinois – Abraham Lincoln. John Quincy was the political matchstick which ignited the fuse leading to the Civil War. The sixth president died in 1848 two days after collapsing in the House of Representatives. His life was filled with education, service, failure, and accomplishments. More than anything, John Quincy Adams, bounced back after defeat and led the country as one of the most preeminent moral leaders. Failure is never the end – it is just the catalyst for a better beginning.
I want to send a shout out to all my readers who downloaded a copy of We’re all Chihuahuas – “Thank you again, and I truly appreciate the support!” For those who are new to my blog, I want to restate one of my goals which started about a year and a half ago; that goal is to read all 1,300 Penguin Classics and periodically document my progress through DaretobeWise.Blog. I am slowly making my way through this massive list, and the journey is definitely expanding my understanding of the world. Just recently by accident, I read two classics at the same time which covered opiate addiction in the past – Confessions of an English Opium Eater by Thomas De Quincey and Junky by William Burroughs – published in 1821 and 1953 respectively. Those dates are quite far back and surprising in my mind because I always connected drug addiction with modern times. I grew up in the age of eggs being cracked into a skillet and teachers yelling “THIS IS YOUR BRAIN ON DRUGS!!!”
My parents would always reminisce about the “good old days” when drugs were never used. There is no doubt that the current Opioid Epidemic is a public health crisis – with 116 people dying a day from overdoses in 2016 (source). However frightening that statistic is, it is even more alarming when one realizes that people have been taking opioids since 3200 B.C. (source). Of course in ancient times, the drug was not nearly as potent as modern pharmaceuticals, but it does highlight societies’ proclivity for the substance. Morphine – a derivative of opium – became common in the 19th century for the treatment of everyday ailments. Thomas De Quincey became hooked on the drug after a severe headache – which sounds familiar to addicts today after getting hooked on prescribed oxycodone. The temporary high one gets from these drugs is explained by De Quincey…
“Here was the secret of happiness, about which philosophers had disputed for so many ages, at once discovered; happiness might now be bought for a penny, and carried in the waistcoat-pocket; portable ecstasies might be had corked up in a pint-bottle; and peace of mind could be sent down by the mail.”
Of course, this happiness fades, and the user is left waiting for his next fix. Eventually, the addict requires opium just to function – receiving just enough “high” to bring them back to baseline. That is the saddest part about addiction to opiates – an addict only uses so they can escape sickness. William Burroughs describes this sickness as the cells being saturated with “junk” and no longer being able to function without a regular infusion of the poison…
“You can list the symptoms of junk sickness, but the feel of it is like no other feeling and you can not put it into words…I think the use of junk causes permanent cellular alteration. Once a junkie, always a junkie.”
This was written in the golden age of morality – 1950’s America – and highlights that opioid addiction is not a new phenomenon. Both of these writers were wrongly prescribed opiates and suffered because of doctors who failed to learn from the past. It makes me wonder if today’s epidemic would exist if we required history classes for medical students. What if today’s doctors were required to read these two books? Would they think twice about prescribing oxycodone to a teenager who just got their wisdom teeth removed? Who knows but I for one was enlightened by the experiences of these two men – helping me stay far away from any future prescription refills. What is your experience with opioids? Have you known someone who became addicted? Are they helpful in managing your pain? I love reading your comments.
Are you sick of winter yet? Females, have your legs gotten to Chewbacca levels? Males, have your hands dried up to Walking Dead levels? Has your dog finally said enough is enough and now uses your whole house as a “potty?” Are your Vitamin D levels so low that you randomly have cravings for whole milk? Yeah…winter sucks. Before you put that third layer on, read this – winter is almost half way over. I am not fooling you, this coming Sunday will mark the point in which everything goes downhill in terms of seasonal suffering. Before you know it, it will be March and the prospects of summer heat will be wafting through your defrosting imagination.
Being that winter is nearly half way over, I am half way done with my 14 books on the French Revolution. Surprisingly I am not sick of the subject and I am actually enjoying my topical experiment. It is nice to focus on one thing and dig deep into the material. To celebrate this journey, I listed five quirky facts about the French Revolution for your enjoyment.
- During the Reign of Terror, the government got rid of the Christian Calendar and replaced it with the French Republic Calendar: 12 months named after weather events, 3 weeks per month known as “decades”, 10 days per week, 5 or 6 days at the end for non-stop celebration. The first date was September 22, 1792 when the monarchy was abolished by the Convention. Today’s date would be written as 10 Pluviôse CCXXV (10 “Rain” 225).
- King Louis XVI was 15 years old when he married a 14-year-old Marie Antoinette. It took them eight years before they had their first child because Louis was shy and couldn’t do the dirty.
- Charlotte Corday stabbed Jean-Paul Marat, a radical Jacobin leader, in the chest while he was in the bathtub. Marat’s friend subdued Corday by holding her chest while laying on top of her. She was eventually sentenced to death and guillotined.
- Christianity was deemed pointless and dechristianization efforts included vandalizing churches, killing priests, and dressing up donkeys as cardinals.
- In certain areas, men avoided being drafted into the Revolutionary Armies by drinking poison, dismembering limbs, and marrying elderly women.
Hopefully, those facts piqued your interest and helped you appreciate our modern world. Stay strong and be thankful that you don’t fear the guillotine after a Facebook post or have to sleep with a 15-year-old version of King Louis.
This week is my favorite holiday – Thanksgiving. On Thursday I will be smoking my turkey for 5 hours and roasting some dark meat to add extra variety. We will be serving all the best sides: green bean casserole, stuffing, cranberry sauce, corn casserole, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, gravy, apple pie, and pumpkin pie. I really enjoy talking about Thanksgiving with other people and hearing about their favorite dishes; macaroni and cheese seems like a popular one along with yams topped with marshmallows. I always wondered where all these traditions came from? To better understand my favorite holiday, I am reading Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community, and War by Nathaniel Philbrick which is all about the Pilgrims and their first 50 years in the New World. The Pilgrims were the type of people that today you may describe as “cultish.” They believed that their form of worship was the best and they wanted to be completely isolated from the world to practice their extreme form of Christianity. They were so deadset on escaping the Church of England that they risked their lives to travel to a land where death and despair were everyday occurrences. Could you imagine a pastor today saying that he knew the true meaning of the Bible and that everyone should follow him to Antarctica to build a Godly community? It sounds insane but to an extent that is what the Pilgrims did back in 1620.
God had a plan for those crazy Pilgrims because they defied the odds and were able to not only make it safely across the Atlantic but were also able to find a relatively safe place to live – Plymouth. The first winter, half of them died and all looked lost until they met Squanto. Squanto was previously a slave and spent time in Europe before coming back to his homeland. The Pilgrims were desperate for help with planting crops and they needed to make alliances with the local Native Americans to survive. Squanto secured both these things, and that following fall, the first Thanksgiving took place. The first Thanksgiving wasn’t called “Thanksgiving” and it wasn’t connected to any religious celebration. The Pilgrims didn’t believe in religious holidays because the Bible didn’t mention any such events – in their minds the adulterated Catholic and Anglican Church were responsible for them. No, this first celebration was a secular event that mimicked the annual harvest celebration common in England during the medieval age. The Native Americans didn’t split a big table with the Pilgrims and feast on our modern day dishes. The celebration was so large, with Native Americans far outnumbering Pilgrims, that there were several fires scattered outside that hosted small groups. Each fire was used to cook a menagerie of choice meats: wild turkey, eagle, bass, venison, shellfish, and water fowl to name a few. The day was meant to celebrate the alliance and friendship formed between the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag tribe.
The rest of history didn’t go so well for the Native Americans but the message of the First Thanksgiving is still vital today. America was founded on friendship and unity between all different types of people. We’re at our best when we let go of our divisions and selfishness so that we can be generous with our unique blessings. Enjoy your Thanksgiving and remember these loving attributes when your uncle starts ranting about Donald Trump.
Here are some really fun facts about Thanksgiving 🙂
- Scanto’s name, means the “Devil” or the “Dark Spirit”
- There were no utensils at the first Thanksgiving – everyone used their fingers and hunting knives
- The beverage of choice during the feast was homemade beer
- The Pilgrims believed the apocalypse was near and their settlement would usher in the “end of times”
- The Pilgrims didn’t believe in “Hymns” – instead they sang verses directly out of the Bible