A Weakness for Royalty
The vindication of John Adams.
Jun 18, 2012, Vol. 17, No. 38 • By MEIR Y. SOLOVEICHIK
His proposal failed spectacularly, and fed false charges that Adams was himself a monarchist. Mocked by his enemies as “His Rotundity, the Duke of Braintree,” Adams suffered for eight years in a position that he called “the most insignificant office that ever the invention of man contrived or his imagination conceived.” For the rest of his life, Adams continued to express envy at the credit accorded to Paine for the changes wrought by the Revolution. “What a poor, ignorant, malicious, short-sighted, crapulous mass is Tom Paine’s ‘Common Sense,’ ” he wrote to Jefferson. “And yet history is to ascribe the Revolution to Thomas Paine!”
Perhaps, though, Adams spoke too soon. Vindicating his prediction, millions of Americans tuned in to the royal wedding and the Diamond Jubilee. None of the enraptured anchors saw fit to cite Paine’s contention that “when a man seriously reflects on the idolatrous homage which is paid to the persons of kings, he need not wonder that the Almighty, ever jealous of his honour, should disapprove a form of government which so impiously invades the prerogative of Heaven.” Paine himself died alone and penniless. Meanwhile, David McCullough’s bestselling, Pulitzer Prize-winning biography of our second president has been made into an HBO miniseries, celebrating Adams’s contributions to the American cause. Somewhere, John Adams is—well, not smiling, certainly, but perhaps harrumphing in quiet satisfaction.
Meir Y. Soloveichik is director of the Straus Center for Torah and Western Thought at Yeshiva University and associate rabbi at Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun in Manhattan.