Founding Parents: Advice for a Nation

Reading about colonial life in America got me thinking about the founding fathers (and mothers) of the revolutionary period. I thought it would be interesting to examine a piece of parenting advice from one of the many individuals who, essentially, parented this country.

John Adams served as both President and Vice President of America in the last decades of the 18th century and early 19th. He had been a member of the Continental Congress and helped to write the Declaration of Independence. He and his wife, Abigail, both of Massachusetts, spent time on diplomatic missions to France. One of their sons, John Quincy Adams, also served as President.

I turned to my copy of Our Sacred Honor: Words of Advice from the Founders in Stories, Letters, Poems, and Speeches compiled by William J. Bennett (Simon & Schuster, 1997). The following quote, in a letter from John to Abigail, explains the expectations they had for their children:

“Human nature with all its infirmities and depravation is still capable of great       things. It is capable of attaining to degrees of wisdom and of goodness, which, we have reason to believe, appear respectable in the estimation of superior intelligences. Education makes a greater difference between man and man, than nature has made between man and brute. The virtues and powers to which men may be trained, by early education and constant discipline, are truly sublime and astonishing.”

“It should be your care, therefore, and mine, to elevate the minds of our children and exalt their courage; to accelerate and animate their industry and activity; to excite in them an habitual contempt of meanness, abhorrence of injustice and inhumanity, and an ambition to excel in every capacity, faculty, and virtue. If we suffer their minds to grovel and creep in infancy, they will grovel all their lives.”

“But their bodies must be hardened, as well as their souls exalted. Without strength and activity and vigor of body, the brightest mental excellencies will be eclipsed and obscured.”

Discipline your mind, use your intellect, exercise your body, and above all, value virtue.

Good advice for a nation, too.

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