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9.09.2004

John Adams, Ronald Reagan, and George W. Bush?

Before John Adams was to start his first term as President this country was engaged in an undeclared war with France. The French government, run by the Jacobins of the revolution, had authorized all French ships to attack and commandeer all ships suspected of carrying American and British goods, Napoleon was just starting his conquest of Europe, and the war between the British and the French was as pitched as ever. Congress, his own party, and indeed the whole of America was split on what position the US should take. The Republican party, led by Jefferson and Monroe, were sympathetic to the French because of the revolution and thought Adams was intentionally steering the country into war. Adams' own party, the federalists were split into two camps, one supporting him and one backing Alexander Hamilton's goal of all-out war with France. Is this starting to sound familiar yet?

Adams himself was torn. Although he was a Federalist, he was never a party man, in fact he was leery of the party system recognizing that some put party before country. From his time as the US emissary to France during the Revolutionary War he had respect for the French and was grateful for their help in the war, particularly the actions of the French Navy at Yorktown, which he had advocated. In this climate he was torn on what his actions should be.

The course that he settled on was shocking given the position of his party, but met with wide approval, initially. In his Inaugural Address Adams stated that he would work for peace, but prepare for war. This was misinterpreted by both sides, causing a great number of debates and confrontations on the issue. In the end the French received the US commission sent to Paris and accepted a peace deal, in great part due to the strength of the military that Adam's Departments of war and Navy had built up. By the end of his first term the number of US naval warships had grown from 3, which were not suitable for service, to more than twenty.

President Ronald Reagan seemingly took a page from Adams' book in his confrontation of the Soviet Union during the Cold War. By continuing talks of all manner and building up our strength he eventually brought down the Iron Curtain. Reagan held out hope for peace while preparing for war, exactly as Adams had done nearly two centuries before.

In the War on Terrorism George W. Bush is demonstrating the character, leadership, and wisdom as the men before him. One cannot negotiate with terrorists as their sole mission is the destruction of our country, but you can wish for peace and prepare for war. We must stand strong against the enemies of our country, just as Adams did to the French, Reagan did to the Soviets.

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