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The Birthing of Democracy

“The whole drama of the world is such tragedy that I am weary of the spectacle.” — John Adams, 1779

Despite the interruption in the 24-hour news cycle by that horrific disaster in Japan, the world has been watching the amazing and painful birthing of democracy in Arab countries over the past six months.

And coincidentally, the last two books that I read were 1776 and John Adams, both by David McCullough. Both are considered the best histories written about the founding of our country.

So what is the connection between what was contained in those books and what is happening in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Bahrain, Yemen and possibly other countries?

According to John Adams over 235 years ago, “people want to be free” and they “want to govern themselves.” At some point, Adams contended reasonable men conclude that they should be governed by laws, not by the whims of men who accidentally became their rulers.

In watching these efforts to create democracy in the Arab and African countries, looking at the history of American democracy is an amazing story of providence, coincidence, luck and timing.

Without aids like modern cell phones, the Internet, Facebook, Twitter and other means of instant communication, the earliest patriots of our country, instead, just never gave up. They just refused to roll over. If odds were being given out back then in the 18th century, there would be little belief that a small distant frontier place like America could prevail over the strongest power in the world.

And perhaps the key thing, as pointed out by Adams in his 90th year in a letter to fellow patriot Thomas Jefferson, was that so many key leaders were in the right place at the right time in America during that extraordinary time around 1776 and beyond.

When tumultuous events are examined, whether as they are happening today or 235 years ago, it becomes so important that key leaders rise to the occasion.

One of the biggest concerns of most observers of what has been happening in these countries is identifying the leaders.

Where is their John Adams? Their George Washington? Their Thomas Jefferson? Their Benjamin Franklin?

The book 1776 was especially poignant. It detailed the incredible trials that Washington and his soldiers endured to prevail over the British.

On two occasions, it was thought the War was over as the Redcoats had Washington trapped. In each case, a daring escape and retreat saved the Continental army.

Biggest victory was at Trenton on Christmas Day when Washington and his men crossed the frozen Delaware River and ambushed thousands of Hessian soldiers (paid German mercenaries) and captured tons of gunpowder and firearms.

Although we obviously know the result, McCullough’s book is a nail-biter. How could the American volunteers survive against such an overwhelming force? One third of Washington’s soldiers were barefoot in the winter, if you can imagine. Gunpowder had to be imported and the British had 400 ships blockading American harbors.
It was impossible not to read John Adams without thinking about these fledgling democratic efforts occurring today around the world.

Good men prevailed here in the USA but the biggest blight that assailed Adams was slavery. There were over two million slaves in the colonies at that time. But he accepted it grudgingly in the hope that in the future, it would be eradicated. His patience paid off.

I would assume that in these new Arab countries the same issue would be how to accept women’s role in society. Women are still oppressed in many of these places and that will be a key issue as they move toward freedom and democracy.

Out here in Wyoming a lot of what is happening around the world can seem so far away. But thanks to modern TV and the Internet, we are watching those efforts in real time. Amazing to see tyrants falling before our eyes.

Following are a couple of my favorite quotes from Adams that I thought spoke volumes:

“Democracy… while it lasts is more bloody than either aristocracy or monarchy. Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There is never a democracy that did not commit suicide.”


“Posterity! You will never know how much it cost the present generation to preserve your Freedom! I hope you will make good use of it. If you do not, I shall repent in Heaven, that I ever took half the Pains to preserve it.”

Check out Bill Sniffin’s columns and blogs at www.billsniffin.com. He is a longtime Wyoming journalist from Lander who has two books that are available at fine bookstores. He has a Facebook page for William C. Sniffin and his Twitter address is Billwyoming.

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Wednesday, 23 August 2017
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