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Charles Dickens’ 1841 wisdom regarding the 2016 Presidential Election

charles-dickensFamilies and even countries have systemic and generational patterns that need to be understood, in order to become more healthy and even transformative.  Charles Dickens was deeply loved by the American people, then deeply resented when he told them in his 1841 book American Tales what he saw, and finally loved again after the Civil War, when they bought over a million of his book Christmas Carol, saving him from bankruptcy.

After the often agonizing and endless American election, Dickens’ wise words are well worth pondering, regardless of one’s political preferences.

American Tales, Chapter XVIII, Concluding Remarks

“(Americans) are by nature, frank, brave, cordial, hospitable, and affectionate. Cultivation and refinement seem but to enhance their warmth of heart and ardent enthusiasm; and it is the possession of these later qualities in a most remarkable degree, which renders an educated American one of the most endearing and most generous of friends.  I never was so won upon, as by this class; never yielded up my full confidence and esteem so readily and pleasurably, as to them; never can make again, in half a year, so many friends for whom I seem to entertain the regard of half a life.

These qualities are natural, I implicitly believe, to the whole people. That they are, however, sadly sapped and blighted in their growth among the mass; and that there are influences at work which endanger them still more, and give but little present promise of their healthy restoration, is a truth that ought to be told.

It is an essential part of every national character to pique (i.e. pride) itself mightily upon its faults, and to deduce tokens of its virtue or its wisdom from their very exaggeration.  One great blemish in the popular mind of America, and the prolific parent of an innumerable brood of evils, is Universal Distrust.  Yet the American citizen plumes (i.e. prides) himself upon this spirit, even when he is sufficiently dispassionate to perceive the ruin it works; and will often adduce it, in spite of his own reason, as an instance of the great sagacity and acuteness of the people, and their superior shrewdness and independence.

dickens-at-desk‘You carry,’ says the stranger, ‘this jealousy and distrust into every transaction of public life.  By repelling worthy men from your legislative assemblies, it has bred up a class of candidates for the suffrage, who, in their very act, disgrace your Institutions and your people’s choice.  It has rendered you so fickle, and so given to change, that your inconstancy has passed into a proverb; for you no sooner set up an idol firmly, than you are sure to pull it down and dash it into fragments: and this, because directly you reward a benefactor, or a public servant, you distrust him, merely because he is rewarded; and immediately apply yourselves to find out, either that you have been too bountiful in your acknowledgments, or be remiss in his deserts.  Any man who attains a high place among you, from the President downwards, may date his downfall from that moment; for any printed lie that any notorious villain pens, although it militates directly against the character and conduct of a life, appeals at once to your distrust, and is believed.  You will strain at a gnat in the way of trustfulness and confidence, however fairly won and well deserved; but you will swallow a whole caravan of camels, if they be laden with unworthy doubts and mean suspicions.  Is this well, think you, or likely to elevate the character of the governors or the governed, among you?’

The answer is invariably the same: ‘There’s freedom of opinion here, you know.  Every man thinks for himself, and we are not to be easily overreached. That’s how our people come to be suspicious.’

Another prominent feature is the love of ‘smart’ dealing: which gilds over many a swindle and gross breach of trust; many a defalcation (i.e. misappropriation), public and private; and enables many a knave to hold his head up with the best, who well deserves a halter (i.e. noose); though it has not been without its retributive operation, for this smartness had done more in a few years to impair the public credit, and to cripple the public resources, than dull honesty, however rash, could have effected in a century.  The merits of a broken speculation, or a bankruptcy, or of a successful scoundrel, are not gauged by its or his observance of the golden rule ‘Do unto others as you would be done by,’ but are considered with reference to their smartness.  I recollect, on both occasions of our passing that ill-fated Cairo on the Mississippi, remarking on the bad effects such gross deceits must have been when they exploded, in generating a want of confidence abroad, and discouraging foreign investment: but I was given to understand that this was a very smart scheme by which a deal of money was made: and that its smartest feature was that they forgot these things abroad in a very short time, and speculated again as freely as ever.  The following dialogue I have held a hundred times: ‘Is it not a very disgraceful circumstance that such a man as So-and-so should be acquiring a large property by the most infamous and odious means, and not withstanding all the crimes of which he has been guilty, should be tolerated and abetted by your Citizens? He is a public nuisance, is he not?’  ‘Yes, Sir.’  ‘A convicted liar?’ ‘Yes, Sir.’ ‘He has been kicked and cuffed and caned?’ ‘Yes, Sir.’  ‘And he is utterly dishonorable, debased, and profligate?’ ‘Yes, Sir.’  ‘IN the name of wonder, then, what is his merit?’  ‘Well, Sir, he is a smart man.’

charles-dickens-1-728In like manner, all kinds of deficient and impolitic usages are referred to the national love of trade; though oddly enough it would be a weighty charge against a foreigner that he regarded the Americans as a trading people.  The love of trade is assigned as a reason for that comfortless custom, so very prevalent in country towns, of married people living in hotels, having no fireside of their own, and seldom meeting from early morning until late at night, but at the hasty public meals.  The love of trade is a reason why the literature of America is to remain for ever unprotected: ‘For we are a trading people, and don’t care for poetry:’ though we do, by the way, profess to be very proud of our poets: while healthy amusements, cheerful means of recreation, and wholesome fancies, must fade before the stern utilitarian joys of trade.

These three characteristics are strongly represented at every turn, full in the stranger’s view. But the foul growth of America has a more tangled root than this; and it strikes its fibres, deep into its licentious Press.

Schools may be erected, East, West, North and South; pupils may be taught, and masters reared, by scores upon scores of thousands; colleges may thrive, churches may be crammed, temperance may be diffused, and advancing knowledge in all other forms walk through the land with giant strides: but while the newspaper press of America is in, or near, its present abject state, high moral improvement in that country is hopeless.  Year by year, it must and will go back; year by year, the tone of public feeling must sink lower down; year by year, the Congress and the Senate must become of less account before all decent men; and year by year, the memory of the Great Fathers of the Revolution must be outraged more and more, in the bad life of their degenerate child.

Among the herd of journals that are published in the States, there are some, the reader scarcely needs be told, of character and credit.  From personal intercourse with accomplished gentlemen connected with publications of this class, I have derived both pleasure and profit.  But the name of these is Few, and of the others Legion; and the influence of the good, is powerless to counteract the moral poison of the bad.

Among the gentry of America; among the well-informed and moderate: in the learned professions; at the bar and on the bench: there is, as there can be, but one opinion, in reference to the vicious character of these infamous journals.  It is sometimes contended — I will not say strangely, for it is natural to seek excuses for such a disgrace — that their influence is not so great as a visitor would suppose.  I must be pardoned for saying there is no warrant for this plea, and that every fact and circumstance tends directly to the opposite conclusion.

When any man, of any grade of desert in intellect or character, can climb to any public distinction, no matter what, in America, without first groveling down upon the earth, and bending the knee before this monster of depravity; when any private excellence is safe from its attacks; when any social confidence is left unbroken by it, or any tie of social decency and confidence is held in the least regard; when any man in that free country has freedom of opinion, and presumes fmimg8302753006214740978to think for himself, and speak for himself, without humble reference to a censorship which, for its rampant ignorance and base dishonesty, he utterly loathes and despises in his heart; when those who most acutely feel its infamy and the reproach it casts upon the nation, and who most denounce it to each other, dare to set their heels upon, and  crush it openly, in the sight of all men:  then, I will believe that its influence is lessening, and men  are returning to their manly senses. But while that Press has its evil eye in every house, and its black hand in every appointment in the state, from a president to a postman; while, with ribald slander for its only stock in trade, it is the standard literature of an enormous class, who must find their reading in a newspaper, or they will not read at all; so long must its odium be upon the country’s head, and so long must the evil it works, be plainly visible in the Republic.”

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John Adams: Peace-Maker

By the Rev. Dr. Ed Hird

John Adams (1)

Everyone wants  ‘Peace on Earth’. Is it really possible? President John Adams was a genuine peace-maker, even to his own detriment.

One of my most popular Deep Cove Crier articles, with almost 17,000 online readers, has been my article on John Adams’ good friend Benjamin Franklin. Both were founding fathers of our neighbour to the south.  My American relatives have told me that Adams is the greater man.

Adams’ greatest strength and weakness was that he was a passionate peace-maker, even at the cost of sabotaging his own re-election as the second American President.  Napoleon in 1797 captured 300 American ships, six percent of the American fleet. (1)  The ‘hawks’ in Adams’ own Federalist party desperately wanted to go to war with France, but Adams negotiated a peace treaty that allowed him to disband Alexander Hamilton’s unnecessary and costly army.  Hamilton, the commander of this army, took this as a personal insult, and dedicated himself to splitting Adams’ own Federalist Party.  John Adams wrote his wife Abigail saying that he knew “Hamilton to be a proud-spirited, conceited, aspiring mortal, always pretending to morality…as great a hypocrite as any in the US…” (2)

thomasjeffersonWith two Federalist presidential candidates, the Republican presidential candidate, Thomas Jefferson, won the election on the 36th ballot after a deadlocked Congressional tie vote. (3) Jefferson, who had foolishly endorsed the blood-thirsty French Revolution, was wisely mentored by Adams.  At his final State of Union address, President Adams stated: “Here and throughout our country, may simple measures, pure morals, and true religion, flourish forever!” (4)  His final prayer as he left the House was: “I pray Heaven to bestow the best of Blessings on this House and all that shall hereafter inhabit it. May none but honest and wise Men ever rule under this roof.” (5) Despite strong political differences, Adams and Jefferson ended as good pen pal friends, both dying in 1826 on the significant American July 4th holiday. (6)   Jefferson acknowledged Adams as ‘the colossus of independence.’ (7)

John Adams was both passionate about liberty and yet cautious about our human tendency to selfishness.  James Grant commended Adams for “his unqualified love of liberty, and his unsentimental perception of the human condition.” (8)  As such, Adams produced constitutional boundaries that guarded people’s essential freedoms of life and liberty of speech, assembly, and religion.  The US Congress praised Adams for his “patriotism, perseverance, integrity and diligence.” (9)   Adams insightfully commented: “our Constitution was made only for a moral & religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” (10) The root of equality, said Adams, was the Golden Rule – Love your neighbour as yourself.  (11)

John Adams 2Adams has been described as one of North America’s greatest bibliophiles.  He loved to learn, reading voraciously in wide-ranging areas of interest, including the Bible.  Equality for Adams was grounded in equal access to education for all: “knowledge monopolized, or in the Possession of a few, is a Curse to Mankind. We should dispense it among all Ranks.  We should educate our children.  Equality should be preserved in knowledge.” (12)  His prayer for his children was: ““Let them revere nothing but religion, morality, and liberty.”  (13)

One of Adams’ strengths was that he was deeply honest, even to his own political detriment. Unlike the worldly-wise Benjamin Franklin, he would say exactly what was on his mind. Adams urged Franklin to get more exercise, saying that “the sixth Commandment forbids a man to kill himself as it does to kill his neighbour. A sedentary life is tantamount to suicide.” (14)  James Grant commented that “like the mythical George Washington, he seemed incapable of telling a lie; he was naturally and organically honest.” (15)  Adams once commented: “The Ten Commandments and the Sermon on the Mount contain my religion.”(16)  Adams was indeed an unusual politician. He found the endless political bickering to be painful and pointless, commenting that “a resolution that two plus two makes five would require fully two days of debate.” (17)  Adams was known as a foul-weather politician, only drawn to serve his country because of the intense crisis.  He would have much rather been anywhere else: “The longer I live and the more I see of public men, the more I wish to be a private one.” (18)  Adams was a latecomer to American Independence, preferring to work for reconciliation with the British.  While Benjamin Franklin had favour and therefore initial funding from France , John Adams eventually obtained key loans to the United States from the cautious Dutch.  Because of his endless negotiations in France, Holland and England, Adams only saw his dear wife Abigail for a grand total of three months over six years. (19)   He wrote to Josiah Quincy: “Happy is the man who has nothing to do with politics and strife.” (20)

 king-george-iiiOne of Adams’ first assignments in Congress was to draft a resolution  appointing a day of fasting, humiliation, and prayer throughout the thirteen colonies: “that we may, with united hearts and voices, unfeignedly confess and deplore our many sins, and offer up our joint supplications to the all-wise Omnipotent, and merciful Disposer of all events; humbling beseeching him to forgive our iniquities, to remove our present calamities, to avert those desolating judgments with which we are threatened, and to bless our rightful sovereign, King George the third.” (21)   Sadly King George dismissed Adams and his colleagues as ‘wicked and desperate persons.’ (22)

King George’s thirty-three thousand British troops resulted in thirty-five thousand American deaths by sword, sickness, or captivity. (23) Adams knew that without heart-forgiveness, American independence would quickly become as barbaric as the French Revolution:  “In a time of war, one may see the necessity and utility of the divine prohibitions of revenge and the Injunctions of forgiveness of Injuries and love of Enemies, which we find in Christian Religion. Unrestrained, in some degree by these benevolent Laws, Men would be Devils, at such a Time as such.”  (24)

John Adams3In 1815 he wrote his own gravestone epitaph: “Here lies John Adams, who took upon himself the responsibility of the peace with France in the year 1800.” (25)  My prayer is that we too may be passionate peace-makers like President John Adams.

The Rev. Dr. Ed Hird, BSW, MDiv, DMin

 -an article previously published in the Deep Cove Crier/North Shore News

-award-winning author of the book Battle for the Soul of Canada

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-The sequel book Restoring Health: body, mind and spirit is available online with Amazon.com in both paperback and ebook form.  Dr. JI Packer wrote the foreword, saying “I heartily commend what he has written.” The book focuses on strengthening a new generation of healthy leaders. Drawing on examples from Titus’ healthy leadership in the pirate island of Crete, it shows how we can embrace a holistically healthy life.

In Canada, Amazon.ca has the book available in paperback and ebook. It is also posted on Amazon UK (paperback and ebook), Amazon France (paperback and ebook), and Amazon Germany (paperback and ebook).

Restoring Health is also available online on Barnes and Noble in both paperback and Nook/ebook form.  Nook gives a sample of the book to read online.

Indigo also offers the paperback and the Kobo ebook version.  You can also obtain it through ITunes as an IBook.

To receive a signed copy within North America, just send a $20 cheque (USD/CAN) to ED HIRD, 102 – 15168 19th Avenue, Surrey, BC, V4A 0A5, Canada.

– In order to obtain a signed copy of the prequel book Battle for the Soul of Canada, please send a $18.50 cheque to ED HIRD, 102 – 15168 19th Avenue, Surrey, BC, V4A 0A5. For mailing the book to the USA, please send $20.00 USD.  This can also be done by PAYPAL using the e-mail ed_hird@telus.net . Be sure to list your mailing address. The Battle for the Soul of Canada e-book can be obtained for $4.99 CDN/USD.

-Click to purchase the Companion Bible Study by Jan Cox (for the Battle of the Soul of Canada) in both paperback and Kindle on Amazon.com and Amazon.ca 


(1) James Grant, John Adams: Party of One , (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York, NY, 2005), p. 392.

(2) Gore Vidal, Inventing a Nation: Washington, Adams, Jefferson, (Yale University Press, New Haven, 2003), p. 133.

(3)  David McCullough, John Adams , (Simon and Schuster, New York, NY, 2001), p. 572.

(4)  John Adams, State Of The Union Address 11/11/1800,


(5) McCullough, John Adams, p. 560, picture 57.

(6) McCullough, p. 646.

(7) http://www.thefreelibrary.com/Colossus+of+Independence.-a079789133

(8) Grant, p. 61.

(9)  Grant, p. 336.

(10) http://www.john-adams-heritage.com/quotes/

(11) McCullough, p. 543.

(12) Fragmentary Notes for ‘A Dissertation on the Canon and the Feudal Law’,  http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Adams/06-01-02-0052-0002

(13) Grant, p. 165.

(14) Grant, p. 287.

(15) Grant, p. 100.

(16) Grant, p. 442.

(17) Grant, p. 142.

(18) Grant, p. 146; McCullough, p. 207.

(19) McCullough, p. 271 “At last, on June 11th 1782, Adams negotiated with a syndicate of three Amsterdam banking houses — Willink, Van Staphorst, and De la Lande & Fynje — a loan of five million guilders, or two million dollars at five percent interest.  It was not the ten million dollars Congress had expected…”;  Grant, p. 196.

(20) Grant, p. 157.

(21) Grant, p. 153.

(22) Grant, p. 152.

(23) Grant, p. 256.

(24) Grant, p. 184.

(25) Grant, p. 383.