Out of confusion

The U.S. flag flying at Roanoke Island, North Carolina, September2013

The U.S. flag flying at Roanoke Island, North Carolina, September 2013

“I feel anxious for the fate of our Monarchy or Democracy or what ever is to take place. I soon get lost in a Labyrinth of perplexities, but whatever occurs, may justice and righteousness be the Stability of our times, and order arise out of confusion. Great difficulties may be surmounted, by patience and perseverance.”
Abigail Adams

One year ago today, in honor of America’s birthday, I featured a quote from my personal favorite of the “founding fathers,” John Adams, along with a video clip from the HBO series about him.  Today’s quote is from his eloquent and formidable wife Abigail, arguably as influential in her own way, if only because of the vital role she played in the development of her husband’s career, intellect and philosophy.

The letter to her husband from which this quote is drawn (the text and image of which is linked above) was written near the end of November, 1775, less than a year before the Declaration of Independence was ratified.  In her letter, Adams raises valid questions and concerns about the enormous implications of the steps toward self-government that the colonies were taking.  While there seems little doubt that she shared her husband’s enthusiasm for independence, one cannot read her letter without realizing she was keenly aware that their ongoing efforts were fraught with danger, even after they succeeded in their goals.

The most interesting thing to me about Adams’ letter is how timeless her concerns are.  So many of the perils of power she mentions are with us to this day, and “a labyrinth of perplexities” is an excellent description of the current dilemmas our country faces regarding health care, foreign policy, immigration law, economic and environmental issues, and almost anything subject to government legislation.

Of course, it’s not only governments that face such complicated problems.  On a much smaller scale, our individual daily lives can be pretty challenging too.  Most of us frequently deal with complex and difficult decision-making.  No wonder we are often too overwhelmed with our own concerns to be very involved in politics, even when we care deeply about the outcome of governmental actions.

Ever practical as well as stubbornly optimistic, Adams pinpoints four vital keys to overcoming difficulties large and small: justice, righteousness, patience and perseverance.  Looking closely at the history of the United States, one can see these four traits have been the foundation of whatever good has been achieved by our country, even when such achievements took decades or centuries to fully realize, or are yet imperfect.  Though I’m less familiar with the history of other countries, I would not be surprised if a similar dynamic appeared to be at work everywhere in the world.

Happy 238th Birthday to the U.S.A! May the wise words of our first citizens remind us that there are some principles that never change, regardless of what circumstances we face.  With patience and perseverance, we can keep moving forward.

One year ago today:

Through all the gloom


  1. raynard

    Julia, for someone who have traveled to a foreign country and served our country, I’m proud to be a American and live in this “imperfect country run by “imperfect people”. Sounds like a marriage now, I digress lol. Happy 4th to you and your family. As always thank you for all you do and being a inspiration to so many. be blessed

    • Thank you Raynard! Maybe our relationship to our home country is a bit like a marriage…ideally a lifelong tie that weathers the ups, downs, differences and disagreements because of a solid, shared foundation. Thanks to you too for your service and love of the USA. Happy 4th!

  2. bobmielke

    It is a known fact that women only make the little decisions while men make the big ones. And I might add that women will let the men know which ones are little and which ones are big. 🙂 LOL

    • Bob, I feel sure that such a dynamic must have been at work during the formation of our government, when women were officially blocked from participation (not even allowed to vote for over 100 years) but still were pervasively influential. Sometime I’ll have to blog about Mercy Otis Warren, a friend of Abigail and John who managed to leave her mark on history as well.

  3. Sheila

    Happy Fourth of July, 2014, to you and your family, Julia. 🙂 We must keep the faith that the great principles, efforts, and perseverance of our “founding fathers” was not in vain. We watched the HBO series about John Adams and learned so much, including the strength of Abigail Adams. We really are experiencing so much confusion now and the “perils of power” seem overwhelming. I feel as Americans we need to lace our patriotism with deeper caring and appreciation for this great country that we’re celebrating! 🙂

    • Sheila, Drew gave us that HBO series for Christmas one year and we really love it. I think every citizen ought to watch it, maybe more than once. It brings to mind an awareness of just how blessed we are now as compared to then, though as you point out, the perplexities seem to multiply with the abundance. May America remain the “New Colossus” with the open door that Emma Lazarus wrote about! Happy Independence Day!! 😀 (I’m sending you an imaginary cyber sparkler!)

      • Sheila

        Thank you…. 👏

        • I love it! You must teach me how to use all those cute symbols!

  4. singleseatfighterpilot

    Talk about being perplexed? What does any of this have to do with water-skiing, Chinese fireworks, and grilled hotdogs?!?!??

    • Let’s hear from John Adams himself on that: “The Second Day of July 1776, will be the most memorable Epocha, in the History of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance by solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.”

      OK, so he had the date slightly off. Just goes to prove that governmental delays were there from the very beginning!!!

  5. LB

    I too, love the Adams, and this is an excellent quote of Abigail’s. She could have written it this morning! While we might question whether justice is always achieved, we have to hope that we will all have patience, perserverance, and righteousness.
    Have your read David McCullough’s book about John Adams? Incredible book!

    • LB, I’ve had that book on my shelf since it came out, but would you believe I haven’t read it yet? Despite my enthusiasm for both McCullough AND Adams? Shame on me! I did love the HBO series based on the book, and our son gave us that set. I’ve always felt that John Adams, the mostly unsung hero of our country’s independence, and arguably the single person most responsible for getting the Declaration passed, was deserving of a larger share of the acclaim that typically goes mainly to Washington and Jefferson (both Virginians, so I guess I’m being a bit disloyal). 1776 is maybe my favorite musical of all time.

  6. Julia,
    An interesting and appropriate essay for the day. Happy 4th of July to you and your family.
    When you have the opportunity, I invite you to read my 4th of July offering at amlifcar41.wordpress.com.

    • Thanks for sharing that link Alan! I really enjoyed the post (a vicarious picnic, like my vicarious Italian holiday I enjoyed through Patricia’s book The Italian Thing) and I love the quote from Chesterton. He had a lot of great quotes, didn’t he? I need to read more of him. Anyway, I agree with you (and Tevye) about tradition and foundations. I suppose tradition always will be a difficult concept for a relatively new nation whose citizens come from so many different cultures, but there is still much more to unite us than what often threatens to divide us. E Pluribus Unum! (NOT E Pluribus Ultrapluribus!) 😀

  7. Carolyn

    Happy 4th to you all. I will write a note to you soon. Hugs to all

    • Thank you Carolyn! Hope you are doing well. How are your eyes? Love to you and Terry – special red white and blue cyber hugs!

  8. Larry

    With the anticipation of darkness falling tonight so the brilliant colors flourish in the sky, we think of the reason behind it all, FREEDOM, how well it sounds. Yes, there are the difficult times and decisions to make as a nation but there is the time also to celebrate our liberty and untold blessings that God has blessed us with. Happy 4th of July and we send our love to the family!

    • Thank you Larry, and ditto to all of it! Happy 4th to all of you too!

  9. Julia, Happy 4th July to you and your family. I enjoyed the David McCullough book about the Adams.
    Hope you and your guys are enjoying big fireworks, lots of grilled hot dogs and burgers.:)

    • Thanks Merry, same to you! We did have some traditional fare. The summer holidays are the only time I allow myself to indulge in one of my favorite, least healthy foods — HOT DOGS! We always have the nitrite-free kind, with whole wheat buns, but it’s still a guilty pleasure. I will simply have to move the McCullough book about Adams up my “to be read” list. I can’t believe I still haven’t read it. Hope your weekend is full of fun!

  10. Michael

    I also have that book on my shelf, along with several others. Wasn’t Adams also a big plant person? Who was the historical figure in the movie Amadeus (sp?) – played by Anthony Hopkins about the slave ship that mutinied and the crew that went on to lobby for their own freedom? In the movie he was a big plant person.
    Wasn’t he one of the Adames?

    • Michael, if I ever read that book, I might be able to answer the plant question, but I know he and Abigail did have a farm in Braintree. The movie is Amistad, as you correctly stated, and yes, it was about their son John Quincy Adams. Until Barbara Bush, Abigail was the only woman to have been the wife of one president and the mother of another. Like the Bush presidents, the Adams presidents suffered much public condemnation for their convictions in various areas, though the younger Bush did manage to get re-elected, something that the other three did not achieve. I believe that history has largely vindicated some of the unpopular decisions of the Adams presidents. It will be interesting to see if the same thing happens for the Bush presidents, assuming America is still around in 200 years.

  11. Michael

    Movie is Amistad and he plays J.Q. Adams – a former president and current member of the House of Representatives.

  12. Michael

    Yes the Wikipedia article on him states he was,” ineffective as a president-leader.” In the movie, he spends a lot of time in his greenhouse- where he even has a very rare-for the time- African violet.

    • Here’s an interesting quote about John Quincy Adams from the Miller Center at the highly esteemed University of Virginia:

      “As the only President to serve in an elected office after his presidency (outside of Andrew Johnson’s brief tenure in the Senate), Adams can be seen as the embodiment of the partisan but principled politician who focused on the antislavery movement as the means of challenging Jacksonian democracy. The same high-minded and rigidly uncompromising stance on moral issues that so weakened his effectiveness as a President served him well as a representative in Congress. In taking up the battle against slavery, Adams greatly redeemed himself in the eyes of history for his failure as a President to shape or reflect a national consensus.’

      It seems he was both ahead of his time (on the slavery question) and behind it (refusing to play politics at a time when such power games were rapidly taking over the electoral landscape). We could do worse than have a man of such inconvenient integrity serving today, though he could never be elected if he had such convictions. But the past two administrations have proven conclusively (in my opinion) that electability is no guarantee of being able to build political consensus, either. However different they may be, George W. Bush and Barack Obama have that dubious distinction in common, unlike their predecessors Reagan and Clinton, whose political skills shone even more after they were elected than before. Not that this means anything in terms of who was right, wrong or neutral. Political skills and conviction (or even competence) do not always go together. But perhaps it’s also a sad commentary about the increased political polarization of the electorate.

  13. Michael

    I think George Will might agree. Do you see any parallels with President Carter? I still think of him as highly principled and our best ever ex-president. I have read a couple of his books and appreciated his insights on many issues including Israel. You have to give Clinton some props for his political skill and championing of the middle class. Even my father in law who had never voted Democratic like him. Now I wonder if our partisan divide can ever be bridged in some positive manner.
    Did you ever get on the UR site yesterday?

    • Michael, I love Jimmy Carter although it is he who made me vote Republican in 1980, and Reagan who kept me there. In 1976 I was a straight-party-ticket Democrat who voted (and made speeches in college classes) for Carter, and was so sad and disappointed at how his presidency transpired. Voting for Reagan was one of the hardest but easiest things I ever did, if that makes sense. Being a political science major during Carter’s administration, I watched him closely and learned a lot of hard lessons about what makes a man fit for the office; sadly, character is not enough. But I still have a great deal of affection for Jimmy and Rosalyn Carter, not least because I am and always will be a Georgia girl. I enjoyed touring Plains during 1977, and more recently the Carter Center which is not too far from where Drew and Megan live. And I hope someday to make it to one of Carter’s Sunday School classes that he still teaches at the Maranatha Baptist Church in Plains.

      NO, I am SO SORRY to say I did not get to the UR site yesterday – I had computer difficulties and spent lots of the day on the phone with Verizon 😦 but thanks for the reminder — I am headed there now!

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