Dear Abby–The Suffering of Others for Liberty

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Christopher Clukey

Keeping things timely while writing for a weekly paper isn’t the challenge you’d expect. You can even shoot yourself in the foot by getting ahead of things, as I did last year when I sent in a column predicting John Kerry’s long court battle to become President, and he conceded two hours later. So maybe I’ll seem off-base reacting to our mayoral election a week after everyone else in town, but I have to do it this way.

You see, Abigail Adams won’t let go of me.

Married to our second President, Abigail is a perfect illustration of the proverb, “Behind every great man stands a great woman.” Her husband’s political career began when he became a representative from Boston in 1770, and he remarked to her, “I have accepted a seat in the House of Representatives, and thereby have consented to my own ruin, to your ruin and the ruin of our children.” She replied, “Well, I am willing in this cause to run all risks with you, and be ruined with you, if you are ruined.”

The ruin never came, but she was sorely tried. Ten years of their marriage were spent apart as he served his country, and she spent much of it on their farm with their four children, living “in continual Expectation of Hostilities” as British soldiers roamed the Massachusetts countryside. The Battle of Bunker Hill occurred only eight miles away, and she watched with their son Johnny, who we know as John Quincy Adams, sixth President of the United States. In 1778 John and Johnny went to France on a secret diplomatic mission. Their ship was chased by British frigates, her mainmast was blasted by lightning and they capped off the voyage by capturing a British merchant ship. I wonder if John wrote home about those dangerous moments, or just skipped to “France is lovely, wish you were here.”

In 1782, while he was negotiating the peace with the British, she wrote him a letter about patriotism on the part of women. “Patriotism in the female Sex,” she wrote, “is the most disinterested of all virtues,” with no hope for gain. Men could achieve power and fame by serving their country, but not so for women. Even their own property fell under the “sovereign Authority” the law had given to their husbands. Most tragic of all, “…when you [men] offer your Blood to the State, it is ours. In giving it our Sons and Husbands we give more than ourselves. You can only die on the field of Battle, but we have the misfortune to survive those whom we love the most.”

That kind of sacrifice was on my mind last Tuesday. Before I went out to vote, I read a letter from Lieutenant Governor Quinn about Nathaniel Moore, a Marine who died in a helicopter crash in January while providing security for the Iraqi elections. Quinn reports that Moore’s mother Amber said “one of the best ways to remember [Nathaniel] would be to vote in this Tuesday’s elections.”

So when I voted, I was thinking of Nathaniel Moore and so many others like him, people who have made the ultimate sacrifice and millions more who have raised their right hand and been willing to do so if necessary. And I thought about how all the patriots are selfless, and are virtuous in their disinterest. So many people do things for us that no fame, money or power could compensate them for. Why? Because they really believe what John Kennedy said, that we should “pay any price and bear any burden to ensure the success of liberty.” You know where I last saw that quote? It was in the funeral program of a young Marine from Lena, Neil Petsche. You can bet that his family believes it, and that they know what Abigail Adams was talking about.

Is it worth it? Look around…
…at the purple fingers in Iraq.
…at the schoolgirls giggling in Afghanistan.
…at Lebanon showing Syria the door.
…as the Vatican lays a man to rest who helped free hundreds of millions.
…as we choose a mayor. We chose a really good one in George Gaulrapp, I think, but the great part is that we have a choice at all. Other nations have a choice because, as Colin Powell said, America gave up lives and “asked for nothing except enough ground to bury them in.”

At the close of her letter, Adams said that her country would be “more than probable unmindfull of the hand that blessed them.” Oh, let’s not be. Paint your finger purple if you need a reminder.

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