Unlike all of recorded history before us, in American democracy your adversary isn’t your enemy, they’re your partner in addressing problems. Perhaps no historical relationship both proved and tested this idea more than the relationship between Thomas Jefferson and John Adams.
Once friends, differences in opinion and political competition had taken a toll. They, like others in the founders’ generation, had deep philosophical disagreements. But as they went about the business of building a country, an endeavor that if unsuccessful would surely lead to their hanging, they hardly had the luxury to stop talking to each other. Fast-forward a couple of centuries and most of us are likely to relate to the fix Adams and Jefferson found themselves in. We, like they, have deep disagreement with – and sometimes little tolerance for – one another.
The two founders ultimately died friends, having given history the gift of their final correspondence. They died on the same day, July 4th, 50 years to the day after the nation they built was born. “Whether you or I were right,” Adams had written to Jefferson, “posterity must judge. Yet I ask of you, who shall write the history of our revolution?”
The philosophical descendants of Jefferson and Adams are alive and well today in us, in this amazing American experiment “in the course of human events.” And we are still writing the history of their revolution. Like the founders before us, we hardly have the luxury to stop talking to each other. In celebration of the Smithsonian’s exhibit “Voices and Votes: Democracy in America” we’re hosting a real conversation about the different ideas that have always divided us. But we’ll do it as friends.
Possible panelists: 2 local politicians who come from different sides of the aisle but have a good relationship anyway — and who are capable of being civil and thoughtful. Potentially pick two or three general topic areas to discuss and let each person speak from their heart about how they feel about it – taking turns.