It's A Gray Area: Adams would fight for return of freedom

Our short series on classic American patriots continues with a focus on John Adams.

Fortunately, with the fairly recent publication of David McCullough's book "John Adams" (Touchstone, 2001), this somewhat crusty but likable American is finally beginning to be recognized as the hero that he was.

Tragically, unlike many naturalized citizens who lived under totalitarian regimes, most Americans who were born here take our freedoms for granted. But to the founding fathers like John Adams, freedom and liberty were what our country was all about.

Those are slipping away because, as Adams warned, "Liberty cannot be preserved without general knowledge among the people."

It was Adams who helped Thomas Jefferson write the Declaration of Independence.

Generally this was the basis for Adams' beliefs: "The only maxim of a free government ought to be to trust no man living with power to endanger the public liberty." And today with the power that has evolved to our country's president, we are seeing Adams' fears realized.

What do you think that Adams and his fellow patriots would have said about the recently discovered PRISM program, in which the federal government has been gathering information about our telephone calls, including the length, to whom and how often? Or about drones flying overhead and surveilling our movements without a judicial warrant? Or about the incarceration of people at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba for years without any charges being filed against them, much less trials arranged?

In my view, Adams would rail against such practices. Why aren't we?

Adams said, "Fear is the foundation of most governments." And our government, with its so-called war on terrorism, has joined many tin-pot dictators throughout history in continuing that dark tradition.

Realistically, there is no way any society could stop random shootings like those in the movie theater in Aurora, Colo., or more recently at Los Angeles International Airport. We could arm the ticket-takers at all theaters and Transportation Security Administration (TSA) agents at all airports, and even allow the police to randomly search people on the streets, and still this would not stop tragedies like these.

Adams understood that there are risks in life that even governments cannot shield us from, and they should not be used as a means to cause unwarranted intrusions into our liberties. We should also understand that reality.

Finally, Adams stated, "Democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide."

Our democracy, as we still try to call it, has lasted for more than 225 years. But now special interests have gained huge control over its functioning. Way too many people are demanding free stuff from the government, and in many ways government workers have become a privileged class.

So is our great country committing the suicide that Adams foresaw? Or are we, like Adams, willing to take risks to save our democratic republic from encroachments on freedom and liberty by our own government?

I think patriots like Adams would look at our current situation with shame and sorrow, and if they were still with us would rise up to reverse that trend.

So let us make them proud by picking up that spirit and committing ourselves to the preservation of our liberties and freedoms, which are the very soul of our great country. We owe them, and ourselves, nothing less.

JAMES P. GRAY is a retired Orange County Superior Court judge. He lives in Newport Beach. He can be contacted at

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