March 6, 2023 By Michael Weymouth
“Hello John, what are you doing here,” I said to myself as I stood before a bronze bust of John Adams in the northern Spanish city of Bilbao, a strange location for one of our country’s founders, or so it seemed. I was reminded of Adams and his travels in Basque country when I read a recent commentary by NYTimes columnist Michelle Goldberg who compared Florida governor Ron DeSantis’ efforts to force Florida’s educators to diminish what he views as a liberal agenda, to those of Hungary’s president Viktor Orban who has also clamped down on his country’s educational system. The two are remarkably and disturbingly similar.
Orbán has spent the past 11 years in power asserting control over the judiciary, enriching his loyalists, and eliminating the free press, while remaking his country’s laws to benefit his far-right Fidesz party.
Goldberg noted, “many on the American right admire the way Orban uses the power of the state against cultural liberalism, but few are imitating him as faithfully as the Florida governor and likely Republican presidential candidate Ron DeSantis.” In addition, many of DeSantis’ fellow conservatives have heaped praise on Orban, especially after FOX News host Tucker Carlson reported from Hungary’s capitol, Budapest in 2021, “a small country with a lot of lessons for the rest of us.”
Segue to lessons learned by John Adams.
As it turns out, in January of 1780 Adams was on his way to Paris when his ship was blown off course, landing him in northern Spain. Rather than wait for his ship to be repaired, he set off overland to Paris, which took him through Basque country.
Adams was an astute observer of the world around him and was greatly impressed with the Basque society, as he constantly made notes of what he experienced. Adams recalled his trip in his 1787 publication A Defence of the Constitution of the Government of the United States of America wherein he recognized Biscay as one of the top republic democracies of Europe.
In a 1981 speech, Idaho’s Secretary of State Pete Cenarrusa, (Idaho has the largest concentration of U.S. Basque immigrants) listed some of the Basque principles Adams incorporated into the U.S. Constitution based on his Basque observations:
1. That no person shall be treated inhumanely
2. That a person’s home is his castle
3. That no search shall be made of a person’s property without a search warrant
4. That all shall be guaranteed a trial by a jury of peers
5. That there shall be a separation of Church and State
These attributes aside, Adams found one aspect of Basque politics extremely objectionable: only noblemen of ‘pure’ Basque blood, i.e. not mixed with Moors, Jews, new Christian converts, and penitentiaries of the Inquisition, could hold office. These noblemen also had to be natives and residents of the province, worth a certain amount of money, and have no business affiliations or history of working in trades. In other words “a contracted aristocracy, under the appearance of a liberal democracy.” Adams declared, “Americans, beware!”
When we compare John Adams observations with the actions taken by Ron DeSantis to impart his ideology on Florida’s educational system, Americans of all stripes should take note that what is taking place in Florida is an outrageous offense against the free speech values set forth in the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution, and John Adams would be the first to step up and say so.–