Financial authority, historian and Heights resident James Grant addressed the annual meeting of the New England Society in the City of Brooklyn yesterday evening at Pete’s Downtown Restaurant, Old Fulton Street. The title of Grant’s talk was “Election 2008: Write in John Adams”. In addition to publishing Grant’s Interest Rate Observer since 1983 and having written four books on financial topics (including a biography of legendary financier Bernard Baruch), Grant is the author of John Adams: Party of One, a biography of the second President of the United States.
Grant admires Adams for his independence of mind and political courage. He said that Adams may be classified politically as a “Whig” or “classic liberal”, meaning that he believed in strict limits on government power, separation of powers and checks and balances, as well as avoiding entanglement in foreign disputes. In contrast to this, the Jeffersonians favored a more active role for government in both domestic and foreign affairs. The issue that divided them most clearly was the response to the French Revolution, which Jefferson admired but Adams detested for its excesses, despite acknowledging that it had been inspired by the American Revolution, in which he played a leading role.
A particularly vivid image that Grant evoked in his talk arose from his financial expertise. He said that Adams and the other American revolutionaries were like investors who decided to sell short the most powerful nation and empire on earth at the time, Britain, and to buy the stock of a yet to be tested nation with a radically new form of government. He said this was like someone deciding in 1958 to short General Motors and buy Toyota.
Grant expressed some reservations about the recent HBO series on Adams, which featured another Heights resident, Paul Giamatti, in the title role. As an example, he said that in the HBO show an American naval vessel carrying Adams overseas on a diplomatic mission was shown getting into battle with another ship. Grant said that the American ship’s lookout did spot an enemy vessel on the horizon, but that they never closed to shooting range. Nevertheless, when the captain called the crew to quarters, Adams, then stocky and middle aged, came above with the Marines, carrying a musket and ready to fight.
During the question and answer session, Grant was asked what contemporary political figure he thought was most like Adams. He said there was none, because the selection process today eliminates from political life anyone who is as independent and unwilling to pander to popular sentiment as was Adams.
The New England Society in the City of Brooklyn was founded in 1880, when Brooklyn was still an independent city, and its members have stubbornly resisted changing the name. The Society provides scholarships for students from Brooklyn to attend schools in New England. It holds several social events annually, including a poetry evening in the early spring, a formal dinner in the fall, and a gala holiday season party scheduled for when the students receiving scholarships are on break so that they may attend.