Rather than revere Adams, Michele Bachmann should invoke Adams’ rival and successor, Andrew Jackson. Bachmann – a fiery populist of our day – is much more a Jackson than an Adams.
Jackson – the champion of frontier populism who trounced John Quincy Adams in 1828 – was not a college graduate, hated banks, scoffed at pretense, welcomed confrontation and, of course, killed a man in a duel. His raucous inauguration party caused Washington socialites to cringe at the drunken, unlettered masses.
John Quincy Adams, on the other hand, was a proper establishment politician – Harvard-educated and articulate – who deplored the Jacksonian crowd. When Jackson was to be given an honorary degree by Harvard, Adams refused to attend Harvard’s “disgrace in conferring her highest literary honors on a barbarian who could not write a sentence of grammar and could hardly spell his own name.”
Jackson supposedly replied that, “It is a damn poor mind which can't think of at least two ways to spell any word.” He would not give his speech in Latin, as was customary, since the only Latin words he knew were E pluribus unum, sine qua non, multum in parvo, quid pro quo, and ne plus ultra.
Throughout U.S. history, politicians from ordinary backgrounds – Lincoln, Sockless Jerry Simpson of the 1880s, Harry Truman and now Bachmann – have suffered ridicule from parties of privilege and power.
Bachmann – who worked her way through college, raised five children, and emerged from the unglamorous dust of school-board fights to win a seat in Congress – had little time to master the details of U.S. History. But she has mastered her understanding of her constituency and has Jackson-like self-confidence and grit.
Personally, I have had a great education and could thrash any candidate when it comes to sorting out the Adamses. I know, for example, that Sam Adams was a revolutionary firebrand of the 1770s… and that Sam Adams is also my favorite brand of beer.
On the other hand, I would not like to stand up to Michelle Bachmann in a debate, no matter how thin her knowledge of history… and though I can recall a couple of lines of Virgil in Latin, I could never have faced Andrew Jackson across 10 paces of stony ground with pistols raised.