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‘Jefferson’ and ‘Adams’ Debate Contemporary Issues At LIving History Event

Actors from Colonial Williamsburg show how founding principles apply today

Immigration, questionable presidential executive orders, military involvement in overseas conflicts, and the role of the courts are all issues facing America today, right?

They also were issues that confronted U.S. presidents in the early days of the republic, including John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. Characters interpreting the two Founding Fathers spoke Monday night at the Cumberland County Historic Courthouse as a living history program sponsored by the John Locke Foundation’s North Carolina History Project.

Both Jefferson, portrayed by Bill Barker, and Adams, portrayed by Steven Holloway, offered their support to immigration in response to a question posed by the evening’s moderator, Ken Ripley, editor and publisher of the Spring Hope Enterprise.

Ripley asked what limits, if any, should be placed on immigration.

“I cannot imagine limits, or anyone suggesting such a thing as limits,” Adams responded.

“The point of the matter is there is opportunity now for all those who seek these shores as a safe asylum,” Jefferson said.

Both Barker and Holloway are associated with Colonial Williamsburg, Va. They make an annual trip to North Carolina for a living history presentation, which often is held in Raleigh. The program also has been presented in Durham, Chapel Hill, and Rose Hill.

“It’s always been one of the purposes of the John Locke Foundation to provide public programming to the citizens of North Carolina, particularly programming that emphasizes the founding and the principles which our constitutional government and our state government are built upon,” said Kory Swanson, JLF’s president.

Debate teams and speech and drama students from three high schools in neighboring Moore County — North Moore, Union Pines, and Pinecrest — observed the interaction between Ripley and the two former presidents.

Doug Stalls from Union Pines said it was good for his students to see a civil debate.

“The debate doesn’t have to be bitter and angry,” Stalls said. “Two people on opposite sides of a political spectrum can still speak to one another cordially and discuss issues.”

Christina Speiser from Pinecrest High School said her speech students were able to see how to take on a character and give characterization to a role. “Our debate students could see a great debate and saw a great way that they went back and forth and were able to reflect on what the other person was saying, and feed off that.”

Kris Bebout of North Moore High School said her students already were quoting Thomas Jefferson in their debates. “They got some good quotes to use, and the appreciated the drama,” she said, noting that some drama students attended the event. “I think they got a lot of history and they really enjoyed the whole thing.”

During the event, Jefferson and Adams bantered back and forth, evoking more than a few chuckles from the crowd gathered in the courthouse. The two took verbal jabs at one other several times as they pointed out their differences.

One point of contention between the two Founding Fathers arose when Ripley asked them about the role of the Supreme Court.

“Of the three branches, the courts must be the most powerful,” Adams said. “The judiciary is there to prevent the other two branches from corruption.”

Jefferson, however, showed favor for the legislative branch, which was more likely to display the will of the people.

“Citizens, should we allow the judiciary to make the law?” Jefferson asked rhetorically.

And then there’s the size of the federal government, which both said likely would expand as the population and new nation grew.

“Yes, Mr. Ripley, the government will have to grow,” Jefferson said. “I believe I read in a newspaper that we now have 63 government employees.”

“There are those who argue that it’s 62 too many,” Ripley responded.

Barry Smith (@Barry_Smith) is an associate editor at Carolina Journal.