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American Fun

American Fun The ways in which Americans have fun "helped define the national character," writes Preston Lauterbach in a Wall Street Journal review of American Fun by John Beckman (3/1/14). On the one hand were the "American prudes" like John Adams, who "stood for the Puritan ideals of piety, sobriety and hard work." On the other was his second cousin, Samuel Adams, "though of the same Puritan pedigree and Harvard education" who "burnished a ‘raffish national tradition that flaunted pleasure in the face of authority.’"

John Adams "built a fine estate on the land where … Thomas Morton founded Merry Mount" some 150 years earlier, "a colony populated with Indians and freed servants" and whose "May Day festival introduced a European tradition of mass debauchery to the new land" that "made a profound impression on the burgeoning American identity." Merry Mount was "the forerunner of American fun," a response to nearby Plymouth Colony, "the legendary birthplace of American Puritanism."

Meanwhile, Sam Adams, a leader of the Sons of Liberty, "our founding pranksters … staged a series of boisterous but nonviolent demonstrations to protest the Crown’s taxation." It was Sam’s "merry dockside mob" that "carried out the group’s attention-grabbing tactics," including its "crowning act, The Boston Tea Party." This, writes John Beckman, was "pure American fun," and "even John Adams approved." In a way, the "opposing tendencies" of American work and play were reconciled by the Adams cousins.