*This is installment number two of my Indispensable Men series. Click this link to read the first edition about George Washington*
Love him or hate him, John Adams is one of the great figures of American history. Few individuals have had the same sweeping influence during or after their lives as has the Colossus of Independence. From his humble beginnings in a small community of little consequence, sprang the man perhaps most responsible for the American War of Independence, the creator of the treaty to end that conflict, one of the architects of the Massachusetts constitution, the first vice president, the second president, and a stalwart citizen of the empire of Liberty. Join me as I pay tribute to this profoundly amazing man.
Born on October 30, 1735, John Adams entered life in Braintree, Massachusetts, a skip, hop, and a jump from the important city of Boston. John was the oldest of three children, which included two younger brothers. The three children’s names, John, Peter, and Elihu, tell us something about the family’s religious upbringing. Adams’ father, John Adams, Sr., was a deacon in the Congregational Church and, with his wife Susanna, raised his sons in the ways of God.
Susanna’s personality is described in one quick biographical sketch of Mr. Adams as “fiery.” This is probably where John got his own red-hot attitude from. Others have argued, however, that John Adams had a medical disorder that led to his classic temper. One intriguing article attributes his temper to bipolar disorder, listing a few examples of his passionate character:
“John Adams, the second U.S. president, was born with a proverbial chip on his shoulder. Contemporaries noted his frequent mood swings and behavior shifts. As a student, he suffered depressive episodes attributed to overwork. He abandoned early plans to study medicine, and instead went into law, disappointing his father, a Congregationalist deacon who wanted his son and namesake to enter the clergy.
“People-pleasing seemed not to be one of his priorities. As a young, ambitious lawyer, he took on the task of representing British Redcoats accused of murdering five Bostonians. His neighbors were furious with him, but Adams insisted everyone deserved a fair trial. He won his clients’ acquittal.
“In Philadelphia as a member of the Continental Congress, Adams argued passionately for independence from Britain. He was chastised by Benjamin Franklin for his bluntness, insulting other members for what he saw as their loyalty to the British crown. His temper alienated even those whose politics he admired.”
I personally dispute most of the conventional “wisdom” about so-called bipolar disorder. Whether Mr. Adams had it or not (or whether it even exists), is neither here nor there. The fact is, John was rather blunt and was known for his heated manner – a trait I can relate to on an intimate level.
As noted, Adams was raised as a Congregationalist. With his eye on the ministry (his father’s dream), Adams eventually attended Harvard University, for which he had earned a scholarship at age sixteen. Historian Richard Alan Ryerson commented that at the time Harvard’s “primary purpose was to educate future members of a learned ministry and an effective civil government.” Of Adams’ time at Harvard, Ryerson has recorded:
“As the son of a Braintree farmer, church deacon, and town selectman, Adams was ranked in the middle of his class and awarded a scholarship. As an undergraduate, he responded with enthusiasm to three opportunities not available in Braintree. He seriously engaged the College’s relatively liberal curriculum in theology, mathematics, and natural science; he made friends with students from different social classes, often those above his own; and he joined a speaking club where his performances so impressed his classmates that they suggested he would make a better lawyer than the minister his pious father desired. (He would become the only graduate in his class to hold a Hollis scholarship and not become a minister.)
“Harvard acknowledgments of Adams’s intellectual engagement came quickly. A speaking part at graduation in 1755 earned him his first job, as a teacher; he used his salary to pay for his legal studies. His use of the College library after graduation sustained him until he could build up his own impressive collection in legal and political history. And in his master’s thesis address in 1758, a rite of passage for most ambitious Harvard graduates, he defended a theme that would increase in significance for the rest of his life: that civil government was necessary for man.”
Though he chose not to go into the ministry, Adams carved out a legacy for himself here and in eternity. Mr. Adams distinguished himself in an age of distinguished men – men like Samuel Adams, Patrick Henry, John Hancock, Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, and my own relative, a close associate of Adams, Caleb Strong. Though his station at birth did not foretell his meteoric rise to greatness, his talents and tenacity set him apart and gained him the recognition of the right people – the patriots and Liberty lovers who were instrumental in declaring and obtaining Independence and setting up a revolutionary new society.
John Adams’ pre-1776 life is interesting, but it’s not our focus today. It should be noted, however, that Adams’ ideas on Liberty, education, and social interactions was largely set during this time. An example of his intellectual prowess came in 1765 when Adams wrote A Dissertation on the Canon and the Feudal Law in opposition of the Stamp Act. In this gem, he laid down several principles which we can all benefit from reviewing and cherishing. I first quote from the fragmentary notes that did not make it into the final product. Regarding the future of Freedom, he stated:
“Liberty, that has been compelled to skulk about in Corners of the Earth, and been everlastingly persecuted by the great, the rich, the noble, the Reverend, the proud, the Lasey, the Ambitious, avaricious, and Revengeful, who have from the beginning constituted almost all the sons of Adam. Liberty, that complication of real Honour, Piety, Virtue Dignity, and Glory, which has never been enjoyd, in its full Perfection, by more than ten or twelve Millions of Men at any Time, since the Creation, will reign in America, over hundreds and Thousands of Millions at a Time.
“In future ages, when the Bones and sinews that now direct this Pen, shall become indistinguishable from the rest of Mother Earth, and perhaps incorporate into some Plant or other Animal, Man shall make his true Figure, upon this Continent, He shall make that great and happy Figure among Intellectual and sensible reigns that his great Creator intended he should in other Countries before his Ruin was effected by the Lust of Tyrants.”
One cannot help but recall his more famous lines written to his beloved wife Abigail at the time of the signing of the Declaration of Independence:
“I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance by solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.
“You will think me transported with Enthusiasm but I am not. — I am well aware of the Toil and Blood and Treasure, that it will cost Us to maintain this Declaration, and support and defend these States. — Yet through all the Gloom I can see the Rays of ravishing Light and Glory. I can see that the End is more than worth all the Means. And that Posterity will tryumph in that Days Transaction, even altho We should rue it, which I trust in God We shall not.”
Now turning to the published Dissertation, Mr. Adams made this observation about the early European settlers in the New World:
“Let us read and recollect and impress upon our souls the views and ends of our own more immediate forefathers, in exchanging their native country for a dreary, inhospitable wilderness. Let us examine into the nature of that power, and the cruelty of that oppression, which drove them from their homes. Recollect their amazing fortitude, their bitter sufferings, — the hunger, the nakedness, the cold, which they patiently endured, — the severe labors of clearing their grounds, building their houses, raising their provisions, amidst dangers from wild beasts and savage men, before they had time or money or materials for commerce. Recollect the civil and religious principles and hopes and expectations which constantly supported and carried them through all hardships with patience and resignation. Let us recollect it was liberty, the hope of liberty for themselves and us and ours, which conquered all discouragements, dangers, and trials. In such researches as these, let us all in our several departments cheerfully engage, — but especially the proper patrons and supporters of law, learning, and religion!”
The bold spirit of the Puritan and Pilgram forefathers was certainly intertwined in Adams’ sinews. He lived and breathed Liberty and tirelessly promoted the Freedom of his countrymen from physical, mental, and spiritual bondage. It was this animating spirit that made Adams reflect late in life of his earlier labor for Liberty: “I was borne along by an irresistible sense of duty” (John Adams to Benjamin Rush, August 28, 1811).
In his Dissertation, Adams shared his high sentiments for mankind:
“Let the pulpit resound with the doctrines and sentiments of religious liberty. Let us hear the danger of thralldom to our consciences from ignorance, extreme poverty, and dependence, in short, from civil and political slavery. Let us see delineated before us the true map of man. Let us hear the dignity of his nature, and the noble rank he holds among the works of God, — that consenting to slavery is a sacrilegious breach of trust, as offensive in the sight of God as it is derogatory from our own honor or interest or happiness, — and that God Almighty has promulgated from heaven, liberty, peace, and good-will to man!”
When mankind’s dignity was trampled, such as when his rights were violated by overbearing government, Adams was quick to defend them. While he denounced abuses and arbitrary power, he was also quick to rebuke the violated for allowing themselves to be abused, such as when he said in the Dissertation:
“The true source of our sufferings has been our timidity.
“We have been afraid to think. We have felt a reluctance to examining into the grounds of our privileges, and the extent in which we have an indisputable right to demand them, against all the power and authority on earth. And many who have not scrupled to examine for themselves, have yet for certain prudent reasons been cautious and diffident of declaring the result of their inquiries.
“The cause of this timidity is perhaps hereditary, and to be traced back in history as far as the cruel treatment the first settlers of this country received, before their embarkation for America, from the government at home. Everybody knows how dangerous it was to speak or write in favor of any thing, in those days, but the triumphant system of religion and politics. And our fathers were particularly the objects of the persecutions and proscriptions of the times. It is not unlikely, therefore, that although they were inflexibly steady in refusing their positive assent to any thing against their principles, they might have contracted habits of reserve, and a cautious diffidence of asserting their opinions publicly. These habits they probably brought with them to America, and have transmitted down to us.”
Whether by heredity or from some other cause, Adams opposed servility and timidity. He therefore sounded the clarion call for his countrymen to rise from the dust and claim their dignified position as intelligent human beings and freemen. My favorite John Adams quote comes from the Dissertation. Adams proclaimed:
“Let us tenderly and kindly cherish, therefore, the means of knowledge. Let us dare to read, think, speak, and write. Let every order and degree among the people rouse their attention and animate their resolution. Let them all become attentive to the grounds and principles of government, ecclesiastical and civil. Let us study the law of nature; search into the spirit of the British constitution; read the histories of ancient ages; contemplate the great examples of Greece and Rome; set before us the conduct of our own British ancestors, who have defended for us the inherent rights of mankind against foreign and domestic tyrants and usurpers, against arbitrary kings and cruel priests, in short, against the gates of earth and hell. . . .
“In a word, let every sluice of knowledge be opened and set a-flowing.”
I want to repeat, emphasize, and underscore the second line: “Let us dare to read, think, speak, and write.” What a challenge! What a call to arms! What an amazing way to live life! I issue this same challenge to you, dear reader. Read more, especially “the words of eternal life” (John 6:68). Use the beautiful brain God gave you to lift yourself above the mundane and crass. Speak coherently for good, for right, for truth. And learn to use the written word to communicate noble ideas, useful knowledge, and empowering wisdom.
Mr. Adams spoke much about education. In his diary on November 14, 1760, Adams wrote: “A Pen is certainly an excellent Instrument, to fix a Mans Attention and to inflame his Ambition.” On July 7, 1761, Adams wrote again in his diary, saying:
“The English Constitution is founded, tis bottomed And grounded on the Knowledge and good sense of the People. The very Ground of our Liberties, is the freedom of Elections. Every Man has in Politicks as well as Religion, a Right to think and speak and Act for himself. No man either King or Subject, Clergyman or Layman has any Right to dictate to me the Person I shall choose for my Legislator and Ruler. I must judge for myself, but how can I judge, how can any Man judge, unless his Mind has been opened and enlarged by Reading. A Man who can read, will find in his Bible, in the common sermon Books that common People have by them and even in the Almanack and News Papers, Rules and observations, that will enlarge his Range of Thought, and enable him the better to judge who has and who has not that Integrity of Heart, and that Compass of Knowledge and Understanding, which form the Statesman.”
Another time, in Thoughts on Government, Adams observed:
“LAWS for the liberal education of youth, especially of the lower class of people, are so extremely wise and useful, that to a humane and generous mind, no expence for this purpose would be thought extravagant. . . .
“. . . Two Things are indispensibly to be attended to—one is some Regulations for securing forever an equitable Choice of Representatives—another is the Education of Youth, both in Literature and Morals.”
Finally, in a letter to his wife, Mr. Adams observed:
“Human nature with all its infirmities and depravation is still capable of great things. It is capable of attaining to degrees of wisdom and of goodness, which, we have reason to believe, appear respectable in the estimation of superior intelligences. Education makes a greater difference between man and man, than nature has made between man and brute. The virtues and powers to which men may be trained, by early education and constant discipline, are truly sublime and astonishing. Newton and Locke are examples of the deep sagacity which may be acquired by long habits of thinking and study. Nay, your common mechanics and artisans are proofs of the wonderful dexterity acquired by use. . . .
“It should be your care, therefore, and mine, to elevate the minds of our children and exalt their courage; to accelerate and animate their industry and activity; to excite in them an habitual contempt of meanness, abhorrence of injustice and inhumanity, and an ambition to a excel in every capacity, faculty, and virtue. If we suffer their minds to grovel and creep in infancy, they will grovel all their lives.
“But their bodies must be hardened, as well as their souls exalted. Without strength and activity and vigor of body, the brightest mental excellencies will be eclipsed and obscured” (John Adams to Abigail Adams, October 29, 1775).
Adams was living proof that people from humble beginnings could, through their industry, ambition, and education, attain the heights of wisdom, goodness, and excellence befitting a son or daughter of God. I’ve often said that “education is the key.” And so it was for John Adams.
As profound as many of his observations on life and humanity were, Adams left his mark most manifestly on the politics of the world. America might not be America today had John Adams not been such a force in favor of Freedom. Though he pressed for reconciliation with Britain early on, seeking to avoid conflict and turmoil, he nevertheless threw himself into the fray as he witnessed repeated aggressions against the God-given rights of his countrymen by their tyrannical government.
In 1774, Adams was appointed to attend the First Continental Congress as a delegate for Massachusetts. In his autobiographical notes, Adams detailed a few things about his involvement in the Congress:
“The first Committee was instructed to prepare a Bill of Rights as it was called or a Declaration of the Rights of the Colonies: the second, a List of Infringements or Violations of those Rights. Congress was pleased to appoint me, on the first Committee, as the Member for Massachusetts . . . I was appointed on the Subcommittee, in which after going over the ground again, a Sett of Articles were drawn and debated one by one. After several days deliberation, We agreed upon all the Articles excepting one, and that was the Authority of Parliament, which was indeed the Essence of the whole Controversy. Some were for a flatt denyal of all Authority: others for denying the Power of Taxation only. Some for denying internal but admitting [ex]ternal Taxation. After a multitude of Motions had [been] made, discussed [and] negatived, it seems as if We should never agree upon any Thing. Mr. John Rutledge of South Carolina, one of the Committee, addressing himself to me, was pleased to say “Adams We must agree upon Something: You appear to be as familiar with the Subject as any of Us, and I like your Expressions the necessity of the Case and excluding all Ideas of Taxation external and internal. I have a great Opinion of that same Idea of the Necessity of the Case and I am determined against all taxation for revenue. Come take the Pen and see if you cant produce something that will unite Us.” Some others of the Committee seconding Mr. Rutledge, I took a sheet of paper and drew up an Article. When it was read I believe not one of the Committee were fully satisfied with it, but they all soon acknowledged that there was no hope of hitting on any thing, in which We could all agree with more Satisfaction. All therefore agreed to this, and upon this depended the Union of the Colonies . . . I was appointed to put them into form and report a fair Draught for their final Acceptance. This was done and they were finally accepted.”
Adams’ subcommittee draft was incorporated into the final committee draft, which influenced an important document published by Congress in October of 1774. It should be remembered that the Congress had convened to oppose four tyrannical laws passed by Parliament against Massachusetts, collectively called the Coercive Acts or Intolerable Acts. The “Declaration and Resolves of the First Continental Congress,” otherwise known at the time as “The Bill of Rights; a List of Grievances,” was Congress’s response to British oppression. As the latter name suggests, the “Declaration” listed various grievances and rights. Many of Adams’ thoughts found their way into the final product, which in part read:
“Whereupon the deputies so appointed being now assembled, in a full and free representation of these colonies, taking into their most serious consideration, the best means of attaining the ends aforesaid, do, in the first place, as Englishmen, their ancestors in like cases have usually done, for asserting and vindicating their rights and liberties, DECLARE,
“That the inhabitants of the English colonies in North-America, by the immutable laws of nature, the principles of the English constitution, and the several charters or compacts, have the following RIGHTS:
“Resolved, N.C.D. 1. That they are entitled to life, liberty and property: and they have never ceded to any foreign power whatever, a right to dispose of either without their consent.
“Resolved, N.C.D. 2. That our ancestors, who first settled these colonies, were at the time of their emigration from the mother country, entitled to all the rights, liberties, and immunities of free and natural- born subjects, within the realm of England.
“Resolved, N.C.D. 3. That by such emigration they by no means forfeited, surrendered, or lost any of those rights, but that they were, and their descendants now are, entitled to the exercise and enjoyment of all such of them, as their local and other circumstances enable them to exercise and enjoy.
“Resolved, 4. That the foundation of English liberty, and of all free government, is a right in the people to participate in their legislative council.”
The same document later stated:
“All and each of which the aforesaid deputies, in behalf of themselves, and their constituents, do claim, demand, and insist on, as their indubitable rights and liberties, which cannot be legally taken from them, altered or abridged by any power whatever, without their own consent, by their representatives in their several provincial legislature.
“In the course of our inquiry, we find many infringements and violations of the foregoing rights, which, from an ardent desire, that harmony and mutual intercourse of affection and interest may be restored, we pass over for the present, and proceed to state such acts and measures as have been adopted since the last war, which demonstrate a system formed to enslave America. . . .
“To these grievous acts and measures, Americans cannot submit.”
He may not have written the final draft, but Adams’ expressions and thoughts are scattered throughout. He did not tamely submit to an oppressive Parliament or out-of-control king. He was the loudest voice for Liberty and Independence anywhere in the colonies. His rousing voice became amplified scarcely a year later when he set in motion another more profound Declaration.
In May of 1775, Adams attended the Second Continental Congress. This is where he sealed his legacy for all time. It was Adams who pressed for the formation of the Continental Army commanded by General George Washington. It was Adams who urged Independence and harangued his colleagues until they allowed him to put together a committee for the purpose of writing a proposed Declaration of Independence. It was Adams who insisted that Thomas Jefferson compose that immortal document.
Just prior to Congress meeting for the second time, the shot heard ‘round the world took place. The Battle of Lexington and Concord occurred on April 19, 1775 as the British Redcoats attempted to confiscate firearms and arrest patriot leaders like Samuel Adams. Some said the American militiamen fired first, others said the British did. The Congress attempted to ascertain the truth and ultimately acquitted the militia of wrongdoing. John Adams, however, didn’t care who fired first – the incident proved there was no longer any recourse to words and peace proposals. In his refreshingly blunt manner, he said:
“A great Solicitude appeared in Congress to ascertain by Oaths Affidavits and Depositions, which fired first. I was thought to aim at Independence, because I declared in Congress that I did not care a Farthing about this Question. Since it was become apparent that a War was inevitable, it was of no moment which commenced Hostilities, for Hostilities alone could decide the Controversy between the two Countries. Yet certainly, the were better Politicians than I because they studied and laboured to have appearances on their Side” (John Adams to Benjamin Rush, June 21, 1811).
And, so, Mr. Adams put on a full-court press for Independence, the appearances and formalities be damned. That is the type of patriot we need today – the kind who cares far more about what is right than what appears so, what is best for the country than what is claimed to be best. War had already begun, why should any American then deny it? Why attempt reconciliation after the enemy had drawn first blood and was openly pouring troops into the country for the purpose of oppressing you?
Years after the Congress and the successful War for Independence, the famed Daniel Webster fictionalized a speech that was intended to capture the spirit of John Adams’ patriotism at the Congress. The superb speech reads:
“Sink or swim, live or die, survive or perish, I give my hand and my heart to this vote [for Independence]. It is true, indeed, that in the beginning we aimed not at independence. But there’s a Divinity which shapes our ends. The injustice of England has driven us to arms; and, blinded to her own interest for our good, she has obstinately persisted, till independence is now within our grasp. We have but to reach forth to it, and it is ours. Why, then, should we defer the Declaration? Is any man so weak as now to hope for a reconciliation with England, which shall leave either safety to the country and its liberties, or safety to his own life and his own honor? Are not you, sir, who sit in that chair, is not he, our venerable colleague, near you, are you not both already the proscribed and predestined objects of punishment and of vengeance? Cut off from all hope of royal clemency, what are you, what can you be, while the power of England remains, but outlaws? If we postpone independence, do we mean to carry on, or to give up, the war? Do we mean to submit to the measures of Parliament, Boston Port Bill and all? Do we mean to submit, and consent that we ourselves shall be ground to powder, and our country and its rights trodden down in the dust? I know we do not mean to submit. We never shall submit. Do we intend to violate that most solemn obligation ever entered into by men, that plighting, before God, of our sacred honor to Washington, when, putting him forth to incur the dangers of war, as well as the political hazards of the times, we promised to adhere to him, in every extremity, with our fortunes and our lives? I know there is not a man here, who would not rather see a general conflagration sweep over the land, or an earthquake sink it, than one jot or tittle of that plighted faith fall to the ground. For myself, having, twelve months ago, in this place, moved you, that George Washington be appointed commander of the forces raised, or to be raised, for defence of American liberty, may my right hand forget her cunning, and my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth, if I hesitate or waver in the support I give him.
“The war, then, must go on. We must fight it through. And if the war must go on, why put off longer the Declaration of Independence? That measure will strengthen us. It will give us character abroad. The nations will then treat with us, which they never can do while we acknowledge ourselves subjects, in arms against our sovereign. Nay, I maintain that England herself will sooner treat for peace with us on the footing of independence, than consent, by repealing her acts, to acknowledge that her whole conduct towards us has been a course of injustice and oppression. Her pride will be less wounded by submitting to that course of things which now predestinates our independence, than by yielding the points in controversy to her rebellious subjects. The former she would regard as the result of fortune; the latter she would feel as her own deep disgrace. Why, then, why then, sir, do we not as soon as possible change this from a civil to a national war? And since we must fight it through, why not put ourselves in a state to enjoy all the benefits of victory, if we gain the victory?
“If we fail, it can be no worse for us. But we shall not fail. The cause will raise up armies; the cause will create navies. The people, the people, if we are true to them, will carry us, and will carry themselves, gloriously, through this struggle. I care not how fickle other people have been found. I know the people of these Colonies, and I know that resistance to British aggression is deep and settled in their hearts and cannot be eradicated. Every Colony, indeed, has expressed its willingness to follow, if we but take the lead. Sir, the Declaration will inspire the people with increased courage. Instead of a long and bloody war for the restoration of privileges, for redress of grievances, for chartered immunities, held under a British king, set before them the glorious object of entire independence, and it will breathe into them anew the breath of life. Read this Declaration at the head of the army; every sword will be drawn from its scabbard, and the solemn vow uttered, to maintain it, or to perish on the bed of honor. Publish it from the pulpit; religion will approve it, and the love of religious liberty will cling round it, resolved to stand with it, or fall with it. Send it to the public halls; proclaim it there; let them hear it who heard the first roar of the enemy’s cannon; let them see it who saw their brothers and their sons fall on the field of Bunker Hill, and in the streets of Lexington and Concord, and the very walls will cry out in its support.
“Sir, I know the uncertainty of human affairs, but I see, I see clearly, through this day’s business. You and I, indeed, may rue it. We may not live to the time when this Declaration shall be made good. We may die; die colonists; die slaves; die, it may be, ignominiously and on the scaffold. Be it so. Be it so. If it be the pleasure of Heaven that my country shall require the poor offering of my life, the victim shall be ready, at the appointed hour of sacrifice, come when that hour may. But while I do live, let me have a country, or at least the hope of a country, and that a free country.
“But whatever may be our fate, be assured, be assured that this Declaration will stand. It may cost treasure, and it may cost blood; but it will stand, and it will richly compensate for both. Through the thick gloom of the present, I see the brightness of the future, as the sun in heaven. We shall make this a glorious, an immortal day. When we are in our graves, our children will honor it. They will celebrate it with thanksgiving, with festivity, with bonfires, and illuminations. On its annual return they will shed tears, copious, gushing tears, not of subjection and slavery, not of agony and distress, but of exultation, of gratitude, and of joy. Sir, before God, I believe the hour is come. My judgment approves this measure, and my whole heart is in it. All that I have, and all that I am, and all that I hope, in this life, I am now ready here to stake upon it; and I leave off as I begun, that live or die, survive or perish, I am for the Declaration. It is my living sentiment, and by the blessing of God it shall be my dying sentiment, Independence, now, and INDEPENDENCE FOREVER” (Daniel Webster, A Discourse in Commemoration of the Lives and Services of John Adams and Thomas Jefferson).
Mr. Adams may have not uttered these immortal words exactly, but he no doubt agreed with the sentiments. He was, after all, the “Colossus of Independence.” He was the man most responsible for pushing for Independence. Through his instrumentality, a committee of brilliant men including himself, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, Roger Sherman, and Robert Livingston, drafted the Declaration of Independence. And it was he who uttered the words “Independence forever” when asked to give a toast on the final Independence Day of his life.
After pushing America to war, John Adams performed many remarkable acts for his country, including writing the constitution for Massachusetts, serving briefly as ambassador to France alongside Benjamin Franklin, serving as ambassador to England, concluding the Treaty of Paris which ended the War for Independence, serving as the first vice-president under George Washington for eight years, serving as the nation’s second commander-in-chief, and being credited as the father of the U.S. Navy. Any one of these feats could be, and is, the subject of a book. I choose to focus on two.
In 1780, John Adams, in conjunction with my own relative Caleb Strong who was an extraordinary man who attended the Constitutional Convention and served as the first senator from his state as well as its governor for eleven years, drafted the constitution for Massachusetts. I quote from a government source:
“The 1780 Constitution of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, drafted by John Adams, is the world’s oldest functioning written constitution. It served as a model for the United States Constitution, which was written in 1787 and became effective in 1789. . . .
“The Massachusetts Constitution contains three parts: a Preamble, Part the First: A Declaration of the Rights of the Inhabitants of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and Part the Second: The Frame of Government. . . .
“The Declaration of Rights, which was in part derived from the Bill of Rights in several other state constitutions, sets forth many individual rights which would later be included in the federal Bill of Rights. John Adams considered individual rights so integral to the formation of government that the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights precedes the Frame of Government. (Contrast this with the United States Constitution which sets forth a frame of government, to which the Bill of Rights was added two years later, after prolonged debate.) The Declaration of Rights includes prohibitions against unreasonable searches and seizure, ex post facto laws, and the public taking of private property without just compensation. Protected rights include freedom of the press, the right to petition the government, right to trial by jury, and freedom of worship.
“The Declaration of Rights also established an independent judiciary. Adams knew that a free people and a stable government required judges “as free, impartial and independent as the lot of humanity will admit,” who serve “as long as they behave themselves well” and whose salaries are “established by standing laws.” Article XXIX brings to fruition arguments made by Adams in Thoughts on Government and in a series of argumentative essays written in 1773 between Adams and loyalist General William Brattle. In those essays, Adams contended that colonial judges, who served at the pleasure of the Crown, were “far from independent.”
“The Declaration of Rights concludes with an inspiring commitment to the creation of a balanced government of separate powers: a government of laws, not men:
“In the government of the commonwealth, the legislative department shall never exercise the executive and judicial powers, or either of them; the executive shall never exercise the legislative and judicial powers, or either of them; the judicial shall never exercise the legislative and executive powers, or either of them; to the end that it may be a government of laws, and not of men. (Article XXX). . . .
“The Frame of Government establishes a government of separate powers comprised of three branches: an executive, a bicameral legislature, and an independent judiciary. The structural framework adopted in Massachusetts is identical to that adopted in the United States Constitution.”
No, Mr. Adams was not physically present at the Constitutional Convention because he was in Europe performing other duties for his country, but his contributions were felt because of his work on own his state’s constitution. Many of his ideas were incorporated directly into the federal Constitution and, later, Bill of Rights. John Adams was such a strong proponent of a Bill of Rights, both in Massachusetts and nationally, because he believed people couldn’t be trusted with power. Government, he believed, always endangered Liberty and therefore needed to be restrained and limited. In 1772, he wrote in his diary:
“Liberty, under every conceivable Form of Government is always in Danger. It is so even under a simple, or perfect Democracy, more so under a mixed Government, like the Republic of Rome, and still more so under a limited Monarchy.
“Ambition is one of the more ungovernable Passions of the human Heart. The Love of Power, is insatiable and uncontroulable. . . .
“There is Danger from all Men. The only Maxim of a free Government, ought to be to trust no Man living, with Power to endanger the public Liberty.”
Such an amazing accomplishment as urging a Bill of Rights or writing a state constitution is more than most people will ever realize in their lives, and, yet, it was only one of many astounding feats in the life of this exemplary man.
The next thing I wish to consider is Adams’ presidency. Usually not ranked among the best in public opinion polls or by so-called “experts,” I contend that Adams’ administration was actually one of the best we’ve ever had. People fault him most heavily for the Alien and Sedition Acts. Many of his contemporaries, including my hero Thomas Jefferson, and the Father of the Constitution, James Madison, heatedly opposed these measures. I’ve criticized them in the past, too. But today I want to offer a different perspective.
While heavy-handed, the Alien and Sedition Acts were designed to meet a very specific, and credible, threat: Jacobinism. If you know your history, you know that Jacobinism was the driving force behind the debauchery, chaos, and mass slaughter of the French Revolution. And, if you’ve ever peered beyond what the average history books tells you, you know that Jacobinism was inspired and promoted by the Order of Illuminati. This isn’t a conspiracy theory; it’s conspiracy fact.
In her book The French Revolution: A Study in Democracy, the writer Nesta Webster recounted the origin of Jacobinism:
“A further development of German Freemasonry was the Order of the Illuminati founded in 1776 by Dr. Adam Weishaupt, a professor of the University of Ingoldstadt in Bavaria. Weishaupt, who had been educated by the Jesuits, succeeded in persuading two other ex- Jesuits to join him in organizing the new Order, and it was no doubt this circumstance that gave rise to the belief entertained by certain contemporaries that the Jesuits were the secret directors of the sect. The truth is more probably that, as both Mirabeau and the Marquis de Luchet, in their pamphlets on the Illuminati, asserted, Illuminism was founded on the regime of the Jesuits, although their religious doctrines were diametrically opposed. Weishaupt, whom M. Louis Blanc de- scribed as “one of the deepest conspirators that ever existed,” had adopted the name of Spartacus — the leader of an insurrection of slaves in ancient Rome — and he aimed at nothing less than world revolution. Thus the Order of the Illuminati “abjured Christianity, advocated sensual pleasures, believed in annihilation, and called patriotism and loyalty narrow-minded prejudices incompatible with universal benevolence”; further, “they accounted all princes usurpers and tyrants, and all privileged orders as their abettors ; they meant to abolish the laws which protected property accumulated by long-continued and successful industry ; and to prevent for the future any such accumulation, they intended to establish universal liberty and equality, the imprescriptible rights of man, and as preparation for all this they intended to root out all religion and ordinary morality, and even to break the bonds of domestic life, by destroying the veneration for marriage-vows, and by taking the education of children out of the hands of the parents.”
“These were precisely the principles followed by the Subversives of France in 1793 and 1794, and the method by which this project was carried out is directly traceable to Weishaupt’s influence. . . .
“. . . The lodges of the German Freemasons and Illuminati were thus the source whence emanated all those anarchic schemes that culminated in the Terror, and it was at a great meeting of the Freemasons in Frankfurt-am-Main, three years before the French Revolution began, that the deaths of Louis XVI. and Gustavus III. of Sweden were first planned” (Nesta H. Webster, The French Revolution: A Study in Democracy, 20-21).
This French Terror, then, had its origin in Illuminism. You’ll never read this in a standard history textbook, but it’s the truth. Many American Founders at the time knew the threat of both Jacobinism and Illuminism, such as George Washington. President John Adams was another who understood Jacobinism. He knew that the Jacobins had sent their representatives to America during President George Washington’s administration and that they had threatened to kill President Washington, had attempted to rile up mobs, and would likely have succeeded in overthrowing the government had not a miraculous pandemic of Yellow Fever swept through the capital.
Because of the very real threat of Jacobinism-Illuminism domestically and a war with Jacobin-controlled France, called the Quasi-War, President Adams felt compelled to sign the Alien and Sedition Acts. While the Acts themselves are repugnant because they stifle free speech and grant government power not delegated in the Constitution, we can perhaps give President Adams some leeway when we realize the country was threatened with a Jacobin-Illuminati insurrection.
Knowing more now about the serious Illuminati threat to the country at the time, I’ve personally repented, to a large extent, of condemning Mr. Adams in my earlier life for passing the Acts. That said, I also don’t fully support them and I readily admit how dangerous they could be in the wrong hands. I also support and endorse the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions, written by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison respectively, which were produced as a direct result of the Acts.
Despite the turmoil surrounding the Alien and Sedition Acts, the Adams’ administration was favorable. He successfully kept us out of full-blown war with France. He built up the U.S. Navy and established the Department of the Navy. Adams’ Navy – the frigate Constellation specifically – even scored nice victories over French ships in 1799 and 1800. President Adams established the Library of Congress. Washington, D.C., was formally made the federal capital. And, a fact often overlooked despite its significance, his was the first administration to peacefully hand over power to an opposing faction after he lost his second election to Thomas Jefferson.
This final fact is important. John Adams had previously expressed his fear about the country dividing. He said:
“There is nothing I dread So much, as a Division of the Republick into two great Parties, each arranged under its Leader, and concerting Measures in opposition to each other. This, in my humble Apprehension is to be dreaded as the greatest political Evil, under our Constitution” (John Adams to Jonathan Jackson, October 2, 1780).
It is therefore of no small significance that Mr. Adams graciously bowed out of public life and allowed the Jeffersonians to take over. Through such mechanisms, he assumed the Union could be preserved along with peace and a chance for Liberty to flourish.
I leave off talking about Adams’ presidency with several powerful lines from the man’s Inaugural Address. He particularly praised the Constitution and launched into a list of things he appreciated about his country:
“I first saw the Constitution of the United States in a foreign country. Irritated by no literary altercation, animated by no public debate, heated by no party animosity, I read it with great satisfaction, as the result of good heads prompted by good hearts, as an experiment better adapted to the genius, character, situation, and relations of this nation and country than any which had ever been proposed or suggested. In its general principles and great outlines it was conformable to such a system of government as I had ever most esteemed, and in some States, my own native State in particular, had contributed to establish. Claiming a right of suffrage, in common with my fellow-citizens, in the adoption or rejection of a constitution which was to rule me and my posterity, as well as them and theirs, I did not hesitate to express my approbation of it on all occasions, in public and in private. . . .
“. . . if a preference, upon principle, of a free republican government, formed upon long and serious reflection, after a diligent and impartial inquiry after truth; if an attachment to the Constitution of the United States, and a conscientious determination to support it until it shall be altered by the judgments and wishes of the people, expressed in the mode prescribed in it; if a respectful attention to the constitutions of the individual States and a constant caution and delicacy toward the State governments; if an equal and impartial regard to the rights, interest, honor, and happiness of all the States in the Union, without preference or regard to a northern or southern, an eastern or western, position, their various political opinions on unessential points or their personal attachments; if a love of virtuous men of all parties and denominations; if a love of science and letters and a wish to patronize every rational effort to encourage schools, colleges, universities, academies, and every institution for propagating knowledge, virtue, and religion among all classes of the people, not only for their benign influence on the happiness of life in all its stages and classes, and of society in all its forms, but as the only means of preserving our Constitution from its natural enemies, the spirit of sophistry, the spirit of party, the spirit of intrigue, the profligacy of corruption, and the pestilence of foreign influence, which is the angel of destruction to elective governments; if a love of equal laws, of justice, and humanity in the interior administration; if an inclination to improve agriculture, commerce, and manufacturers for necessity, convenience, and defense; if a spirit of equity and humanity toward the aboriginal nations of America, and a disposition to meliorate their condition by inclining them to be more friendly to us, and our citizens to be more friendly to them; if an inflexible determination to maintain peace and inviolable faith with all nations, and that system of neutrality and impartiality among the belligerent powers of Europe which has been adopted by this Government and so solemnly sanctioned by both Houses of Congress and applauded by the legislatures of the States and the public opinion, until it shall be otherwise ordained by Congress; if a personal esteem for the French nation, formed in a residence of seven years chiefly among them, and a sincere desire to preserve the friendship which has been so much for the honor and interest of both nations; if, while the conscious honor and integrity of the people of America and the internal sentiment of their own power and energies must be preserved, an earnest endeavor to investigate every just cause and remove every colorable pretense of complaint; if an intention to pursue by amicable negotiation a reparation for the injuries that have been committed on the commerce of our fellow-citizens by whatever nation, and if success can not be obtained, to lay the facts before the Legislature, that they may consider what further measures the honor and interest of the Government and its constituents demand; if a resolution to do justice as far as may depend upon me, at all times and to all nations, and maintain peace, friendship, and benevolence with all the world; if an unshaken confidence in the honor, spirit, and resources of the American people, on which I have so often hazarded my all and never been deceived; if elevated ideas of the high destinies of this country and of my own duties toward it, founded on a knowledge of the moral principles and intellectual improvements of the people deeply engraven on my mind in early life, and not obscured but exalted by experience and age; and, with humble reverence, I feel it to be my duty to add, if a veneration for the religion of a people who profess and call themselves Christians, and a fixed resolution to consider a decent respect for Christianity among the best recommendations for the public service, can enable me in any degree to comply with your wishes, it shall be my strenuous endeavor that this sagacious injunction of the two Houses shall not be without effect.
“With this great example before me, with the sense and spirit, the faith and honor, the duty and interest, of the same American people pledged to support the Constitution of the United States, I entertain no doubt of its continuance in all its energy, and my mind is prepared without hesitation to lay myself under the most solemn obligations to support it to the utmost of my power.
“And may that Being who is supreme over all, the Patron of Order, the Fountain of Justice, and the Protector in all ages of the world of virtuous liberty, continue His blessing upon this nation and its Government and give it all possible success and duration consistent with the ends of His providence.”
The last of Mr. Adams’ commendable contributions I wish to mention were his continued petitions for his countrymen to turn to God and be virtuous. All the Founding Fathers knew and repeatedly acknowledged that the American People wouldn’t retain its Freedom for long without high public and private morality and authentic Christian religion. John Adams made several important statements on this topic, which I now quote, starting with the most famous:
“We have no Government armed with Power capable of contending with human Passions unbridled by morality and Religion. Avarice, Ambition, Revenge or Galantry, would break the strongest Cords of our Constitution as a Whale goes through a Net. Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious People. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other” (John Adams to the Massachusetts Militia, October, 11, 1798).
“The Form of Government, which you admire, when its Principles are pure, is admirable indeed. It is productive of every Thing, which is great and excellent among Men. But its Principles are as easily destroyed, as human Nature is corrupted. Such a Government is only to be supported by pure Religion, or Austere Morals. Public Virtue cannot exist in a Nation without private, and public Virtue is the only Foundation of Republics. There must be a possitive Passion for the public good, the public Interest, Honour, Power, and Glory, established in the Minds of the People, or there can be no Republican Government, nor any real Liberty. And this public Passion must be Superiour to all private Passions. Men must be ready, they must pride themselves, and be happy to sacrifice their private Pleasures, Passions, and Interests, nay their private Friendships and dearest Connections, when they Stand in Competition with the Rights of society” (John Adams to Mercy Otis Warren, April 16, 1776).
“All sober enquiries after truth, ancient and modern, Pagan and Christian, have declared that the happiness of man, as well as his dignity consists in virtue. Confucius, Zoroaster, Socrates, Mahomet, not to mention authorities really sacred, have agreed in this.
“If there is a form of government then, whose principle and foundation is virtue, will not every sober man acknowledge it better calculated to promote the general happiness than any other form?
“Fear is the foundation of most governments; but is so sordid and brutal a passion, and renders men, in whose breasts it predominates, so stupid, and miserable, that Americans will not be likely to approve of any political institution which is founded on it.
“Honor is truly sacred, but holds a lower rank in the scale of moral excellence than virtue. Indeed the former is but a part of the latter, and consequently has not equal pretensions to support a frame of government productive of human happiness.
“The foundation of every government is some principle or passion in the minds of the people. The noblest principles and most generous affections in our nature then, have the fairest chance to support the noblest and most generous models of government” (John Adams, Thoughts on Government).
And, finally, my favorite Adams statement on virtue in society:
“Statesmen my dear Sir, may plan and speculate for Liberty, but it is Religion and Morality alone, which can establish the Principles upon which Freedom can securely stand. The only foundation of a free Constitution, is pure Virtue, and if this cannot be inspired into our People, in a greater Measure, than they have it now, They may change their Rulers, and the forms of Government, but they will not obtain a lasting Liberty.—They will only exchange Tyrants and Tyrannies” (John Adams to Zabdiel Adams, June 21, 1776).
Had John Adams given us nothing more except these brief excerpts encouraging morality and faith as the strongest supports of civil society, his name would have been worth remembering. But he gave us these and so much more.
Mr. Adams was correct when he said that the Constitution is only operable when the American People are righteous. In fact, if you read The Anti-Federalist papers, some of America’s luminaries like Patrick Henry originally opposed the Constitution precisely because, they argued, it depended totally upon a moral and upright citizenry. They didn’t trust highly enough in the virtue of the public. John Adams also didn’t think too highly of the People’s ability to be fully just, yet he did his best to make sure they knew that unless they toed the Lord’s line and walked up to His laws and preserved the spirit of virtue among them, they would collapse into tyranny.
John Adams was a personal paragon of goodness, virtue, and patriotism. He ranks among the noblest and most profound individuals who ever lived in America or, frankly, anywhere on earth at any time in her history. Mr. Adams was and is the Colossus of Independence. Whatever faults he may have had, he loved his God, loved his country, loved his fellow freemen, loved his wife, and fought his entire life for the cause of justice and Liberty and for the advancement of his nation. What more can one ask for? May God forever let the names of John Adams reverberate through the corridors of time in immortal glory!
November 12, 2021
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