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John Adams
A painted portrait of a man with greying hair, looking left.

In office
March 4, 1797 – March 4, 1801
Vice President Thomas Jefferson
Preceded by George Washington
Succeeded by Thomas Jefferson

In office
April 21, 1789 – March 4, 1797
President George Washington
Succeeded by Thomas Jefferson

In office
1785–1788
Appointed by Congress of the Confederation
Preceded by New office
Succeeded by Thomas Pinckney

In office
1782–1788
Appointed by Congress of the Confederation
Preceded by New office
Succeeded by Charles W. F. Dumas

Delegate from Massachusetts to the Second Continental Congress
In office
May 10, 1775 – 1778

In office
September 5, 1774 – October 26, 1774

Born October 30, 1735(1735-10-30)
Braintree (now Quincy), Province of Massachusetts Bay, British America
Died July 4, 1826 (aged 90)
Quincy, Massachusetts, USA
Resting place United First Parish Church, Quincy, Massachusetts
42°15′04″N 71°00′13″W / 42.25111°N 71.00361°W / 42.25111; -71.00361
Political party Federalist
Spouse(s) Abigail Smith Adams
Children Abigail ("Nabby"), John Quincy, Susanna, Charles, Thomas and Elizabeth (stillborn)
Alma mater Harvard College
Occupation Lawyer
Religion Unitarian
Signature

John Adams (October 30, 1735 – July 4, 1826) was an American politician and the second President of the United States (1797–1801), after being the first Vice President (1789–1797) for two terms. He is regarded as one of the most influential Founding Fathers of the United States.

Adams came to prominence in the early stages of the American Revolution. As a delegate from Massachusetts to the Continental Congress, he played a leading role in persuading Congress to adopt the United States Declaration of Independence in 1776. As a representative of Congress in Europe, he was a major negotiator of the eventual peace treaty with Great Britain, and chiefly responsible for obtaining important loans from Amsterdam.

Adams' revolutionary credentials secured him two terms as George Washington's vice president and his own election as the second president of the United States. During his one term as president, he was frustrated by battles inside his own Federalist party (by a faction led by Alexander Hamilton) and the newly emergent bi-partisan disagreements with Jeffersonian Republicans. During his term he also signed the controversial Alien and Sedition Acts. The major accomplishment of his presidency was his peaceful resolution of the Quasi-War crisis with France in 1798.

After Adams was defeated for reelection by Thomas Jefferson (at the time, Adams' vice-president), he retired to Massachusetts. He and his wife Abigail Adams founded an accomplished family line of politicians, diplomats, and historians now referred to as the Adams political family. Adams was the father of John Quincy Adams, the sixth President of the United States. His achievements have received greater recognition in modern times, though his contributions were not initially as celebrated as those of other Founders.

Contents

Early life

John Adams, Jr., the eldest of three sons,[1] was born on October 30, 1735 (October 19, 1735 Old Style, Julian calendar), in what is now Quincy, Massachusetts (then called the "north precinct" of Braintree, Massachusetts), to John Adams, Sr., and Susanna Boylston Adams.[2] The location of Adams's birth is now part of Adams National Historical Park. His father, also named John (1691–1761), was a fifth-generation descendant of Henry Adams, who emigrated from Braintree, England to Massachusetts Bay Colony in about 1638. He is descended from a Welsh male line called Ap Adam.[3] His father was a farmer, a Congregationalist (that is, Puritan) deacon, a lieutenant in the militia and a selectman, or town councilman, who supervised schools and roads. His mother, Susanna Boylston Adams,[4] was a descendant of the Boylstons of Brookline.

Adams was born to a modest family, but he felt acutely the responsibility of living up to his family heritage: the founding generation of Puritans, who came to the American wilderness in the 1630s and established colonial presence in America. The Puritans of the great migration “believed they lived in the Bible. England under the Stuarts was Egypt; they were Israel fleeing ...to establish a refuge for godliness, a city upon a hill.”[5] By the time of John Adams's birth in 1735, Puritan tenets such as predestination were no longer as widely accepted, and many of their stricter practices had mellowed with time, but John Adams “considered them bearers of freedom, a cause that still had a holy urgency.” It was a value system he believed in, and a heroic model he wished to live up to.[6]

Young Adams went to Harvard College at age sixteen in 1751.[7] His father expected him to become a minister, but Adams had doubts. After graduating in 1755, he taught school for a few years in Worcester, allowing himself time to think about his career choice. After much reflection, he decided to become a lawyer and studied law in the office of James Putnam, a prominent lawyer in Worcester. In 1758, Adams was admitted to the bar. From an early age, he developed the habit of writing descriptions of events and impressions of men which are scattered through his diary. He put the skill to good use as a lawyer, often recording cases he observed so that he could study and reflect upon them. His report of the 1761 argument of James Otis in the superior court of Massachusetts as to the legality of Writs of Assistance is a good example. Otis’s argument inspired Adams with zeal for the cause of the American colonies.[8]

On October 25, 1764, five days before his 29th birthday, Adams married Abigail Smith (1744–1818), his third cousin[9] and the daughter of a Congregational minister, Rev. William Smith, at Weymouth, Massachusetts. Their children were Abigail (1765–1813), future president John Quincy (1767–1848), Susanna (1768–1770); Charles (1770–1800), Thomas Boylston (1772–1832), and the stillborn Elizabeth (1777).

Adams was not a popular leader like his second cousin, Samuel Adams. Instead, his influence emerged through his work as a constitutional lawyer and his intense analysis of historical examples,[10] together with his thorough knowledge of the law and his dedication to the principles of republicanism. Adams often found his inborn contentiousness to be a constraint in his political career.

Career before the Revolution

Opponent of Stamp Act 1765

Adams first rose to prominence as an opponent of the Stamp Act of 1765, which was imposed by the British Parliament to pay off British war debts as well as the expense of keeping a standing army in the American colonies. Popular resistance, he later observed, was sparked by an oft-reprinted sermon of the Boston minister, Jonathan Mayhew, interpreting Romans 13 to elucidate the principle of just insurrection.[11]

In 1765, Adams drafted the instructions which were sent by the inhabitants of Braintree to its representatives in the Massachusetts legislature, and which served as a model for other towns to draw up instructions to their representatives. In August 1765, he anonymously contributed four notable articles to the Boston Gazette (republished in The London Chronicle in 1768 as True Sentiments of America, also known as A Dissertation on the Canon and Feudal Law). In the letter he suggested that there was a connection between the Protestant ideas that Adams's Puritan ancestors brought to New England and the ideas behind their resistance to the Stamp Act. In the former he explained that the opposition of the colonies to the Stamp Act was because the Stamp Act deprived the American colonists of two basic rights guaranteed to all Englishmen, and which all free men deserved: rights to be taxed only by consent and to be tried only by a jury of one's peers.

The "Braintree Instructions" were a succinct and forthright defense of colonial rights and liberties, while the Dissertation was an essay in political education.

In December 1765, he delivered a speech before the governor and council in which he pronounced the Stamp Act invalid on the ground that Massachusetts, being without representation in Parliament, had not assented to it.[12]

Boston Massacre

In 1770, a street confrontation resulted in British soldiers killing five civilians in what became known as the Boston Massacre.[13] The soldiers involved, who were arrested on criminal charges, had trouble finding legal counsel. Finally, they asked Adams to defend them. Although he feared it would hurt his reputation, he agreed. Six of the soldiers were acquitted. Two who had fired directly into the crowd were charged with murder but were convicted only of manslaughter.

As for Adams's payment, Chinard alleges[14] that one of the soldiers, Captain Thomas Preston, gave Adams a symbolic "single guinea" as a retaining fee, the only fee he received in the case. However, David McCullough states in his biography of Adams that he received nothing more than a retainer of eighteen guineas.[15] Adams's own diary confirms that Preston paid an initial ten guineas and a subsequent payment of eight was "all the pecuniary Reward I ever had for fourteen or fifteen days labour, in the most exhausting and fatiguing Causes I ever tried."[16]

Despite his previous misgivings, Adams was elected to the Massachusetts General Court (the colonial legislature) in June 1770, while still in preparation for the trial.[17]

Dispute concerning Parliament's authority

In 1772, Massachusetts Governor Thomas Hutchinson announced that he and his judges would no longer need their salaries paid by the Massachusetts legislature, because the Crown would henceforth assume payment drawn from customs revenues. Boston radicals protested and asked Adams to explain their objections. In "Two Replies of the Massachusetts House of Representatives to Governor Hutchinson" Adams argued that the colonists had never been under the sovereignty of Parliament. Their original charter was with the person of the king and their allegiance was only to him. If a workable line could not be drawn between parliamentary sovereignty and the total independence of the colonies, he continued, the colonies would have no other choice but to choose independence.

In Novanglus; or, A History of the Dispute with America, From Its Origin, in 1754, to the Present Time Adams attacked some essays by Daniel Leonard that defended Hutchinson's arguments for the absolute authority of Parliament over the colonies. In Novanglus Adams gave a point-by-point refutation of Leonard's essays, and then provided one of the most extensive and learned arguments made by the colonists against British imperial policy.

It was a systematic attempt by Adams to describe the origins, nature, and jurisdiction of the unwritten British constitution. Adams used his wide knowledge of English and colonial legal history to show the provincial legislatures were fully sovereign over their own internal affairs, and that the colonies were connected to Great Britain only through the King.

Continental Congress

Massachusetts sent Adams to the first and second Continental Congresses in 1774 and from 1775 to 1777.[18] In June 1775, with a view of promoting the union of the colonies, he nominated George Washington of Virginia as commander-in-chief of the army then assembled around Boston. His influence in Congress was great, and almost from the beginning, he sought permanent separation from Britain.

A red postage stamp, depicting an etching of a man facing to the right. The top right corner reads 'UNITED STATES POSTAGE', and '2 CENTS 2' is printed on the bottom.
John Adams, as depicted on a two-cent American president postage stamp

On May 15, 1776, the Continental Congress, in response to escalating hostilities which had started thirteen months earlier at the battles of Lexington and Concord, urged that the colonies begin constructing their own constitutions, a precursor to becoming independent states. The resolution to draft independent constitutions was, as Adams put it, "independence itself."[19]

Over the next decade, Americans from every state gathered and deliberated on new governing documents. As radical as it was to write constitutions (prior convention suggested that a society's form of government needn't be codified, nor should its organic law be written down in a single document), what was equally radical was the nature of American political thought as the summer of 1776 dawned.[20]

Thoughts on Government

Several representatives turned to Adams for advice about framing new governments. Adams got tired of repeating the same thing, and published the pamphlet Thoughts on Government (1776), which was subsequently influential in the writing of many state constitutions. Many historians argue that Thoughts on Government should be read as an articulation of the classical republican theory of mixed government. Adams contended that social classes exist in every political society, and that a good government must accept that reality. For centuries, dating back to Aristotle, a mixed regime balancing monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy, or the monarch, nobles, and people was required to preserve order and liberty.[21]

Using the tools of Republicanism in the United States, the patriots believed it was corrupt and nefarious aristocrats, in the British Parliament and stationed in America, who were guilty of the British assault on American liberty. Unlike others, Adams thought that the definition of a republic had to do with its ends, rather than its means. He wrote in Thoughts on Government, "There is no good government but what is republican. That the only valuable part of the British constitution is so; because the very definition of a republic is 'an empire of laws, and not of men.'" Thoughts on Government defended bicameralism, for "a single assembly is liable to all the vices, follies, and frailties of an individual."[22] He also suggested that the executive should be independent, as should the judiciary. Thoughts on Government was enormously influential and was referenced as an authority in every state-constitution writing hall.

About fifty men dressed in formal clothing gather in a room fronted with a desk containing documents atop it. 5 men stand in front of the desk.
Trumbull's Declaration of Independence depicts the five-man committee presenting the draft of the Declaration of Independence to Congress. Adams is standing in the center with his hand on his hip.

Declaration of Independence

On June 7, 1776, Adams seconded the resolution of independence introduced by Richard Henry Lee which stated, "These colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent states," and championed the resolution until it was adopted by Congress on July 2, 1776.[23]

He was appointed to a committee with Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, Robert R. Livingston and Roger Sherman, to draft a Declaration of Independence. Although that document was written primarily by Jefferson, Adams occupied the foremost place in the debate on its adoption. Many years later, Jefferson hailed Adams as "the pillar of [the Declaration's] support on the floor of Congress, its ablest advocate and defender against the multifarious assaults it encountered."[24]

After the defeat of the Continental Army at the Battle of Long Island on August 27, 1776, General William Howe requested the Second Continental Congress send representatives to negotiate peace. A delegation including Adams and Benjamin Franklin met with Howe on Staten Island in New York Harbor on September 11, where Howe demanded the Declaration of Independence be rescinded before any other terms could be discussed. The delegation refused, and hostilities continued. In 1777, Adams resigned his seat on the Massachusetts Superior Court to serve as the head of the Board of War and Ordnance, as well as many other important committees.[25]

In Europe

Congress twice dispatched Adams to represent the fledgling union in Europe, first in 1777, and again in 1779. Accompanied, on both occasions, by his eldest son, John Quincy (who was ten years old at the time of the first voyage), Adams sailed for France aboard the Continental Navy frigate Boston on February 15, 1778. Although chased several times by British warships, the only action seen during the voyage was the bloodless capture of a British privateer.[26] Adams was in some regards an unlikely choice in as much as he did not speak French, the international language of diplomacy at the time.[27]

His first stay in Europe, between April 1, 1778, and June 17, 1779, was largely unproductive, and he returned to his home in Braintree in early August 1779.

Between September 1 and October 30, 1779, he drafted the Massachusetts Constitution together with Samuel Adams and James Bowdoin. He was selected in September 1779 to return to France and, following the conclusion of the Massachusetts constitutional convention, left on November 15 aboard the French frigate Sensible.

On the second trip, Adams was appointed as Minister Plenipotentiary charged with the mission of negotiating a treaty of amity and commerce with Britain.[28] The French government, however, did not approve of Adams's appointment and subsequently, on the insistence of the French foreign minister, the Comte de Vergennes, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, John Jay and Henry Laurens were appointed to cooperate with Adams, although Jefferson did not go to Europe and Laurens was posted to the Dutch Republic. In the event Jay, Adams, and Franklin played the major part in the negotiations. Overruling Franklin and distrustful of Vergennes, Jay and Adams decided not to consult with France. Instead, they dealt directly with the British commissioners.[29]

Throughout the negotiations, Adams was especially determined that the right of the United States to the fisheries along the Atlantic coast should be recognized. The American negotiators were able to secure a favorable treaty, which gave Americans ownership of all lands east of the Mississippi, except East and West Florida, which were transferred to Spain. The treaty was signed on November 30, 1782.

After these negotiations began, Adams had spent some time as the ambassador in the Dutch Republic, then one of the few other Republics in the world (the Republic of Venice and the Old Swiss Confederacy being the other notable ones). In July 1780, he had been authorized to execute the duties previously assigned to Laurens. With the aid of the Dutch Patriot leader Joan van der Capellen tot den Pol, Adams secured the recognition of the United States as an independent government at The Hague on April 19, 1782.[30] During this visit, he also negotiated a loan of five million guilders financed by Nicolaas van Staphorst and Wilhelm Willink.[31] In October 1782, he negotiated with the Dutch a treaty of amity and commerce, the first such treaty between the United States and a foreign power following the 1778 treaty with France. The house that Adams bought during this stay in The Netherlands became the first American-owned embassy on foreign soil anywhere in the world.[32] For two months during 1783, Adams lodged in London with radical publisher John Stockdale.[33]

In 1784 and 1785, he was one of the architects of far-going trade relations between the US and Prussia. The Prussian ambassador in The Hague, Friedrich Wilhelm von Thulemeyer, was involved, as were Jefferson and Franklin, who were in Paris.[34]

In 1785, John Adams was appointed the first American minister to the Court of St. James's (ambassador to Great Britain). When he was presented to his former sovereign, George III, the King intimated that he was aware of Adams's lack of confidence in the French government. Adams admitted this, stating: "I must avow to your Majesty that I have no attachment but to my own country.”

Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom referred to this episode on July 7, 1976, at the White House. She said:

John Adams, America's first Ambassador, said to my ancestor, King George III, that it was his desire to help with the restoration of 'the old good nature and the old good humor between our peoples.' That restoration has long been made, and the links of language, tradition, and personal contact have maintained it.[35]

While in London, John and Abigail had to suffer the stares and hostility of the Court, and chose to escape it when they could by seeking out Richard Price, minister of Newington Green Unitarian Church and instigator of the Revolution Controversy. Both admired Price very much, and Abigail took to heart the teachings of the man and his protegee Mary Wollstonecraft, author of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman.[36]

Adams's home in England, a house off London's Grosvenor Square, still stands and is commemorated by a plaque. He returned to the United States in 1788 to continue his domestic political life.

Constitutional ideas

Massachusetts's new constitution, ratified in 1780 and written largely by Adams himself, structured its government most closely on his views of politics and society.[37] It was the first constitution written by a special committee and ratified by the people. It was also the first to feature a bicameral legislature, a clear and distinct executive with a partial (two-thirds) veto (although he was restrained by an executive council), and a distinct judicial branch.

While in London, Adams published a work entitled A Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the United States (1787).[38] In it he repudiated the views of Turgot and other European writers as to the viciousness of the framework of state governments. Turgot argued that countries that lacked aristocracies needn't have bicameral legislatures. He thought that republican governments feature “all authorities into one center, that of the nation.”[39] In the book, Adams suggested that "the rich, the well-born and the able" should be set apart from other men in a senate—that would prevent them from dominating the lower house. Wood (2006) has maintained that Adams had become intellectually irrelevant by the time the Federal Constitution was ratified. By then, American political thought, transformed by more than a decade of vigorous and searching debate as well as shaping experiential pressures, had abandoned the classical conception of politics which understood government as a mirror of social estates. Americans' new conception of popular sovereignty now saw the people-at-large as the sole possessors of power in the realm. All agents of the government enjoyed mere portions of the people's power and only for a limited time. Adams had completely missed this concept and revealed his continued attachment to the older version of politics.[40] Yet Wood overlooks Adams's peculiar definition of the term "republic," and his support for a constitution ratified by the people.[41] He also underplays Adams's belief in checks and balances. "Power must be opposed to power, and interest to interest,” Adams wrote; this sentiment would later be echoed by James Madison's famous statement that "[a]mbition must be made to counteract ambition" in The Federalist No. 51, in explaining the powers of the branches of the United States federal government under the new Constitution.[42][43] Adams did as much as anyone to put the idea of "checks and balances" on the intellectual map.

Adams never bought a slave and declined on principle to employ slave labor.[44] Abigail Adams opposed slavery and employed free blacks in preference to her father's two domestic slaves. He spoke out against a bill to emancipate slaves in Massachusetts, opposed use of black soldiers in the Revolution, and tried to keep the issue out of national politics.[45]

Vice Presidency

Portrait of Adams by John Trumbull, 1792-93

While Washington won unanimously in the popular vote and won 69 votes in the electoral college, Adams came in second in the electoral college with 34 votes and became Vice President in the presidential election of 1789. He presided over the Senate but otherwise played a minor role in the politics of the early 1790s; he was reelected in 1792. Washington seldom asked Adams for input on policy and legal issues during his tenure as vice president.[46]

In the first year of Washington's administration, Adams became deeply involved in a month-long Senate controversy over the official title of the President. Adams favored grandiose titles such as "His Majesty the President" or "His High Mightiness" over the simple "President of the United States" that eventually won the debate. The pomposity of his stance, along with his being overweight, led to Adams earning the nickname "His Rotundity."

As president of the Senate, Adams cast 29 tie-breaking votes—a record that only John C. Calhoun came close to tying, with 28.[47] His votes protected the president's sole authority over the removal of appointees and influenced the location of the national capital. On at least one occasion, he persuaded senators to vote against legislation that he opposed, and he frequently lectured the Senate on procedural and policy matters. Adams's political views and his active role in the Senate made him a natural target for critics of the Washington administration. Toward the end of his first term, as a result of a threatened resolution that would have silenced him except for procedural and policy matters, he began to exercise more restraint. When the two political parties formed, he joined the Federalist Party, but never got on well with its dominant leader Alexander Hamilton. Because of Adams's seniority and the need for a northern president, he was elected as the Federalist nominee for president in 1796, over Thomas Jefferson, the leader of the opposition Democratic-Republican Party. His success was due to peace and prosperity; Washington and Hamilton had averted war with Britain with the Jay Treaty of 1795.[48]

Adams's two terms as Vice President were frustrating experiences for a man of his vigor, intellect, and vanity. He complained to his wife Abigail, "My country has in its wisdom contrived for me the most insignificant office that ever the invention of man contrived or his imagination conceived."[49]

Election of 1796

The 1796 election was the first contested election under the First Party System. Adams was the presidential candidate of the Federalist Party and Thomas Pinckney, the Governor of South Carolina, was also running as a Federalist (at this point, the vice president was whoever came in second, so no running mates existed in the modern sense). The Federalists wanted Adams as their presidential candidate to crush Thomas Jefferson's bid. Most Federalists would have preferred Hamilton to be a candidate. Although Hamilton and his followers supported Adams, they also held a grudge against him. They did consider him to be the lesser of the two evils. However, they thought Adams lacked the seriousness and popularity that had caused Washington to be successful and feared that Adams was too vain, opinionated, unpredictable, and stubborn to follow their directions.[50]

Adams's opponents were former Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson of Virginia, who was joined by Senator Aaron Burr of New York on the Democratic-Republican ticket.

As was customary, Adams stayed in his home town of Quincy rather than actively campaign for the Presidency. He wanted to stay out of what he called the silly and wicked game. His party, however, campaigned for him, while the Democratic-Republicans campaigned for Jefferson.

It was expected that Adams would dominate the votes in New England, while Jefferson was expected to win in the Southern states. In the end, Adams won the election by a narrow margin of 71 electoral votes to 68 for Jefferson (who became the vice president).[51]

Presidency: 1797–1801

President's House, Philadelphia. The presidential mansion of George Washington before him, Adams occupied this Philadelphia mansion from March 1797 to May 1800.

As President Adams followed Washington's lead in making the presidency the example of republican values, and stressing civic virtue, he was never implicated in any scandal. Some historians consider his worst mistake to be keeping the old cabinet, which was controlled by Hamilton, instead of installing his own people, confirming Adams' own admission he was a poor politician because he "was unpractised in intrigues for power."[52] Yet, there are those historians who feel that Adams' retention of Washington's cabinet was a statesmanlike step to soothe worries about an orderly succession. As Adams himself explained, "I had then no particular object of any of them."[53] Adams spent much of his term at his home Massachusetts, ignoring the details of patronage and communication that were not ignored by his opponents in both parties.

Adams' combative spirit did not always lend itself to presidential decorum, as Adams himself admitted in his old age: "[As president] I refused to suffer in silence. I sighed, sobbed, and groaned, and sometimes screeched and screamed. And I must confess to my shame and sorrow that I sometimes swore."[54]

Adams continued not just the Washington cabinet but all the major programs of the Washington Administration as well. Adams made no major new proposals. His economic programs were thus a continuation of those of Hamilton, who regularly consulted with key cabinet members, especially the powerful Secretary of the Treasury, Oliver Wolcott, Jr.[55]

Foreign policy

Adams's term (1797–1801) was marked by intense disputes over foreign policy and a limited naval war with France. Britain and France were at war; Hamilton and the Federalists favored Britain, while Jefferson and the Democratic-Republicans favored France.[56]

When Adams entered office, he realized that he needed to protect Washington’s policy of staying out of the French and British war. Indeed, the intense battle over the Jay Treaty in 1795 permanently polarized politics up and down the nation, marking the start of the First Party System, with most elections now contested.[57]

French saw America as Britain's junior partner and began seizing American merchant ships that were trading with the British in what became known as the "Quasi-War." Neither nation declared war officially, but the risk was high and the Federalists re-armed the nation in preparation for war--and perhaps in preparation for suppressing the anti-war Republicans.[58]

The humiliation of the XYZ Affair, in which the French demanded huge bribes before any discussions could begin, led to serious threats of full-scale war with France and embarrassed the Jeffersonians, who were friends to France. An undeclared naval war between the U.S. and France, called the Quasi-War, broke out in 1798, and there was danger of invasion from the much larger and more powerful French forces. The Federalists built up the army, bringing back Washington as its head and Hamilton as its leading force. Adams rebuilt the Navy, adding six fast, powerful frigates, such as USS Constitution. To pay for it all, Congress raised taxes.[59]

Presidential Dollar of John Adams

Alien and Sedition Acts

Federalists in Congress passed the Alien and Sedition Acts, which were signed by Adams in 1798.[60][61]

There were four separate acts:

These four acts were passed to suppress Republican opposition. The Naturalization Act changed the period of residence required before an immigrant could attain American citizenship to 14 years (naturalized citizens tended to vote for the Democratic-Republicans. The Alien Friends Act and the Alien Enemies Act allowed the president to deport any foreigner he thought dangerous to the country. The Sedition Act made it a crime to publish "false, scandalous, and malicious writing" against the government or its officials. Punishments included 2–5 years in prison and fines of up to $5,000. Although Adams had not originated or promoted any of these acts, he nevertheless signed them into law.

Those acts, and the high-profile prosecution of a number of newspaper editors and one member of Congress by the Federalists, became highly controversial. Some historians have noted that the Alien and Sedition Acts were relatively rarely enforced, as only 10 convictions under the Sedition Act have been identified and as Adams never signed a deportation order, and that the furor over the Alien and Sedition Acts was mainly stirred up by the Democratic-Republicans. However, other historians emphasize that the Acts were highly controversial from the outset, resulted in many aliens leaving the country voluntarily, and created an atmosphere where opposing the Federalists, even on the floor of Congress, could and did result in prosecution. The election of 1800 became a bitter and volatile battle, with each side expressing extraordinary fear of the other party and its policies.[62]

Army

The Federalist party was deeply divided over the leadership of the Army. Adams was forced to name Washington as commander of the new army, and Washington demanded that Hamilton be his second-in-command. Adams reluctantly gave in.[63] Major General Hamilton assumed a high degree of control over the War department. The rift between Adams and the High Federalists (as Adams's opponents were called) grew wider. The High Federalists refused to consult Adams over the key legislation of 1798; they changed the defense measures which he had called for, demanded that Hamilton control the army, and refused to recognize the necessity of giving key Democratic-Republicans (like Aaron Burr) senior positions in the army (which Adams wanted to do to gain some Democratic-Republican support). By building a large standing army the High Federalists raised popular alarms and played into the hands of the Democratic-Republicans. They also alienated Adams and his large personal following. They shortsightedly viewed the Federalist party as their own tool and ignored the need to pull together the entire nation in the face of war with France.[64]

For long stretches, Adams withdrew to his home in Massachusetts. In February 1799, Adams stunned the country by sending diplomat William Vans Murray on a peace mission to France. Napoleon, realizing the animosity of the United States was doing no good, signaled his readiness for friendly relations. The Treaty of Alliance of 1778 was superseded and the United States could now be free of foreign entanglements, as Washington advised in his own Farewell Letter. Adams avoided war, but deeply split his own party in the process. He brought in John Marshall as Secretary of State and demobilized the emergency army.[65]

Fries Rebellion

To pay for the new Army, Congress imposed new taxes on property: the Direct Tax of 1798. It was the first (and last) such federal tax. Taxpayers were angry, nowhere more so that in southeast Pennsylvania, where the bloodless Fries' Rebellion broke out among rural German-speaking farmers who protested what they saw as a threat to their republican liberties and to their churches.[66]

Reelection campaign 1800

The death of Washington, in 1799, weakened the Federalists, as they lost the one man who symbolized and united the party. In the presidential election of 1800, Adams and his fellow Federalist candidate, Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, went against the Republican duo of Jefferson and Burr. Hamilton tried his hardest to sabotage Adams's campaign in hopes of boosting Pinckney's chances of winning the presidency. In the end, Adams lost narrowly to Jefferson by 65 to 73 electoral votes, with New York casting the decisive vote.

Adams was defeated because of better organization by the Republicans and Federalist disunity; by the popular disapproval of the Alien and Sedition Acts, the popularity of his opponent, Jefferson, and the effective politicking of Aaron Burr in New York State, where the legislature (which selected the electoral college) shifted from Federalist to Democratic-Republican on the basis of a few wards in New York City controlled by Burr's machine.[67]

In the closing months of his term Adams became the first President to occupy the new, but unfinished President's Mansion, beginning November 1, 1800.[68]

Midnight Judges

The lame-duck session of Congress enacted the Judiciary Act of 1801, which created a set of federal appeals courts between the district courts and the Supreme Court. As his term was expiring, Adams filled the vacancies created by this statute by appointing a series of judges, called the "Midnight Judges" because most of them were formally appointed days before the presidential term expired. Most of the judges were eventually unseated when the Jeffersonians enacted the Judiciary Act of 1802, abolishing the courts created by the Judiciary Act of 1801 and returning the structure of the federal courts to what it had been before the 1801 statute. Adams's greatest legacy was his naming of John Marshall as the fourth Chief Justice of the United States to succeed Oliver Ellsworth, who had retired due to ill health. Marshall's long tenure represents the most lasting influence of the Federalists, as Marshall infused the Constitution with a judicious and carefully reasoned nationalistic interpretation and established the Judicial Branch as the equal of the Executive and Legislative branches.[69]

Major presidential actions

Speeches

Inaugural Addresses

State of the Union Address

Administration, Cabinet and Supreme Court Appointments 1797–1801

The Adams Cabinet
Office Name Term
President John Adams 1797–1801
Vice President Thomas Jefferson 1797–1801
Secretary of State Timothy Pickering 1797–1800
John Marshall 1800–1801
Secretary of Treasury Oliver Wolcott, Jr. 1797–1801
Samuel Dexter 1801
Secretary of War James McHenry 1796–1800
Samuel Dexter 1800–1801
Attorney General Charles Lee 1797–1801
Secretary of the Navy Benjamin Stoddert 1798–1801

Supreme Court Appointments by President
Position Name Term
Chief Justice John Jay 1800 (declined)
John Marshall
Associate Justice Bushrod Washington
Alfred Moore

Post presidency

An elderly man sits in a red chair with his arms crossed, looking slightly left.
John Adams was nearly 89 when, at the request of his son, President John Quincy Adams, he posed a final time for Gilbert Stuart (1823).

Following his 1800 defeat, Adams retired into private life. Depressed when he left office, he did not attend Jefferson's inauguration, making him one of only four surviving presidents (i.e., those who did not die in office) not to attend his successor's inauguration. Adams's correspondence with Jefferson at the time of the transition suggests that he did not feel the animosity or resentment that later scholars have attributed to him. He left Washington before Jefferson's inauguration as much out of sorrow at the death of his son Charles Adams (due in part to the younger man's alcoholism) and his desire to rejoin his wife Abigail, who had left for Massachusetts months before the inauguration. Adams resumed farming at his home, Peacefield, near the town of Quincy, which had absorbed his birthplace, Braintree. He began to work on an autobiography (which he never finished), and resumed correspondence with such old friends as Benjamin Waterhouse and Benjamin Rush. He also began a bitter and resentful correspondence with an old family friend, Mercy Otis Warren, protesting how in her 1805 history of the American Revolution she had, in his view, caricatured his political beliefs and misrepresented his services to the country.[70]

After Jefferson's retirement from public life in 1809 after two terms as President, Adams became more vocal. For three years he published a stream of letters in the Boston Patriot newspaper, presenting a long and almost line-by-line refutation of an 1800 pamphlet by Hamilton attacking his conduct and character. Though Hamilton had died in 1804 from a mortal wound sustained in his notorious duel with Aaron Burr, Adams felt the need to vindicate his character against the New Yorker's vehement attacks.[71]

In early 1812, Adams reconciled with Jefferson. Their mutual friend Benjamin Rush, a fellow signer of the Declaration of Independence who had been corresponding with both, encouraged each man to reach out to the other. On New Year's Day 1812, Adams sent a brief, friendly note to Jefferson to accompany the delivery of "two pieces of homespun," a two-volume collection of lectures on rhetoric by John Quincy Adams. Jefferson replied immediately with a warm, friendly letter, and the two men revived their friendship, which they conducted by mail. The correspondence that they resumed in 1812 lasted the rest of their lives, and thereafter has been hailed as one of their greatest legacies and a monument of American literature.[72]

An unsmiling elderly man sits in a red chair, slightly pointing left.
John Adams, by Samuel F.B. Morse

Their letters are rich in insight into both the period and the minds of the two Presidents and revolutionary leaders. Their correspondence lasted fourteen years, and consisted of 158 letters.[72] It was in these years that the two men discussed "natural aristocracy." Jefferson said, "The natural aristocracy I consider as the most precious gift of nature for the instruction, the trusts, and government of society. And indeed it would have been inconsistent in creation to have formed man for the social state, and not to have provided virtue and wisdom enough to manage the concerns of society. May we not even say that the form of government is best which provides most effectually for a pure selection of these natural aristoi into the offices of government?"[73] Adams wondered if it ever would be so clear who these people were, "Your distinction between natural and artificial aristocracy does not appear to me well founded. Birth and wealth are conferred on some men as imperiously by nature, as genius, strength, or beauty. . . . When aristocracies are established by human laws and honour, wealth, and power are made hereditary by municipal laws and political institutions, then I acknowledge artificial aristocracy to commence."[74] It would always be true, Adams argued, that fate would bestow influence on some men for reasons other than true wisdom and virtue. That being the way of nature, he thought such "talents" were natural. A good government, therefore, had to account for that reality.

Sixteen months before John Adams's death, his son, John Quincy Adams, became the sixth President of the United States (1825–1829), the only son of a former President to hold the office until George W. Bush in 2001.

Adams's daughter Abigail ("Nabby") was married to Representative William Stephens Smith, but she returned to her parents' home after the failure of her marriage. She died of breast cancer in 1813. His son Charles died as an alcoholic in 1800. Abigail, his wife, died of typhoid on October 28, 1818. His son Thomas and his family lived with Adams and Louisa Smith (Abigail's niece by her brother William) to the end of Adams's life.[75]

Death

3 marble sarcophagi, one in the foreground, 2 in the background are seen. 2 are seen with flags of the United States at the top.
Tombs of Presidents John Adams (distance) and John Quincy Adams (foreground) and their wives, in a family crypt beneath the United First Parish Church.

Less than a month before his death, John Adams issued a statement about the destiny of the United States, which historians such as Joy Hakim have characterized as a "warning" for his fellow citizens. Adams said:

My best wishes, in the joys, and festivities, and the solemn services of that day on which will be completed the fiftieth year from its birth, of the independence of the United States: a memorable epoch in the annals of the human race, destined in future history to form the brightest or the blackest page, according to the use or the abuse of those political institutions by which they shall, in time to come, be shaped by the human mind.[76]

On July 4, 1826, the fiftieth anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence, Adams died at his home in Quincy. Told that it was the Fourth, he answered clearly, "It is a great day. It is a good day." His last words have been reported as "Thomas Jefferson survives" since the month of his death. Only the first two words "Thomas Jefferson" were clearly intelligible, however.[77] Adams was unaware that Jefferson, his compatriot in their quest for independence, then great political rival, then later friend and correspondent, had died a few hours earlier on the very same day. Somewhat later, struggling for breath, he whispered to his granddaughter Susanna, "Help me, child! Help me!" then lapsed into a final silence. At about 6:20, John Adams was dead, leaving Charles Carroll of Carrollton as the last surviving signatory of the Declaration of Independence.

His crypt lies at United First Parish Church (also known as the Church of the Presidents) in Quincy. Originally, he was buried in Hancock Cemetery, across the road from the Church. Until his record was broken by Ronald Reagan in 2001, he was the nation's longest-living President (90 years, 247 days) maintaining that record for 175 years. The record is currently held by former President Gerald Ford, who served less than one term, and who died December 26, 2006, at 93 years, 165 days.

Religious views

Adams was raised a Congregationalist, becoming a Unitarian at a time when most of the Congregational churches around Boston were turning to Unitarianism. Adams was educated at Harvard when the influence of deism was growing there, and used deistic terms in his speeches and writing. He believed in the essential goodness of the creation, but did not believe in the divinity of Christ or that God intervened in the affairs of individuals. He also believed that regular church service was beneficial to man's moral sense. Everett (1966) concludes that "Adams strove for a religion based on a common sense sort of reasonableness" and maintained that religion must change and evolve toward perfection.[78] Fielding (1940) shows Adams synthesized his beliefs as a Puritan, a Deist, and a Humanist. Adams thought Christianity had once been a fresh revelation, but had now become an instrument of superstition, fraud, and the quest for power by the unscrupulous.[79]

A tall, grey brick building with four columns before the entrance. In the foreground, a black lightpost is seen with a banner featuring a version of the flag of the United States.
United First Parish Church

In common with many of his contemporaries, Adams criticized the claims to universal authority made by the Roman Catholic Church.[80]

In 1796, Adams denounced political opponent Thomas Paine's criticisms of Christianity, saying, "The Christian religion is, above all the religions that ever prevailed or existed in ancient or modern times, the religion of wisdom, virtue, equity and humanity, let the Blackguard Paine say what he will."[81]

The Unitarian Universalist Historical Society provides information about Adams’s religious beliefs.[82] They quote from his letter to Benjamin Rush, an early promoter of Universalist thought, “I have attended public worship in all countries and with all sects and believe them all much better than no religion, though I have not thought myself obliged to believe all I heard.” The Society also relates how Rush reconciled Adams to his former friend Thomas Jefferson in 1812, after many bitter political battles. This resulted in correspondence between Adams and Jefferson about many topics, including philosophy and religion. In one of these communications, Adams told Jefferson, "The Ten Commandments and the Sermon on the Mount contain my religion." In another letter, Adams reveals his sincere devotion to God, “My Adoration of the Author of the Universe is too profound and too sincere. The Love of God and his Creation; delight, Joy, Tryumph, Exaltation in my own existence, tho' but an Atom, a molecule Organique, in the Universe, are my religion.” He continues by revealing his Universalist sympathies, rejection of orthodox Christian dogma, and his personal belief that he was a true Christian for not accepting such dogma, “Howl, Snarl, bite, Ye Calvinistick! Ye Athanasian Divines, if You will. Ye will say, I am no Christian: I say Ye are no Christians: and there the Account is ballanced. Yet I believe all the honest men among you, are Christians in my Sense of the Word." The Society also demonstrates that Adams rejected orthodox Christian doctrines of the trinity, predestination, yet equated human understanding and the human conscience to “celestial communication” or personal revelation from God. It is also shown that Adams held a strong conviction in life after death or otherwise, as he explained, “You might be ashamed of your Maker.”[82]

References

  1. ^ From David McCullough, John Adams, the middle brother was Peter and the youngest Elihu, who died of illness during the siege of Boston in 1775.
  2. ^ Chambers Biographical Dictionary, ISBN 0-550-18022-2, page 8
  3. ^ "Ancestors of John ADAMS". Whosyomama.com. 2005-02-01. http://www.whosyomama.com/gabroaddrick3/4/26101.htm. Retrieved 2010-03-02. 
  4. ^ Ferling (1992) ch 1
  5. ^ Brookhiser, Richard. America’s First Dynasty. The Adamses, 1735–1918. The Free Press, 2002, p.13
  6. ^ ibid, p. 13
  7. ^ Timeline:Education and the Law – The John Adams Library
  8. ^ Ferling (1992) ch 2
  9. ^ This Day in History in 1828, www.history.com. Retrieved 3-13-2008.
  10. ^ Ferling (1992) p 117
  11. ^ Rev. Jonathan Mayhew, "Discourse Concerning Unlimited Submission and Non-resistance to the Higher Powers," January 30, 1750. On Adams's attribution to Rev. Mayhew refer to the TeachingAmericanHistory.org
  12. ^ Ferling (1992) pp 53–63
  13. ^ Zobel, The Boston Massacre, W.W. Norton and Co.(1970), 199–200.
  14. ^ Chinard, John Adams, 58–60
  15. ^ McCullough, John Adams, pg. 66
  16. ^ Adams, John, Diary and Autobiography of John Adams,L.H. Butterfield, Editor.(Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1961.)
  17. ^ "John Adams, 1st Vice President (1789–1797)". United States Senate. http://www.senate.gov/artandhistory/history/common/generic/VP_John_Adams.htm. Retrieved 2007-08-01. 
  18. ^ In 1775 he was also appointed the chief judge of the Massachusetts Superior Court.
  19. ^ Ferling (1992) ch 8 p 146
  20. ^ Wood, The Radicalism of the American Revolution (1993)
  21. ^ Ferling (1992) pp 155–7, 213–5
  22. ^ Thoughts on Government, Works of John Adams, IV:195
  23. ^ Ferling (1992) ch 8.
  24. ^ TO WILLIAM P. GARDNER, Thomas Jefferson, The Works of Thomas Jefferson, Federal Edition (New York and London, G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1904-5). Vol. 11.
  25. ^ Who Was Who in America, Historical Volume, 1607–1896. Chicago: Marquis Who's Who. 1963. 
  26. ^ "''Adams Autobiography'', entry March 10, 1778". Masshist.org. http://www.masshist.org/digitaladams/aea/cfm/doc.cfm?id=A2_6. Retrieved 2010-03-02. 
  27. ^ "McCullough, David. John Adams. pg 179". Books.google.com. 2008-03-15. http://books.google.com/books?id=E9TOxypjZY4C&pg=PA179&lpg=PA179&dq=%22john+adams%22+%22speak+french%22&source=bl&ots=4gdJvFD1or&sig=V6JuT1ct3Cfd7EQw55C_RYUcA_0&hl=en&ei=neuaSeShDZa5twfkoay9Cw&sa=X&oi=book_result&resnum=1&ct=result#PPA179,M1. Retrieved 2010-03-02. 
  28. ^ Fiske, John (1896). Critical Period Of American History, 1783–89. Cambridge, MA: The Riverside Press. pp. 22–24. ISBN 0781228484. OCLC 232657364. http://cupid.ecom.unimelb.edu.au/het/fiske/critical.rtf. Retrieved 2009-07-20. 
  29. ^ Ferling (1992) ch 11–12
  30. ^ In February 1782 the Frisian states had been the first Dutch province to recognize the United States, while France had been the first European country to grant diplomatic recognition, in 1778).
  31. ^ Up till 1794 a total of eleven loans were granted in Amsterdam to the United States with a value of 29 million guilders.
  32. ^ "Dutch American Friendship Day / Heritage Day – U.S. Embassy The Hague, Netherlands". Thehague.usembassy.gov. 1991-11-16. http://thehague.usembassy.gov/friendship_days2.html. Retrieved 2010-03-02. 
  33. ^ Stockdale, E. (2005). 'Tis Treason, My Good Man! Four Revolutionary Presidents and a Piccadilly Bookshop. London: The British Library. pp. p.148. ISBN 0712306994. 
  34. ^ "The Diplomatic Correspondence of the United States of America". Books.google.com. http://books.google.com/books?id=dmgUAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA218&lpg=PA218&dq=Thulemeier+Magdeburg&source=bl&ots=88_moQefOS&sig=78Uawff9ApALaQjVjOix13xjBug&hl=en&sa=X&oi=book_result&resnum=10&ct=result#PPA307,M1. Retrieved 2010-03-02. 
  35. ^ See http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=6193.
  36. ^ Gordon, Lyndall (2005). "Chapter 3: New Life at Newington". Vindication : a life of Mary Wollstonecraft. New York: HarperCollins. ISBN 978-0060198022. 
  37. ^ Ronald M. Peters. The Massachusetts Constitution of 1780: A Social Compact (1978) p 13 says Adams was its "principal architect."
  38. ^ "John Adams: Defence of the Constitutions, 1787". Constitution.org. http://www.constitution.org/jadams/ja1_00.htm. Retrieved 2010-03-02. 
  39. ^ Turgot to Richard Price, March 22, 1778, in Works of John Adams, IV:279
  40. ^ Wood, Revolutionary Characters: What Made the Founders Different (2006) pp 173–202; see also Wood, The Radicalism of the American Revolution (1993).
  41. ^ Thompson,1999
  42. ^ Works of John Adams, IV:557
  43. ^ Madison, James. "The Federalist No. 51". http://en.wikisource.org/w/index.php?title=The_Federalist_Papers/No._51&oldid=504230. 
  44. ^ Littlefield, Daniel C. "John Jay, the Revolutionary Generation, and Slavery." New York History 2000 81(1): p 91–132. ISSN 0146-437X
  45. ^ Ferling (1992) pp 172–3
  46. ^ Ferling (1992) ch 15
  47. ^ Ferling (1992) p 311
  48. ^ Ferling (1992) pp 316–32
  49. ^ "Biography of John Adams". Whitehouse.gov. 2009-08-05. http://www.whitehouse.gov/history/presidents/ja2.html. Retrieved 2010-03-02. 
  50. ^ Elkins and McKitrick, The Age of Federalism (1993), pp 513-37
  51. ^ Arthur Meier Schlesinger, ed. History of American Presidential Elections, 1789-1984 (Vol 1) (1986), essay and primary sources on 1796
  52. ^ Ferling (1992) ch 16, p 333.
  53. ^ McCullough p 471
  54. ^ Ellis (1998) p 57
  55. ^ Kurtz, The Presidency of John Adams (1957) ch 12
  56. ^ Gordon S. Wood, Empire of Liberty: A history of the Early Republic, 1789-1815 (2009)
  57. ^ William Chambers, The First Party System: Federalists and Republicans (1972)
  58. ^ Kurtz, The Presidency of John Adams (1957) ch 13; Miller, The Federalist Era (1960), ch. 12
  59. ^ Kurtz, The Presidency of John Adams (1957) ch 13; Miller, The Federalist Era (1960), ch. 13
  60. ^ Elkins and McKitrick, The Age of Federalism (1993) ch. 15
  61. ^ James Morton Smith, Freedom's Fetters: The Alien and Sedition Laws and American Civil Liberties (1967)
  62. ^ Ferling (1992) ch 17
  63. ^ Elkins and McKitrick, The Age of Federalism (1993) pp. 714-19
  64. ^ Kurtz (1967) p 331
  65. ^ Ferling (1992) ch 18
  66. ^ Elkins and McKitrick The Age of Federalism pp 696-700; Paul Douglas Newman, Fries's Rebellion: The Enduring Struggle for the American Revolution (2004).
  67. ^ Ferling (1992) ch 19; Ferling (2004)
  68. ^ "Overview of the White House". White House Museum. http://www.whitehousemuseum.org/overview.htm. Retrieved 2008-07-16. 
  69. ^ Ferling (1992) p 409
  70. ^ Ferling (1992) ch 20
  71. ^ Ferling (1992) p. 429
  72. ^ a b Cappon (1988)
  73. ^ Cappon, ed., 387
  74. ^ Cappon, ed. 400
  75. ^ Ferling (1992) ch 20
  76. ^ Hakim. Joy. The New Nation, page 97 (Oxford University Press 2003).
  77. ^ Jefferson Still Survives. Retrieved on 2006-12-26.
  78. ^ Robert B. Everett, "The Mature Religious Thought of John Adams," Proceedings of the South Carolina Historical Association (1966), p 49–57; [ISSN 0361-6207].
  79. ^ Howard Ioan Fielding, "John Adams: Puritan, Deist, Humanist," Journal of Religion, Vol. 20, No. 1 (Jan., 1940), pp. 33-46 in JSTOR
  80. ^ See TeachingAmericanHistory.org: " A Dissertation on the Canon and Feudal Law", John Adams, 1765
  81. ^ The Works of John Adams (1854), vol III, p 421, diary entry for July 26, 1796.
  82. ^ a b "Unitarian Universalist Historical Society Biography". http://www25.uua.org/uuhs/duub/articles/johnadams.html. Retrieved 2007-12-11. 

Bibliography

  • Brown, Ralph A. The Presidency of John Adams. (1988). Political narrative.
  • Chinard, Gilbert. Honest John Adams. (1933). Dated but still-valuable biography.
  • Elkins, Stanley M. and Eric McKitrick, The Age of Federalism. (1993), highly detailed political interpretation of 1790s
  • Ellis, Joseph J. Passionate Sage: The Character and Legacy of John Adams (1993), interpretative essay by Pulitzer Prize winning scholar.
  • Ferling, John. Adams vs. Jefferson: The Tumultuous Election of 1800. (2004), narrative history of the election.
  • Ferling, John. John Adams: A Life. (1992), full scale biography
  • Freeman, Joanne B. Affairs of Honor: National Politics in the New Republic. (2001) – chapters 2 [on John Adams and print culture] and 5 [on the election of 1800] are of special relevance.
  • Grant, James. John Adams: Party of One.(2005), one-volume biography, notable for its modesty and for its grasp of finances as well as politics.
  • Haraszti, Zoltan. John Adams and the Prophets of Progress. (1952). Incisive analysis of John Adams's political comments on numerous authors through examining his marginalia in his copies of their books.
  • Howe, John R., Jr. The Changing Political Thought of John Adams. (1966). Stressing change over time in Adams's thought, this book is still a valuable and clearly-written treatment of the subject.
  • Knollenberg, Bernard. Growth of the American Revolution: 1766–1775,(2003). Online edition.
  • Kurtz, Stephen G. The Presidency of John Adams: The Collapse of Federalism, 1795–1800 (1957). Detailed political narrative.
  • McCullough, David. John Adams. (2002). Best-selling popular biography, stressing Adams's character and his marriage with Abigail while scanting his ideas and constitutional thoughts. Winner of the 2002 Pulitzer Prize in Biography.
  • Miller, John C. The Federalist Era: 1789–1801. (1960). Slightly dated but still-valuable, thorough survey of politics between 1789 and 1801.
  • Ryerson, Richard Alan, ed. John Adams and the Founding of the Republic (2001). Essays by scholars: "John Adams and the Massachusetts Provincial Elite," by William Pencak; "Before Fame: Young John Adams and Thomas Jefferson," by John Ferling; "John Adams and the 'Bolder Plan,'" by Gregg L. Lint; "In the Shadow of Washington: John Adams as Vice President," by Jack D. Warren; "The Presidential Election of 1796," by Joanne B. Freeman; "The Disenchantment of a Radical Whig: John Adams Reckons with Free Speech," by Richard D. Brown; "'Splendid Misery': Abigail Adams as First Lady," by Edith B. Gelles; "John Adams and the Science of Politics," by C. Bradley Thompson; and "Presidents as Historians: John Adams and Thomas Jefferson," by Herbert Sloan.
  • Sharp, James Roger. American Politics in the Early Republic: The New Nation in Crisis. (1995), detailed political narrative of 1790s, stressing the emergence of "proto-parties."
  • Shaw, Peter. The Character of John Adams. (1975). Elegant short life, infused with psychological insight and sensitivity to Adams's inner life as well as his intellectual life.
  • Smith, Page. John Adams. (1962) 2 volume; full-scale biography, winner of the Bancroft Prize
  • Thompson, C. Bradley. John Adams and the Spirit of Liberty. (1998). Acclaimed analysis of Adams's political thought; insisting Adams was the greatest political thinker among the Founding Generation and anticipated many of the ideas in The Federalist.
  • White, Leonard D. The Federalists: A Study in Administrative History (1956), thorough analysis of the mechanics of government in 1790s
  • Wood, Gordon S. Empire of Liberty: A history of the Early Republic, 1789-1815 (2009), major new survey of the era in the Oxford History of the United States
  • Wood, Gordon S.. Revolutionary Characters: What Made the Founders Different (2006). The chapter on Adams, a slightly revised version of chapter XIV of the author's The Creation of the American Republic, 1776–1787 (1969), may be the most influential short treatment of John Adams's political thought ever written.

Primary sources

  • Adams, C.F. The Works of John Adams, with Life (10 vols., Boston, 1850–1856)
  • Butterfield, L. H. et al., eds., The Adams Papers (1961– ). Multivolume letterpress edition of all letters to and from major members of the Adams family, plus their diaries; still incomplete. "The Adams Family Papers Editorial Project". Masshist.org. http://www.masshist.org/adams_editorial/volumes_published.cfm. Retrieved 2010-03-02. 
  • Cappon, Lester J. ed. The Adams-Jefferson Letters: The Complete Correspondence Between Thomas Jefferson and Abigail and John Adams (1988).
  • Carey, George W., ed. The Political Writings of John Adams. (2001). Compilation of extracts from Adams's major political writings.
  • Diggins, John P., ed. The Portable John Adams. (2004)
  • John A. Schutz and Douglass Adair, eds. Spur of Fame, The Dialogues of John Adams and Benjamin Rush, 1805–1813 (1966) ISBN 978-0-86597-287-2
  • C. Bradley Thompson, ed. Revolutionary Writings of John Adams, (2001) ISBN 978-0-86597-285-8
  • John Adams, Novanglus; or, A History of the Dispute with America (1774) online version
  • Brinkley, Alan, and Davis Dyer. The American Presidency. Boston: Houghton Mifflin company, 2004.
  • Hogan, Margaret and C. James Taylor, eds. My Dearest Friend: Letters of Abigail and John Adams. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2007.
  • Taylor, Robert J. et al., eds. Papers of John Adams. Cambridge: Harvard University Press
  • Wroth, L. Kinvin and Hiller B. Zobel, eds. The Legal Papers of John Adams. Cambridge: Harvard University Press
  • Butterfield, L. H., ed. Adams Family Correspondence. Cambridge: Harvard University Press

External links

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Political offices
Preceded by
George Washington
President of the United States
March 4, 1797  – March 4, 1801
Succeeded by
Thomas Jefferson
New title Vice President of the United States
April 21, 1789¹  – March 4, 1797
Party political offices
New political party Federalist Party presidential candidate
1796, 1800
Succeeded by
Charles Cotesworth Pinckney
Federalist Party vice presidential candidate
1792² ³
Succeeded by
Thomas Pinckney³
Diplomatic posts
New title United States Minister to Great Britain
1785  – 1788
Succeeded by
Thomas Pinckney
United States Minister to the Netherlands
1782  – 1788
Succeeded by
Charles W.F. Dumas
Honorary titles
Preceded by
George Washington
Oldest U.S. President still living
December 14, 1799  – July 4, 1826
Succeeded by
James Madison
Notes and references
1. Adams' term as Vice President is sometimes listed as starting on either March 4 or April 6. March 4 is the official start of the first vice presidential term. April 6 is the date on which Congress counted the electoral votes and certified a Vice President. April 21 is the date on which Adams took the oath of office.
2. While Adams won the Vice Presidency in 1789 as well, he was not the candidate of the Federalist Party, which had not yet formed.
3. Technically, Adams was a presidential candidate in 1792 and Pinckney was a presidential candidate in 1796. Prior to the passage of the Twelfth Amendment in 1804, each presidential elector could cast two ballots; the highest vote-getter would become President and the runner-up would become Vice President. Thus, in 1792, with George Washington as the prohibitive favorite for President, the Federalist party fielded Adams as a presidential candidate, with the intention that he be elected to the Vice Presidency. Similarly, in 1796 and 1800, the Federalist party fielded two candidates, Adams and Thomas Pinckney in 1796 and Adams and Charles Cotesworth Pinckney in 1800, with the intention that Adams be elected President and Pinckney be elected Vice President.

Quotes

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

For other uses, see John Adams (disambiguation).
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.

John Adams (30 October 17354 July 1826) was the first (1789–1797) Vice President of the United States, and the second (1797–1801) President of the United States; husband of Abigail Adams, father of John Quincy Adams.

Contents

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Metaphysicians and politicians may dispute forever, but they will never find any other moral principle or foundation of rule or obedience, than the consent of governors and governed.
  • Tis impossible to judge with much Præcision of the true Motives and Qualities of human Actions, or of the Propriety of Rules contrived to govern them, without considering with like Attention, all the Passions, Appetites, Affections in Nature from which they flow. An intimate Knowledge therefore of the intellectual and moral World is the sole foundation on which a stable structure of Knowledge can be erected.
Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.
  • Tis impossible to avail our selves of the genuine Powers of Eloquence, without examining in their Elements and first Principles, the Force and Harmony of Numbers, as employed by the Poets and orators of ancient and modern times, and without considering the natural Powers of Imagination, and the Disposition of Mankind to Metaphor and figure, which will require the Knowledge of the true Principles of Grammar, and Rhetoric, and of the best classical Authors.
    Now to what higher object, to what greater Character, can any Mortal aspire, than to be possessed of all this Knowledge, well digested, and ready at Command, to assist the feeble and Friendless, to discountenance the haughty and lawless, to procure Redress of Wrongs, the Advancement of Right, to assert and maintain Liberty and Virtue, to discourage and abolish Tyranny and Vice?
  • Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.
    • Argument in Defense of the British Soldiers in the Boston Massacre Trials (4 December 1770)
  • The law no passion can disturb. 'Tis void of desire and fear, lust and anger. 'Tis mens sine affectu, written reason, retaining some measure of the divine perfection. It does not enjoin that which pleases a weak, frail man, but, without any regard to persons, commands that which is good and punishes evil in all, whether rich or poor, high or low. 'Tis deaf, inexorable, inflexible. On the one hand it is inexorable to the cries and lamentations of the prisoners; on the other it is deaf, deaf as an adder, to the clamors of the populace.
    • Argument in Defense of the British Soldiers in the Boston Massacre Trials (4 December 1770)
  • 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.
    • Notes for an oration at Braintree (Spring 1772)
  • Nip the shoots of arbitrary power in the bud, is the only maxim which can ever preserve the liberties of any people.
    • The "Novanglus" Papers, Boston Gazette, (1774 - 1775) No. 3 [1]
  • A government of laws, and not of men.
    • The "Novanglus" Papers, Boston Gazette (1774- 1775), No. 7; this was incorporated into the Massachusetts Constitution in 1780
You bid me burn your letters. But I must forget you first.
  • Metaphysicians and politicians may dispute forever, but they will never find any other moral principle or foundation of rule or obedience, than the consent of governors and governed.
    • The "Novanglus" papers, Boston Gazette (1774 - 1775), No. 7
  • A Constitution of Government once changed from Freedom, can never be restored. Liberty, once lost, is lost forever.
  • I agree with you that in politics the middle way is none at all.
    • Letter to Horatio Gates (23 March 1776)
  • Let them revere nothing but religion, morality and liberty.
    • Letter to Abigail Adams (15 April 1776) [2]
  • You bid me burn your letters. But I must forget you first.
    • Letter to Abigail Adams (28 April 1776)
  • There is something very unnatural and odious in a government a thousand leagues off. A whole government of our own choice, managed by persons whom we love, revere, and can confide in, has charms in it for which men will fight.
    • Letter to Abigail Adams (17 May 1776)
  • 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.
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.
  • Yesterday the greatest question was decided which ever was debated in America; and a greater perhaps never was, nor will be, decided among men. A resolution was passed without one dissenting colony, "that these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States."
    • On the decision to proclaim independence from British rule, which was made on 2 July 1776, in a letter to Abigail Adams (3 July 1776), published in The Adams Papers : Adams Family Correspondence (2007) edited by Margaret A. Hogan
  • 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 triumph in that Days Transaction, even although We should rue it, which I trust in God We shall not.
    • Letter to Abigail Adams (3 July 1776), published in The Adams Papers : Adams Family Correspondence (2007) edited by Margaret A. Hogan
  • I am surprised at the suddenness as well as the greatness of this revolution... It is the will of Heaven that the two countries should be sundered forever. It may be the will of Heaven that America shall suffer calamities still more wasting, and distresses yet more dreadful. If this is to be the case it will have this good effect at least. It will inspire us with many virtues which we have not, and correct many errors, follies, and vices which threaten to disturb, dishonor, and destroy us. The furnace of affliction produces refinement in states as well as individuals. And the new Governments we are assuming in every part will require a purification from our vices, and an augmentation of our virtues, or they will be no blessings. The people will have unbounded power, and the people are extremely addicted to corruption and venality, as well as the great. But I must submit all my hopes and fears to an overruling Providence, in which, unfashionable as the faith may be, I firmly believe.
    • Letter to Abigail Adams (3 July 1776)
  • The second day of July, 1776, will be the most memorable epocha in the history of America. 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 shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forevermore.
  • I long for rural and domestic scenes, for the warbling of Birds and the Prattle of my Children. Don't you think I am somewhat poetical this morning, for one of my Years, and considering the Gravity, and Insipidity of my Employment? — As much as I converse with Sages and Heroes, they have very little of my Love or Admiration. I should prefer the Delights of a Garden to the Dominion of a World.
    • Letter to Abigail Adams (16 March 1777)
I must study politics and war, that our sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy.
  • The science of government it is my duty to study, more than all other sciences; the arts of legislation and administration and negotiation ought to take the place of, indeed exclude, in a manner, all other arts. I must study politics and war, that our sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy. Our sons ought to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history and naval architecture, navigation, commerce and agriculture in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry and porcelain.
    • Letter to Abigail Adams (12 May 1780)
  • You will never be alone with a poet in your pocket.
  • All the perplexities, confusions, and distresses in America arise, not from defects in their constitution or confederation, not from a want of honor or virtue, so much as from downright ignorance of the nature of coin, credit, and circulation.
  • The new Government has my best Wishes and most fervent Prayers, for its Success and Prosperity: but whether I shall have any Thing more to do with it, besides praying for it, depends on the future suffrages of Freemen.
    • Letter to Thomas Jefferson (2 January 1789), The Papers of Thomas Jefferson
  • There is nothing which I dread so much as a division of the republic 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.
    • Letter to Jonathan Jackson (2 October 1789)
I pray Heaven to bestow the best of blessings on this house and all that shall hereafter inhabit it. May none but honest and wise men ever rule under this roof.
  • My country has in its wisdom contrived for me the most insignificant office that ever the invention of man contrived or his imagination conceived; and as I can do neither good nor evil, I must be borne away by others and meet the common fate.
    • On the Vice-Presidency of the United States, in a letter to Abigail Adams (19 December 1793)
  • I read my eyes out and can't read half enough. ... The more one reads the more one sees we have to read.
    • Letter to Abigail Adams (28 December 1794), Adams Papers, Massachusetts Historical Society
  • I pray Heaven to bestow the best of blessings on this house and all that shall hereafter inhabit it. May none but honest and wise men ever rule under this roof.
  • I had heard my father say that he never knew a piece of land run away or break.
    • Autobiography (1802-1807)
  • Our obligations to our country never cease but with our lives.
    • Letter to Benjamin Rush (18 April 1808)
The Declaration of Independence I always considered as a Theatrical Show. Jefferson ran away with all the stage effect of that; i.e. all the Glory of it.
  • I will insist that the Hebrews have done more to civilize men than any other nation. If I were an atheist, and believed in blind eternal fate, I should still believe that fate had ordained the Jews to be the most essential instrument for civilizing the nations. If I were an atheist of the other sect, who believe or pretend to believe that all is ordered by chance, I should believe that chance had ordered the Jews to preserve and propagate to all mankind the doctrine of a supreme, intelligent, wise, almighty sovereign of the universe, which I believe to be the great essential principle of all morality, and consequently of all civilization.
  • When I went home to my family in May, 1770, from the town meeting in Boston, which was the first I had ever attended, and where I had been chosen in my absence, without any solicitation, one of their representatives, I said to my wife, "I have accepted a seat in the House of Representatives, and thereby have consented to my own ruin, to your ruin, and to the ruin of our children. I give you this warning, that you may prepare your mind for your fate." She burst into tears, but instantly cried out in a transport of magnanimity, "Well, I am willing in this cause to run all risks with you, and be ruined with you, if you are ruined." These were times, my friend, in Boston, which tried women's souls as well as men's.
    • Letter to Benjamin Rush (12 April 1809)
You and I ought not to die before we have explained ourselves to each other.
  • While all other Sciences have advanced, that of Government is at a stand; little better understood; little better practiced now than three or four thousand years ago.
    • Letter to Thomas Jefferson (9 July 1813)
  • You and I ought not to die before we have explained ourselves to each other.
Liberty, according to my metaphysics, is an intellectual quality, an attribute that belongs not to fate nor chance. Neither possesses it, neither is capable of it.
  • Liberty, according to my metaphysics, is an intellectual quality, an attribute that belongs not to fate nor chance. Neither possesses it, neither is capable of it. There is nothing moral or immoral in the idea of it. The definition of it is a self-determining power in an intellectual agent. It implies thought and choice and power; it can elect between objects, indifferent in point of morality, neither morally good nor morally evil.
    • Letter to John Taylor (15 April 1814)
  • Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide.
    • Letter to John Taylor (15 April 1814)
  • The priesthood have, in all ancient nations, nearly monopolized learning. Read over again all the accounts we have of Hindoos, Chaldeans, Persians, Greeks, Romans, Celts, Teutons, we shall find that priests had all the knowledge, and really governed mankind. Examine Mahometanism, trace Christianity from its first promulgation; knowledge has been almost exclusively confined to the clergy. And, even since the Reformation, when or where has existed a Protestant or dissenting sect who would tolerate A FREE INQUIRY? The blackest billingsgate, most ungentlemanly insolence, the most yahooish brutality is patiently endured, countenanced, propagated and applauded, but touch a solemn truth in collision with a dogma of a sect, though capable of the clearest proof, and you will soon find you have disturbed a nest, and the hornets will swarm about your legs and hands, and fly into your face and eyes.
What do we mean by the Revolution? The war? That was no part of the revolution; it was only an effect and consequence of it. The revolution was in the minds of the people, and this was effected from 1760 - 1775, in the course of fifteen years, before a drop of blood was shed at Lexington.
  • Cabalistic Christianity, which is Catholic Christianity, and which has prevailed for 1,500 years, has received a mortal wound, of which the monster must finally die. Yet so strong is his constitution, that he may endure for centuries before he expires.
    • Letter to Thomas Jefferson (16 July 1814), quoted in 2000 Years of Disbelief (1996) edited by James A. Haught, p. 82.
  • As long as Property exists, it will accumulate in Individuals and Families. As long as Marriage exists, Knowledge, Property and Influence will accumulate in Families.
    • Letter to Thomas Jefferson (16 July 1814)
  • As to the history of the revolution, my ideas may be peculiar, perhaps singular. What do we mean by the Revolution? The war? That was no part of the revolution; it was only an effect and consequence of it. The revolution was in the minds of the people, and this was effected from 1760 - 1775, in the course of fifteen years, before a drop of blood was shed at Lexington.
  • We may appeal to every page of history we have hitherto turned over, for proofs irrefragable, that the people, when they have been unchecked, have been as unjust, tyrannical, brutal, barbarous and cruel as any king or senate possessed of uncontrollable power ... All projects of government, formed upon a supposition of continual vigilance, sagacity, and virtue, firmness of the people, when possessed of the exercise of supreme power, are cheats and delusions ... The fundamental article of my political creed is that despotism, or unlimited sovereignty, or absolute power, is the same in a majority of a popular assembly, an aristocratical council, an oligarchical junto, and a single emperor. Equally arbitrary, cruel, bloody, and in every respect diabolical.
    • Letter to Thomas Jefferson (13 November 1815)
  • Power always sincerely, conscientiously, de très bon foi, believes itself right. Power always thinks it has a great soul and vast views, beyond the comprehension of the weak.
    • Letter to Thomas Jefferson (2 February 1816)
I see in every Page, Something to recommend Christianity in its Purity and Something to discredit its Corruptions.
Let the human mind loose. It must be loose. It will be loose. Superstition and dogmatism cannot confine it.
  • We have now, it Seems a National Bible Society, to propagate King James's Bible, through all Nations. Would it not be better to apply these pious Subscriptions, to purify Christendom from the Corruptions of Christianity; than to propagate those Corruptions in Europe Asia, Africa and America! ... Conclude not from all this, that I have renounced the Christian religion, or that I agree with Dupuis in all his Sentiments. Far from it. I see in every Page, Something to recommend Christianity in its Purity and Something to discredit its Corruptions. ... The Ten Commandments and the Sermon on the Mount contain my Religion.
  • Let the human mind loose. It must be loose. It will be loose. Superstition and dogmatism cannot confine it.
  • Twenty times in the course of my late reading have I been on the point of breaking out, "This would be the best of all possible worlds, if there were no religion in it!!!" But in this exclamation I would have been as fanatical as Bryant or Cleverly. Without religion this world would be something not fit to be mentioned in polite company, I mean Hell.
    • Original manuscript at The Library of Congress Letter to Thomas Jefferson (19 April 1817). The italicized section within this statement has often been quoted out of context. Earlier in the letter Adams explained "Lemuel Bryant was my Parish Priest; and Joseph Cleverly my Latin School Master. Lemuel was a jolly jocular and liberal schollar and Divine. Joseph a Schollar and a Gentleman; but a biggoted episcopalian... The Parson and the Pedagogue lived much together, but were eternally disputing about Government and Religion."
  • When people talk of the Freedom of Writing, Speaking, or thinking, I cannot choose but laugh. No such thing ever existed. No such thing now exists; but I hope it will exist. But it must be hundreds of years after you and I shall write and speak no more.
    • Letter to Thomas Jefferson (15 July 1817)
  • I really wish the Jews again in Judea, an independent nation, for, as I believe, the most enlightened men of it have participated in the amelioration of the philosophy of the age; once restored to an independent government, and no longer persecuted, they would soon wear away some of the asperities and peculiarities of their character, possibly in time become liberal Unitarian Christians, for your Jehovah is our Jehovah, and your God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is our God.
    • Letter to Mordecai Manuel Noah (1819), as quoted in The Jews, Judea, and Christianity : A Discourse on the Restoration of the Jews (1849) by M. M. Noah, p. xi
  • Abuse of words has been the great instrument of sophistry and chicanery, of party, faction, and division of society.
    • Letter to J.H. Tiffany (31 March 1819)
The substance and essence of Christianity, as I understand it, is eternal and unchangeable, and will bear examination forever, but it has been mixed with extraneous ingredients, which I think will not bear examination, and they ought to be separated.
  • We think ourselves possessed, or, at least, we boast that we are so, of liberty of conscience on all subjects, and of the right of free inquiry and private judgment in all cases, and yet how far are we from these exalted privileges in fact! There exists, I believe, throughout the whole Christian world, a law which makes it blasphemy to deny or doubt the divine inspiration of all the books of the Old and New Testaments, from Genesis to Revelations. In most countries of Europe it is punished by fire at the stake, or the rack, or the wheel. In England itself it is punished by boring through the tongue with a poker. In America it is not better; even in our own Massachusetts, which I believe, upon the whole, is as temperate and moderate in religious zeal as most of the States, a law was made in the latter end of the last century, repealing the cruel punishments of the former laws, but substituting fine and imprisonment upon all those blasphemers upon any book of the Old Testament or New. Now, what free inquiry, when a writer must surely encounter the risk of fine or imprisonment for adducing any argument for investigating into the divine authority of those books? Who would run the risk of translating Dupuis? But I cannot enlarge upon this subject, though I have it much at heart. I think such laws a great embarrassment, great obstructions to the improvement of the human mind. Books that cannot bear examination, certainly ought not to be established as divine inspiration by penal laws. It is true, few persons appear desirous to put such laws in execution, and it is also true that some few persons are hardy enough to venture to depart from them. But as long as they continue in force as laws, the human mind must make an awkward and clumsy progress in its investigations. I wish they were repealed. The substance and essence of Christianity, as I understand it, is eternal and unchangeable, and will bear examination forever, but it has been mixed with extraneous ingredients, which I think will not bear examination, and they ought to be separated.
    • Letter to Thomas Jefferson (23 January 1825), published in Letters: The Complete Correspondence Between Thomas Jefferson and Abigail and John Adams (UNC Press, 1988), p. 607.
Old minds are like old horses; you must exercise them if you wish to keep them in working order.
  • No man who ever held the office of president would congratulate a friend on obtaining it. He will make one man ungrateful, and a hundred men his enemies, for every office he can bestow.
  • Thomas — Jefferson — still surv —
    • Last words (4 July 1826) as quoted in The Oxford History of the American People (1965) by Samuel Eliot Morison, p. 420; this is often rendered as a full statement, "Thomas Jefferson still survives." Thomas Jefferson died a few hours earlier on the same day, the 50th anniversary of the congressional approval of The Declaration of Independence.
  • Old minds are like old horses; you must exercise them if you wish to keep them in working order.

Diaries

Where do we find a precept in the Gospel requiring Ecclesiastical Synods? Convocations? Councils? Decrees? Creeds? Confessions? Oaths? Subscriptions? and whole cart-loads of other trumpery that we find religion incumbered with in these days?
  • Major Greene this evening fell into some conversation with me about the Divinity and satisfaction of Jesus Christ. All the argument he advanced was, "that a mere creature or finite being could not make satisfaction to infinite justice for any crimes," and that "these things are very mysterious."
    Thus mystery is made a convenient cover for absurdity.
    • (13 February 1756)
  • Spent an hour in the beginning of the evening at Major Gardiner's, where it was thought that the design of Christianity was not to make men good riddle-solvers, or good mystery-mongers, but good men, good magistrates, and good subjects, good husbands and good wives, good parents and good children, good masters and good servants. The following questions may be answered some time or other, namely, — Where do we find a precept in the Gospel requiring Ecclesiastical Synods? Convocations? Councils? Decrees? Creeds? Confessions? Oaths? Subscriptions? and whole cart-loads of other trumpery that we find religion incumbered with in these days?
    • (18 February 1756)
  • No man is entirely free from weakness and imperfection in this life. Men of the most exalted genius and active minds are generally most perfect slaves to the love of fame. They sometimes descend to as mean tricks and artifices in pursuit of honor or reputation as the miser descends to in pursuit of gold.
    • (19 February 1756)
  • A pen is certainly an excellent instrument to fix a man's attention and to inflame his ambition.
    • (14 November 1760)
  • This is the most magnificent movement of all! There is a dignity, a majesty, a sublimity, in this last effort of the patriots that I greatly admire. The people should never rise without doing something to be remembered — something notable and striking. This destruction of the tea is so bold, so daring, so firm, intrepid and inflexible, and it must have so important consequences, and so lasting, that I can't but consider it as an epocha in history!
  • Virtue is not always amiable.
    • (9 February 1779)
  • By my physical constitution I am but an ordinary man ... Yet some great events, some cutting expressions, some mean hypocracies, have at times thrown this assemblage of sloth, sleep, and littleness into rage like a lion.
    • (26 April 1779)

A Dissertation on the Canon and Feudal Law (1765)

A Dissertation on the Canon and Feudal Law (1765)
  • appple appleÉ always consider the settlement of America with reverence and wonder, as the opening of a grand scene and design in providence, for the illumination of the ignorant and the emancipation of the slavish part of mankind all over the earth.
  • The poor people, it is true, have been much less successful than the great. They have seldom found either leisure or opportunity to form a union and exert their strength; ignorant as they were of arts and letters, they have seldom been able to frame and support a regular opposition. This, however, has been known by the great to be the temper of mankind; and they have accordingly labored, in all ages, to wrest from the populace, as they are contemptuously called, the knowledge of their rights and wrongs, and the power to assert the former or redress the latter. I say RIGHTS, for such they have, undoubtedly, antecedent to all earthly government, — Rights, that cannot be repealed or restrained by human laws — Rights, derived from the great Legislator of the universe.
Let every sluice of knowledge be opened and set a-flowing.
  • Liberty cannot be preserved without a general knowledge among the people, who have a right, from the frame of their nature, to knowledge, as their great Creator, who does nothing in vain, has given them understandings, and a desire to know; but besides this, they have a right, an indisputable, unalienable, indefeasible, divine right to that most dreaded and envied kind of knowledge, I mean, of the characters and conduct of their rulers.
  • The jaws of power are always open to devour, and her arm is always stretched out, if possible, to destroy the freedom of thinking, speaking, and writing.
  • Be not intimidated, therefore, by any terrors, from publishing with the utmost freedom, whatever can be warranted by the laws of your country; nor suffer yourselves to be wheedled out of your liberties by any pretenses of politeness, delicacy, or decency. These, as they are often used, are but three different names for hypocrisy, chicanery, and cowardice.
  • Let us tenderly and kindly cherish therefore, the means of knowledge. Let us dare to read, think, speak, and write.
  • Let every sluice of knowledge be opened and set a-flowing.

Thoughts on Government (1776)

Letter to George Wythe, April 1776
The form of government which communicates ease, comfort, security, or, in one word, happiness, to the greatest number of persons, and in the greatest degree, is the best.
  • We ought to consider what is the end of government, before we determine which is the best form. Upon this point all speculative politicians will agree, that the happiness of society is the end of government, as all Divines and moral Philosophers will agree that the happiness of the individual is the end of man. From this principle it will follow, that the form of government which communicates ease, comfort, security, or, in one word, happiness, to the greatest number of persons, and in the greatest degree, is the best.
  • Fear is the foundation of most governments; but it 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.
  • When annual elections end, there slavery begins.
  • 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 expense for this purpose would be thought extravagant.
  • The judicial power ought to be distinct from both the legislative and executive, and independent upon both, that so it may be a check upon both, as both should be checks upon that.

A Defence of the Constitutions of Government (1787)

A Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America (3 Volumes, 1787), republished in the 10 volume The Works of John Adams (1850 - 1856) edited Charles Francis Adams
  • The rich, the well-born, and the able, acquire an influence among the people that will soon be too much for simple honesty and plain sense, in a house of representatives. The most illustrious of them must, therefore, be separated from the mass, and placed by themselves in a senate; this is, to all honest and useful intents, an ostracism.
    • Vol. I, Preface, p. xi
  • Children should be educated and instructed in the principles of freedom.
    • Ch. 3 Marchamont Nedham : Errors of Government and Rules of Policy" Seventh Rule
  • The moment the idea is admitted into society, that property is not as sacred as the law of God, and that there is not a force of law and public justice to protect it, anarchy and tyranny commence. If "Thou shall not covet," and "Thou shall not steal," are not commandments of Heaven, they must be made inviolable precepts in every society, before it can be civilized or made free.
Killing one tyrant only makes way for worse, unless the people have sense, spirit and honesty enough to establish and support a constitution guarded at all points against the tyranny of the one, the few, and the many.
  • The right of a nation to kill a tyrant, in cases of necessity, can no more be doubted, than to hang a robber, or kill a flea. But killing one tyrant only makes way for worse, unless the people have sense, spirit and honesty enough to establish and support a constitution guarded at all points against the tyranny of the one, the few, and the many. Let it be the study, therefore, of lawgivers and philosophers, to enlighten the people's understandings and improve their morals, by good and general education; to enable them to comprehend the scheme of government, and to know upon what points their liberties depend; to dissipate those vulgar prejudices and popular superstitions that oppose themselves to good government; and to teach them that obedience to the laws is as indispensable in them as in lords and kings.
  • A single assembly will never be a steady guardian of the laws, if Machiavel is right, when he says, Men are never good but through necessity: on the contrary, when good and evil are left to their choice, they will not fail to throw every thing into disorder and confusion. Hunger and poverty may make men industrious, but laws only can make them good; for, if men were so of themselves, there would be no occasion for laws; but, as the case is far otherwise, they are absolutely necessary.
  • The proposition, that the people are the best keepers of their own liberties, is not true; they are the worst conceivable; they are no keepers at all; they can neither judge, act, think, or will, as a political body.
    • This is attributed to Adams in The Life of Thomas Jefferson (1858) by Henry Stephens Randall, p. 587
  • There never was yet a people who must not have somebody or something to represent the dignity of the state, the majesty of the people, call it what you will — a doge, an avoyer, an archon, a president, a consul, a syndic; this becomes at once an object of ambition and dispute, and, in time, of division, faction, sedition, and rebellion.

Discourses on Davila (1790)

Discourses on Davila : A Series of Papers on Political History first published in the Gazette of the United States (1790-1791) ; (Downloadable PDF of 1805 edition); republished with modernized spelling in The Works of John Adams, Second President of the United States vol. VI, (1851)
The world grows more enlightened. Knowledge is more equally diffused.
  • A desire to be observed, considered, esteemed, praised, beloved, and admired by his fellows is one of the earliest, as well as the keenest dispositions discovered in the heart of man.
    • "Discourses on Davila: A Series of Papers on Political History," No. 4 Gazette of the United States (1790-1791)
  • The world grows more enlightened. Knowledge is more equally diffused. Newspapers, magazines, and circulating libraries have made mankind wiser. Titles and distinctions, ranks and orders, parade and ceremony, are all going out of fashion.
    This is roundly and frequently asserted in the streets, and sometimes on theatres of higher rank. Some truth there is in it; and if the opportunity were temperately improved, to the reformation of abuses, the rectification of errors, and the dissipation of pernicious prejudices, a great advantage it might be. But, on the other hand, false inferences may be drawn from it, which may make mankind wish for the age of dragons, giants, and fairies.
    • No. 13
  • Are riches, honors, and beauty going out of fashion? Is not the rage for them, on the contrary, increased faster than improvement in knowledge? As long as either of these are in vogue, will there not be emulations and rivalries? Does not the increase of knowledge in any man increase his emulation; and the diffusion of knowledge among men multiply rivalries? Has the progress of science, arts, and letters yet discovered that there are no passions in human nature? no ambition, avarice, or desire of fame? Are these passions cooled, diminished, or extinguished? Is the rage for admiration less ardent in men or women? Have these propensities less a tendency to divisions, controversies, seditions, mutinies, and civil wars than formerly? On the contrary, the more knowledge is diffused, the more the passions are extended, and the more furious they grow.
    • No. 13
  • The great art of law-giving consists in balancing the poor against the rich in the legislature, and in constituting the legislative a perfect balance against the executive power, at the same time that no individual or party can become its rival. The essence of a free government consists in an effectual control of rivalries. The executive and the legislative powers are natural rivals; and if each has not an effectual control over the other, the weaker will ever be the lamb in the paws of the wolf. The nation which will not adopt an equilibrium of power must adopt a despotism. There is no other alternative. Rivalries must be controlled, or they will throw all things into confusion; and there is nothing but despotism or a balance of power which can control them.

What do we mean by the American Revolution? (1818)

Letter to Hezekiah Niles (13 February 1818); Adams had previously expressed similar assertions in a letter to Thomas Jefferson in 1815, quoted above.
What do we mean by the American Revolution? Do we mean the American war? The Revolution was effected before the war commenced. The Revolution was in the minds and hearts of the people; a change in their religious sentiments of their duties and obligations.
  • The American Revolution was not a common event. Its effects and consequences have already been awful over a great part of the globe. And when and where are they to cease?
    But what do we mean by the American Revolution? Do we mean the American war? The Revolution was effected before the war commenced. The Revolution was in the minds and hearts of the people; a change in their religious sentiments of their duties and obligations. ... This radical change in the principles, opinions, sentiments, and affections of the people, was the real American Revolution.
  • By what means this great and important alteration in the religious, moral, political, and social character of the people of thirteen colonies, all distinct, unconnected, and independent of each other, was begun, pursued, and accomplished, it is surely interesting to humanity to investigate, and perpetuate to posterity.
    To this end, it is greatly to be desired, that young men of letters in all the States, especially in the thirteen original States, would undertake the laborious, but certainly interesting and amusing task, of searching and collecting all the records, pamphlets, newspapers, and even handbills, which in any way contributed to change the temper and views of the people, and compose them into an independent nation.
  • The colonies had grown up under constitutions of government so different, there was so great a variety of religions, they were composed of so many different nations, their customs, manners, and habits had so little resemblance, and their intercourse had been so rare, and their knowledge of each other so imperfect, that to unite them in the same principles in theory and the same system of action, was certainly a very difficult enterprise. The complete accomplishment of it, in so short a time and by such simple means, was perhaps a singular example in the history of mankind. Thirteen clocks were made to strike together — a perfection of mechanism, which no artist had ever before effected.
    In this research, the gloriole of individual gentlemen, and of separate States, is of little consequence. The means and the measures are the proper objects of investigation. These may be of use to posterity, not only in this nation, but in South America and all other countries.
    They may teach mankind that revolutions are no trifles; that they ought never to be undertaken rashly; nor without deliberate consideration and sober reflection; nor without a solid, immutable, eternal foundation of justice and humanity; nor without a people possessed of intelligence, fortitude, and integrity sufficient to carry them with steadiness, patience, and perseverance, through all the vicissitudes of fortune, the fiery trials and melancholy disasters they may have to encounter.

Disputed

  • God is an essence we know nothing of. Until this awful blasphemy is gotten rid of there will never be any liberal science in the world.

Misattributed

Statements originally made by others, that have become wrongly attributed to John Adams
If we do not lay out ourselves in the service of mankind whom should we serve?
  • If we do not lay out ourselves in the service of mankind whom should we serve?
  • There are obviously two educations. One should teach us how to make a living and the other how to live.
    • James Truslow Adams; sometimes rendered : "There are two educations. One should teach us how to make a living and the other how to live."
  • Think of your forefathers! Think of your posterity!
Genius is sorrow's child — to want allied —
Consoled by glory, and sustained by pride.
  • As the government of the United States is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion; as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion or tranquility of Musselmen … it is declared … that no pretext arising from religious opinion shall ever product an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries. … The United States is not a Christian nation any more than it is a Jewish or a Mohammedan nation.
    • Article 11 of the Treaty of Tripoli (1797-01-04, which was carried unanimously by the U.S. Senate and signed into law by John Adams (the original language is by Joel Barlow, US Consul); This phrase has also sometimes been misattributed to George Washington, and has also been misquoted as "This nation of ours was not founded on Christian principles."

Spurious quotations:

Statements which evidence indicates are fabrications; in these cases they seem derived from some which are known to have been made by Adams, but have significant alterations and additions.
  • The "divinity" of Jesus is made a convenient cover for absurdity. Nowhere in the Gospels do we find a precept for Creeds, Confessions, Oaths, Doctrines, and whole carloads of other foolish trumpery that we find in Christianity.
    • Attributed to Adams in Spirit (1988) by William Edelen, p. 4, this seems to paraphrase portions of two diary entries (more extensively quoted in the "Diaries" section above):
Mystery is made a convenient cover for absurdity. (13 February 1756)
Where do we find a precept in the Gospel requiring Ecclesiastical Synods? Convocations? Councils? Decrees? Creeds? Confessions? Oaths? Subscriptions? and whole cart-loads of other trumpery that we find religion incumbered with in these days? (18 February 1756)
  • The doctrine of the divinity of Jesus is made a convenient cover for absurdity.
    • Attributed to Adams in Pathway to the Stars (2007) by Rev. Ernest A. Steadman, p. 66; this seems to be another paraphrase of the entry for 13 February 1756.

Quotes about Adams

He is so amiable that I pronounce you will love him, if ever you become acquainted with him. ~ Thomas Jefferson
  • He is vain, irritable, and a bad calculator of the force and probable effect of the motives which govern men. This is all the ill which can possibly be said of him. He is as disinterested as the Being who made him. He is profound in his views and accurate in his judgment, except where knowledge of the world is necessary to form a judgment. He is so amiable that I pronounce you will love him, if ever you become acquainted with him. He would be, as he was, a great man in Congress.
  • The President's title, as proposed by the Senate, was the most superlatively ridiculous thing I ever heard of. It is a proof the more of the justice of the character given by Dr. Franklin of my friend. Always an honest man, often a great one, but sometimes absolutely mad.
    • Thomas Jefferson on the proposed presidential title of "His Highness the President of the United States and protector of their liberties" advocated by Vice-President Adams in the Senate; in a letter to James Madison (29 July 1789)
  • What for me makes people like Teddy Roosevelt and Franklin Roosevelt and John Adams and George Washington and Dwight Eisenhower and Ronald Reagan such extraordinary leaders is that they had integrity through and through. What they were on the inside and what they said on the outside was harmonious. There a lot of people like that. I think that if people try to live a very different personal life not consistent with the role they've assumed as a governor or senator or president, we lose something as a nation.
    • Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, in the September 2005 The Atlantic
  • Among all our presidents from Washington downward, not one was a professor of religion, at least not of more than unitarianism.
    • The Reverend Doctor Bird Wilson in a sermon (23 October 1831) published in the Albany Daily Advertiser (29 October 1831), as quoted in Discussion of the Existence of God and the Authenticity of the Bible (1840) by Origen Bacheler and Robert Dale Owen, Appendix, p. 231. The presidents mentioned here would include, beyond Washington and Adams: Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe, John Quincy Adams, and Andrew Jackson; also quoted in George Washington & Religion (1963) by Paul F. Boller, p. 14 – 15.
    • Disputed variant: The founders of our nation were nearly all Infidels, and that of the presidents who had thus far been elected not a one had professed a belief in Christianity.
      • This has been attributed to Bird Wilson from the same sermon, but it seems to be a summary of the above quotation which may have originated in Six Historic Americans (1906) by John Eleazer Remsburg which has been cited as its source.
    • Disputed variant: The founders of our nation were nearly all Infidels, and that of the presidents who had thus far been elected (George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe, John Quincy Adams, and Andrew Jackson) not a one had professed a belief in Christianity.
      • This has also been attributed to the same sermon, but seems to be an even further paraphrase of the above quotations, as rendered in Jesus : Myth Or Reality? (2006) by Ian Curtis, p. 250.

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John Adams may mean:

John Adams (1735-1826):   First Vice President of the United States (1789–1797) and second President (1797–1801): the first President to reside in the newly built White House
John Quincy Adams (1767):   John Quincy Adams (July 11, 1767February 23, 1848) was a diplomat, politician, and the sixth President of the United States (March 4, 1825March 4, 1829). His party affiliations were Federalist, Democratic-Republican, National Republican, and later Anti-Masonic and Whig. Adams was the son of United States President John Adams, and Abigail Adams. He is most famous as a diplomat involved in many international negotiations, and for formulating the Monroe Doctrine. As president he proposed a grand program of modernization and educational advancement, but was unable to get it through Congress. Late in life, as a Congressman, he was a leading opponent of the Slave Power, arguing that if a civil war ever broke out the president could abolish slavery by using his war powers, a policy followed by Abraham Lincoln in the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863.

Comparison

Person Birth Death Father Mother Spouse
John Adams (1735-1826) Braintree, Quincy, Massachusetts Quincy, Massachusetts John Adams (1690-1761) Susanna Boylston (?-?) Abigail Smith (1744)
John Quincy Adams (1767) Quincy, Massachusetts Washington, D.C. Louisa Catherine (Johnson) Adams

This article uses material from the "John Adams" article on the Genealogy wiki at Wikia and is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike License.

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