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John Adams

Birthdate: 30. October 1735
Date of death: 4. July 1826

John Adams was an American patriot who served as the second President of the United States and the first Vice President . He was a lawyer, diplomat, statesman, political theorist, and, as a Founding Father, a leader of the movement for American independence from Great Britain. He was also a dedicated diarist and correspondent, particularly with his wife and closest advisor Abigail.

John Adams collaborated with his cousin, revolutionary leader Samuel Adams, but he established his own prominence prior to the American Revolution. After the Boston Massacre, he provided a successful legal defense of the accused British soldiers, in the face of severe local anti-British sentiment and driven by his devotion to the right to counsel and the "protect[ion] of innocence". Adams was a delegate from Massachusetts to the Continental Congress, where he played a leading role in persuading Congress to declare independence. He assisted Thomas Jefferson in drafting the Declaration of Independence in 1776, and was its foremost advocate in the Congress. As a diplomat in Europe, he helped negotiate the eventual peace treaty with Great Britain, and acquired vital governmental loans from Amsterdam bankers. Adams was the primary author of the Massachusetts Constitution in 1780. This influenced the development of America's own constitution, as did his earlier Thoughts on Government .

Adams's credentials as a revolutionary secured for him two terms as President George Washington's vice president and also his own election in 1796 as the second president. In his single term as president, he encountered fierce criticism from the Jeffersonian Republicans, as well as the dominant faction in his own Federalist Party, led by his rival Alexander Hamilton. Adams signed the controversial Alien and Sedition Acts, and built up the army and navy in the face of an undeclared naval "Quasi-War" with France. The major accomplishment of his presidency was a peaceful resolution of the conflict in the face of Hamilton's opposition. Due to his strong posture on defense, Adams is "often called the father of the American Navy". He was the first U.S. president to reside in the executive mansion, now known as the White House.

In 1800, Adams lost re-election to Thomas Jefferson and retired to Massachusetts. He eventually resumed his friendship with Jefferson upon the latter's own retirement by initiating a correspondence which lasted fourteen years. He and his wife established a family 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. He died on the fiftieth anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence, and the same day as Jefferson. Modern historians in the aggregate have favorably ranked his administration.

„There are two tyrants in human life who domineer in all nations, in Indians and Negroes, in Tartars and Arabs, in Hindoos and Chinese, in Greeks and Romans, in Britons and Gauls, as well as in our simple, youthful, and beloved United States of America. These two tyrants are fashion and party.“

—  John Adams

They are sometimes at variance, and I know not whether their mutual hostility is not the only security of human happiness. But they are forever struggling for an alliance with each other; and, when they are united, truth, reason, honor, justice, gratitude, and humanity itself in combination are no match for the coalition. Upon the maturest reflection of a long experience, I am much inclined to believe that fashion is the worst of all tyrants, because he is the original source, cause, preserver, and supporter of all others.
Letter to Samuel B. Malcolm (6 August 1812), Quincy. http://oll.libertyfund.org/titles/2127#Adams_1431-10_87
1810s

„Property must be secured, or liberty cannot exist.“

—  John Adams

No. 13
1790s, Discourses on Davila (1790)
Context: Property must be secured, or liberty cannot exist. But if unlimited or unbalanced power of disposing property, be put into the hands of those who have no property, France will find, as we have found, the lamb committed to the custody of the wolf. In such a case, all the pathetic exhortations and addresses of the national assembly to the people, to respect property, will be regarded no more than the warbles of the songsters of the forest. 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.

„I have not one drop of blood in my veins but what is American.“

—  John Adams

To an ambassador (1785), as quoted in The Works of John Adams, Second President of the United States: Autobiography http://books.google.com/books?id=lWcsAAAAIAAJ&pg=PA392 (1851), by Charles F. Adams, p. 392.
1780s
Context: Neither my father or mother, grandfather or grandmother, great grandfather or great grandmother, nor any other relation that I know of, or care a farthing for, has been in England these one hundred and fifty years; so that you see I have not one drop of blood in my veins but what is American.

„I was delighted with its high tone and the flights of oratory with which it abounded, especially that concerning negro slavery, which, though I knew his Southern brethren would never suffer to pass in Congress, I certainly never would oppose“

—  John Adams

Regarding a draft of the U.S. Declaration of Independence, Letter to Timothy Pickering (6 August 1822) http://oll.libertyfund.org/titles/2100#lf1431-02_head_061
As quoted in The Founding Fathers: John Adams: A Biography in his own Words https://web.archive.org/web/20111029143754/http://home.nas.com/lopresti/ps2.htm (1973), by James Bishop Peabody, Newsweek, New York, p. 201.
1820s
Context: A meeting we accordingly had, and conned the paper over. I was delighted with its high tone and the flights of oratory with which it abounded, especially that concerning negro slavery, which, though I knew his Southern brethren would never suffer to pass in Congress, I certainly never would oppose. There were other expressions which I would not have inserted, if I had drawn it up, particularly that which called the King tyrant. I thought this too personal; for I never believed George to be a tyrant in disposition and in nature; I always believed him to be deceived by his courtiers on both sides of the Atlantic, and in his official capacity only, cruel. I thought the expression too passionate, and too much like scolding, for so grave and solemn a document; but as Franklin and Sherman were to inspect it afterwards, I thought it would not become me to strike it out. I consented to report it, and do not now remember that I made or suggested a single alteration. We reported it to the committee of five. It was read, and I do not remember that Franklin or Sherman criticized any thing. We were all in haste. Congress was impatient, and the instrument was reported, as I believe, in Jefferson’s handwriting, as he first drew it. Congress cut off about a quarter of it, as I expected they would; but they obliterated some of the best of it, and left all that was exceptionable, if any thing in it was. I have long wondered that the original draught has not been published. I suppose the reason is, the vehement philippic against negro slavery.

„We ought to consider what is the end of government, before we determine which is the best form.“

—  John Adams

1770s, Thoughts on Government (1776)
Context: 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.

„It must be made a sacred maxim, that the militia obey the executive power, which represents the whole people in the execution of laws.“

—  John Adams

Source: 1780s, A Defence of the Constitutions of Government (1787), Ch. 3 Marchamont Nedham : Errors of Government and Rules of Policy" Sixth Rule <!-- The Works of John Adams, Second President of the United States vol. VI (1851) p. 197 -->
Context: The militia and sovereignty are inseparable. In the English constitution, if the whole nation were a militia, there would be a militia to defend the crown, the lords, or the commons, if either were attacked. The crown, though it commands them, has no power to use them improperly, because it cannot pay or subsist them without the consent of the lords and commons; but if the militia are to obey a sovereignty in a single assembly, it is commanded, paid, and subsisted, and a standing army, too, may be raised, paid, and subsisted, by the vote of a majority; the militia, then, must all obey the sovereign majority, or divide, and part follow the majority, and part the minority. This last case is civil war; but, until it comes to this, the whole militia may be employed by the majority in any degree of tyranny and oppression over the minority. The constitution furnishes no resource or remedy; nothing affords a chance of relief but rebellion and civil war. If this terminates in favor of the minority, they will tyrannize in their turn, exasperated by revenge, in addition to ambition and avarice; if the majority prevail, their domination becomes more cruel, and soon ends in one despot. It must be made a sacred maxim, that the militia obey the executive power, which represents the whole people in the execution of laws. To suppose arms in the hands of citizens, to be used at individual discretion, except in private self-defence, or by partial orders of towns, counties, or districts of a state, is to demolish every constitution, and lay the laws prostrate, so that liberty can be enjoyed by no man; it is a dissolution of the government. The fundamental law of the militia is, that it be created, directed, and commanded by the laws, and ever for the support of the laws.

„Remember the frank Veteran acknowledges, that "the word rebel is a convertible term."“

—  John Adams

No. 5
1770s, Novanglus essays (1774&ndash;1775)
Context: We are told: "It is a universal truth, that he that would excite a rebellion, is at heart as great a tyrant as ever wielded the iron rod of oppression." Be it so. We are not exciting a rebellion. Opposition, nay, open, avowed resistance by arms, against usurpation and lawless violence, is not rebellion by the law of God or the land. Resistance to lawful authority makes rebellion. … Remember the frank Veteran acknowledges, that "the word rebel is a convertible term."

„I have long wondered that the original draught has not been published. I suppose the reason is, the vehement philippic against negro slavery“

—  John Adams

Regarding a draft of the U.S. Declaration of Independence, Letter to Timothy Pickering (6 August 1822) http://oll.libertyfund.org/titles/2100#lf1431-02_head_061
As quoted in The Founding Fathers: John Adams: A Biography in his own Words https://web.archive.org/web/20111029143754/http://home.nas.com/lopresti/ps2.htm (1973), by James Bishop Peabody, Newsweek, New York, p. 201.
1820s
Context: A meeting we accordingly had, and conned the paper over. I was delighted with its high tone and the flights of oratory with which it abounded, especially that concerning negro slavery, which, though I knew his Southern brethren would never suffer to pass in Congress, I certainly never would oppose. There were other expressions which I would not have inserted, if I had drawn it up, particularly that which called the King tyrant. I thought this too personal; for I never believed George to be a tyrant in disposition and in nature; I always believed him to be deceived by his courtiers on both sides of the Atlantic, and in his official capacity only, cruel. I thought the expression too passionate, and too much like scolding, for so grave and solemn a document; but as Franklin and Sherman were to inspect it afterwards, I thought it would not become me to strike it out. I consented to report it, and do not now remember that I made or suggested a single alteration. We reported it to the committee of five. It was read, and I do not remember that Franklin or Sherman criticized any thing. We were all in haste. Congress was impatient, and the instrument was reported, as I believe, in Jefferson’s handwriting, as he first drew it. Congress cut off about a quarter of it, as I expected they would; but they obliterated some of the best of it, and left all that was exceptionable, if any thing in it was. I have long wondered that the original draught has not been published. I suppose the reason is, the vehement philippic against negro slavery.

„Slavery is an evil of Colossal Magnitude.“

—  John Adams

Letter http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Adams/99-02-02-7261 to William Tudor, Jr., 20 November 1819. Partially quoted in Founding Brothers : The Revolutionary Generation (2000) by Joseph J. Ellis, p. 240
1810s
Context: I Shall not pause to consider whether my Opinion will be popular or unpopular with the Slave Holders, or Slave Traders, in the Northern the Middle, the Southern, or the Western, States—I respect all those who are necessarily subjected to this Evil.—But Negro Slavery is an evil of Colossal Magnitude. … I am therefore utterly averse to the admission of Slavery into the Missouri Territory, and heartily wish that every Constitutional measure may be adopted for the preservation of it.

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„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.“

—  John Adams

1760s, A Dissertation on the Canon and Feudal Law (1765)
Context: 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.

„Human nature with all its infirmities and depravation is still capable of great things.“

—  John Adams

Letter to Abigail Adams (29 October 1775), published Letters of John Adams, Addressed to His Wife, Vol. 1 (1841), ed. Charles Francis Adams, p. 72
1770s
Context: Human nature with all its infirmities and depravation is still capable of great things. It is capable of attaining to degrees of wisdom and goodness, which we have reason to believe, appear as respectable in the estimation of superior intelligences. Education makes a greater difference between man and man, than nature has made between man and brute. The virtues and powers to which men may be trained, by early education and constant discipline, are truly sublime and astonishing. Newton and Locke are examples of the deep sagacity which may be acquired by long habits of thinking and study.

„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.“

—  John Adams

1810s, What do we mean by the American Revolution? (1818)
Context: 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.

„The poor people, it is true, have been much less successful than the great.“

—  John Adams

1760s, A Dissertation on the Canon and Feudal Law (1765)
Context: 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.

„I almost shudder at the thought of alluding to the most fatal example of the abuses of grief which the history of mankind has preserved — the Cross.“

—  John Adams

Letter to Thomas Jefferson (3 September 1816), published in Adams-Jefferson Letters: The Complete Correspondence Between Thomas Jefferson and Abigail and John Adams http://books.google.com/books?vid=ISBN0807842303&id=SzSWYPOz6M8C&pg=PP1&lpg=PP1&ots=kTAZL3ImRq&dq=%22Adams-Jefferson+letters%22&sig=tVGzBe0XVhXaF2p0FQLGy4GK6bk#PRA2-PR17,M1 (UNC Press, 1988), p. 488
1810s
Context: I almost shudder at the thought of alluding to the most fatal example of the abuses of grief which the history of mankind has preserved — the Cross. Consider what calamities that engine of grief has produced! With the rational respect that is due to it, knavish priests have added prostitutions of it, that fill or might fill the blackest and bloodiest pages of human history.

„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.“

—  John Adams

Letter to François Adriaan van der Kemp (16 February 1809)
1800s
Context: 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.

„You bid me burn your letters. But I must forget you first.“

—  John Adams

Letter to Abigail Adams (28 April 1776)
1770s
Context: Is there no way for two friendly souls to converse together, although the bodies are 400 miles off? Yes, by letter. But I want a better communication. I want to hear your think, or to see your thoughts.
The conclusion of your letter makes my heart throb more than a cannonade would. You bid me burn your letters. But I must forget you first.

„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.“

—  John Adams

1770s, Boston Massacre trial (1770)
Context: 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.

„I shudder when I think of the calamities which slavery is likely to produce in this country.“

—  John Adams

1820, as quoted in John Adams https://web.archive.org/web/20111029143754/http://home.nas.com/lopresti/ps2.htm, by Page Smith, Doubleday, Garden City, New York
1820s
Context: I shudder when I think of the calamities which slavery is likely to produce in this country. You would think me mad if I were to describe my anticipations… If the gangrene is not stopped I can see nothing but insurrection of the blacks against the whites.

„Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetuer adipiscing elit. Etiam egestas wisi a erat. Morbi imperdiet, mauris ac auctor dictum.“

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