American statesman, attorney, diplomat, writer, and Founding Father
John Adams (October 30, 1735 – July 4, 1826) was an American statesman, attorney, diplomat, writer, and Founding Father who was the second president of the United States, serving from 1797 to 1801. Before his presidency, he was a leader of the American Revolution that achieved independence from Great Britain, and he served as the first vice president of the United States from 1789 to 1797. Adams was a dedicated diarist and regularly corresponded with many important figures in early American history, including his wife and adviser Abigail Adams and Thomas Jefferson.
A lawyer and political activist prior to the revolution, Adams was devoted to the right to counsel and presumption of innocence. He defied anti-British sentiment and successfully defended British soldiers against murder charges arising from the Boston Massacre. Adams was a Massachusetts delegate to the Continental Congress and became a leader of the revolution. He assisted in drafting the Declaration of Independence in 1776. As a diplomat in Europe, he helped negotiate a peace treaty with Great Britain and secured vital governmental loans. Adams was the primary author of the Massachusetts Constitution in 1780, which influenced the United States constitution, as did his essay Thoughts on Government.
Adams was elected to two terms as vice president under President George Washington and was elected as the United States' second president in 1796. He was the only president elected under the banner of the Federalist Party. During his single term, Adams encountered fierce criticism from the Jeffersonian Republicans and from some 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 undeclared Quasi-War with France. During his term, he became the first president to reside in the executive mansion now known as the White House.
In his bid for reelection, opposition from Federalists and accusations of despotism from Jeffersonians led to Adams losing to his vice president and former friend Thomas Jefferson, and he retired to Massachusetts. He eventually resumed his friendship with Jefferson by initiating a correspondence that lasted fourteen years. He and his wife generated a family of politicians, diplomats, and historians now referred to as the Adams political family, which includes their son John Quincy Adams, the sixth president of the United States. John Adams died on July 4, 1826 – the fiftieth anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence – hours after Jefferson's death. Adams and his son are the only presidents of the first twelve that did not own slaves in their lives. Surveys of historians and scholars have favorably ranked his administration.
VanityVanity, I am sensible, is my cardinal vice and cardinal folly; and I am in continual danger, when in company, of being led an ignis fatuus chase by it.
PassionWe have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. Avarice, ambition, revenge or gallantry would break the strongest cords of our Constitution as a whale goes through a net. Our Constitution is designed only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate for any other.
AmbitionsPassionAmbition is one of the ungovernable passions of the human heart. The love of power is insatiable and uncontrollable.
PeoplePassionHuman passions unbridled by morality and religion...would break the stronges cords of our Constitution as a whale goes through a net.
PeopleFreedomPassionHuman nature itself is evermore an advocate for liberty. There is also in human nature a resentment of injury, and indignation against wrong. A love of truth and a veneration of virtue. These amiable passions, are the "latent spark" . . . If the people are capable of understanding, seeing and feeling the differences between true and false, right and wrong, virtue and vice, to what better principle can the friends of mankind apply than to the sense of this difference?
PassionThus, experience has ever shown, that education, as well as religion, aristocracy, as well as democracy and monarchy, are, singly, totally inadequate to the business of restraining the passions of men, of preserving a steady government, and protecting the lives, liberties, and properties of the people . . . . Religion, superstition, oaths, education, laws, all give way before passions, interest, and power, which can be resisted only by passions, interest, and power.
PassionWhether they be old or young, rich or poor, high or low, wise or foolish, ignorant or learned, every individual is seen to be strongly actuated by a desire to be seen, heard, talked of, approved and respected... a passion for distinction.
PassionThe 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.
PassionPublic virtue cannot exist in a nation without private, and public virtue is the only foundation of republics. There must be a positive passion for the public good, the public interest, honour, power and glory, established in the minds of the people, or there can be no republican government, nor any real liberty: and this public passion must be superiour to all private passions.
FearPassionFear 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.
HappinessAs the happiness of the people is the sole end of government, so the consent of the people is the only foundation of it.
HappinessGovernment is nothing more than the combined force of society, or the united power of the multitude, for the peace, order, safety, good and happiness of the people.
HappinessThe happiness of society is the end of government.
HappinessAll sober inquirers after truth, ancient and modern, pagan and Christian, have declared that the happiness of man, as well as his dignity, consists in virtue.
HappinessThe 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.
HappinessHonor is truly sacred, but holds a lower rank in the scale of moral excellence than virtue. Indeed the former is part of the latter, and consequently has not equal pretensions to support a frame of government productive of human happiness.
HappinessThe divine science of government is the science of social happiness, and the blessings of society depend entirely on the constitutions of government.
HappinessThe liberty, the unalienable, indefeasible rights of men, the honor and dignity of human nature, the grandeur and glory of the public, and the universal happiness of individuals, were never so skillfully and successfully consulted as in that most excellent monument of human art, the common law of England.
HappinessUpon 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 numbers of persons, and in the greatest degree, is the best. All sober inquirers after truth, ancient and modern, pagan and Christian, have declared that the happiness of man, as well as his dignity, consists in virtue.
HappinessThe happiness of man, as well as his dignity, consists in virtue.
FearBut I must submit all my Hopes and Fears, to an overruling Providence, in which, unfashionable as the Faith may be, I firmly believe.
FearMindThere is not an enemy so stout, as to storm and take the fortress of the mind, Unless its infirmity turn traitor, and Fear unbar the gates.
FearFear is the foundation of most governments.
MarriageAs long as Property exists, it will accumulate in Individuals and Families. As long as Marriage exists, Knowledge, Property and Influence will accumulate in Families.
ArtShall we have recourse to the art of printing? But this has not destroyed property or aristocracy or corporations or paper wealth in England or America, or diminished the influence of either; on the contrary, it has multiplied aristocracy and diminished democracy.
ArtWhenever serious art loses track of its roots in the vernacular, then it begins to atrophy.
WarGreat is the guilt of an unnecessary war.
WarThere is no greater guilt than the unneccessary war.
WarThe History of our Revolution will be one continued Lye from one End to the other. The Essence of the whole will be that Dr Franklins electrical Rod, Smote the Earth and out Spring General Washington. That Franklin electrified him with his Rod - and thence forward these two conducted all the Policy Negotiations Legislation and War.
WarI must study Politicks and War that my sons may have liberty to study Mathematicks and Philosophy. My sons ought to study Mathematicks and Philosophy, Geography, natural History, Naval Architecture, navigation, Commerce and Agriculture, in order to give their Children a right to study Painting, Poetry, Musick, Architecture, Statuary, Tapestry and Porcelaine.
WarBut 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.
WarI must study war and politics so that my children shall be free to study commerce, agriculture and other practicalities, so that their children can study painting, poetry and other fine things.
WarThe consequences of these institutions (The towns or districts, the congregations, the schools,and the militia.) have been, that the inhabitants, having acquired from their infancy the habit of discussing, of deliberating, and of judging of public affairs, it was in these assemblies of towns or districts that the sentiments of the people were formed in the first place, and their resolutions were taken from the beginning to the end of the disputes and the war with Great Britain.
FreedomIs 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.
FreedomChildren should be educated and instructed in the principles of freedom. Aristotle speaks plainly to this purpose, saying, 'that the institution of youth should be accommodated to that form of government under which they live; forasmuch as it makes exceedingly for the preservation of the present government, whatsoever it be.
FreedomWhen 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.
FreedomBut a Constitution of Government once changed from Freedom, can never be restored. Liberty, once lost, is lost forever.
Freedom...Cities may be rebuilt, and a People reduced to Poverty, may acquire fresh Property: But a Constitution of Government once changed from Freedom, can never be restored. Liberty once lost is lost forever. When the People once surrendered their share in the Legislature, and their Right of defending the Limitations upon the Government, and of resisting every Encroachment upon them, they can never regain it.
FreedomChildren should be educated and instructed in the principles of freedom.
FreedomPosterity! You will never know how much it cost the present generation to preserve your freedom! I hope you will make a good use of it.
FreedomThe 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.
[D]emocracy will soon degenerate into an anarchy, such an anarchy that every man will do what is right in his own eyes and no man's life or property or reputation or liberty will be secure, and every one of these will soon mould itself into a system of subordination of all the moral virtues and intellectual abilities, all the powers of wealth, beauty, wit and science, to the wanton pleasures, the capricious will, and the execrable cruelty of one or a very few.
Ideology is the science of idiots.
My God! This is a revolution! We have to offend someone!
The most sensible and jealous people are so little attentive to government that there are no instances of resistance until repeated, multiplied oppressions have placed it beyond a doubt that their rulers had formed settled plans to deprive them of their liberties; not to oppress an individual or a few, but to break down the fences of a free constitution, and deprive the people at large of all share in the government, and all the checks by which it is limited.
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.
Our whole system of banks is a violation of every honest principle of banks. There is no honest bank but a bank of deposit. A bank that issues paper at interest is a pickpocket or a robber. But the delusion will have its course. ... An aristocracy is growing out of them that will be as fatal as the feudal barons if unchecked in time.
Mankind will in time discover that unbridled majorities are as tyrannical and cruel as unlimited despots.
When public virtue is gone, when the national spirit is fled the republic is lost in essence, though it may still exist in form
Arms in the hands of citizens may be used at individual discretion... in private self-defense.
We may please ourselves with the prospect of free and popular governments. But there is great danger that those governments will not make us happy. God grant they may. But I fear that in every assembly, members will obtain an influence by noise, not sense. By meanness, not greatness. By ignorance, not learning. By contracted hearts, not large souls.
To be good, and to do good, is all we have to do.
The date will be the most memorable epoch 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 forever more.
Power must never be trusted without a check.
Property monopolized or in the possession of a few is a curse to mankind.
I am a revolutionary, so my son can be a farmer, so his son can be a poet.
Nothing is more dreaded than the national government meddling with religion.
It should be your care, therefore, and mine, to elevate the minds of our children and exalt their courage; to accelerate and animate their industry and activity; to excite in them an habitual contempt of meanness, abhorrence of injustice and inhumanity, and an ambition to excel in every capacity, faculty, and virtue. If we suffer their minds to grovel and creep in infancy, they will grovel all their lives.
He is too illiterate, unread, unlearned for his station and reputation.
Because power corrupts, society's demands for moral authority and character increase as the importance of the position increases.
[L]iberty must at all hazards be supported. We have a right to it, derived from our Maker. But if we had not, our fathers have earned and bought it for us, at the expense of their ease, their estates, their pleasure, and their blood.
The whole people must take upon themselves the education of the whole people, and must be willing to bear the expenses of it. There should not be a district of one mile square, without a school in it, not founded by a charitable individual, but maintained at the public expense of the people themselves.
I have examined all religions, and the result is that the Bible is the best book in the world.
A government of laws, and not of men.
Here, every private person is authorized to arm himself, and on the strength of this authority, I do not deny the inhabitants had a right to arm themselves at that time, for their defense, not for offense.
Have you ever found in history, one single example of a nation, thoroughly corrupted, that was afterwards restored to virtue? And without virtue there can be no political liberty.
It is not only the juror's right, but his duty to find the verdict according to his own best understanding, judgment and conscience, though in direct opposition to the instruction of the court.
Negro slavery is an evil of colossal magnitude.
In every society where property exists there will ever be a struggle between rich and poor. Mixed in one assembly, equal laws can never be expected; they will either be made by the member to plunder the few who are rich, or by the influence to fleece the many who are poor.
And 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 the most dreaded and envied kind of knowledge, I mean of the characters and conduct of their rulers.
The appearance of religion only on Sunday proves that it is only an appearance.
That the desires of the majority of the people are often for injustice and inhumanity against the minority, is demonstrated by every page of the history of the world.
To believe all men honest is folly. To believe none is something worse.
An honest, sensible, humane man, . . . laboring to do good rather than be rich, to be useful rather than make a show, living in modest simplicity . . . is really the most respectable man in society, [and] makes himself and all about him most happy.
We hold that each man is the best judge of his own interest.