John Adams Was the Second Thesis

Excerpt from Thesis :

In fact, many turned to Toryism because they believed that the aim of government was "to place man out of the reach of his own power." Adams strongly disagreed as he believed that the purpose of government was to secure for the citizenry "the greatest quantity of happiness" for the greatest number of people. His strong conviction was that this 'general happiness' could be achieved if the citizenry not only made the laws, but if "an Empire of Laws and not of men" came into being. Furthermore, Adams believed that the American Revolution would enhance individual opportunity. His aim was to destroy the system of elite privileges which existed in both monarchical and aristocratic societies; this wish was based on his belief that power should never be an inherited right because the first objective of the governing elite would be to serve themselves.

Adams contended that private virtue was crucial for the existence of public virtue. In fact, he claimed that republicanism would inspire dignity in people, and that it would produce a society of patriotic citizens who were ambitious and ready to serve their country. Adams's political thought was focused on the idea that government was the prerequisite for securing the happiness of the citizenry. Its purpose was wide and generous, and excluded serving the interests of one class or the promotion of elites. His system of thought included a truly revolutionary idea, i.e. Of a republican nation in which the people embraced the ideals of patriotism and selflessness, and what was remarkable about it was the fact that it applied to both the common man, and the wealthiest citizens.

In 1765, at the age of 30, John Adams entered the service of his country. It was at this time that he wrote a series of four articles for the Boston Gazette which was later published together under the title, a Dissertation on the Canon and Feudal Laws. As with other Presidents and statesmen, their writings often provide great examples as well as explanations of their ideology. In this sense, the Dissertation is a reflection of Adams's views on the history of the colonies, their higher interests, as well as civil, religious and intellectual concepts. Apart from the significance awarded by the particular moment when it was produced, namely the years preceding the American Revolution, Adams's Dissertation served as preparation for the people for the critical times that were to follow. Also, this writing discloses the political thought of Adams "at the outset of his long career of patriotic service."

The Dissertation opens with an inquiry into the source of oppression. Adams explains that the origins of oppression coincide with those of the love of power, namely human nature. He argues that the principle of human nature represents the stimulus people need to fight for their independence; moreover, Adams writes that in the struggle between those who want to seize and maintain power, i.e., the ruling class, and those who oppose it, and fight for their freedom, the latter have usually failed because of their ignorance. The "great," as he refers to the elites, have taken advantage of this ignorance, and have always struggled to keep knowledge about their rights, as well as the power to assert these rights, from the people. On the issue of rights, Adams notes, "I say Rights for such they have... antecedent to all earthly governments, Rights that cannot be repealed or restrained by human laws - Rights derived from the General Legislator of the Universe."

The Dissertation is extremely important in the task of understanding Adams's political thought from at least two separate points-of-view. First of all, it exhibits John Adams's view that freedom and slavery are born from the same principle, i.e. The love of power. At the same time, however, according to his comprehension of politics, this love of power is an "aspiring, noble principle, founded in benevolence." Furthermore, Adams argued that piety and republicanism were inextricably linked. One can thus deduce that the purpose of a wise public policy must be to direct this love of power and regulate its functions so that it respects and ensure freedom, and not to try to erase it since this would be an impossible endeavor. There is another idea which can be detached from the previous point, namely that people have certain rights which are indefeasible.

There is a second aspect to consider when discussing Adams's Dissertation. The second part of his writing has great historical value and significance. The canon and feudal laws that he talks about were invented by the ruling class to serve their own interests. Adams writes on the canon law, "the most refined, sublime, extensive and astonishing constitution of policy that was ever conceived by the mind of man." His view on the feudal law is rather similar as he notes that its purpose was to hold the common people "in a state of servile dependence" and "of total ignorance of every thing divine and human excepting the use of arms and the culture of their lands."

Apart from his writings, Adams's public speeches are equally significant as far as the endeavor of decoding his doctrine. Moreover, rhetoric is the main tool of political communication. In the case of American presidents, the inaugural address marks not only the official start of their mandate, but also an opportunity to tackle issues such as doctrine, personal qualities, as well as plans as President. John Adams delivered his inaugural address on March 4, 1797 in Philadelphia. The second president's address has the odd distinction of containing the longest sentence in the history of this kind of presidential public speech. At 724 words, this sentence expresses his talents and qualities, and represents a sort of assurance that he was indeed qualified for this position after being only narrowly elected. Presidential rhetoric is always very interesting as far as ideology because the two often shed light on each other; Adams's inaugural address makes no exception. In his address, Adams created an extended self-portrait which served not only as an introduction, but also a statement of principles which would become the basis of his administration. Moreover, these principles would be fully reflected throughout his public career. However, the rest of Adams's address was not focused on himself, but on the importance and dignity of the office, and the solemnity of the occasion.

To conclude, it is important to note that throughout his term in office, Adams allowed neither domestic party interests nor foreign intrigue to determine the direction of the republic. However, his independence and resilience came at a price in the sense that they cost him a second term. Moreover, his rivals and political enemies tarnished his reputation and succeeded in leaving a long-lasting historical impression on his memory. In fact, no other American statesman - perhaps with the exception of Daniel Webster - has retired from the political scene so hated as did Adams. The followers of Jefferson labeled him as a monarchist and a hater and persecutor of democrats; Hamilton's followers despised and considered him a traitor to Federalism. However, when analyzing his actions as President and Vice-President, as well as his public speeches and writings, it becomes quite clear that Adams never strayed from his moral principles which included his belief that in order for a state to prosper, its government must be democratic, and its executive, aristocratic. At the same time, he believed that in order for these two branches to be strong enough, they each must maintain their rights and prerogatives. His political thought could be nowadays defined as idealistic; in this sense, his strong values and morality caused him a great deal of disappointment as far as the political elite of the country in the eighteenth century as merit and talent did not represent the backbone of political life.


Bruce Miroff, "John Adams: Merit, Fame, and Political Leadership," the Journal of Politics, 48.1 (Feb., 1986): 116.

Rossiter, 1955, p. 116; also see Kirk, 1953; Viereck, 1956 in Bruce Miroff, "John Adams: Merit, Fame, and Political Leadership," the Journal of Politics, 48.1 (Feb., 1986): 116.

John Ferling. Setting the World Ablaze: Washington, Adams, Jefferson, and the American Revolution (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002): 114.

John T. Morse, Jr., John Adams (Read Books, 2007): 2.

John T. Morse, Jr. John Adams (Read Books, 2007): 10.

John Ferling. Setting the World Ablaze: Washington, Adams, Jefferson, and the American Revolution (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002): 122.

Anson D. Morse, "The Politics of John Adams," the American Historical Review 4. 2 (Jan., 1899): 293.

John Ferling. Setting the World Ablaze: Washington, Adams, Jefferson, and the American Revolution (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002): 125.

Anson D. Morse, "The Politics of John Adams," the American Historical Review 4. 2 (Jan., 1899): 293.

Ryan Halford, ed. U.S. Presidents as Orators: A Bio-Critical Sourcebook (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1995): 23.

Anson D. Morse, "The…

Sources Used in Document:


Miroff, Bruce. "John Adams: Merit, Fame, and Political Leadership," the Journal of Politics, Vol. 48, No. 1 (Feb., 1986): pp. 116-132

Ferling, John. Setting the World Ablaze: Washington, Adams, Jefferson, and the American Revolution. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002.

Morse, Anson, "The Politics of John Adams," the American Historical Review Vol. 4, No. 2,

Morse, Jr., John T. John Adams. Read Books, 2007.

Cite This Thesis:

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