by Gerald Boerner


JerryPhoto_8x8_P1010031 As we approach the celebration of the 4th of July American Independence Day festivities, we believe that this is a good time to reflect on how and why we became a new nation over two hundred years ago. To a great extent, it had to do with the abuses of the British colonial system AND the presence at that point in time of great men of vision — the Founding Fathers.

Last year we posted an extensive series on the American Revolution. We will draw upon some of those posts again this year, but with more emphasis on the specific roles selected Founding Fathers played in the quest for independence. Today we will examine the contributions of that great diplomat and future President, John Adams.

We hope that you will follow us through this exploration and come out with a renewed respect for our great struggle in those years in the 18th century. GLB

[ This is Part 5 of 10. ]

[ 3037 Words ]


“Our Founding Fathers would be proud of all that America has achieved, and will continue to achieve, in the coming years.”
— John Linder

“Second, marriage is an issue that our Founding Fathers wisely left to the states.”
— Judy Biggert

“Our political differences, now matter how sharply they are debated, are really quite narrow in comparison to the remarkably durable national consensus on our founding convictions.”
— John McCain

“Partly because his life ended before the age of 50, Hamilton was defined by the other founding fathers, and he managed, with amazing consistency, to alienate most of them.”
— Ron Chernow

“Personally, one of the down sides of founding a company is that there is always too much work to do, and sadly I find I don’t have much time to code any more.”
— Eric Allman


America’s Founding Fathers: John Adams, the Diplomat

I want to start looking at some of the Founding Fathers of the American Revolutionary War. We will continue with that great orator of the colonies — John Adams of Massachusetts. When the passion of the Americans needed a voice, John Adams was there for them. He was able to craft the appropriate phrase that could give heart to the colonists in their confrontation of the British. GLB


(The following John Adams: Thinking About the American Revolution to this blog on Wednesday, July 1, 2009)

John Adams:
Thinking About the American Revolution

Copyright©2009 Gerald L. Boerner
All Rights Reserved

“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 obligation. This radical change in the principles, opinions, sentiments, and affections of the people, was the real American Revolution.”
— John Adams

President_John_Adams_(1735-1826)_by_Asher_B._Durand_(1767-1845)-crop John Adams was a member of both the 1st and 2nd Continental Congresses. He had extensive diplomatic experience including the negotiation of the “Treaty of Paris of 1783″ with the English and was the first Ambassador to the Court of St. James. He served two terms as President Washington’s Vice President and then as the 2nd President of these United States; his son, John Quincy Adams, became the 6th President. This is quite a résumé for one of our more notable founding fathers.

Adams was a Federalist, by both a philosophy and by later party affiliation. He believed that the colonial legislatures should be equal partners with the British parliament, with the right to control the taxing and governance of the populace of the colonies. He was one of the five members charged by the 2nd Continental Congress with writing the Declaration of Independence although it was primarily written by Thomas Jefferson. He was, however, the chief defender of this amazing document on the floor of the congress which eventually approved it and signed it on July 4th of 1776.

“The people have a right, an indisputable, unalienable, indefeasible, divine right to that most dreaded and envied kind of knowledge — I mean of the character and conduct of their rulers”
— John Adams

He was philosophically a republican, that is, one who favored a government based upon the direct selection of their leaders by the people. He did not believe that the American colonies needed a new aristocracy as was believed by some of the other founding fathers or wealthy landowners (especially in the south). This put him in constant conflict with Alexander Hamilton, another member of the 2nd Continental Congress and a founding father. Being from Massachusetts, he believed that the new government should represent the people, as exemplified by the opening words of the future U.S. Constitution“We the people…”

His contributions have gained additional respect in recent times. During his lifetime, his work for our fledgling democracy was under-appreciated and he was not considered one of the more important founding fathers. Let’s take a closer look at why this was not the case…

John Adams (1735 – 1826)

“The way to secure liberty is to place it in the people’s hands, that is, to give them the power at all times to defend it in the legislature and in the courts of justice.”
— John Adams

“I am persuaded there is among the mass of our people a fund of wisdom, integrity, and humanity which will preserve their happiness in a tolerable measure.”
— John Adams

image25 Adams’ thoughts were greatly molded by his Puritan heritage. He became an influential constitutional lawyer during the colonial revolutionary period and demonstrated a solid understanding of the revolution’s historical context. He, along with Patrick Henry of Virginia, came into prominence after the imposition of the “Tax Act of 1765” which was passed by the British Parliament to help pay for England’s war with France; it also funded the stationing of British troops in the colonies. Adams’ main argument in this battle was based on the premise that all free men deserved the “rights to be taxed only by consent and to be tried only by a jury of one’s peers.” This became an effective rallying point for the colonists against these abuses by the British Parliament.

Furthermore, Adams argued that the colonies were NEVER under the rule of the British Parliament. The colonial charters had been issued by the British crown, not the parliament. His Thoughts on Government laid the foundation for numerous colonial constitutions. This treatise advocated a bicameral legislature, an independent executive, and an independent judiciary. This was based, to a large extent, on the earlier writing of Montesquieu.

“…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.’ ”
— John Adams, Thoughts on Government

Adams career after the Revolutionary War included both political and diplomatic roles. The new United States of America includes the territory south of the Great Lakes and east of the Mississippi, excluding the Florida territory, which was given to Spain. This was part of the terms of the “Treaty of Paris of 1783” which was negotiated by Adams. He later became the first Ambassador to the Court of St. James. Years later, during our bicentennial year, Queen Elizabeth II referred to Adams’ introduction to the court of King George III as:

“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.”
— Queen Elizabeth II, during a visit to the White House, 1976

We have John Adams to thank for our transition from subservient colonies to an independent nation. He promoted the separation of powers in our Constitution that has endured for these many years. But, above all, we have Adams to thank for resisting Alexander Hamilton’s push for an American aristocracy; Adams helped create a government where the power of the state reverted to the people.

“I must study politics and war, that my sons may have the liberty to study mathematics and philosophy, natural history and naval architecture, in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, tapestry, and porcelain.”
— John Adams

This transition must have worked — John Quincy Adams, his son, became the 6th President of our country. Thank you for this legacy of freedom Mr. Adams.


Adding Perspective on John Adams

John Adams (1735 – 1826) was an American politician and political philosopher and the second President of the United States (1797–1801), after being the first Vice President of the United States (1789–1797) for two terms. He was 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 declare independence, and assisted Thomas Jefferson in drafting 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 bankers. A political theorist and historian, Adams largely wrote the Massachusetts state constitution in 1780, but was in Europe when the federal Constitution was drafted on similar principles later in the decade. One of his greatest roles was as a judge of character: in 1775, he nominated George Washington to be commander-in-chief, and twenty-five years later nominated John Marshall to be Chief Justice of the United States.

Adams’ revolutionary credentials secured him two terms as George Washington’s vice president and his own election in 1796 as the second president. During his one term, he encountered ferocious attacks by the Jeffersonian Republicans, as well as the dominant faction in his own Federalist Party led by his bitter enemy Alexander Hamilton. Adams signed the controversial Alien and Sedition Acts, and built up the army and navy especially in the face of an undeclared naval war (called the "Quasi War") with France, 1798-1800. The major accomplishment of his presidency was his peaceful resolution of the Quasi-War in the face of Hamiltonian opposition.

In 1800 Adams was defeated for reelection by Thomas Jefferson and retired to Massachusetts. He later resumed his friendship with Jefferson. 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.

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 without consulting the American legislatures. Americans protested vehemently that it violated their traditional rights as Englishmen. 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.

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.

Boston Massacre

In 1770, a street confrontation resulted in British soldiers killing five civilians in what became known as the Boston Massacre. 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 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. 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."

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.

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 argue that the provincial legislatures were fully sovereign over their own internal affairs, and that the colonies were connected to Great Britain only through the King.

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 state constitutions. Using the conceptual framework of Republicanism in the United States, the patriots believed it was the corrupt and nefarious aristocrats, in the British Parliament, and their minions stationed in America, who were guilty of the British assault on American liberty.

Adams advised that the form of government should be chosen in order to attain the desired ends, which are the happiness and virtue of the greatest number of people. With this goal in mind, 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." He also suggested that there should be a separation of powers between the executive, the judiciary, and the legislature, and furthermore recommended that if a continental government were to be formed then it "should sacredly be confined" to certain enumerated powers. Thoughts on Government was enormously influential and was referenced as an authority in every state-constitution writing hall.

Declaration_independence 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.

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."

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.


Background and biographical information is from Wikipedia articles on:

Wikipedia: American Revolution…

Wikipedia: John Adams…

Brainy Quote: Founding Quotes…