Friday, March 28, 2014

John Adams, Philosopher Rebel

John Adams was the leading expert on government in the colonies … at least until James Madison stepped to the forefront. Harvard educated, Adams was a champion of the Founding Principles, a firm proponent of Enlightenment teachings, and a constitutional scholar. Granted, he could be argumentative and self-righteous, but he was also a pious man of honor and character.

Tempest at dawn

Adams was an early and fervent advocate for independence. He opposed the Stamp Act in speeches, articles, and his widely circulated dissertation, “Essay on the Canon and Feudal Law.” He served in the first and second Continental Congresses, where he took part in more than ninety committees, many of which he chaired. Adams nominated George Washington to be commander-in-chief, and headed the Board of War and Ordnance, which was responsible for supplying Washington’s army. He succeeded in getting an early resolution for independence passed that eventually led to the Declaration, and then served on the committee that wrote the Declaration of Independence. Twice during the war he served as an envoy in Europe. In later years, Thomas Jefferson said that Adams was “the pillar of [the Declaration’s] support on the floor of Congress, its ablest advocate and defender against the multifarious assaults it encountered.”

Despite his revolutionary credentials, Adams’s greatest contributions were as a thinker and writer. In 1772, he wrote Dispute with America, From Its Origin, in 1754, to the Present Time, arguing persuasively against British imperial policy. His 1776 Thoughts on Government influenced numerous state constitutions. The treatise defended bicameralism, and argued for separation of power between three branches with checks and balances. In 1780, Adams largely wrote the Massachusetts state constitution, which included a strong executive with limited veto authority and a bicameral legislature. While in London (1787), Adams published A Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the United States, which was so popular with delegates to the Constitutional Convention that Adams could almost be considered the fifty-sixth delegate. Adams strongly pushed the idea of “checks and balances” and his thinking had a strong influence on James Madison.

John Adams was possibly the hardest working person during the founding. He was everywhere, doing everything during each and every phase of the founding of the United States. In all his activities, he always tried to keep the best interests of his country in mind. An ardent republican, he was an honorable man who truly believed his countrymen were up to the task of self-government.

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