By Bill Federer
John Adams was born Oct. 30, 1735. A Harvard graduate, he was admitted to the bar and married Abigail Smith in 1764.
In 1765, Britain enacted the Stamp Act, which would be equivalent to a present-day Internet tax and government surveillance of emails. John Adams wrote: “It seems very manifest from the Stamp Act itself, that a design is formed to strip us in a great measure of the means of knowledge, by loading the press, the colleges, and even an almanac and a newspaper, with restraints and duties.”
In resisting the Stamp Act, Adams wrote instructions to representatives from town of Braintree being sent to the Massachusetts General Court: “The late acts of Parliament … divest us of our most essential rights and liberties. … The Stamp Act … a very burdensome, and … unconstitutional tax, is to be laid upon us. … We are subjected to … penalties, to be prosecuted, sued for, and recovered, at the option of an informer, in a court of admiralty, without a jury. … Business … would be totally impossible. … That Act … would drain the country of its cash, strip multitudes of all their property, and reduce them to absolute beggary. … No freeman should be subject to any tax to which he has not given his own consent.”
In 1765, John Adams wrote “A Dissertation on the Canon and Feudal Law”: “The desire of dominion … when … restraints are taken off … becomes an encroaching, grasping, restless, and ungovernable power … contrived by the great for the gratification of this passion. … Originally formed … for the necessary defense … against … invasions … yet … tyranny, cruelty, and lust … was soon adopted by almost all the princes of Europe. … The people were held in ignorance … till God in his benign providence raised up the champions who began and conducted the Reformation. From the time of the Reformation to the first settlement of America, knowledge gradually spread in Europe, but especially in England; and in proportion as that increased and spread among the people … tyranny … lost … strength. …”
Adams continued: “It was this great struggle that peopled America … by a sensible people … the Puritans. … This people had been so vexed and tortured by the powers of those days, for no other crime than their knowledge and their freedom of inquiry … they at last resolved to fly to the wilderness for refuge. … After their arrival here, they … formed their plan, both of ecclesiastical and civil government, in direct opposition to the canon and the feudal systems. … I always consider the settlement of America with reverence and wonder, as the opening of a grand scene and design in Providence for the illumination of the ignorant, and the emancipation of the slavish part of mankind all over the earth. …”
Adams added: “Tyranny in every form, shape, and appearance was their disdain. … They saw clearly, that popular powers must be placed as … a control, a balance, to the powers of the monarch … or else it would soon become the man of sin, the whore of Babylon, the mystery of iniquity, a great and detestable system of fraud, violence, and usurpation. Their greatest concern seems to have been to establish a government of the church more consistent with the Scriptures, and a government of the state more agreeable to the dignity of human nature, than any they had seen in Europe. … To render the popular power in their new government as great and wise … as human nature and the Christian religion require it should be, they … had an utter contempt … of hereditary, indefeasible right … of passive obedience and non-resistance. … They thought all such slavish subordinations were … inconsistent with … that religious liberty with which Jesus had made them free. …”
Adams explained further: “Original … government was … despotic … arbitrary, lawless power. … But knowledge diffused generally through the whole body of the people … their civil and religious principles. … For this purpose they laid very early the foundations of colleges, and … seminaries. … They made it a crime for such a town to be destitute of a grammar schoolmaster. … Education of all ranks of people was made the care and expense of the public, in a manner that I believe has been unknown to any other people ancient or modern. … A native of America who cannot read and write is as rare … as a comet or an earthquake. … Liberty must at all hazards be supported. We have a right to it, derived from our Maker. …”
Adams continued: “Liberty cannot be preserved without a general knowledge among the people, who have a right … to knowledge, as their great Creator, who does nothing in vain, has given them understandings, and a desire to know. … Rulers are no more than … trustees for the people; and if the … trust, is insidiously betrayed, or wantonly trifled away, the people have a right to revoke the authority … and to constitute abler and better … trustees. … The jaws of power are always opened to devour, and her arm is always stretched out, if possible, to destroy the freedom of thinking, speaking, and writing. … Be not intimidated, therefore, by any terrors, from publishing with the utmost freedom, whatever can be warranted by the laws of your country. … I hope in God the time is near at hand when they will be fully convinced of your understanding, integrity and courage. … Let us not suppose that all are become luxurious, effeminate, and unreasonable, on the other side the water, as many designing persons would insinuate. Let us presume, what is in fact true, that the spirit of liberty is as ardent as ever among the body of the nation. … Let us dare to read, think, speak, and write. …”
Adams stated in “A Dissertation on the Canon and Feudal Law”: “Let us study … the great examples of Greece and Rome … the conduct of our own British ancestors, who have defended for us the inherent rights of mankind against foreign and domestic tyrants and usurpers, against arbitrary kings and cruel priests, in short, against the gates of earth and hell. … Let the pulpit resound with the doctrines and sentiments of religious liberty. … Let us hear the dignity of his nature, and the noble rank he holds among the works of God, – that consenting to slavery is a sacrilegious breach of trust, as offensive in the sight of God as it is derogatory from our own honor or interest or happiness, – and that God Almighty has promulgated from heaven, liberty, peace, and good-will to man!”
When the Revolution started, John Adams recommended that George Washington be the commander-in-chief and that Thomas Jefferson pen the Declaration.
In “Novanglus: A History of the Dispute with America, from its Origin, in 1754, to the Present Time” (published Feb. 6. 1775), John Adams wrote: “It is the duty of the clergy to accommodate their discourses to the times, to preach against such sins as are most prevalent, and recommend such virtues as are most wanted. … If exorbitant ambition and venality are predominant, ought they not to warn their hearers against those vices? If public spirit is much wanted, should they not inculcate this great virtue? If the rights and duties of Christian magistrates and subjects are disputed, should they not explain them, show their nature, ends, limitations, and restrictions, how much soever it may move the gall of Massachusetts.”
John Adams authored the Massachusetts Constitution, 1780, described as the world’s oldest functioning written constitution, a model for the United States Constitution. It stated: “The happiness of a people and the good order and preservation of civil government, essentially depend upon piety, religion and morality; and as these cannot be generally diffused through a community, but by the institution of the Public worship of God … the people of this commonwealth … authorize … the public worship of God, and for the support and maintenance of public Protestant teachers of piety, religion and morality. … And every denomination of Christians, demeaning themselves peaceably, and as good subjects of the commonwealth, shall be equally under the protection of the law. … The Governor shall be chosen annually; and no person shall be eligible to this office, unless … he shall declare himself to be of the Christian religion. … Any person chosen governor, lieutenant governor, counselor, senator or representative, and accepting the trust, shall … make … the following declaration, viz. – “I, A. B., do declare, that I believe the Christian religion, and have a firm persuasion of its truth.”
John Adams was U.S. Minister to France, where, together with Benjamin Franklin, John Jay, and David Hartley, he signed the Treaty of Paris, Sept. 3, 1783, officially ending the Revolutionary War: “In the name of the Most Holy and Undivided Trinity. It having pleased the Divine Providence to dispose the hearts of the most serene and most potent Prince George the Third, by the Grace of God, King of Great Britain, France, and Ireland, Defender of the Faith … and of the United States of America, to forget all past misunderstandings and differences. … Done at Paris, this third day of September, in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and eighty-three.”
While U.S. Minister to Britain, John Adams met with his former king, George III.
Adams helped ratify the U.S. Constitution by writing “Defense of the Constitution of the Government of the United States,” 1787-1788.
Initially, presidential elections designated the president as the one who received the most votes, and the vice president was the one who received the second-most votes.
John Adams was so popular that he was elected vice president twice, serving under George Washington. When Washington insisted he would only serve two terms, John Adams was elected the second U.S. president in 1796. He established the Library of Congress and the Department of Navy. His son, John Quincy Adams, became sixth president.
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In 1819, John Adams wrote to Jefferson: “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. … Will you tell me how to prevent luxury from producing effeminacy, intoxication, extravagance, vice and folly? … No effort in favor of virtue is lost.”
In Paris, John Adams wrote in his diary, June 2, 1778: “In vain are schools, academies, and universities instituted, if loose principles and licentious habits are impressed upon children in their earliest years. … The vices and examples of the parents cannot be concealed from the children. How is it possible that children can have any just sense of the sacred obligations of Morality or Religion if, from their earliest infancy…their fathers (are) in as constant infidelity to their mothers?”
On June 21, 1776, John Adams wrote: “Statesmen, my dear Sir, may plan and speculate for liberty, but it is 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, and if this cannot be inspired into our people in a greater measure, than they have it now, they may change their rulers and the forms of government, but they will not obtain a lasting liberty.”
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