The Revolutionary Writings of John Adams presents the principal shorter writings in which Adams addresses the prospect of revolution and the form of government proper to the new United States. Though one of the principal framers of the American republic and the successor to Washington as president, John Adams receives remarkably little attention among many students of the early national period. This is especially true in the case of the periods before and after the Revolution, in which the intellectual rationale for independence and republican government was given the fullest expression.
The Revolutionary Writings of John Adams illustrates that it was Adams, for example, who before the Revolution wrote some of the most important documents on the nature of the British Constitution and the meaning of rights, sovereignty, representation, and obligation. And it was Adams who, once the colonies had declared independence, wrote equally important works on possible forms of government in a quest to develop a science of politics for the construction of a constitution for the proposed republic.
MAN IS DISTINGUISHED from other animals, his fellow inhabitants of this planet, by a capacity of acquiring knowledge and civility, more than by any excellency, corporeal, or mental, with which mere nature has furnished his species. His erect figure and sublime countenance would give him but little elevation above the bear or the tiger; nay, notwithstanding those advantages, he would hold an inferior rank in the scale of being, and would have a worse prospect of happiness than those creatures, were it not for the capacity of uniting with others, and availing himself of arts and inventions in social life. As he comes originally from the hands of his Creator, self-love or self-preservation is the only spring that moves within him; he might crop the leaves or berries with which his Creator had surrounded him, to satisfy his hunger; he might sip at the lake or rivulet to slake his thirst; he might screen himself behind a rock or mountain from the bleakest of the winds; or he might fly from the jaws of voracious beasts to preserve himself from immediate destruction. But would such an existence be worth preserving? Would not the first precipice or the first beast of prey that could put a period to the wants, the frights, and horrors of such a wretched being, be a friendly object and a real blessing?
John Adams (October 30, 1735 – July 4, 1826) was an American lawyer, statesman, diplomat and political theorist. A leading champion of independence in 1776, he was the second President of the United States (1797–1801). Hailing from New England, Adams, a prominent lawyer and public figure in Boston, was highly educated and represented Enlightenment values promoting republicanism. A Federalist, he was highly influential and one of the key 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. He assigned Thomas Jefferson the role of drafting the United States Declaration of Independence in 1776, and assisted him in that process. 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 which soon after ended slavery in Massachusetts, 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 25 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 conflict in the face of Hamilton's opposition.