In recent years, it seems to have become open season on the American Founders. Some have scornfully described the Founders as dead white guys who owned slaves. Well—they’re certainly dead; they were white; and only a few owned slaves and the ones that did, didn’t like the institution. Such will be a topic of another blog. The Founders were actually endowed with uncommon wisdom. To understand them, it is far better to read what they actually said, rather than what some historian may have concluded about them. My upcoming book allows the Founders to speak for themselves. For now, let’s consider the words of just one of them, John Adams. He was a Founder, signer of the Declaration of the United States, Vice President under George Washington, and the second President of the United States.
- June 21, 1776 “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.”
- July 1, 1776 “Before God, I believe the hour has come. My judgment approves this measure, and my whole heart is in it (Declaration of Independence). All that I have, and all that I am, and all that I hope in this life, I am now ready here to stake upon it. And I leave off as I began, that live or die, survive or perish, I am for the Declaration. It is my living sentiment, and by the blessing of God it shall be my dying sentiment. Independence now, and Independence forever!“
- In a July 1, 1776 letter to Archibald Bullock, former member of the Continental Congress from Georgia, Adams wrote: “The object is great which We have in View, and We must expect a great expense of blood to obtain it. But We should always remember that a free Constitution of civil Government cannot be purchased at too dear a rate as there is nothing, on this side (of) the New Jerusalem, of equal importance to Mankind.”
- July 3, 1776 “The second day of July, 1776, will be the most memorable epoch in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary Festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever. “You will think me transported with enthusiasm, but I am not. I am well aware of the toil and blood and treasure that it will cost to maintain this Declaration, and support and defend these States. Yet through all the gloom I can see the rays of ravishing light and glory I can see that the end is worth more than all the means; that posterity will triumph in that day’s transaction, even though we [may regret] it, which I trust in God we shall not.”
- In concern for his sons, John Adams advised his wife Abigail to: “Let them revere nothing but Religion, Morality and Liberty.”
- 11, 1798 (Address to the military) “We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. Avarice, ambition, revenge, or gallantry, would break the strongest cords of our Constitution as a whale goes through a net. Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”
- On November 2, 1800, John Adams became the first president to move into the White House. As he was writing a letter to his wife, he composed a beautiful prayer, which was later engraved upon the mantel in the state dining room: “I pray Heaven to bestow THE BEST OF BLESSINGS ON THIS HOUSE and All that shall hereafter Inhabit it, May none but Honest and Wise Men ever rule under This Roof.”
- August 28, 1811 “Religion and virtue are the only foundations, not only of all free government, but of social felicity under all governments and in all the combinations of human society.”
- June 28, 1813 “Now I will avow, that I then believe, and now believe, that those general Principles of Christianity, are as eternal and immutable, as the Existence and Attributes of God; and that those Principles of liberty, are as unalterable as human Nature and our terrestrial, mundane System.”
- In a letter to Thomas Jefferson, John Adams wrote: “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 riches from becoming the effects of temperance and industry? Will you tell me how to prevent luxury from producing effeminacy, intoxication, extravagance, vice and folly?…I believe no effort in favor is lost…“
- In a letter dated November 4, 1816, John Adams wrote to Thomas Jefferson: “The Ten Commandments and the Sermon on the Mount contain my religion…“
- December 27, 1816 “As I understand the Christian religion, it was, and is, a revelation.” “Liberty cannot be preserved without a general knowledge among the people, who have…a right, an indisputable, unalienable, indefeasible, divine right to that most dreaded and envied kind of knowledge, I mean the character and conduct of their rulers.”
Do you agree that at least this Founder was endowed with uncommon wisdom?