July 3, 2012
John Adams' Pivotal Contributions to our American Liberty
This week there is a lot of celebrating going on as Americans celebrate our country’s birthday. John Adams predicted celebrations in a letter he wrote on July 5th, 1776, “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 shews, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires and illuminations from one end of this continent to the other from this time forward forever more.” He was right to predict such festivities. He knew the significance of the 4th of July because he had a big part in it.
John had been born in Boston, Massachusetts into a stalwart family. He attended Harvard at age 16. He graduated with a Bachelors so he could teach school, but went back to receive training as a lawyer. He was admitted to the bar a few years later to practice law. His first few cases gave him valuable experience in determining rights and responsibilities of citizenry in relation to the government.
Shortly thereafter, the Stamp Act of 1765 was passed in Britain. In effect, most paper circulated in the colonies would be taxed by placing a ‘stamp’ on it. It would increase the cost of most common written documents, including necessary legal documents and newspapers, magazines, and the like. The colonists were furious because it meant that they would be taxed without any say. This was the classic argument against ‘taxation without representation.’
John understood the law that they were operating under and argued strongly against the new tax. Leaders urged each colony to send representatives to a ‘Congress’ in New York to discuss what to do. They wanted the colonies to band together to fight this new threat. Petitions were circulated and sent to the King. Protests were staged. Tax collectors were intimidated. The tax was repealed a few years later, but the King insisted that he had a right to levy taxes and not allow representation in the government. This helped bring together the colonies into cooperative unity as new taxes were levied.
With each new tax, the colonists bristled. After the Boston Tea Party in December 1773, a new congress was formed in 1774. John went as a delegate from Massachusetts to contribute to the new ‘Continental Congress.’ They met in 1774 and 1775 and discussed the many abuses all colonies felt at the hands of the British government. Battles in Lexington and Concord had broken out. Some colonies still wanted to make peace with Britain and remain under their rule, but with conditions. Others wanted to be independent of Britain. John wanted separation from Britain from the start and used his influence to encourage all of the other colonies to desire separation as well. He nominated George Washington as the first General of the newly formed Continental Army. This action was supported by all of the colonies.
John proposed a written resolution in May of 1776 that each colony adopt new independent governments. The Continental Congress formally approved it a few days later. This began the process which culminated in the Declaration of Independence. John was on the committee with Thomas Jefferson and two others charged with writing a formal Declaration of Independence from Britain. They completed it on July 2, 1776. The Continental Congress asked them to make 86 changes to the document, which they did. The revised declaration was ratified by the Continental Congress on July 4th, 1776. America had broken free of Britain, at least on paper!
George Washington led the Continental Army against British attempts to thwart the Revolutionary War. John Adams served on the board of War and Ordnance, helping the fledgling army win the war.
John was asked so many times to help write State Constitutions that he wrote a book instead and circulated it. He called it ‘Thoughts on Government,’ and outlined a form of government that many states adopted. Using it, he largely wrote Massachusetts’ Constitution a few years later. Over the years, he served as an Ambassador in France and as Vice President of the United States serving under the first President, George Washington. When President Washington had served 2 terms, John Adams won the Presidency and served one term.
He once said, “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.”
John served America well. As a lawyer, he vocalized articulately our opposition with Britain before the Revolution and called for representation with taxation. And he co-wrote the Declaration of Independence and championed its adoption. He wrote the Constitution of Massachusetts and set a pattern for other states to follow in their own constitutions. As an Ambassador, he helped the Continental Congress delegates band together and agree to separate from Britain. And he maintained relations with France at critical points in the war. He used his knowledge of the law and his love of freedom to help America become independent and free.
Blyth, Myrna and Chriss Winston, How to Raise an American, 2007, Crown Publishing Group, New York, p. 186-187.