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Adams Unbound

  Government | Human Nature | Freedom of the Press | The Rights of Man


Human Nature

In John Adams' view, man was not good by nature and would always try to gain power over others. A simple majority would naturally become a tyranny. The role of government, he felt, was to "restrain the passions of all orders of men."

"[Wollstonecraft presumed] that, if there was social injustice... governments were the major causes of the problem... Adams... believed that the source of the problem existed inside human beings -- their jealousy and passion for distinction."

-- Historian Joseph Ellis

Can citizens agree on political truths?
Can a king and a legislature co-exist?
Do citizens have a deeply rooted love of royalty?




Can citizens agree on political truths?

As the French Revolution progressed, people became increasingly divided over the new government's purpose. The four disputing parties could not agree on a single "political truth." John Adams counseled all the parties against the danger of a government that is structured without limits on power. This philosophy is evident in the constitution Adams wrote for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, which proposed not only executive and legislative branches but also an independent judiciary.

WOLLSTONECRAFT:
France had already gained her freedom; the nation had already ascertained certain, and the most important, political truths...
ADAMS:
How were these Truths ascertained? Forty nine fiftieths of the Nation knew no more about them than the Kings Menagerie. Among the remaining Fiftieth Part, there were ten thousand different opinions, about the meaning, Limitations, Restrictions and Exceptions with which they were to be understood. Besides, very few of them appear to have had any Idea of one of the most essential Truths of all, the Drunkenness of absolute Power...


Can a king and a legislature co-exist?

The French Revolution had begun as an attempt to create a constitutional monarchy. The Constitution of 1791 abolished the king as a political power, and made him answerable to the elected government. On September 12, 1792, the National Convention abolished the remainder of the monarchy after learning that the king was planning a counter-revolutionary attack.

WOLLSTONECRAFT:
These fears, perhaps, were the secret cause, combined with the old habit of adoring the king, as a point of honour, and loving the court, as an affair of taste, that induced them to preserve the shadow of monarchy in the new order of things.
ADAMS:
This is wicked Misrepresentation. The Nation could do nothing at this time but in the Name of the King. After all her Censures of the Assembly She allows that their Conduct might be politically necessary.


Do citizens have a deeply rooted love of royalty?

French society and government were unstable in the years following the Revolution. To John Adams, the French seemed bent on the total destruction of the existing system of law. He believed they were acting out a classic pattern of mob rule, violence, terror, and the establishment of a despotic government, ruled by a single person, Napoleon.

WOLLSTONECRAFT:
A design formed very early, and systematically pursued, was probably rendered entirely abortive by the obstinacy of the court; who still persisted to cherish the belief, that the public opinion was changed only for the moment, and that their deeply rooted love of royalty would bring them back to what they termed their duty, when the effervescence excited by novelty had subsided.
ADAMS:
The Court misjudged the Character of the Nation as much as the Assembly did. Both were the Dupes of their hopes and their Credulity.
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