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Remembering John Adams
by Gary M. Galles 3/21/08

Despite being “virtually an asterisk in history books today,” in one writer’s words, John Adams is the subject of a new HBO miniseries.  Given his leading role in America’s birth, Adams deserves the renewed attention.  He outlined principles of liberty for Americans on the cusp of independence.  He helped write the resolution declaring America independent, and defended the Declaration of Independence before Congress. He composed most of the Massachusetts Constitution (the oldest still in use in the world), acclaimed for its bill of rights. His A Defense of the Constitutions of Government of the United States was often cited in the Constitutional Convention.

Given John Adams’ importance in creating America, we should remember his advocacy of the liberty whose defense is the reason our government was instituted. 

Gary M. Galles

Mr. Galles is a professor of economics at Pepperdine University. [go to Galles index]

“[L]iberties are not the grants of princes and parliaments, but original rights...”

“[I]n a free state, every man…ought to be his own governor...”

“[N]othing is so terrible…as the loss of their liberties.”

“[L]iberty is [government’s] end, its use, its designation, drift, and scope...”

”The end of…government is to…furnish the individuals who compose it with the power of enjoying, in safety and tranquility, their natural rights and the blessings of life…”

“[People have] rights...antecedent to all earthly governments--rights that cannot be repealed or restrained by human laws--rights derived from the Great Legislator of the universe.”

”All men…have certain natural, essential, and unalienable rights, among which may be reckoned the right of enjoying and defending their lives and liberties; that of acquiring, possessing, and protecting their property; in fine, that of seeking and obtaining their safety and happiness.”

”[T]he happiness of society is the end of government...the happiness of the individual is the end of man.”

“Each individual of the society has a right to be protected…in the enjoyment of his life, liberty, and property...no part of the property of any individual can, with justice, be taken from him, or applied to public uses, without his own consent...”

“The moment the idea is admitted into society that property is not as sacred as the laws of God, and that there is not a force of law and public justice to protect it, anarchy and tyranny commence.  If ‘Thou shalt not covet’ and ‘Thou shalt not steal’ were not commandments of heaven, they must be made inviolable precepts in every society before it can be civilized or made free.”

“Property must be secured, or liberty cannot exist.”

“[L]iberty must at all hazards be supported.  We have a right to it, derived from our Maker.”

“[N]ip the shoots of arbitrary power in the bud, is the only maxim which can ever preserve the liberties of any people.”

“The only maxim of a free government ought to be to trust no man living with power to endanger the public liberty.”

“[Government]...should be...for the preservation of internal peace, virtue, and good order, as well as the defense of their lives, liberties, and properties...”

“[W]e 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 Jerusalem of equal importance to mankind.”


John Adams recognized that “an enemy to liberty [is] an enemy to human nature.”  He knew that founding America on liberty was monumental, because “Her cause is that of all nations and all men, and it needs nothing but to be explained and approved,” and that “Objects of the most stupendous magnitude and measure in which the lives and liberties of millions yet unborn are intimately interested, are now before us.  We are in the very midst of a revolution the most complete, unexpected and remarkable of any in the history of nations.”   Let us remember his contributions to America’s creation.  But let us also remember with him that liberty is both America’s rationale and its greatness and that, as it is always under threat, that liberty must be vigorously asserted and defended. CRO


copyright 2008 Gary M. Galles



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