The quotable John Adams

Per Wikipedia, “John Adams (October 30, 1735 – July 4, 1826) was an American statesman, attorney, diplomat, writer, and Founding Father who served as the second president of the United States, from 1797 to 1801. Before his presidency, he was a leader of the American Revolution that achieved independence from Great Britain, and he served as the first vice president of the United States. Adams was a dedicated diarist and regularly corresponded with many important figures in early American history, including his wife and adviser Abigail Adams and Thomas Jefferson.”

Since he was prolific as a writer and thought leader, Adams left us with many quotes to demonstrate his thought process in context of such an important part of our history. Here are only a few courtesy of “The Quotable John Adams” edited by Randy Howe.

“I am a mortal and irreconcilable enemy to monarchy.”

“My fundamental maxim of government is never to trust the lamb to the wolf.”

“You ask, how has it happened that all Europe has acted on the principle, ‘that Power was Right’…..Power always sincerely, conscientiously….believes itself right. Power must never be trusted without a check.”

“The substance and essence of Christianity, as I understand it, is eternal and unchangeable, and will bear examination forever, but it has been mixed with extraneous ingredients, and they ought to be separated.”

“Old minds are like old horses; you must exercise them if you wish to keep them in working order.”

Is there no way for two friendly souls to converse together, although the bodies are 400 miles off. Yes, by letter. But, I want a better communication. I want to hear you think, or to see your thoughts.” (note from one of many letters to his wife and best friend Abigail).

“I cannot be, I know, nor do I wish to see you, an inactive spectator….We have too many high sounding words, and too fee actions that correspond with them.”

“I am more and more convinced that man is a dangerous creature; and that power, whether vested in many or a few, is ever grasping, and like the grave, cries ‘Give, give!'”

The above covers concern over power to a limited few, to the need for separation of church and state, to admonitions of the need to have a thirst for learning. HBO did an excellent mini-series on Adams derived from the many letters between John, played by Paul Giamatti, Abigail, played by Laura Linney.

The most impactful part of the mini-series is when John impressed his more rambunctious cousin Samuel Adams that the rule of law is important. This came to a head when John defended in court some British troops who had been unfairly accused of killing some rabble rousers before the American Revolution. Samuel wanted them to hang, but John said they must get a fair trial.

Doing things the right way matters. The rule of law matters. Even in times of strife.

9 thoughts on “The quotable John Adams

  1. Reblogged this on Scotties Toy Box and commented:
    Hello Keith. I love the quotes. I wonder if it is the circumstances something is said in or the ability of the person who said it that makes a quote stand the test of time? Thanks for the post. Hugs

    • Scottie, thanks for the reblog. Good question. Maybe a little of both. A good quote may stand taller with a more well known voice.

      You reminded me of an old quote from the comedian George Gobel, who many don’t know. He was on a Johnny Carson anniversary show and he was wearing a brown suit and tie sitting between these more famous actors and comedians wearing tuxedos. Gobel said,

      “Have you ever felt the whole world is a tuxedo and you are just a pair of old brown shoes?”

      These famous comedians including Carson died laughing it was so dead-pan funny. Keith

  2. Old minds, indeed. I spend a little time, like most I’m sure, looking back to the papers of the founding fathers. Their letters and public statements seem to be written just for today. That is not the case of course, but wisdom has a way of being true generation after generation. They were very familiar with Mad King George. They still had family and relatives in England. They understood the oppression of a Monarch. They were wealthy and educated. What they have passed on to us is from experience.

    Never mind the personal tensions that existed between some of them, especially Adams and Franklin, they kept their eye on the prize.

    • Cagir, your points are well taken. What too many don’t seem to understand is people need not be in agreement on every issue to still come to agreement on an important few. Keith

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