Wisdom From Our Father John Adamswebdev
In late 1765, John Adams began writing an essay entitled, “A Dissertation on the Canon and Feudal Law.” He was 30 years old and just beginning to stretch his legal and political wings.
His purpose for writing this essay was to contrast the tyranny of feudal and canon law with the glorious struggle for freedom in the not-too-distant past of England and the coming efforts in America.
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You will recall that this was right around the time of the infamous Stamp Act. He recorded his thoughts at the time, depicting the Stamp Act, as an “enormous Engine, fabricated by the British Parliament, for battering down all the Rights and Liberties of America.”
What follows is an instructive excerpt from this powerful and expressive treatise of the oppressive tendencies of big government and instruction on how the citizenry should respond. It is highly applicable to our time.
“Let us banish forever from our minds, my countrymen, all such unworthy ideas of the king, his ministry and parliament. Let us not suppose that all are become luxurious, effeminate, and unreasonable, on the other side the water, as many designing persons would insinuate.
Let us presume, what is in fact true, that the spirit of liberty is as ardent as ever among the body of the nation, though a few individuals may be corrupted.
Let us take it for granted, that the same great spirit which once gave Caesar so warm a reception, which denounced hostilities against John till Magna Charta was signed, which severed the head Charles the First from his body, and drove James the Second from his kingdom, the same great spirit (may heaven preserve it till the earth shall be no more) which first seated the great-grandfather of his present most gracious majesty on the throne of Britain, — is still alive and active and warm in England; and that the same spirit in America, instead of provoking the inhabitants of that country, will endear us to them for ever, and secure their good-will.
This spirit, however, without knowledge, would be little better than a brutal rage. Let us tenderly and kindly cherish, therefore, the means of knowledge.
Let us dare to read, think, speak, and write. Let every order and degree among the people rouse their attention and animate their resolution.“Let them all become attentive to the grounds and principles of government, ecclesiastical and civil.
Let us study the law of nature; search into the spirit the British constitution; read the histories of ancient ages; contemplate the great examples of Greece and Rome; set before us the conduct of our own British ancestors, who have defended for us the inherent rights of mankind against foreign and domestic tyrants and usurpers, against arbitrary kings and cruel priests, in short, against the gates of earth and hell.
Let us read and recollect and impress upon our souls the views and ends of our own more immediate forefathers, in exchanging their native country for a dreary, inhospitable wildness.
Let us examine into the nature of that power, and the cruelty of that oppression, which drove them from their homes.
Recollect their amazing fortitude, their bitter sufferings, — the hunger, the nakedness, the cold, which they patiently endured, — the severe labors of clearing their grounds, building their houses, raising their provisions, and amidst dangers from wild beast and savage men, before they had time or money or materials for commerce.
Recollect the civil and religious principles and hopes and expectations which constantly supported and carried them through all hardships with patience and resignation.
Let us recollect it was liberty, the hope of liberty for themselves and us and ours, which conquered all discouragements, dangers, and trials. In such researches as these, let us all in our several departments cheerfully engage, — but especially the proper patrons and supporters of law, learning, and religion!
Let the pulpit resound with the doctrines and sentiments of religious liberty. Let us hear the danger of thraldom [bondage] to our consciences from ignorance, extreme poverty, and dependence, in short, from civil and political slavery.”
Additional reading: Revolutionary Writings of John Adams, www.libertyfund.org.