John Quincy Adams: His Theory and Ideas

By George A. Lipsky | Go to book overview

10
Government and the Moral Law

The theory of the rights of man has taken deep root in the soil of civil society.

-- MEMOIRS, August 11, 1835


AREAS OF FREEDOM

In the preceding pages Adams's concept of freedom and basic rights has been referred to as a general matter related to his view of revolution and the role of government. At this point it is pertinent to analyze substantively, in the light of Adams's political experience, what was in his mind when he spoke or wrote of liberty or rights inhering in the individual or groups of individuals face to face with the power of government.

There were occasions when he discussed "abundance of commonplace about liberty, equality and the rights of man" in terms of disdain. He used such terms in discussing the condition of Holland under the influence of French ideas during the revolutionary period.1 A similar attitude prompted his supercilious dismissal of French constitutional experiments as acceptable to the French people, if only they "were ushered in with a proper seasoning of the words liberty, equality, [and] representative system. . . ."2 But fundamentally he was an ardent champion of liberty in the context of social arrangements he approved: " New England," he wrote, "is the child of that puritan race, whom David Hume, with extorted reluctance, acknowledges to have been the founders of all the liberties of the English nation."3 There was a "holy temple of American Liberty, over the

____________________
1
To John Adams, The Hague, June 27, 1795, Writings, I, 376.
2
To William Vans Murray, January 6, 1800, ibid., II, 447.
3
Adams, The New England Confederacy of MDCXLIII, p. 9. "In Braintree I first beheld the light of Heaven -- first breathed the atmosphere of your granite

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