PREMISE
page 10

Volume III, Number 7 / August 31, 1996


A Footnote to the Political Theory of John Adams Vindiciae contra tyrannos

Prof. Stanley Bamberg

Introduction

In his Defence [sic] of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America, John Adams delineated the three periods in English history when thinking men, faced with tyranny, pondered the questions of mixed government and checks and balances on power. The first period was the English Reformation when the Calvinist, John Ponet, promulgated "all the essential principles of liberty, which were afterward dilated by Sidney and Locke." The next flowering of political literature was between 1640-1660. During this period Ponet was reprinted. James Harrington, John Milton and the pseudonymous work, Vindiciae contra tyrannos, also appeared. The third stage was the Revolution of 1688 when Algernon Sidney, John Locke, Benjamin Hoadly, John Trenchard, Thomas Gordon and many others rose to the cause of liberty. Adams urged Americans to "make collections of all these speculations, to be preserved as the most precious relics of antiquity, both for curiosity and use."[1]

In this collection of English political theory, the inclusion of one work might baffle the contemporary reader--the French Calvinist book by Duplessis-Mornay, Vindiciae contra tyrannos.2 This tract was the product of the French civil wars when the Catholic kings tried to stamp out French Calvinists. The work justifies armed resistance by the Calvinists against the king. One might query: why did Adams deem this particular work important enough to mention by name in a listing of English theorists? A study of John Adams' justification of revolution and the arguments propounded in Vindiciae demonstrate a basic agreement as well as Adam's acceptance of the social contract theory of government found in the Calvinist work.

John Adams Early Life and Education

There was little in Adams' background to suggest that he would become one of the foremost theorists of the American Revolution. John Adams was born on a farm on October 30, 1735, near Braintree, Massachusetts. He attended the village school and performed the usual farm chores. This manual labor instilled in him a lifelong love for the outdoors. His family felt that he should enter Harvard and prepare for the ministry. After deciding that this occupation would be too demanding, Adams turned his interest to the study of law, graduating with a masters degree. While teaching at the local grammar school in Worcester from 1756 to 1758, Adams was tutored by the learned lawyer, James Putnam. Returning to Braintree in 1758, he was admitted to the bar. At this point, Adams hoped that his law practice would provide him with sufficient leisure time for reading a wide range of books on history, politics, philosophy, ethics and theology from classical times to his own day. A casual reading of Adams' works demonstrates the breadth of his reading. He was proud of his scholarship. At the same time, he was ambitious to put his learning into practice in politics.[3]

Early Political Writings

Unfortunately for the convenience of later Americans, Adams left no systematic statement of his political theory. His major political works, Dissertation on the Canon and Feudal Law (1765), the Novanglus papers (1774-1775), and Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America (1787), are strictly polemical, occasioned by the circumstances of the day. While many loyalists argued for continuing the relationship with the British crown, Adams sought to counter their arguments. Using the pseudonym, "Novanglus," Adams replied to the pro-British "Massachusettensis" in the Boston Gazette until the Battle of Lexington rendered the entire question moot.[4] Since these works are criticisms of other positions and not systematic treatises, they must be carefully examined to deduce the essential elements of Adams' revolutionary theory.

In 1765, Parliament passed the Stamp Act placing taxes on colonial newspapers, legal documents, licenses and virtually all other kinds of printed matter. Hardly a penny of tax was ever collected since so many colonists strenuously protested this "taxation without representation." This crisis was the occasion for the Dissertation on the Canon and Feudal Law. The problem with which this work wrestles is man's use of power. The desire for power, Adams asserted, "has prompted the princess and nobles of the earth, by every species of fraud and violence to shake off all the limitations of their power, it is the same that has always stimulated the common people to aspire at independency, and to endeavor at confining the power of the great within the limits of equity and the reason."[5] The common people, Adams observed, were not as effective as the lords in asserting their rights. This sad state results from the lords' desire "to wrest from the populace,...the knowledge of their rights and wrongs, and the power to assert the former and address the latter. I say RIGHTS, for such they have, undoubtedly, antecedent to all earthly government-Rights, that cannot be replaced or restrained by human laws-Rights, derived from the great legislator of the universe."[6]

Following the appearance of Christianity, two forces had assaulted these rights: the canon law of the Roman church and the barbaric and tyrannical feudal laws. The merger of these two systems had cast water on the feeble flame of civil liberties; "the temporal grandees should contribute everything in their power to maintain ascendency [sic] of the priesthood, and ...the spiritual grandees in their turn, should employ their ascendency over the consciences of the people, in impressing on their minds a blind, implicit obedience to civil magistracy." But when the flame of human freedom had burned so low as to be raised almost extinguished,...God in his benign providence raised up the champions who began and conducted the Reformation."[7] The revolt against spiritual tyranny led to revolt against temporal tyranny. To preserve the new found freedom some, such as the Puritans, fled to America where they established schools, churches and governments agreeable to "the Bible and common sense." Convinced from their study of history and human nature that only knowledge would perpetuate liberty for their posterity, they constructed village schools and colleges to encourage literacy, and founded newspapers to proclaim the truth. Against these sacred institutions, the "means of knowledge," the Stamp Act stood poised as a dagger.[8]

Adams, convinced of a dark conspiracy to deprive Americans of their natural rights, sounded the clarion call for opposition.

Let us dare to read, think, speak and write....

Let us study the law of nature; search into the spirit of the British constitution...

Let the pulpit resound with the doctrines and sentiments of religious liberty....

Let the colleges join their harmony in the same delightful concert....

In a word, let every sluice of knowledge be opened and set a-flowing....

The prospect now before us in America, ought ... to engage the attention of every man of learning, to matters of power and of right, that we may be neither led nor driven blindfolded to irretrievable destruction.[9]

It may be that these sentiments-and much of the rest of Whig propaganda-were inaccurate history; nevertheless, they struck a responsive chord in the patriots. Though firing the patriots' desire for liberty, Adams still had not argued for a break with the crown. He only maintained that the rights of the colonists should have priority over parliamentary acts. American liberty finds its justification in natural rights guaranteed by the "Legislator of the universe." Adams' next publication would be "Novanglus" (1774).

After the First Continental Congress adjourned, Adams returned to Boston. He was greeted by a series of dissenting articles in the Boston Post Boy attacking the patriot position signed by "Massachusettensis."[1]0 Choosing the pseudonym, "Novanglus," Adams composed his most scholarly and lengthy treatise on the constitutional case for colonial resistance yet published. A point by point refutation of "Massachusettensis," Adams conceived the work as both a history of the colonists' conflict with Britain and a brief against the authority of parliament. Preoccupied with the immediate task at hand, he did not stress the fundamental disagreements between the respective positions. Underlying the extensive arguments from history and the exhaustive examination of legal precedents, Adams' basic position can be perceived.

In the first place, the term, "British Empire," was a fiction and has no basis in the common law.

I would ask, by what law the parliament has authority over America? By the law of God, in the Old and New Testament, it has none; by the law of nature and nations, it has none; by the common law of England, it has none, for the common law, and the authority of the parliament founded on it, never extended beyond the four seas; by statute law it has none, for no statute was made before the settlement of the colonies for this purpose; and the declaratory act, made in 1766, was made without our consent, by a parliament which had no authority beyond the four seas. What religious, moral, or political obligations then are we under to submit to parliament as a supreme legislative? None at all. When it is said, that if we are not subject to the supreme authority of parliament, Great Britain will make us so, all other laws and obligations are given up, and recourse is had to the ratio ultima of Louis XIV, and the suprema lex of the King of Sardinia, - to the law of brickbats and cannon balls, which can be answered only by brickbats and balls.11

Adams further maintains that the colonies' situation is not provided for by the common law. There is a "defect" in the system of government. Parliament's authority can only be founded upon "compact and consent of the colonies, not upon any principle of the English constitution; not upon the principle that parliament is the supreme and sovereign legislative over them in all cases whatsoever." This defect in the system must be repaired. But if England wished to repair the defect by force of arms, then "we will not stand to be butchered. We will defend our lives as long as providence gives us strength." Any remedy of the colonies situation must rest upon these understandings for "we derive our laws and government solely from our compacts with Britain and her kings, and from the great Legislator of the universe."[1]2

At the same time, Adams admitted that the colonists indeed owed "fealty and allegiance" to George III as the king of England through the various "express and implied contracts" made between the colonists and the "natural person of that prince who shall rightfully hold the kingly office in England, and no otherwise." This allegiance to the king did not bind them to parliament, however, any more than the French possessions of the English kings were under the inherent authority of English lords. As soon as the colonists came to America they "got out of the English realm, dominions, state, empire, call it by what name you will, and out of the legal jurisdiction of parliament. The king might, by his writ or proclamation, have commanded them to return, but he did not." [1]3

In these passages, Adams shows how far he has come as a revolutionary. No longer is it necessary to argue for the rights of Englishmen under the common law. The common law makes no provision for colonization. No longer need the colonists submit to parliamentary authority-Parliament has no basis for its authority. The colonies do not belong to the English realm. They only owe allegiance to the king through whatever charters or covenants agreeable to both parties. One further dimension to the argument must be noted. These compacts between the sovereign and the colonists are derived from the "Legislator of the universe" and are guaranteed by him. If the king violated the agreement, then the colonists are called to resist, by force if necessary. For this reason, Adams and other advocates of independence felt compelled to indict George III of tyranny; in this way they justified armed resistance. [1]4 The question naturally arises: did the colonists seek to justify armed resistance on the basis of Enlightenment principles or was there a revolutionary political theory more congenial to their religious principles close at hand?

Reformational Political Theory in Vindiciae contra tyrannos

The concepts of compact, tyranny and resistance are popularly attributed solely to the Enlightenment figures of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. To be sure, this was one means through which these ideas were disseminated, yet, they are actually much older. The language and arguments Adams employs bear striking similarities to the Vindiciae contra tyrannos. This French Calvinist tract was published in Basel in 1579, under the pseudonym, Junius Brutus, that is, by Philippe Duplessis-Mornay (1549-1623).

The work was composed by Mornay during the French civil wars when the Catholic king persecuted the Calvinists or Huguenots. The king attempted to increase his authority; the Huguenot nobles opposed this absolutistic tendency. The struggle was primarily religious, yet it had political overtones as did the English civil war.

Unlike other Huguenot authors, Mornay was neither a clergyman nor a professional scholar. As a soldier and a diplomat in 1576, he became one of the most trusted advisors of Henry of Navarre. In this position he sought to obtain toleration for both Catholics and Huguenots. These hopes were realized after 1594, when Henry was crowned king of France.[1]5 The famous Edict of Nantes (1598) was the result of their combined efforts.

The Vindiciae is divided into four sections, each devoted to a burning issue of that day. First, should subjects obey rulers when their commands violate the law of God? Second, is it legal to resist a ruler who encroaches upon the law of God, or spoils the church; if so, by whom, in what manner and to what degree? Third, may a ruler who oppresses a state be resisted; to what degree, by whom, in what manner and with what justification? Fourth, may neighboring rulers aid the subjects of another ruler persecuted either for their religious beliefs or are victims of other tyrannical oppression? The questions demonstrate that the author's main purpose is not the development of a comprehensive philosophy of the state. His purpose is much more narrow-defining the relationship between government and religion. The more general part of the work is confined to question three where the topic of oppression is treated apart from its religious dimension.

Mornay rests his political theory upon the twofold compact which he found in the Old Testament.

Now we read of two sorts of covenants at the inaugurating of kings, the first between God, the king, and the people, that the people might be the people of God. The second, between the king and the people, that the people shall obey faithfully, and the king command justly.16

By means of the first covenant, the people form a religious covenant community. By means of the second, the political state arises. This political covenant assures that people will obey the ruler's commands as long as they are just. If the ruler does not fulfill his obligation then the people are absolved from their vows of allegiance. The fact that God includes the people in the parties of the compacts demonstrates that "the people have a right to make, hold and accomplish their promises and contracts." The people are not slaves without rights but are responsible to fulfill certain obligations as well as enjoy certain privileges.[1]7

Unlike the divine right defenders of absolutism, Mornay asserts that, even though God selects rulers "the people establish kings, puts [sic] the scepter into their hands, ... and approves the election." Quoting from the Old Testament and ancient and medieval history, Mornay argues that since the people must approve the king, "it follows that the whole body of people is above the king; for it is a thing most evident, that he who is established by another,... is less than he from whom he derives his power."[1]8 The people establish the conditions which the ruler must fulfill. The obedience of the people is conditional; that of the ruler, unconditional. The authority of the ruler is derived from the people; it resides with the ruler only while the people consent to his rule.

In a similar manner, Mornay maintains that the king must submit to natural law.

The law is reason and wisdom itself,... not subject to be moved with choler, ambition, hate, or acceptances of persons...To come to our purpose, the law is an understanding mind, or rather an obstacle of many understandings: the mind being the seal of all the intelligent faculties, is (if I may so term it) a parcel of divinity; in so much as he who obeys the law, seems to obey God, and receive Him for arbitrator of the matters in controversy.[1]9

The king receives the law from the people. He must maintain that law and any violations of the law become tyrannical. The second covenant demands that the ruler render justice to the people. God will punish breaches of the first covenant; the body politic becomes the avenger of breaches in the second. Yet, it remains to be determined exactly who is responsible for enforcing justice under a tyrant.

At this point, Mornay distinguishes between the tyrant without title and the tyrant by conduct. The first kind pertains to a conqueror or usurper. He has no legal claim to the loyalty of the people. Any private citizen may forcibly resist, or even kill, this kind of tyrant. The law of nature and nations demands resistance. The second type of tyrant refers to the legitimate prince who conducts himself as a tyrant. This kind of tyrant:

subverts the state, pillages the people, lays stratagems to entrap their lives, breaks promise with all, scoffs at the sacred obligations of a solemn oath, and therefore is he so much more vile than the vilest of usual male factors.20

A king who violates the compact willfully and persistently is truly a tyrant by practice. In this case the officers of the realm are required to pass judgment upon him according to the law. If he resists, then duty compels them to remove him from office forcibly. Private citizens, however, should not take up arms against such a tyrant because the orderly structure of society would be endangered.

Mornay concludes his work with a strong plea for resistance to tyranny:

religion commands us to maintain the Law of God and to defend the church; justice commands us to use force against the tyrant who subverts the rights of a commonwealth; charity commands us to relieve the oppressed and to lend a helping hand. To deny these duties, then, is to will the extinction and removal of religion, justice, and charity from our midst.21

Vindiciae, therefore, does not argue for anarchy. It recommends resistance to tyranny based upon the authority of lower officers of the state. As such, it should be considered an argument for a conservative revolution. At the same time, it brought the contract theory into play against the claims of divine right absolutism. In this way it contributed to later contract theory.

Parallels Between Adams Theory and Vindiciae

After examining the arguments contained in Vindiciae, the question arises: was John Adams significantly influenced by them? To answer this question the history of the work first must be considered.

Harold Laski, the renowned political theorist from the London School of Economics, maintains that the theory of the state upon which:

the Vindiciae rests determined the character of political speculation from the end of the sixteenth century until the advent of Rousseau....Prynne and Rutherford [in his Lex Rex] both drew their nourishment from this source; and the ideas of the Levellers rest upon a kindred foundation. Through Locke, it is at the base of the thought of Price and Priestly; through Locke, also, it supplies the perspective of the American Revolution.22

Laski is not alone in his analysis; G.P. Gooch, in English Democratic Ideas in the Seventeenth Century, traces the influence in a similar manner. From this, a modest conclusion may be drawn: Adams certainly was influenced by this stream of English writers. But is this all that can be said?

An examination of the respective arguments indicates that Adams was closer to the tradition of Vindiciae, Rutherford's Lex Rex and Ponet than to some of his own contemporaries. He followed the thinkers of the English Civil War and their contract theory much more than he did Rousseau's Social Contract or the writings of Montesquieu. Adams' social contract, based upon the tradition of the Calvinist covenant-compact, was familiar in New England. Because of this he emphasized concrete legal arguments more than the abstract natural rights propounded by Locke and, thereby, Jefferson and Tom Paine. Later in life, he went so far as to cast aspersions on the arguments contained in the Declaration of Independence-even though he was on the drafting committee, insisting that Jefferson composed it and spoke for it repeatedly-as only "theatrical show."[2]3 This quotation may reflect jealousy of Jefferson's greater popularity, nevertheless, it does indicate that these two revolutionary theorists had differences. Similarly, Adams attacked Paine's, Common Sense, writing that it "has been a general opinion that this pamphlet was of great importance in the Revolution. I doubted it at the time, and have doubted it to this day."[2]4 Adams sincerely believed that no one was actually persuaded by the arguments in Paine's tract if they were previously opposed to independence. In his opinion, it only gave those who already favored independence arguments for their position.

Another point of agreement between Adams and the Vindiciae tradition was the definition of tyranny and the concept of the legality of revolt. Both views stressed the concept of a contract between king and people. Both stressed that the king's authority rested upon his keeping the conditions of the covenant-that is, ruling according to the recognized law. When the ruler violates the law and becomes a tyrant, then the people are released from their vows of obedience. They are duty bound to resist the ruler's tyranny. The king's arrogant usurpation of power makes the king a rebel; in the interests of justice and order the people must compel the tyrant to leave office.

The idea of the legality of revolt leads to another similarity between Vindiciae and Adams. Any revolt must proceed along orderly lines through the lower magistrates. In the case of France, the nobility or parlements or mayors of towns would be responsible to lead the people. In America, the elected representatives of the people, town councils, Continental Congress or the lower houses of the colonial legislatures were responsible to oppose the tyrant king and Parliament as well as the loyalist lower magistrates, i.e. Massachusetts Governor Hutchinson. Adams felt that the American Revolution met these qualifications. On the other hand, he had nothing but animosity for the rabble revolution in France which claimed the American Revolution as its model. Adams, appalled by the mob rule in Paris, denounced the tyranny of the majority in that revolution. His preoccupation with the concept of legality and his use of legal precedent-found especially in Novanglus-even though tedious for the contemporary reader, underscores the similarity between his arguments and those contained in Vindiciae. Again, Jefferson and Paine urged the people to rise and cast off their chains; Adams urged orderly process. His defense of the British soldiers after the Boston Massacre-when no other lawyer would take their case-demonstrated his commitment to order and resistance to mob action.[2]5 His actions also underlined his commitment to a fair trial for these soldiers, even when they were serving a tyrannical government and improperly quartered in Boston.

Conclusion

In trying to determine whether one author has influenced another, two types of evidence may be adduced to support the claim. The first is called external evidence. Does the author mention the work, or at least quote from it or allude directly to it? Can it be ascertained that he read the book? The citation by Adams of Vindiciae in the Defense of the Constitutions shows that he was familiar with the work. Yet the citation cannot prove influence.

The other type of evidence is called internal evidence. This stresses the similarity of arguments, main points, language or general ideas. In three crucial areas Vindiciae and Adams show these agreements. This indicates he used many of the same concepts found in Vindiciae.

Finally, there is the general tradition of Calvinist political literature beginning in France and exported subsequently to the Netherlands, Scotland and England. This became embodied in the British political tradition, of which the Americans fell heir in two ways. One way was through the political compact theory of the Puritans. The other was the work of John Locke. Of these two, Locke was the later and drew from the earlier contract theory of Ponet and Rutherford.

The social contract theory of civil government was an amiable theory to men raised on the covenant theology of New England as Adams had been. The influence of Locke seems evident, but he was welcomed by the New Englanders precisely because he had reformulated the familiar ideas of the Calvinists. The founding fathers took ideas and phrases from whatever source they deemed helpful. The political ideas of the French Enlightenment were not popular, in fact, as Louis Bredvold has argued, the ideas of the so-called French Enlightenment actually tend toward the formation of police state tyranny. [2]6 Adams, like other American Whigs, derived his theory from the English Civil War tradition which was itself informed by Vindiciae.27 At the same time, it is important to realize that the final product of Adam's thinking was profoundly influenced by his American experience.

President John Adams and his political theory have acquired new relevance as American evangelicals ponder afresh the relationship between Christian faith and the responsibilities of citizenship. For his own generation he brought to light the riches of reformational political theory. As Christians encounter increasing church / state conflict and the demands for loyalty from the modern secular state this reformational heritage needs another look. It is no longer tolerable for Christians today to cite Romans 13 as the sum total of biblical political theory--Romans 13 must be balanced by the teaching of Revelation 13. When the state usurps all authority--even that belonging to God--an altogether different response is needed.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Primary Sources

John Adams. Autobiography. In The Works of John Adams, ed. Charles Francis Adams. 10 vols. Freeport, NY: Books for Libraries Press, 1969. Vol. 2, pp. 503-517.

. Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America. London: C. Dilly, 1787. In John Adams, Works, vol. 4, p. 283-vol. 6, p. 220.

. Dissertation on the Canon and Feudal Law. Boston: Boston Gazette, 1765. In John Adams, Works, vol. 3, pp. 448-464.

. Novanglus. Collected and published London: Hews and Goss, 1819. In John Adams, Works, vol. 4, pp. 11-177.

Duplessis-Mornay, Philippe. Vindiciae contra tyrannos. In Constitutionalism and Resistance in the Sixteenth Century, pp. 142-199. Ed. Julian Franklin. New York: Pegasus, 1969.

. Vindiciae contra tyrannos. English Trans., A Defence of Liberty Against Tyrants. Ed. Harold Laski. Gloucester, Mass: Peter Smith, 1963.

Mayhew, Jonathan. Noresistance to the Higher Powers, Jan. 30, 1750. In The Pulpit of the American Revolution, pp. 5-104. Ed. John Thornton. Boston: Gould and Lincoln, 1860.

Secondary Sources

Akers, Charles. Called Unto Liberty: A Life of Jonathan Mayhew. Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press. 1964.

Bailyn, Bernard. The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution. Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press, 1967.

Bredvold, Louis. The Brave New World of the Enlightenment. Ann Arbor, Mich: Univ. of Michigan Press, 1961.

Chinard, Gilbert. Honest John Adams. Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1964.

Gooch, G. P. English Democratic Ideas in the Seventeenth Century. Cambridge, England: University Press, 1898.

Handler, Edward. America and Europe in the Political Thought of John Adams. Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press, 1964.

Haraszti, Zoltan. John Adams and the Prophets of Progress. Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press, 1952.

Minar, David. Ideas and Politics: The American Experience. Homewood, IL: Dorser Press, 1964.

Lewis, C. S. The Abolition of Man. New York: Macmillan Pub. Co., 1947.

Pancake, John S. Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton. Woodbury, NY: Barron's Educational Series, Inc. 1974.

Sabine, George. A History of Political Theory. 3rd ed. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1961.

Smith, Page. John Adams, 2 vols. Garden City, NY: Doubleday and Co. 1962.

Stanley Bamberg is a Professor at Montreat College and frequent contributor to Premise.

[1] John Adams, Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America (London: C. Dilly, 1787), cited in the Works of John Adams, Second President of the United States: With A Life of the Author, ed. Charles Francis Adams, 10 vols. (Freeport, NY: Books for Libraries Press, 1969), vol. 6, pp. 3, 4 (hereafter cited as Adams, Works).

2Philippe Duplessis-Mornay, Vindiciae contra tyrannos A Defence of Liberty Against Tyrants, ed. Harold Laski (Gloucester, MA: Peter Smith, 1963). The authorship of the tract has been disputed between Mornay and his older friend, Hubert Languet. The consensus of opinion overwhelmingly leans toward either Mornay or a collaboration between the two. For further information, see Laski, pp. 57-59; Julian Franklin, Constitutionalism and Resistance in the Sixteenth Century (New York: Pegasus, 1969), pp. 138-139; and the older standard work, George Sabine, A History of Political Theory (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1961), p. 377, note 4. Even though the work has been translated, the Latin title is generally preferred since the English title is so nondescript. This practice is followed throughout this paper.

[3]For the breadth of Adams' reading, see Page Smith, John Adams, 2 vols. (Garden City, NY: Doubleday and Company, 1962), 2: 1076, 1077; and Gilbert Chinard, Honest John Adams (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1964), pp. 37, 47. British political scientist Harold Laski once remarked, "John Adams was the greatest political thinker America has yet produced." cited in Zoltan Haraszti, John Adams and the Prophets of Progress (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1952), p. 46.

[4] Gilbert Chinard, Honest John Adams, p. 78. The pseudonym, "Novanglus," means New England.

[5]John Adams, Dissertation on the Canon and Feudal Law (Boston: Boston Gazette, 1765), cited in John Adams, Works, vol. 3, p. 448.

[6]Ibid., p. 449.

[7]Ibid., pp. 450, 451.

[8]Ibid., p. 455. Consider how Adams noted the central role played by religion, education and the media of his day in continuing liberty in the American experiment. Only in the last few years have American evangelicals begun to return to Adams' position so clearly articulated so long ago. Note also how the alleged "doctrine of the separation of church and state" does not appear to be present in Adams' understanding.

[9]Ibid., p. 463. For Adams' view of the conspiracy see p. 464. Adams was by no means alone in this perception of the situation; many of the patriots shared his views.

[10]Page Smith, John Adams, 1:189.

11John Adams, Novanglus (Boston: Hews and Goss, 1819), cited in Works, pp. 11-177. pp. 37, 38. This lengthy quote is necessary to recognize the flavor of Adams' argument. He is not embarrassed to appeal to the law of God as revealed in the Old and New Testaments.

[12]Ibid., pp. 100, 108, 159. Again, note the theocentric orientation of Adams' theory. This is consistent with the Reformational political philosophy from the English civil war tradition.

[13]Ibid., pp. 146, 177. This argumentation is an excellent example of the fruit of Adams' legal training.

[14]John S. Pancake, Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton (Woodbury, NY: Barron's Educational Series, Inc., 1974), p. 46. This becomes a crucial point in the drafting of the Declaration of Independence and its justification of armed resistance to George III for his personal acts abrogating the freedoms of the colonial compacts and contracts.

[15]Franklin, Constitutionalism and Resistance in the Sixteenth Century, p. 139.

16Vindiciae, p. 71. The problem with which these Calvinist thinkers was wrestling is obvious. If Paul's argument in Romans 13.1-5 has no exceptions, then Christian subjects cannot resist or overthrow tyrannical and evil rulers. At the same time, they sought a political theory that world make room for statements by Peter, "we must obey God rather than men," (Acts 5.29) or that of Jesus, "Give to Caesar what is Caesar's and to God what is God's" (Matthew 22.21).

[17]Ibid., p. 93.

[18]Ibid., pp. 93, 118, 124.

[19] Ibid., pp. 145, 146.

20 Ibid., 197; for an interesting parallel, note Thomas Jefferson's indictment of George III in the Declaration of Independence; for an example of how this theme was treated by colonial ministers, see Jonathan Mayhew's, "Non-resistance to the Higher Powers," 30 January 1750, in The Pulpit of the American Revolution, ed. John Thornton (Boston: Gould and Lincoln, 1860), pp. 79-88; Charles Akers, Called Unto Liberty: A Life of Jonathan Mayhew (Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press, 1964), pp. 81-97.

21Vindiciae, in Franklin, Constitutionalism, p. 199. Franklin's translation into modern English is more forceful than the Laski edition. Note the similarities in phraseology between this quotation and that of Adams' work.

22Harold Laski, "Introduction," in A Defense of Liberty Against Tyrants, pp. 53, 54, 60. For the influence of Vindiciae in England see G. P. Gooch, English Democratic Ideas in the Seventeenth Century (Cambridge, England: Univ. Press, 1898), pp. 12-15. This citation summarizes the influence of Vincidiae.

[23]John Adams to Benjamin Rush, 21 June 1811, Old Family Letters, cited in Edward Handler, America and Europe in the Political Thought of John Adams (Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press, 1964), p. 106.

[24]John Adams, Autobiography, Works p. 2, p. 509.

[25]John Adams, Works, v. 2, pp. 229-231. As an aside, Alexander Hamilton entertained a similar position on the connection between the American and French Revolutions. He is reputed to have observed that the two have as much in common as a New England Puritan mother and a French prostitute.

[26]Louis Bredvold, The Brave New World of the Enligtenment (Ann Arbor, Michigan: Univ. of Mich. Press, 1961), p. 99-124: see also C. S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man (New York: MacMillan Pub. Co., 1947), pp. 67-91, for a more entertaining statement of the same position.

27For example, even though it is mentioned in the text, David Minar, Ideas and Politics: the American Experience (Homewood, IL: Dorsey Press, 1964), p. 132: it is not noted in such standard studies such as Bernard Bailyn, The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution (Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press, 1967); or Zoltan Haraszti, John Adams and the Prophets of Progress (Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press, 1952).


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