Picture of The Revolutionary Writings of John Adams (Softcover)

The Revolutionary Writings of John Adams (Softcover)

By C. Bradley Thompson


"If Samuel Adams and Patrick Henry represent the spirit of the independence movement, John Adams exemplifies the mind of the American Revolution," says C. Bradley Thompson, in introducing this elucidating collection of Adams's political writings from 1763 to 1779.

These selections allow us to witness this great political mind at work. The advantage of reading Adams's own writing, missing from any book about him, is that one gets direct evidence of his ideas and of his principled approach. A clear and lucid writer, Adams transports the modern-day reader back in time and makes him a spectator of the unfolding drama of the American Revolution.

We see, for example, the passionate opposition Adams expressed to the odious Stamp Act. Writing to a supporter of that Act, Adams says:  "[Americans] have the most habitual, radical sense of liberty, and the highest reverence for virtue; they are descended from a race of heroes, who...set the seas and skies, monsters and savages, tyrants and devils, at defiance for the sake of religion and liberty...Yet this is the people, Mr. Pym, on whom you are contributing, for paltry hire, to rivet and confirm everlasting oppression."

These writings span a wide range of topics: from protests against various acts of the British Parliament abridging the freedom of the American colonies, to issues of political philosophy-such as the objectivity government provides by having a system of impartial arbitration-to a draft of the Massachusetts constitution (which served as the model for the U.S. Constitution and for those of other states). One large work, his "Novanglus letters," is a defense of the view that the mere annexation of a territory to the English crown (as was done to the American colonies) does not subject the people there to the authority of Parliament; Adams includes meticulously researched historical surveys to defend this position. This approach is typical of the care Adams took to make his arguments persuasive.

Adams cogently argued for the ideas of liberty and limited government. A proper government, he held, is one of laws, not of men. A man of principle, he warned the American people that a single breach would allow tyranny to gain a foothold and with time destroy all their freedoms. According to Thompson: "When Adams left office in 1801, he could proudly say that America was stronger and freer than the day he took office."

As editor, Thompson keeps his comments to a minimum, allowing  Adams to speak for himself. What he does provide are clarifying summaries before each selection, briefly explaining the issue at stake and shedding light on points of historical context that might be confusing to the modern reader.

Thompson says: "The real revolution, Adams declared, had taken place in the minds and hearts of the colonists in the fifteen years prior to 1776. According to Adams, the American Revolution was first and foremost an intellectual revolution." This whole book conveys the truth of that premise.

Table of Contents



Editor's Note

1. Essays and Controversial Papers of the Revolution

2. A Dissertation on the Canon and Feudal Law

3. Instructions of the Town of Braintree to Their Representative, 1765

4. The Earl of Clarendon to William Pym, Nos. I, II, and III

5. Governor Winthrop to Governor Bradford, Nos. I and II

6. The Independence of the Judiciary; A Controversy Between William Brattle and John Adams

7. Two Replies of the Massachusetts House of Representatives to Governor Hutchinson

8. Novanglus; or, A History of the Dispute with America, from Its Origin, in 1754, to the Present Time

9. Thoughts on Government: Applicable to the Present State of the American Colonies

10. The Report of a Constitution, or Form of Government, for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts


(Softcover; 332 pages)