John Adams, Quotes from One of America's Most Important Founding Fathers

October 30, 1735–July 4, 1826

John Adams was a Founding Father who helped shape the ideas that led to the American Revolution. This collection includes important quotes from Adams about Liberty, the American Revolution, and other important topics.

John Adams, Portrait, Stuart

John Adams was a Founding Father, and one of the most important men behind the ideas that shaped the American Revolution. Image Source: Wikipedia.

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John Adams — Famous Quotes

I will enlarge no more on the evidence, but submit it to you.—Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passions, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence: nor is the law less stable than the fact; if an assault was made to endanger their lives, the law is clear, they had a right to kill in their own defence; if it was not so severe as to endanger their lives, yet if they were assaulted at all, struck and abused by blows of any sort, by snow-balls, oyster-shells, cinders, clubs, or sticks of any kind; this was a provocation, for which the law reduces the offence of killing, down to manslaughter, in consideration of those passions in our nature, which cannot be eradicated. To your candour and justice I submit the prisoners and their cause.

— John Adams, from his “Argument for the Defense” during the Boston Massacre Trials, December 3–4, 1770.

Otis was a flame of fire! With a promptitude of Classical Allusions, a depth of research, a rapid summary of historical events & dates, a profusion of Legal Authorities, a prophetic glance of his eyes into futurity, and a rapid torrent of impetuous Eloquence he hurried away all before him. American Independence was then & there born. The seeds of Patriots & Heroes to defend the Non sine Diis Animosus Infans; to defend the Vigorous Youth were then & there sown. Every Man of an immense crouded Audience appeared to me to go away, as I did, ready to take Arms against Writs of Assistants. Then and there was the first scene of the first Act of opposition to the Arbitrary claims of Great Britain. Then and there the Child Independence was born. In fifteen years i.e. in 1776. he grew up to Manhood, & declared himself free.

— John Adams, letter to William Tudor Sr., recalling the speech given by James Otis in the Paxton Case, against the Writs of Assistance, March 19, 1817.

James Otis, Portrait

John Adams was in the room when James Otis delivered his speech against the Writs of Assistance.

John Adams — More Quotes from the Founding Father

It should be your care, therefore, and mine, to elevate the minds of our children and exalt their courage; to accelerate and animate their industry and activity; to excite in them an habitual contempt of meanness, abhorrence of injustice and inhumanity, and an ambition to excel in every capacity, faculty, and virtue. If we suffer their minds to grovel and creep in infancy, they will grovel all their lives.

— John Adams, “Dissertation on the Canon and Feudal Law,” 1765

Liberty cannot be preserved without general knowledge among people.

— John Adams, “Dissertation on the Canon and Feudal Law,” 1765

The business of Congress is tedious beyond expression…Every man in it is a great man, an orator, a critic, a statesman; and therefore every man…must show his oratory, his criticism, and his political abilities.

— John Adams, letter to Abigail Adams during the First Continental Congress, October 9, 1774

America is a great, unwieldy body. Its progress must be slow. It is like a large fleet sailing under convoy. The fleetest sailers must wait for the dullest and slowest.

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— John Adams, letter to Abigail Adams, June 17, 1775

A constitution founded on these principles introduces knowledge among the people, and inspires them with a conscious dignity becoming freemen; a general emulation takes place, which causes good humor, sociability, good manners, and good morals to be general. That elevation of sentiment inspired by such a government, makes the common people brave and enterprising. That ambition which is inspired by it makes them sober, industrious, and frugal.

— John Adams, “Thoughts on Government,” 1776

If there is a form of government, then, whose principle and foundation is virtue, will not every sober man acknowledge it better calculated to promote the general happiness that any other form?

— John Adams, “Thoughts on Government,” 1776

I agree with you that in politics the middle way is none at all.

— John Adams, letter to Horatio Gates, March 23, 1776

The Science of Government it is my Duty to study, more than all other Sciences: the Art of  Legislation and Administration and Negotiation, ought to take Place, indeed to exclude in a manner all other Arts. I must study Politicks and War that my sons may have liberty to study Mathematicks and Philosophy. My sons ought to study Mathematicks and Philosophy, Geography, natural History, Naval Architecture, navigation, Commerce and Agriculture, in order to give their Children a right to study Painting, Poetry, Musick, Architecture, Statuary, Tapestry and Porcelaine.

— John Adams, letter to Abigail Adams, May 12, 1780

It was my object to make Americans hold up their heads, and look down upon any nation that refused to do them justice;…in my opinion, Americans had nothing to fear but from the meekness of their own hearts; as Christians,  wished them meek; as statesmen, I wished them proud; and I thought the pride and the meekness very consistent.

— John Adams, diary entry, April 30, 1783

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It has ever been my hobby-horse to see rising in America an empire of liberty, and a prospect of two or three hundred millions of freemen, without one noble or one king among them. You say it is impossible. If I should agree with you in this, I would still say, let us try the experiment, and preserve our equality as long as we can.

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— John Adams, letter to Count Sarsfield, February 3, 1786

Popularity was never my mistress, nor was I ever, or shall I ever be a popular man.

— John Adams, in a letter to James Warren, 1787

I hate speeches, messages, addresses, proclamations and such affected, constrained things. I hate levees and drawing rooms. I hate to speak to 1,000 people to whom I have nothing to say. Yet all this I can do.

— John Adams, discussing the possibility of becoming President in a letter to Abigail Adams, February 1796

Ambition is the subtlest Beast of the Intellectual and Moral Field. It is wonderfully adroit in concealing itself from its owner.

— John Adams, letter to John Quincy Adams, January 3, 1794

Corruption in Elections has heretofore destroyed all Elective Governments. What Regulations or Precautions may be devised to prevent it in future, I am content with you to leave Posterity to consider. You and I shall go to the Kingdom of the just or at least shall be released from the Republic of the Unjust, with Hearts pure and hands clean of all Corruption in Elections; so much I firmly believe.

— John Adams, letter to Thomas Jefferson, April 6, 1796

Penitence must precede pardon.

— John Adams, on The Sedition Act, 1798

Thirteen governments [of the original states] thus founded on the natural authority of the people alone, without a pretence of miracle or mystery, and which are destined to spread over the northern part of that whole quarter of the globe, are a great point gained in favor of the rights of mankind.

— John Adams, “A Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America,” 1787

Children should be educated and instructed in the principles of freedom.

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— John Adams, “A Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America,” 1787

In the month of March last I was called to the house in another part of town which was built by my father, in which he lived and died and from which I buried him; and in the chamber in which I was born I could not forbear to weep over the remains of a beautiful child of my son Thomas that died of the whooping cough. Why was I preserved ¾ of a century, and that rose cropped in the bud? I, almost dead at top and in all my limbs and wholly useless to myself and the world?

— John Adams, letter to Benjamin Rush, July 19, 1812

Grief drives men into habits of serious reflection, sharpens the understanding, and softens the heart.

— John Adams, letter to Thomas Jefferson, May 6, 1816

The Revolution was effected before the War commenced…The Revolution was in the minds and hearts of the people; a change in their religious sentiments of their duties and obligations… This radical change in the principles, opinions, sentiments, and affections of the people, was the real American Revolution.

— John Adams, letter to Hezekiah Nichols, February 13, 1818

There were other expressions which I would not have inserted if I had drawn it up, particularly that which called the King tyrant. I thought this too personal, for I never believed George to be a tyrant in disposition and in nature; I always believed him to be deceived by his courtiers on both sides of the Atlantic, and in his official capacity, only, cruel. I thought the expression too passionate, and too much like scolding, for so grave and solemn a document; but as Franklin and Sherman were to inspect it afterwards, I thought it would not become me to strike it out.

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— John Adams, letter to Timothy Pickering, August 6, 1822

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The following information is provided for citations.

  • Article Title John Adams, Quotes from One of America's Most Important Founding Fathers
  • Coverage October 30, 1735–July 4, 1826
  • Author
  • Keywords John Adams Quotes, Famous Quotes, Quotes and Meaning, Sons of Liberty Quotes, Boston Massacre Quotes, Boston Massacre Trials Quotes, Boston Tea Party Quotes, Sugar Act Quotes, Stamp Act Quotes, Founding Fathers Quotes, Freedom Quotes, Liberty Quotes, American Revolution Quotes, Short Quotes
  • Website Name American History Central
  • Access Date November 26, 2022
  • Publisher R.Squared Communications, LLC
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update August 18, 2022

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