John Adams's Presidency

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What was the “real revolution?” What was the “consensus” of the states about how the government needed to function?

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The phrase “the real American Revolution” was originally coined by John Adams (1735–1826), the second president of the United States and one of its Founding Fathers. Adams had a specific vision for the new nation, but after independence was achieved by the colonies, he suggested:

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.

Above all, Adams believed the “real” conflict was an intellectual revolution that had taken place “in the minds and hearts” of the colonists fifteen years “before a drop of blood was drawn at Lexington" and the Declaration of Independence was drafted in 1776. Prior to the war with the British, English philosopher John Locke (1632–1704) set much of the groundwork from which the colonists formed their revolutionary ideals. In two famous treatises, Locke had previously argued for the human rights to life, liberty, and property and the colonists adopted those basic principles as motivation for separating from the authoritarian British government. Once the mindset of the rebels was solidified, only the battles were left to be fought. The real revolution was already underway.

Even at the conclusion of the military conflict, the consensus of the states remained unclear. As Adams passionately argued at the Second Continental Congress in Philadelphia, many colonists agreed that an independent America should be established whereby the people living in every colony should be allowed to set up their own government under their own authority. Others felt that the opportunity to settle their differences with the mother country was still a possibility even if the dispute was resolved militarily.

Adams remained convinced that since Britain made war on the colonies, they were no longer colonies. They were independent states that were compelled to form their own governments. The matter was ultimately resolved by the establishment of a government with three equal branches: legislative, executive, and judicial.

History notes that while the consensus favored the three branches of government still existing under the American Constitution today, agreement was narrow. Approximately half the new union favored a strong central federal government run by elected representatives, while the other half favored a weaker central government that served the people, giving the majority of power to the states to act independently. To determine the true consensus, research should be done to explore the positions of the representatives from each of the original colonies, the failure of the Articles of Confederation, and the arguments surrounding the adoption of the Constitution in 1789.

The diverse opinions were never fully resolved as evidenced by the subsequent American Civil War, and the dispute continues in contemporary American politics.

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