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John Adams Letter to the Officers of the First Brigade: Constitution, Morality and Religion

John Adams states, ‘the American Constitution is meant for a religious and moral people,’ which is distinctly different from the claim that ‘America is a Christian nation.’ The full context of the oft quoted passage makes this abundantly clear. John Adams abhorred slavery. The conception of a race-based U.S. republic — built on the slavish servitude of other peoples — is incompatible and contradictory with the ideals of the Union.

John Adams to the First Brigade of the Militia of Massachusetts, 11 October 1798

“While our country remains untainted with the principles and manners which are now producing desolation in so many parts of the world; while she continues sincere, and incapable of insidious and impious policy, we shall have the strongest reason to rejoice in the local destination assigned us by Providence. But should the people of America once become capable of that deep simulation towards one another, and towards foreign nations, which assumes the language of justice and moderation, while it is practising iniquity and extravagance, and displays in the most captivating manner the charming pictures of candour, frankness, and sincerity, while it is rioting in rapine and insolence, this country will be the most miserable habitation in the world. Because we have no government, armed with power, capable of contending with human passions, unbridled by morality and religion. Avarice, ambition, revenge and licentiousness would break the strongest cords of our Constitution, as a whale goes through a net. Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other. Oaths in this country are as yet universally considered as sacred obligations. That which you have taken, and so solemnly repeated on that venerable ground, is an ample pledge of your sincerity and devotion to your country and its government.”

John Adams, Letter to the Officers of the First Brigade of the Third Division of the Militia of Massachusetts, 11 October 1798, in Revolutionary Services and Civil Life of General William Hull, New York, 1848, pp 265-6.

President John Adams does not say the country is for only one particular Christian sect, but that the Constitution was written for “a moral and religious people,” and for these thinkers, republicanism (Post-Enlightenment) as a political revolutionary philosophy functions as a way of life and civic religion. John Adams was atleast learned in certain similar inclinations of our study, or held some broader notion of his religion. This is demonstrated in John Adams on Religion in the United States, Quakers, Jesuitism, and Machiavellianism.

“The general principles on which the fathers achieved independence, were (…) the general principles of Christianity, in which all those sects were united, and the general principles of English and American liberty, in which all those young men united, and which had united all parties in America, in majorities sufficient to assert and maintain her independence. Now I will avow, that I then believed and now believe that those general principles of Christianity are as eternal and immutable as the existence and attributes of God; and that those principles of liberty are as unalterable as human nature and our terrestrial, mundane system.”

Letter to Thomas Jefferson, 28 June 1813. Often misquoted as “The general principles on which the fathers achieved independence were the general principles of Christianity.”

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