John Adams Quotes

Below is our list of verified John Adams quotations.

Now to what higher object, to what greater character, can any mortal aspire than to be possessed of all this knowledge, well digested and ready at command, to assist the feeble and friendless, to discountenance the haughty and lawless, to procure redress of wrongs, the advancement of right, to assert and maintain liberty and vertue, to discourage and abolish tyranny and vice?

October 1759. Letter to Jonathan Sewall.

A pen is certainly an excellent instrument to fix a man’s attention and to inflame his ambition.

14 November, 1760. Diary.

I always consider the settlement of America with reverence and wonder, as the opening of a grand scene and design in providence, for the illumination of the ignorant and the emancipation of the slavish part of mankind all over the earth.

1765. Notes  for “A Dissertation on the Canon and Feudal Law”.

Liberty cannot be preserved without a general knowledge among the people, who have a right … and a desire to know; but besides this, they have a right, an indisputable, unalienable, indefeasible, divine right to that most dreaded and envied king of knowledge. I mean of the characters and conduct of their rulers.

1765. A Dissertation on the Canon and Feudal Law.

Let every sluice of knowledge be opened and set a-flowing.

1765. A Dissertation on the Canon and Feudal Law.

The jaws of power are always opened to devour, and her arm is always stretched out, if possible, to destroy the freedom of thinking, speaking, and writing.

1765. A Dissertation on the Canon and Feudal Law.

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.

3rd December 1770. Argument in Defense of the British Soldiers in the Boston Massacre Trials.

The law, in all vicissitudes of government, fluctuations of the passions, or flights of enthusiasm, will preserve a steady undeviating course; it will not bend to the uncertain wishes, imaginations, and wanton tempers of men. . . . On the one hand it is inexorable to the cries and lamentations of the prisoners; on the other it is deaf, deaf as an adder to the clamors of the populace.

4th December 1770. Argument in Defense of the British Soldiers in the Boston Massacre Trials.

There is danger from all men. The only maxim of a free government ought to be to trust no man living with power to endanger the public liberty.

Spring 1772. Notes for an Oration at Braintree, Massachusetts.

This is the most magnificent movement of all! There is a dignity, a majesty, a sublimity, in this last effort of the patriots that I greatly admire. The people should never rise without doing something to be remembered – something notable and striking. This destruction of the tea is so bold, so daring, so firm, intrepid and inflexible, and it must have so important consequences, and so lasting, that I can’t but consider it as an epocha in history!

17 December, 1773. Diary entry on the Boston Tea Party.

A government of laws, and not of men.

1774. “Novanglus” papers in Boston Gazette No. 7. Also 1780 Massachusetts Constitution.

Meta-physicians and politicians may dispute forever, but they will never find any other moral principle or foundation of rule or obedience, that the consent of governors and governed.

1774. “Novanglus” papers in Boston Gazette No. 7.

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

23 March, 1776. Letter to Horatio Gates.

You bid me burn your letters. But I must forget you first.

28 April, 1776. Letter to Abigail Adams.

Yesterday, the greatest question was decided which ever was debated in America, and a great perhaps never was nor will be decided among men. A resolution was passed without one dissenting colony, “that these United Colonies are, and of right out to be, free and independent States.”

July 3, 1776. Letter to Abigail Adams.

The second day of July, 1776, will be the most memorable epoch in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festibal. It ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever more.

3 July, 1776. Second letter to Abigail Adams.

The happiness of society is the end of government.

1776. Thoughts on Government.

The judicial power ought to be distinct from both legislative and executive, and independent upon both that so it may be a check upon both, as both should be checks upon that.

1776. Thoughts on Government.

Virtue is not always amiable.

9 February, 1779. Diary.

By my physical constitution I am but an ordinary man.The Times alone have destined me to Fame—and even these have not been able to give me, much … Yet some great events, some cutting expressions, some mean hypocrises, have at times thrown this assemblage of sloth, sleep, and littleness into rage like a lion.

26 April, 1779. Diary.

I must study politics and war that my sons may have liberty to stady mathematics and philosophy. My sons ought to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history, naval architecture, navigation, commerce and agriculture, in order to give their childred a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry, and porcelain.

May 12, 1780. Letter to Abigail Adams.

Amidst your Ardor for Greek and Latin I hope you will not forget your mother Tongue. Read Somewhat in the English Poets every day. . . . You will never be alone, with a Poet in your Poket. You will never have an idle Hour.

14 May, 1781. Letter to John Quincy Adams.

You are afraid of the one—I, of the few.We agree perfectly that the many should have a full fair and perfect Representation.—You are Apprehensive of Monarchy; I, of Aristocracy. I would therefore have given more Power to the President and less to the Senate.

6 December 1787. Letter to Thomas Jefferson.

My country has in its wisdom contrived for me the most insignificant office [the vice-presidency] that ever the invention of man contrived or his imagination conceived; and as I can do neither good nor evil, I must be borne away by others and meet my common fate.

19 December, 1793. Letter to Abigail Adams.

A boy of fifteen who is not a democrat is good for nothing, and he is no better who is a democrat at twenty.

January, 1799. Quoted in Thomas Jefferson’s Journal.

I pray Heaven to bestow the best of blessings on this house and all that shall hereafter inhabit it. May none but honest and wise men ever rule under this roof.

2 November, 1800. Letter to Abigail Adams.

I had heard my father say that he never knew a piece of land to run away or break.

Autobiography (1802-8)

You and I ought not to die before we have explained ourselves to each other.

15 July, 1813. Letter to Thomas Jefferson.

Thomas – Jefferson – still surv-

4 July, 1826. Last words.

The Revolution was effected before the war commenced. The Revolution was in the hearts and minds of the people …. This radical change in the principles, opinions, sentiments, and affections of the people was the real American Revolution.

13th February, 1818. Letter to Hezekiah Niles.

[Baltimore:] The direst place in the world.

8th February, 1777. Diary

They [New Yorkers] talk very loud, very fast, and all together.

23rd July, 1774. Diary.

Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide.

15th April, 1814. Letter to John Tyler.

All the perplexities, confusions, and distresses in America arise … from downright ignorance of the nature of coin, credit and circulation.

25th August, 1787. Letter to Thomas Jefferson.

I have no confidence in any man who is not exact in his morals.

5th November, 1775. Letter to Abigail Adams.

I consider the true history of the American Revolution, and the establishment of our present Constitution, as lost forever; and nothing but misrepresentations, or partial accounts of it, will ever be recovered.

Quoted by Lt. Francis Hall in Travels in Canada in the United States in 1816 and 1817 [1818]

It is of more importance to the community that innocence should be protected than it is that guilt should be punished; for guilt and crimes are so frequent in the world that all of them cannot be punished; and many times they happen in such a manner that it is not of much consequence to the public whether they are punished or not.

3rd December, 1770. Closing statement for the defense in the Second Boston Massacre Trial.

Power always follows property.

26th May, 1776. Letter to James Sullivan.

Power always thinks it has a great soul and vast views beyond the comprehension of the weak, and that it is doing God’s service, when it is violating all His laws.

2nd February, 1816. Letter to Thomas Jefferson.

No man who ever held the office of president would congratulate a friend on obtaining it. He will make one man ungrateful, and a hundred men his enemies, for every office he can bestow.

To John Quincy Adams who was elected president in 1824.

The liberty of the press is essential to the security of the state.

Free-Press Clause of the Massachusetts Constitution, 1780.

Property is surely a right of mankind as really as liberty.

1787. A Defense of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America.

Such is the frailty of the human heart that very few men who have no property have any judgment of their own. They talk and vote as they are directed by some man of property who  has attached their minds to his interest.

26th May, 1776. Letter to James Sullivan.

The fundamental article of my political creed is that despotism, or unlimited sovereignty, or absolute power, is the same in a majority of a popular assembly, an aristocratic council, an oligarchical junto, and a single emperor.

13th November, 1815. Letter to Thomas Jefferson.

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

6th May, 1816. Letter to Thomas Jefferson.

When People talk of the Freedom of Writing, Speaking or thinking, I cannot choose but laugh. No such thing ever existed. No such thing now exists: but I hope it will exist. But it must be hundreds of years after you and I shall write and speak no more.

15th July, 1817. Letter to Thomas Jefferson

The happiness of man as well as his dignity consists in virtue.

1776. Thoughts on Government.

The happiness of society is the end of government.

1776. Thoughts on Government.

Sink or swim, live or die, survive or perish with my country.

1774. Statement made to Jonathan Sewall. Quoted in Preface to Novanglus and Massachusetts

Thomas Jefferson survives.

Final Words. Quoted in Susan Boylston Adams Clark, Letter to Abigail Louisa Smith Adams Johnson, 9 July 1826