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

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


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    • Main description

    [ This description is from the project: Coming of the American Revolution ]

    In this essay, written in the spring of 1776, John Adams outlines his philosophy on government. The best government, he says, should prioritize ease, comfort, security, and happiness to the greatest possible number of its citizens. Adams goes on to outline, among other things, the importance of elected representatives, the three branches of government, rotation of offices, and several governing laws.

    "the divine science of politicks"

    In the fall of 1775, Congress instructs Massachusetts to resume government under the colony's charter of 1691. Upon issuing that mandate, other colonies begin to ask Congress for similar advice. Some delegates, including Samuel Adams and John Adams believe each colony should be governed by its own constitution. More moderate delegates, however, fear that giving each colony the power to write its own constitution is tantamount to independence. As the debate rages in Congress, Adams pens an essay describing his philosophy of government in the spring of 1776.

    Questions to Consider

    1. According to Adams what is "the end" (or the goal) of government?

    2. According to Adams what is the foundation of most governments? Does Adams think that Americans will approve of such an approach? Why or why not?

    3. What is the first necessary step to creating laws?

    4. Does Adams believe that executive, legislative, and judicial powers should all rest in a single assembly? What are some of the reasons he gives to support his belief?

    5. Under Adams' plan, who is responsible for electing the Governor? What other officers are to be chosen in the same manner? How often are elections to be held for these posts?

    6. What does John Adams mean on page 4 when he says, "poets read history to collect flowers not fruits"?

    Further Exploration

    7. From where or whom does Adams draw inspiration for this treatise? What thinkers and philosphers does he quote and reference? How is Adams's writing affected by the Enlightenment? Which ideas in Thoughts on Government reflect the themes of the Enlightenment?