Date of Graduation

Spring 5-2012

Level of Access

Open Access

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts

Department or Program

History

Number of Pages

89

Abstract

Though John Adams is rightly seen as one of the most active proponents of the American drive towards independence in the 1770s, he was also a staunch opponent of another revolutionary movement: the French Revolution of the 1790s. It has been difficult for scholars to reconcile the “radical” Adams of the 1760s with the apparently “conservative” and wary Adams of the 1790s. Historians have generally taken one of two approaches. Some argue that he underwent a deep and fundamental shift in political philosophy in the 1780s in reaction to a number of political developments in Europe and America. These trends, they argue, led to a wariness of popular control and an abandoned faith in the wisdom of the general will. Others contend that he did not change significantly during this period but maintained his previous positions, but they have tended to provide little support for this position with examples from Adams’s own writing. Reading a varied selection of Adams’s writings—some published, such as his well-known Thoughts on Government, others virtually unheard of, such as his extended marginalia in Mary Wollstonecraft’s 1794 book on the French Revolution—we see that Adams did not undergo a major shift in political thought. He held a consistent set of political beliefs, deeply rooted in the Puritan tradition, and which informed his reaction to many of the events in his lifetime, including the independence movement in America and the Revolution in France two decades later.

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