Reading Guide Questions
Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
- John Adams had an insatiable desire to explore human nature. In
defending the British soldiers involved in The Boston Massacre, Adams says
to the jury, "Facts are stubborn things, and whatever may be our wishes, our
inclinations, or the dictums of our passions, they cannot alter the state of
facts and evidence." How has his decision to defend the British Army, even
under suspicion of political treason, prepared him to draft a strong
argument for independence?
- In Thoughts on Government, Adams begins to formulate thoughts
on public education. Adams writes, "Laws for the liberal education of youth,
especially for the lower classes of people, are so extremely wise and
useful..." When Adams was a young boy he dismissed the idea of education and
only wished to be a farmer. How has his background influenced his opinion on
education? Why did he see education as essential to the farmer as to the
statesman in the pursuit of an independent nation?
- On slavery, Abigail Adams writes, "It always seed a most iniquitous
scheme to me- [to] fight ourselves for what we are daily robbing and
plundering from those who have as good a right to freedom as we have." Even
Adams with his great display of integrity during The Boston Massacre trial,
has managed to omit the issue of slavery from the Declaration of
Independence. Who in Congress owned slaves and who did not? How could the
abolition of slavery have helped The American Revolution? What stakes were
- John Adams' voyage to France along with ten-year-old John Quincy took
an incredible toll on Abigail. How has Abigail been an inspiration to her
"good friend"? Why does their relationship seem an anomaly in this time
period? How has his relationship with Abigail influenced his admiration for
French women? Would you call john Adams a feminist? Why or why not? Give
- John Adams led an obstinate quest to gather military and economic
support from both the French and Dutch governments with little financial or
moral support from Congress. Adams' feels very isolated at this point in the
struggle for independence and often feels like he is running a one-man-show
despite the fact that his ability to secure a loan from the Dutch was
undoubtedly dependent upon the British General Cornwallis' surrender at
Virginia. After reviewing the larger picture, what are the events and
circumstances in Adams' life during this time that has made him feel
politically isolated? Was he in fact running a one-man-show? Explain.
- In London, Adams publishes, A Defense of the Constitutions of
Government of The United States of America. The crux of this pamphlet
stresses the necessity for a government to establish a check and balance of
political power. Adams writes that there is "a natural aristocracy among
mankind... These were the people who had the capacity to acquire great
wealth and make use of political power, and for all they contributed to
society, they could thus become the most dangerous element in society..." In
the current state of the United States Government, some would argue that it
is ruled by the aristocracy, some may even go so far as to argue that the
U.S. is currently ruled by a monarchy. What are your thoughts on the
government of the United States? Is the United States realizing John Adams'
dream? Why or why not?
- In 1783, the United States is officially recognized by the world as
an independent nation upon the signing of the Treaty of Paris. During this
time, Adams recognizes a moral shift amongst the American people. James
Warren writes that patriotism has been abandoned to money and materialism.
How has the institution of slavery influenced the morale of American people?
Does the economic value of slavery make creating a unified government more
- Adams displays a bit of apprehension toward his nomination for Vice
President of the United States. Article I, Section 3, of the Constitution
states that "[the Vice President] shall be President of the Senate, but
shall have no vote, unless they be equally divided." It would seem as though
Adams, a man so firm in his opinions, with the plainness of a teacher and
the persuasion of a lawyer would be perfect for the Vice Presidency. Why
didn't he think so? Why do you think he won by such a small margin?
- In 1798, the United States prepares to go to war with France. Adams'
initial interactions with France during the Revolutionary War led to his
apprehension on entering into a hasty relationship with the French. In a
letter to Roger Sherman Adams warned of excessive attention to what the
French thought, what France wanted, and writes that there was "too much
[French] influence in our deliberations". What was the turning point in the
United States relationship with France? What left the United States so
vulnerable to the French?
- On Adams McCullough writes, "...he seems not to have viewed the
presidency as an ultimate career objective or crowning life achievement. He
was not one given to seeing life as a climb to the top of a ladder or
mountain, but more as a journey or adventure... if anything, he was inclined
to look back upon the long struggle for independence as the proud defining
chapter." What do you think was driving the life of John Adams? What were
- There is still much speculation over Thomas Jefferson's relationship
with Sally Hemings. In a letter to Jefferson, Abigail Adams felt that a
president should serve as an example on the manners and morals of the
nation. What are your thoughts on Abigail's statement?
- Abigail Adams dies on October 28, 1818. At her beside John Adams
says, "I wish I could lie down beside her and die too." To John Adams and
his peers Abigail was much more than Adams' wife she was a colleague, and
many remarked on her wit. As stateswomen, how has her role in politics paved
the way for the first ladies that will succeed her, what do you feel is the
role of the President's wife?
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