Like America’s Puritan forefathers, whose efforts he affirmed he was extending, John Adams (1735-1826) advanced the theme of America as a remarkable political undertaking, conducted before God and the watching world. For Adams, America was exceptional not because she was a new Israel but because she was by divine providence the site of an ongoing political experiment. That experiment would test whether it was possible to secure right order and so to advance liberty, against the alternatives of chance and caprice as ruling forces in human affairs. The purpose of this essay is to examine Adams’ understanding of the American political experiment, its origin, aim, obligation, and special significance for “all mankind.” The essay’s three main sections explore (1) Adams’ evaluation of the American experiment and his political science, (2) his view of America’s responsibility to advance well-ordered liberty before God and all people, and (3) his conception of the limits of politics. It concludes by examining Adams’ thought that continued success for America depended upon the choice by members of subsequent generations to advance the difficult experiment in liberty.
Sunday, September 2, 2012
John Adams and American Exceptionalism
At several points in our text, and multiple times at this blog, we discuss American exceptionalism. Sarah Beth Vosburg of Louisiana State University has a new paper on the subject: "American Exceptionalism, Responsibility, and the Limits of Politics: America's Purpose and Liberty's Progress in the Political Thought of John Adams." Here is the abstract: