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This Day in History: John Adams on the American Revolution

On this day in 1818, President John Adams reflects back on the American Revolution. Was the real Revolution to be found in the battles that were fought? Or was it something else—perhaps a change in the American mindset, prior to the actual war?


Adams believes it was the latter. “The Revolution was effected before the War commenced,” he wrote. “The Revolution was in the Minds and Hearts of the People. A Change in their Religious Sentiments of their Duties and Obligations.”

Initially, as Adams describes, the American people thought they were bound to pray for and submit to the King. But when they saw the King abusing his power, their allegiances began to change.


How did thirteen such different colonies—“ distinct, unconnected and independent of each other,” as Adams described—simultaneously experience the same Revolution in their way of thinking?


Adams found this simple fact astonishing. Perhaps we would, too, if we remembered to focus on the many differences among the thirteen colonies then—to say nothing of the differences among states today.


Thirteen colonies with different religions, subcultures, and industries all came to the same conclusion at about the same time: They could not live under British tyranny. They would need to overcome their differences with other colonists and work together toward independence.


Adams describes it best:


“The Colonies had grown up under Constitutions of Government, So different, there was so great a Variety of Religions, they were composed of So many different Nations, their Customs, Manners and Habits had So little resemblance, and their Intercourse had been so rare and their Knowledge of each other So imperfect, that to unite them in the Same Principles in Theory and the Same System of Action was certainly a very difficult Enterprize. The compleat Accomplishment of it, in So Short a time and by Such Simple means, was perhaps a Singular Example in the History of Mankind. Thirteen Clocks were made to Strike together; a perfection of Mechanism which no Artist had ever before effected.”


Thirteen clocks striking together? Perhaps one of the truths that prompted George Washington to label America’s victory over Britain: “little short of a standing miracle.”


Primary Sources:

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