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It was, arguably, the most important speech in American history.Years later, Thomas Jefferson recalled that so powerful in "thought & expression" was Adams, that he "moved us from our seats." He was, Jefferson said, "our Colossus on the floor."Adams spent much of the 1780s in Europe as a diplomat and propagandist for the American Revolution.Shortly after the battles at Lexington and Concord, Adams began to argue that it was time for the colonies to declare independence and to constitutionalize the powers, rights, and responsibilities of self-government.
Later, in 1779, Adams drafted the Massachusetts Constitution, which was the most sophisticated constitution produced during the Revolutionary era, and, as Mc Cullough reminds us, is the "oldest functioning written constitution in the world."Adams's greatest moment in Congress came in the summer of 1776.The first two, representation and separation of powers, were distinctly modern inventions: both were logically derived from Lockean natural-rights theory and its corollary theory of consent.The last principle, however, what Adams called the "triple equipoise," was hardly a modern invention.Over the course of the next two years, no man worked as hard or played as important a role in the movement for independence.Adams chaired the committee that drafted the Declaration of Independence; he founded the American Navy; he drafted America's first Model Treaty; and, working 18-hour days, he served as a one-man Department of War and Ordnance.After twice serving as vice-president under George Washington, the American people elevated Adams to the presidency in 1796.His greatest accomplishment as president was to navigate the nation through the political storm known as the "Quasi-War." In what Mc Cullough calls the "bravest" act of his political career, Adams (consulting no one) incurred the wrath of Republicans and his own Federalist party by sending a peace mission to France.The resulting Treaty of Marefontaine secured American neutrality and commercial freedom at the critical moment of its birth as a nation.Mc Cullough has written an utterly compelling, even beautiful, account of Adams's life and character. Despite his extraordinary accomplishments as a statesman, John Adams was first and foremost a thinking revolutionary.On July 1, Congress considered final arguments on the question of independence.John Dickinson argued forcefully against independence. When no one responded to Dickinson, Adams rose and delivered a rhetorical tour de force that moved the assembly to vote in favor of independence.