Conference Paper (unpublished)

The Case for the Prosecution: John Adams and History



Nicolson C (2015) The Case for the Prosecution: John Adams and History. British Group in Early American History 2015 Conference, University of Sheffield, 03.09.2015-06.09.2015.

First paragraph: John Adams’s most famous letter—oft-quoted yet little analyzed—was written at home in a winter of contentment fondly recalling the glory days of the Revolution. Yet it also spoke poignantly to rising generations of Americans. The octogenarian Adams was performing what he supposed would be one of the last acts in a distinguished and sometimes controversial public career. Handicapped by the infirmities of age, he was reliant upon readers and scribes from within his extended family to reach a public audience. He enjoined all to discover their shared history. Nostalgia had never blinded Adams to his own shortcomings and now spurred him to remind the children and grandchildren of the revolutionary generation of what in 1775 he called their "revolution principles." Americans’ intellectual and emotional attachments to Great Britain, the letter to Hezekiah Niles continued, were profoundly altered in the decade before the Declaration of Independence. "This radical change in the principles, opinions, sentiments and affections of the people, was the real American Revolution," he emphasized. “Revolution principles,” which included both impetus and restraint, had bound Americans together when fighting the British and in building a new nation. Whereas the American Union Adams surveyed in 1818, though it had survived a second British war and earlier scuffles with France, was beset by internecine squabbles and scarred by slavery. When writing Niles, Adams had already set his own mind and heart on uniting Americans by helping them write, and thus perpetually remember, the history of their revolution. History, he believed, ought to be the intellectual anchor for the American experiment in republican government.

Publisher URL…ican-historians/
ConferenceBritish Group in Early American History 2015 Conference
Conference locationUniversity of Sheffield

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Dr Colin Nicolson
Dr Colin Nicolson

Senior Lecturer, History