"A government of laws, not men."
Our forgotten president, the second one, has never received the acclaim he deserves. As one of the original framers of the Constitution, John Q Adams incorporated some of the philosophies of Thomas Hobbes and John Locke on government. Locke was one of the leading political philosophers of his time- a time which predated the Constitution by about 100 years.
So what made John Adams so special?
On a personal note, one that I agree with, Adams feared the aristocracy. The willingness of men to enrich themselves at the expense of others. He feared an oligarchy of rich men running the country. The only way to keep them in check was a government of laws and not of men- otherwise we would devolve into a nation where the aristocracy arbitrarily ruled and did what they wanted to do at the expense of the powerless. A government of laws leveled that playing field considerably.
Here is a summary and link which cites historical accounts and two books that have been written on Adams. http://www.claremont.org/crb/article/a-government-of-laws-not-of-men/
Adams, well educated like his contemporary Thomas Jefferson, knew the past. Knowing history allowed the framers to predict the future. Think of them as the risk managers of their day. Government, with all of it's trial and errors throughout time, had always been an evolving process. An educated man could avoid the historical failures of the past.
I have a friend who believes the constitutional framers were simply the aristocracy of the 1700's in America.That's probably true because educated men could read, write, and interpret the mistakes of the past. I simply can't see cobblers and blacksmiths authoring a Constitution and correctly interpreting history and philosophy- a process which gave us a Republic with a representative government with checks and balances built in.
Was Adams correct to fear the aristocracy? Here is a snip from wiki.
In 2011, according to PolitiFact and others, the top 400 wealthiest Americans "have more wealth than half of all Americans combined."
A study conducted by political scientists Martin Gilens of Princeton University and Benjamin Page of Northwestern University was released in April 2014, which stated that their "analyses suggest that majorities of the American public actually have little influence over the policies our government adopts." The study analyzed nearly 1,800 policies enacted by the US government between 1981 and 2002 and compared them to the expressed preferences of the American public as opposed to wealthy Americans and large special interest groups. It found that wealthy individuals and organizations representing business interests have substantial political influence, while average citizens and mass-based interest groups have little to none. The study did concede that "Americans do enjoy many features central to democratic governance, such as regular elections, freedom of speech and association, and a widespread (if still contested) franchise." Gilens and Page do not characterize the US as an "oligarchy" per se; however, they do apply the concept of "civil oligarchy" as used by Jeffrey Winters with respect to the US. Winters has posited a comparative theory of "oligarchy" in which the wealthiest citizens – even in a "civil oligarchy" like the United States – dominate policy concerning crucial issues of wealth- and income-protection.
Despite Adams' fear of the aristocracy taking over- he knew they were a necessary evil and it was highly unlikely that we could ever prevent or stop them. The best we could hope for was that they would act with benevolence and adhere to the morality of law and the social contract.
Which brings me to the concept of a government of laws and not of men.
When we abandon the rule of law, we install the rule of man. The rule of man has been a violent failure where innocent people have been mass murdered. Think about men like Stalin and farther back, King John.
Many historians have suggested that Stalin was responsible for death total of around 20 million, citing much higher victim totals from executions, Gulag camps, deportations and other causes. Simon Sebag Montefiore suggested that Stalin was ultimately responsible for the deaths of between 20 and 25 million people..
King John, an especially evil tyrant, gave rise to the Magna Carta- the original social contract.
In America we currently have a rule or law which is being eroded, chipped away at, and rendered useless. When the rule of law is abandoned, and often by lawyers themselves, we get a two tiered justice system where Adam's fear of the aristocracy is coming true. The aristocracy is often not subject to the same punishments that the rest of us are. They evade everything from taxes to criminal charges. Jon Corzine, Bill and Hillary Clinton, are both glaring examples of a two tiered system- a system where the aristocracy can influence charging decisions through money, influence, and implied force to evade the law- and the lower tier of folks who are routinely charged and punished.
It takes courage and a working knowledge of history to uphold the rule of law despite the consequences. We are at the crossroads. We either return to a government of laws where ALL people are treated equally or we abandon that idea and subject ourselves to the arbitrary rule of men.
If Adams were alive today, he might very well say, "I told you so."