John AdamsJohn Adams, (1735-1826) Founding Father, 2nd US President

Famous John Adams Quote

“Statesmen, my dear Sir, may plan and speculate for liberty, but it is religion and morality alone, which can establish the principles upon which freedom can securely stand. The only foundation of a free Constitution is pure virtue, and if this cannot be inspired into our People in a greater Measure than they have it now, they may change their rulers and the forms of government, but they will not obtain a lasting liberty.”

John AdamsJohn Adams
~ John Adams

letter to Zabdiel Adams, 21 June 1776, (Reference: Our Sacred Honor, Bennett (371))

Ratings and Comments

Steve, Benton City

Our modern society is proof that he knew what he was talking about!

Anonymous, Reston, VA US

Religion is not necessary for freedom, nor is "pure virtue"... lest we forget, many of these men were slave holders... they did not allow their wives to vote... and they did not allow non-property owners to vote... many of them had lovers on the side... there was no "pure virtue" to them, and they lacked in many morals.

helorat, Milton

And A Reston wants to use the government as a proxy to steal money from others to give those he so deems to be in "need'; robbery pure and simple without the courage to do it face to face. I was wondering what the Christian bashers would think of the truths our Founders based our country on. Regardless of what you believe or don't believe, God is a necessary legal concept in our country, in our government and legal system.


John Adams was one of our most astute Presidents and Founding Father.

Mike, Norwalk

Adams' prophetic utterance has been fulfilled. The morals inherent in Adams' subject religion did/does provide the principles on which liberty is based. Adams' admission that if posterity could not become more virtuous than they, liberty would dissipate. Slavery of a race has been replaced by a society of slaves through forced extraction of the noble labors fruits; manipulated voting boxes have replace a freeman's voting voice; adultery and fornication are much more rampant today than then; and we've further added compelled compliance, victimless crimes, situations needing no warrants, more corrupt courts, the ability to arrest without charge, forced charity-ID-insurance, etc. etc. etc.

Bruce, Alabama

Just like the ancient state of Israel founded on a "Higher Authority", could not be subservient to the "immoral" Romans so our constitutionally inscribed "Inalienable Rights" keeps the sanctity of the individual inviolable in our society. As well as the famous words "endowed by our Creator". That the founders all had moral flaws, I do not doubt it for an instant. I also believe that the freedom of conscience inherit in these constitutional expressions protect us from the religions of man. The religion expressed in the constitution is of a much higher and more mystical quality than what our right wing so called " Christian Right" espouses, in my opinion. It even leaves room for the liberal point of view.

E Archer, NYC

I would suggest that 'honor' and 'respect' are crucial in preserving Liberty. I am afraid that 'religion' is too general to trust, and its practitioners are hardly any more moral than the rest. Give me a person who is honest enough to say that they 'do not know' rather than someone with an 8th grade education proclaiming the word of God (usually in judgment against others). I certainly believe in the separation of church and state and wholeheartedly support the right to believe whatever spiritual nonsense the believer wishes -- as long as they do not try to thrust it upon anyone else or more importantly upon the government. I do also believe that most Christians would be very surprised to learn of the Founders' deism -- Washington, Jefferson, Franklin, and host of others did not believe in the divinity of Jesus among other tenets of today's Christian 'Right'.

Robert, Sarasota

Well said Reston - today is proof Mr Adams didn't understand the implication of this myth. God please save me from your followers - what absolute poppycock – our founding Fathers knew well the reason for separation of state and church. Morality has nothing to do with religion, nothing what so ever. Religion is a belief in a divine being (not necessarily Christ or any other named God) and has very little to do with ethics and morality – just look at the history books, or more recently, those who profess to be Christian and their acts of immorality. I can’t believe this dialogue, it’s as if we are still in the middle Ages. Please, please do not confuse morality with religion – I’m afraid Mr Adams has it wrong this time. It’s kind, compassionate, and honest people that are the bulwarks of lasting liberty not religious fundamentalism. America has one of the highest numbers who profess to be religious (85%) and the highest numbers of regular church goers, yet we have the highest crime rates in the so-called “civilized” world. I have seen more good and more compassion by those who claim they are atheists than my religious brothers - read Roberts G. Ingersoll "If there is a God..." Why must we always align morality, "pure virture" and ethics with religion - these qualities have been around for a long time and well before Christ; they are even recorded in literature before Moses which was later plagerized into the Ten Commandments.

Mike, Norwalk
  • 1
  • Reply
Mike, Norwalk Robert, Sarasota 11/8/18

Robert, I know you like trying to change the definitions of words so that you may find fault with other than your own religion.

Religion is: a sacrosanct object of conscience (an ethic(s), a moral(s), a value (system) or an orientation of correctness / enlightenment) believed sufficiently conventional as to enable an attributable action(s). Religion’s initiating elements of conscience, through fruition of action, encompasses self-obligated pursuits, imperative practices and devoted interests (by way of extreme brevity / example: safety, health and well being). When such enabling fundamentals are drawn upon or referenced as authority, power, reason or logic to exert specific actions (codes, ordinances, regulations, rules, statutes, a mandated action, et cetera), a formal religion is established. A ‘god’, ‘causation’ or other ‘relegated source’ of such enabling elements may or may not be instrumental (or even useful) in defining religion. (by way of example: Buddhism and Humanism are religions without extra-human dieties). Religion is: “ real piety in practice, consisting in the performance of all known duties to ⋯ our fellow men.” (Bouvier’s Law Dictionary) This definition’s focus is on “real piety in practice” - and - “the performance of all known duties” - again, a sacrosanct object of conscience believed sufficiently conventional as to enable attributable actions. Webster's New World Dictionary - Fourth College Edition uses a slightly different vantage on Bouvier’s “fellow men” by stating, Religion is: “a.) any specific system of belief and worship, often involving a code of ethics and a philosophy [the Christian religion, the Buddhist religion, et cetera] b.) any system of beliefs, practices, ethical values, et cetera resembling, suggestive of, or likened to such a system [humanism as a religion] ⋯ any object of conscientious regard and pursuit” By way of example; punishment for canon infractions concerning safety and victimless crimes are purely elements of a religion’s dogma, exercise and tenets (outside secular natural law). When the omnipotent clergy enforces canons due to / or based on an ethical premise, a moral imperative or an element of orientation of correctness (such as for safety’s sake) – as determined by a he/god/government’s duty to protect owned chattel from itself (collectivism’s themselves), a national establishment of religion there imposes a state of religious helot(s), serf(s) and/or slave(s) - while moving to deceive and victimize its ignorant patrons / corporate régime’s members / under threat and/or full duress deceived. “The people never give up their liberties but under some delusion” (Edmund Burke)

E Archer, NYC
  • 1
  • Reply
E Archer, NYC Mike, Norwalk 11/9/18

Very good, Mike.  Political zealots are as religious (and self-righteous) as any fundamentalist Christian or Muslim.  They may not believe in a metaphysical god, but they believe in collective POWER to force their will upon others (just like fundamentalists of all stripes).  The power to command, to rule, is what they want  of course, for our own good.  Robert, can you not see the similarity between your socialist religion and the others?  Interesting, too, that while Buddhism does not recognize a 'god' per se, they do recognize the devil called 'Mara.'  What is the devil?  Our lies and hatred incarnate.  Starve the beast, and let the truth set you free.  ;-)

Bruce, Alabama

Since even the Bible tells us that God is a spirit (read concept, sentiment) you can not claim that "He" does not exist. You cannot deny the existence of concepts, or sentiment. Therefore you cannot be an atheist. You may say that you are a non-sentimental person or you may say that you believe in material things only and not in concepts. I suggest that with this understanding of spirit, concept, sentiment you will realize that the world is more this way than it is material. Freedom, liberty, and the Spirit of '76 are concepts but I believe they are just as true or more true than material things.

Robert, Sarasota

Bruce you have a point and to that point one cannot claim that God (spirit) does exist - Kindness and compassion is my religion and that's not material. Though, I do like the Spirit concept you have and if that spirit has domain over us then I have some serious questions.

Bruce, Alabama

All I am saying Robert is that concepts exist. They fire our imagination and motivate us. They don't exist in the same way that a rock exists. They are of a different type of existence. I suggest to you that the human brain and imagination spends more time with this spirit, concept, sentiment world than it does in what we may try to call the real world. Maybe this is why Jesus said "Man cannot live by bread alone (matierialism)". You are on to something also Robert with "kindness and compassion" and again I am sorry to refer to Jesus again but it seems he said it all before. He criticzed the religious people of his time for failing to be kind and compassionate just as you are criticizing the religious people of today for the same thing. I suggest both you and Jesus are and were correct. Have you ever heard of "School Spirit". Go to a local High School football game and then try to tell me that the kids don't have school spirit. All I am saying is God spirit is of a similar essence. Just as you cannot deny the school spirit or sentiment I think in fairness you cannot deny the "God spirit". You may not be caught up in the school spirit personally just as you may not be caught up in the "God spirit" but you cannot say that one or the other does not exist. Can you? In may not exist for you but does for others? The differerence between religion and ethics is most easily explained by the story of Abraham and Isaac. It was ethically wrong for him to kill his son but he was going to do it anyway because religion, God said he must. God does not have to be ethical. God by definition can be and do anything he wants to. In the end God changed his unethical mind and spared Isaac.

Robert, Sarasota

Bruce, Concepts (ideas, plans, etc.) are just concepts and as you rightly say "concepts can't be denied" you can't deny an idea regardless of its ethics or its intangible qualities. Though you may deny a plan (concept) that doesn't work, like building a house on sand, teaching children calculus too early or too late, and so on -- you are not necessarily denying the concept but the results of the concept. Being caught up in the spirit of things is an easy concept to grasp; this is a primary reason why groups meet in the first place -- if I need to be caught up in the world of art I'll go to a discussion on art, or, I'll go to the local high school football game to be caught up in the spirit of football -- though there is another component to these analogies and that is simply 'a need to belong' a need to have companionship with your peers. I prefer the theory of action with regard to happiness and a belief in oneself -- concepts are good but they are empty without participation in that which you plan and experience. Kindness and compassion do not need praise, they are attributes of the living and what they do for each other. There is a part of me that has room for the power of the spirit but before that arena is open to the public I feel there are some real basic recipes we need to practice first. I believe religion (a belief of involvement in the divine) does fill a void for many people -- though it is my concept that this can only occur if you understand yourself and obtain the power from within before venturing into unknown territory -- peace and love for our fellow human beings can only come about from within us, and not on a pew.

warren, olathe

When we decide that what is in this quote is not valid we are finished.

Michele, SLC

This has never been more true than it is now--evidence abounds in our current governement and economy! As we've deviated from morality and virtue, we've lost many of the liberties (through governmental regulations) that our founding fathers intended for us to enjoy.

Alicia, NC
  • 1
  • Reply
    Alicia, NC    7/3/09

    What A Reston and people like him conveniently forget is that the movement to abolish slavery was primarily founded and maintained by people who were dedicated to living by Christian ideals. (William Wilberforce, Charles G. Finney, Levi Coffin, etc ...) Not everyone who calls himself a Christian, lives by Christian ideals. It is true today, and it was true 200 years ago.



    David, Baltimore

    "...where the Spirit of the Lord is (in your heart) there is liberty". St. Paul

    Mike, Norwalk

    The mere mention of 'religion' gets a knee jerk reaction from believer and non-believer alike with out any further understanding or investigation. The definition of natural law (pre-founders) was that natural law was based on morals, virtue the betterment of self, etc (religion) The founders (as a whole - there being personal exceptions) reversed that thought with natural law describing that which 'IS' (gravity, science, etc.) with morals, virtue, etc. being an expression of natural law; such existing within man's administrative purview (by way of example: life, liberty and property / murder and theft are unlawful, therefore immoral). The founder's applied a more Judeo / Christian - scripturally accurate understanding. For example; "faith without works is dead", so law without its exacting morals, virtue, etc. is dead to the people (eternal justice then claims the people in despotism, tyranny, poverty, depression, etc.) Freedom is definable at law - morality, virtue, etc. being the principled extension thereof. Morality, virtue, religion can not be lawfully legislated. Only the law can be legislated. When morals, virtue or religion are legislated (compelled compliance, victimless crimes, healthcare, religious sacraments such as marriage, etc.) individual decency (lawful morality, virtue, etc.) decays and freedom wanes. This would probably take a book to fully explain but the statement is exactly right on.

    Evidence-based observer, Stone Mountain, GA

    Several bushels of BS from the religious apologists – really guys ...

    Cal, Lewisville, TX

    Wow Reston, like Waffler, you judge men in history by today's standards which are far from perfect.

    E Archer, NYC

    The words 'virtue' and 'moral' are too general. How about spelling out these virtues and morals? How about 'honor,' 'integrity,' 'compassion,' and 'forebearance'? And which of these can be legislated into a single person, much less into a nation? Why do religionists try to use others' words to justify their own religious dogma? Read Adams, and you will find that he had a great deal of contempt for what many in the Christian Right and the Moral Majority currently hold 'sacred.' The backlash against Christianity is mostly based on the assumption that only the religious are virtuous, or more specifically, that the irreligious are not. Give me an honest person any day -- and there are plenty, dare I say, without religion. Self-righteousness guarantees blowback.

    watchman 13, USA

    With out so much materialism in the world at their time, it would be more clearly seen the movement of the Spirit of God among people. Virtue in the application being used has to do with any particular moral excellence. Virtue is enjoined as an essential quality in the exercise of faith. Virtue can also be applied as power in action. Just as the heavens and earth are separate , they are also joined together by forces unseen. So also is the spirit and flesh joined together within man. You cannot have one without the other, common sense !.
    Dunamis, ( virtue ) almost always points to new and higher forces that have entered and are working in this lower world of ours. There is a unity of knowledge which united our forefathers. Denominational religious secs do not unit but separate . It is a money game to them and their preachers get a pay check if they preach their particular church doctrines. That is not the way of truth unadulterated. They thru private interpretation of truth keep the children in doubt, which is their aim. Also this current governing body of leaders do enjoy the darkness kept over the populous. Works to their advantage, does it not. The word Paul is also a watchmakers term, it means to pause, hold back. He speaks of many things hard to be understood, says Peter. But you can rest assured that at the core you will find liberty and freedom joined together in harmony, supplied by the God of nature.

    Mike, Norwalk

    The 'A' from Reston continues to divert direction by attacking individual character and not addressing the subject at hand. Some of what the 'A' from Reston said may be true BUT, in the statement itself it says "pure virtue, and if this cannot be inspired into our People in a greater Measure than they have it now" Such states a current lack of virtue with a need of more in the future. Immorality and lack of virtue (sex outside marriage, applications of anti-work ethics, a lie told often enough becomes the truth, compelled compliance, license, victimless crimes, legislated larceny / slavery with impunity (income / property / life taxes, etc.), non-recognition of inalienable rights, enforcement contrary to natural law, and for greater clarity and in addition to that which is antithetical to, Archer's honor, integrity, compassion and forbearance) are synonymous with despotism and tyranny. There is a direct correlation between religion that accurately defines natural law (lawful morality and virtue) and the living thereof with freedom and liberty. Such correlation thus also extends to; the greater the lawful morality, virtue, and pure religion - the greater the freedom and liberty. The greater the immorality, anti-virtue and anti-pure religion, the greater the despotism, tyranny, death, destruction, war, poverty, pain suffering, economic depression, etc.

    Mike, Norwalk

    Man, by his innate nature is a religious being ('A'theism to 'Z'en) Man's piety in practice, consisting in the performance of all known duties to . . . his fellow man - moral and virtuous acts (feed the hungry, cloth the naked, shelter the homeless, fiscally enable the poor, care for the in-firmed, etc.) drives the individual and consequential family (family unit being the foundation and center of society - morally, economically, virtually, in all ways, etc.) in a law abiding society. Religion is: an object of conscience, an ethic(s), a moral(s), a value (system) or an orientation of correctness / enlightenment, believed sufficiently conventional and sacrosanct as to enable an attributable action. The many divisions of Atheism, the many variances of Buddhism, the many sects of Christianity and Judaism and etc. are not religion. They are only organized and associate (formally / informally) bodies of individuals with like religious beliefs (church, government, synagogue, etc.). "But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed. If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man’s religion is vain. Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world." Pure 'religion' (as spoken of in the here quote) is also that which is the enabling moral / virtuous foundation that inspires an individual to act in harmony with natural law (the law of nature and nature's God)

    vedapushpa, Bangalore -India

    Excellent Note! We the humans need it most now at this predicament of losing all human virtues as in the pursuit of some irrational coinage - that as a 'Secular Polity' which is causing such divide as between human intellect and emotion that the humanity has got paralyzed due to schizophrenia. !!!!!


    Get a Quote-a-Day!

    Liberty Quotes sent to your mail box daily.