WATCH: Making America: John Adams And Virtue

By  PragerU

In the new “Making America” series for PragerU, Dinesh D’Souza, the author and speaker, takes a look at Founding Father John Adams and his thoughts on the importance of virtue and good character. 

Adams believed cultivation of virtue should be the chief concern of Americans. But to understand “virtue,” says D’Souza, Americans today need to understand another phrase — the “pursuit of happiness.”

The phrase meant something different before. 

D’Souza explains that to many today, the pursuit of happiness means following one’s heart and being true to one’s self. But Adams would disagree with that interpretation. 

“To John Adams, America’s second president and a seminal figure in the creation of the country, this was bad advice. For Adams and the Founders generally, happiness was a modus vivendi, a way of living, expressed by how one conducted oneself, especially in public,” D’Souza explains. 

“Being yourself,” Adams would have argued, would lead to self-absorption, not virtue. Instead, as explained by D’Souza, Adams would have argued that happiness is having good character which needs to be worked towards. It means being a noble person. 

“Over time, through the result of continual effort and the slow working of habit, one can become that person. Adams practiced what he preached. In this way, he became a public figure both incorruptible and unfailingly honest. He became the best version of himself,” says D’Souza. 

Adams and the framers understood virtuous people were necessary for a well-functioning nation. 

“The preservation of liberty,” Adams wrote, “depends on the intellectual and moral character of the people. As long as knowledge and virtue are diffused generally among the body of a nation, it is impossible they should be enslaved.”

Adams was also a Christian, and he believed that a fear of God and respect of the Bible would be one means of inculcating virtue in the new nation. 

However, as D’Souza notes, Adams also strongly believed that a virtuous government was necessary. Adams hoped that politicians and statesmen of good character would be attracted to serving in the government instead of men who just wanted power. 

“His focus was to give citizens the ability to thwart the conniving, corrupt, power-lusting politicians for which he had so much contempt. Once identified, they could simply be voted out of office and better people could take their place,” D’Souza says. 


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