You can get a better idea how to answer those questions when you read President Adam's sentence within the context of his entire speech. And it will definitely make you wonder what he would think of us today. Here's the full version of what he said: “While our Country remains untainted with the Principles and manners, which are now producing desolation in so many Parts of the World: while she continues sincere and incapable of insidious and impious policy: We shall have the strongest reason to rejoice in the local destination assigned Us by Providence. But should the people of America, once become capable of that deep simulation towards one another and towards foreign nations, which assumes the Language of Justice and moderation while it is practicing Iniquity and Extravagance; and displays in the most captivating manner the charming Pictures of Candour and frankness and sincerity while it is rioting in rapine and Insolence: this country will be the most miserable Habitation in the World. Because we have no government armed with power capable of contending with human Passions unbridled by morality and religion. Avarice, Ambition, Revenge or galantry, would break the strongest Cords of our Constitution as a Whale goes through a Net. Our Constitution was made only for a moral and Religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”
First of all, that is quite an image ... a whale going through a net implies that the net is weak and insufficient for protection. I believe the meaning is that we are the net that protects the power and strength behind the Constitution. Are we worthy of the freedoms it offers? And don't let the language of that day prohibit you from discerning the spirit of those well informed words. I believe this is what he was trying to say, in terms of today's conversation... At the time he gave this speech in 1798, we were still a new nation. And the newly-elected second President of the United States was stating several social, moral, and religious principles we needed to sustain in order to avoid a rapid dissolution of our unified states. He's careful to say, WHILE (as long as) we do these certain things, we will be successful. What were those things? First, we needed to remain undefiled by the conspiracies and plots that were enveloping Europe at the time, such as the French Revolution and its consequences: attempts at de-Christianization of the populace, a leveling of social classes, and bribery attempts within official government circles, both foreign and domestic. The new American nation was also subject to seizure of property on the high seas by both English and French ships, and it certainly seemed as if war was impending and the U.S. could be drawn into it. That would have been disastrous for us, having just emerged from the long war that was won for our independence.
And, IF we, as a nation and government, could continue to function honestly, without covert and secret operations, and, instead, form our policies in a Godly and righteous manner, THEN we could hope that the nation would survive, just as Providence (God) intended. He then gives this warning ... BUT, if the people of America should ever become deceptive and deceitful in their dealings, acting as if they supported Justice and fairness, yet actually adopting wickedness and greed -- if they should ever wear the mask of truth, honesty, and innocence while rioting in rapine (the violent taking of what belongs to others) and insolence (rude and disrespectful behavior), THEN "this country will be the most miserable habitation in the World".
President Adams then goes on to say that these sins of the nation rest on the shoulders of the people, not the government! What?! Why? How could he say that? Let me posit my theory as to his suggested meaning. Our nation was built with the idea that the government would reflect the character of the people. For the first time in history, a country's citizenry would decide the moral character of its government through the process of democratic representation. This means our government is elected by its citizens. Citizens vote for their government officials, and these officials represent the citizens' ideas and concerns in government. In other words, we deserve the government we elect.
Look closely at what he says ... there is no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled [unchecked] by morality and religion. In other words, if the character of the citizenry of our nation becomes corrupted and polluted by [in his words] Avarice (extreme greed for material gain); Ambition (here, in the sense of being driven or motived for wrong reasons and toward wrong ends); Revenge (refusing to forgive and instead, choosing to pursue retribution); and Gallantry (which in 18th century speech, meant viewing women as sexual objects for gain, rather than behaving in honor towards them) -- If we decline into that shameless and sinful behavior, then there is no government, nor governing document, like the Constitution, that can control the inevitable loss of the country.
Can you honestly meditate on John Adams's words and deny that we are becoming the very definition of what he warned against? This nation has long been loyal and believed in the ideals of civil and religious liberty, as well as the value of moral character. The first ten amendments to the Constitution, known as the Bill of Rights, were adopted to establish and protect these ideals for all the generations of this nation. But they seem to be coming into question now. Moral character used to be important, espoused throughout our national identity -- from families to the Halls of Congress.
And how do we define moral character? The best definition I've found comes from an online class I am taking from Hillsdale College, called Theology 101: The Western Theological Tradition. The definition is this: "Moral Character is to build [within yourself] the courage and the justice and the wisdom and the moderation to live your life as a good human being". I believe John Adams and his fellow Founding Fathers had that in mind when they crafted our nation's government and the Constitution, which was written to influence every aspect of our daily lives.
But, as I witness the way in which some of the members of our society behave, and the ways in which our members of government carry out the ideas and concerns of the citizenry, I am left wondering if we can still claim to be a moral and religious people. And my understanding of that concept is that morality and religion are intertwined -- the way we treat each other is influenced by our relationship with a Sovereign God who bequeathed this blessed land to us so that we might receive the blessings of a virtuous and righteous nation. Even more important to understand is the idea that this morality and virtue/religion is the foundation of our republic, and the means by which we remain free.
So, in my personal opinion, President John Adams would look at where we are today, and shake his head in sorrow. We are in jeopardy of losing what he and the Founding Fathers fought so hard (physically and philosophically) to establish for us. He warned us against all the things we are steeped in today ... corrupt politics, greed, deception, rioting, sexualization of women [and now children], wickedness, and the destruction of our relationships with each other and with God. We can no longer deny it, and if you aren't seeing it, you need to come out of your delusion, because it is coming for all of us.
I, for one, -- and I know there are MANY more like me -- still believe the spirit of our founding exists today. And restoring it begins with me. We must all take John Adams's words to heart, and declare, "Not on my watch, and not by my family". I am grateful to have been born in this great nation, and to have received its abundant blessings. It is worth preserving, and it is worth the hard work it will take to repair the mistakes we've made. But I believe the Lord wants to work with us to re-establish His original purpose for this nation. We might not be able to claim we are still a moral and religious people, but we can sure begin to become one again! And let us stand behind the Constitution and not let the whale destroy the net of freedoms it guarantees us. Let us be a people that are worthy of them!
Acts 10:34-35 So Peter opened his mouth and said: "Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears Him and does what is right is acceptable to Him".