John Adams’ name is in the news again. And once again he is being misrepresented. As in life, so too in death. In the past few month, then noted historian Rosemarie Zigarri wrote in the Washington Post that (in the Post’s words) “John Adams believed that the state should provide support for ministers.” In a much discussed essay on Ricochet, the distinguished historian Paul Rahe recently made the same claim.
Everyone knows that Adams wrote the Massachusetts Constitution of 1780, and everyone knows that Article III of the Constitution’s Declaration of Rights created a church establishment. QED, it would appear. The trouble is that Adams did not write Article III of the Massachusetts Constitution. Indeed, he refused to write it because, in his words, “I found I could not sketch [it], consistent with my own sentiments of perfect religious freedom, with any hope of its being adopted by the Convention, so I left it to be battled out in the whole body.” In that refusal lies an important story of democratic statesmanship.