In this letter, which was later distributed as a pamphlet (“Thoughts on Government”), Adams sketches an outline of what he imagined as the ideal form of government. The best government, says Adams, should aim for one ultimate goal:
“Upon this point all speculative politicians will agree, that the happiness of society is the end of government, as all Divines and moral Philosophers will agree that the happiness of the individual is the end of man. From this principle it will follow, that the form of government, which communicates ease, comfort, security, or in one word happiness to the greatest number of persons, and in the greatest degree, is the best.”
The goal of government, according to Adams, is happiness. But we must dig further to see precisely what Adams believes “happiness” to be. He says, “All sober inquiries after truth, ancient and modern, Pagan and Christian, have declared that the happiness of man, as well as his dignity consists in virtue.” The principle and foundation of the best government is virtue, because if virtue is promoted and protected, then real happiness will be secured.
As the letter proceeds, Adams describes the structure of this ideal republic established in virtue, and many of its main ingredients would later be instantiated in our Constitution: the three branches of legislative, executive, and judicial; a bicameral Congress; the power of the executive placed in a single “governor” (i.e., president); and lifetime terms for justices. But I want to zero in on one point in particular that Adams makes about laws for education:
“Laws for the liberal education of youth, especially of the lower class of people, are so extremely wise and useful, that to a humane and generous mind, no expense for this purpose would be thought extravagant.”
Like Thomas Jefferson, Adams was an advocate for the education of American youth. Thankfully, for even the poorest among our nation’s citizens today, a “liberal education” is available. Yet, is the state of public education today what Adams hoped for? Does it aim to secure the ultimate end of government, i.e., happiness consisting in virtue?
Take a look at the mission statement of the U.S. Department of Education: “Our mission is to promote student achievement and preparation for global competitiveness by fostering educational excellence and ensuring equal access.” While there are some virtuous aspects of this mission, the ultimate aim of virtue is absent.
At CLSA, we believe that the highest aim of education is teaching children in virtue, and in light of how this goal has been abandoned by the federal government and many states, we are determined to help turn the tide back to the ideals expressed by our founders, like Adams, and those who went before. That starts with educators, parents, and others working in private schools and—as states join the movement for greater school choice—in public charter schools.
How can you equip yourself and your school towards this goal? One of the resources we offer Subscribers is live training at our Teacher Training Webinars. We’ll be hosting the next webinar on Wednesday, March 23. We invite you to join us.