Anniversary of the Deaths of John Adams and Thomas Jefferson in 1826; Happy Independence Day!

In addition to being Independence Day, this is the day that John Adams and Thomas Jefferson died within hours of each other on July 4, 1826.

On this day in 1826, former Presidents Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, who were once fellow Patriots and then adversaries, die on the same day within five hours of each other.

Thomas Jefferson and John Adams were friends who together served on the committee that constructed the Declaration of Independence, but later became political rivals during the 1800 election. Jefferson felt Adams had made serious blunders during his term and Jefferson ran against Adams in a bitter campaign. Two men stopped communicating and Philadelphia physician Benjamin Rush wanted to encourage them to reconcile. Rush was on good terms with both Adams and Jefferson and set about to help them mend the distance. In his letter to Adams on October 17, 1809, Rush used the device of a dream to express his wish that Adams and Jefferson would again resume communications. This letter is part of a remarkable sequence of letters which can be read here. In this portion, Rush suggests his “dream” of a Jefferson-Adams reunion.

“What book is that in your hands?” said I to my son Richard a few nights ago in a dream. “It is the history of the United States,” said he. “Shall I read a page of it to you?” “No, no,” said I. “I believe in the truth of no history but in that which is contained in the Old and New Testaments.” “But, sir,” said my son, “this page relates to your friend Mr. Adams.” “Let me see it then,” said I. I read it with great pleasure and herewith send you a copy of it.
“1809. Among the most extraordinary events of this year was the renewal of the friendship and intercourse between Mr. John Adams and Mr. Jefferson, the two ex-Presidents of the United States. They met for the first time in the Congress of 1775. Their principles of liberty, their ardent attachment to their country, and their views of the importance and probable issue of the struggle with Great Britain in which they were engaged being exactly the same, they were strongly attracted to each other and became personal as well as political friends.  They met in England during the war while each of them held commissions of honor and trust at two of the first courts of Europe, and spent many happy hours together in reviewing the difficulties and success of their respective negotiations.  A difference of opinion upon the objects and issue of the French Revolution separated them during the years in which that great event interested and divided the American people. The predominance of the party which favored the French cause threw Mr. Adams out of the Chair of the United States in the year 1800 and placed Mr. Jefferson there in his stead. The former retired with resignation and dignity to his seat at Quincy, where he spent the evening of his life in literary and philosophical pursuits, surrounded by an amiable family and a few old and affectionate friends. The latter resigned the Chair of the United States in the year 1808, sick of the cares and disgusted with the intrigues of public life, and retired to his seat at Monticello, in Virginia, where he spent the remainder of his days in the cultivation of a large farm agreeably to the new system of husbandry. In the month of November 1809, Mr. Adams addressed a short letter to his friend Mr. Jefferson in which he congratulated him upon his escape to the shades of retirement and domestic happiness, and concluded it with assurances of his regard and good wishes for his welfare. This letter did great honor to Mr. Adams. It discovered a magnanimity known only to great minds. Mr. Jefferson replied to this letter and reciprocated expressions of regard and esteem. These letters were followed by a correspondence of several years in which they mutually reviewed the scenes of business in which they had been engaged, and candidly acknowledged to each other all the errors of opinion and conduct into which they had fallen during the time they filled the same station in the service of their country. Many precious aphorisms, the result of observation, experience, and profound reflection, it is said, are contained in these letters. It is to be hoped the world will be favored with a sight of them. These gentlemen sunk into the grave nearly at the same time, full of years and rich in the gratitude and praises of their country (for they outlived the heterogeneous parties that were opposed to them), and to their numerous merits and honors posterity has added that they were rival friends.
With affectionate regard to your fireside, in which all my family join, I am, dear sir, your sincere old friend,
BENJN: RUSH

It is not clear to me that Rush had an actual dream. He may have used the device of a dream to prod his friend into reconciliation with Jefferson. On more than one prior occasion, Rush communicated his views via writing about them as dreams. For instance,  Rush responded to a political question from Adams in a February 20, 1809 letter via a dream narrative.  Adams responded on March 4, 1809 praising Rush’s wit and asked for a dream about Jefferson:

Rush,—If I could dream as much wit as you, I think I should wish to go to sleep for the rest of my Life, retaining however one of Swifts Flappers to awake me once in 24 hours to dinner, for you know without a dinner one can neither dream nor sleep. Your Dreams descend from Jove, according to Homer.
Though I enjoy your sleeping wit and acknowledge your unequalled Ingenuity in your dreams, I can not agree to your Moral. I will not yet allow that the Cause of “Wisdom, Justice, order and stability in human Governments” is quite desperate. The old Maxim Nil desperandum de Republica is founded in eternal Truth and indispensable obligation.
Jefferson expired and Madison came to Life, last night at twelve o’clock. Will you be so good as to take a Nap, and dream for my Instruction and edification a Character of Jefferson and his Administration?

Another reason that I question whether it was an actual dream is because a draft of this letter demonstrates that Rush considered another literary device for his prophecy. A footnote in Lyman Butterfield’s  compilation of Rush’s letter reads:

In the passage that follows, BR [Benjamin Rush] made his principal plea to Adams to make an effort toward reconciliation with Jefferson. That pains were taken in composing the plea is shown by an autograph draft of the letter, dated 16 Oct. in Hist. Soc. Penna., Gratz Coll. In the draft BR originally wrote, and then crossed out, the following introduction to his dream history: “What would [you omitted] think of some future historian of the United States concluding one of his chapters with the following paragraph?” The greater verisimilitude of the revision adds much to the effectiveness of this remarkable letter. (Butterfield, L.H., The Letters of Benjamin Rush, Vol. II, 1793-1813, Princeton Univ. Press, 1951, p. 1023)

Apparently, Rush wanted to get this message to Adams and chose to use a device already requested by Adams, instead of an appeal to legacy via the reference to the history books.
In any case, real dream or not, Adams liked the proposition and replied to Rush on October 25, 1809, about the “dream” saying,

A Dream again! I wish you would dream all day and all Night, for one of your Dreams puts me in spirits for a Month. I have no other objection to your Dream, but that it is not History. It may be Prophecy. There has never been the smallest Interruption of the Personal Friendship between me and Mr. Jefferson that I know of. You should remember that Jefferson was but a Boy to me. I was at least ten years older than him in age and more than twenty years older than him in Politicks. I am bold to say I was his Preceptor in Politicks and taught him every Thing that has been good and solid in his whole Political Conduct. I served with him on many Committees in Congress in which we established some of the most important Regulations of the Army &c, &c, &c
Jefferson and Franklin were united with me in a Commission to the King of France and fifteen other Commissions to treat with all the Powers of Europe and Africa. I resided with him in France above a year in 1784 and 1785 and met him every day at my House in Auteuil at Franklins House at Passy or at his House in Paris. In short we lived together in the most perfect Friendship and Harmony.

Although in a less poetic manner, Rush also wrote Jefferson to suggest a resumption of friendship. Although it took awhile (1812), Adams and Jefferson did resume correspondence. As predicted by Rush, they carried on a vigorous correspondence until late in their lives regarding their personal and political lives. Then 50 years after July 4, 1776, Jefferson and Adams “sunk into the grave nearly at the same time, full of years and rich in the gratitude and praises of their country…”*
 
Much of this post was adapted from a prior post on John Adams and the Holy Ghost letter and published on this blog May 31, 2011.

William Penn founded the Quakers and other tall tales from David Barton

As the Gipper used to say, “there you go again…”
David Barton spoke at Liberty University on September 9 and said that William Penn founded the Quakers, the early Unitarians were an evangelical denomination and Thomas Jefferson signed presidential documents “In the Year of Our Lord Christ.” That was just for starters.
At about two minutes into his speech (click the link and look for Barton on Sept. 9; you can also hear it at iTunes here), Barton said

We have the same thing when you look at Quakers. You see Quakers were founded by William Penn in Pennsylvania. I’ll lay you odds there’s no chance that William Penn would be a Quaker today, even in the denomination he founded, he would not be a part of. We look at it the way it is today and say it must have been the way they were back then.
And the example of that is what happens when you look at Universalist Unitarians; certainly not a denomination that conforms to biblical truth in any way but as it turns out, we have a number of Founding Fathers  who were Unitarians. So we say, oh wait, there’s no way the Founding Fathers could have been Christians; they were Unitarians. Well, unless you know what a Unitarian was in 1784 and what happened to Unitarians in 1819 and 1838 and unless you recognize they used to be a very evangelical Christian denomination, we look at what they are today and say the Founding Fathers were Unitarians, and say, there’s no way they were Christians. That’s modernism; that’s not accurate; that’s not true.

First of all, George Fox founded the Quakers and Penn later joined the movement. Penn was born in 1644 and Fox founded the Religious Society of Friends around 1647. Penn founded Pennsylvania but not the Quakers. Given the teachings of the Quakers, I suspect Penn might indeed be a Quaker today.
I wrote about the Unitarians in a post about John Adams and the Trinity. According the Unitarian historian Holley Ulbrichs, author of The Fellowship Movement, and member of the Universalist Unitarian church, Unitarians never believed in the Trinity and thus could not be considered evangelical. Ulbrichs told me in an email:

In 1819 William Ellery Channing preached a famous sermon in Baltimore at the ordination of Rev. Jared Sparks. The title of his sermon was “Unitarian Christianity.”  That brought to a head an ongoing battle between the religious liberals and the religious conservatives in the Congregational Church, of which John Adams was a member, but on the liberal side.  The American Unitarian Conference, later Association, came into being in 1825, a year before his death (and Thomas Jefferson’s), but both of them were very sympathetic to the anti-Trinitarian views that were at the heart of the controversy.
Unitarians were never okay with the trinity. Hence the name. Most of them like Jesus, but as a prophet, a role model, a nonviolent revolutionary. Not God.

Congregationalists were traditional in their beliefs but the Unitarians split from them. Adams and Jefferson were members of other denominations but it is clear from their correspondence that they favored the Anti-Trinitarian view.
Then finally for this post, Barton again asserts that Thomas Jefferson signed presidential documents – “In the Year of Our Lord Christ” during his speech to the Liberty students. He showed on the overhead a small portion of a document which is apparently referred to on his website as “his presidential act of October 18, 1804.”
It is unfortunate that Barton does not show the entire document so we can see what kind of “presidential act” it was. If you look closely at the picture, you can see that the words “In the year of our Lord Christ” are pre-printed on the page and not in Jefferson’s handwriting.

Barton has a similar document dated 1807 on his website. As I noted in this post, the words “In the year of our Lord Christ” were required by treaty with Holland and pre-printed on a form which was used for sea letters (a kind of passport allowing safe passage) and not written by Jefferson. I can’t find any other reference to Jefferson actually signing documents in this manner. Please see this post for an extensive refutation of the claim about the 1807 document.
This is just within the first 5 minutes.
 

John Adams to Rick Perry: Don't meddle in religion

This morning, Religion Dispatches published my article with advice for Rick Perry from our second President, John Adams.  
David Barton is right about one thing: John Adams was a religious person. Adams twice called for national days of prayer and fasting during his presidency and attended many churches of different views. Although Adams had no patience for Calvinists or Catholics, Adams had immense respect for Jesus as an enlightened teacher.  
Knowing this, Benjamin Rush lamented to Adams in an 1812 letter, just prior to war with Great Britain, that his Presbyterian church voted down a petition to call on the government for a day of fasting and prayer. Rush must have expected Adams to agree. Instead, Adams did not and said that his national fasts had caused the loss of the presidency.
Essentially, Adams said meddling with religion by political leaders can lead to all sorts of mischief, including people worrying that the leaders favor one religion over another in national affairs.  Adams wrote to Rush:

That assembly has allarmed and alienated Quakers, Anabaptists, Mennonists, Moravians, Swedenborgians, Methodists, Catholicks, protestant Episcopalians, Arians, Socinians, Armenians, &c, &c, &c, Atheists and Deists might be added. A general Suspicion prevailed that the Presbyterian Church was ambitious and aimed at an Establishment as a National Church. I was represented as a Presbyterian and at the head of this political and ecclesiastical Project. The secret whispers ran through them [all the sects] “Let us have Jefferson, Madison, Burr, any body, whether they be Philosophers, Deists, or even Atheists, rather than a Presbyterian President.” This principle is at the bottom of the unpopularity of national Fasts and Thanksgiving. Nothing is more dreaded than the National Government meddling with Religion.

Note to Rick Perry and the AFA: the opposition and criticism you are getting over The Response is not of necessity the sign of an America in moral decline. Complaints about government leaders meddling in religion go back to the beginning of the nation.
Go over to RD and read the entire piece.

David Barton on America's Founders (Video)

I posted a transcript of a speech by David Barton and broadcast last week by Focus on the Family. I did not know it at the time but the speech is not a new one. Perhaps he is still delivering the same one he did 4 years ago. I found video of that speech on Google and here it is:

This is a little over an hour long. The transcript referred to by Focus fits right along with this speech.
Barton confuses me at times. He said in a radio message that Jefferson said he was a Christian and looked like a “Bible thumping evangelical.” Here in this speech, he admits that Jefferson was not a Christian.

Now I will quickly acknowledge that neither Jefferson, nor Franklin, neither one of these two guys right here is a Christian. Now Jefferson’s gonna fight me on this, because in his own writings on several occasions he says, “I am a Christian; I am a true Christian; I am a true follower of Jesus.” I’ve got to disagree with him, because, you see, by any orthodox definition, he doesn’t fit.
Now he thought that Jesus was a great prophet sent by God, just like Moses or David or Samuel. And you better pay attention to the teachings of Jesus, just like any other prophet. But was Jesus divine? Oh no, He wasn’t divine. He wasn’t the Son of God or the Savior of the world. So, by an orthodox definition, despite what Jefferson calls himself, I’ve got to say that today we would not qualify his definition as Christian. So, let’s say that Jefferson and Franklin are not Christians. Beyond those two, you prove to me that anyone else up on that screen is not a Christian, much less that he’s an atheist or an agnostic or a deist and you [sic] got your work cut out for you.

Barton is quite defensive of the idea that John Adams was an evangelical. Given Adams’ rejection of the Trinity and his horror at the thought of Jesus dying for the sins of the world, I would not be able to call him an evangelical.

Should you believe David Barton when he speaks about history?

Last week, I wrote a quick post noting that David Barton thought a woman posing as a man to fight in the Revolutionary War was a good thing. Today women can serve openly, but this seemed odd to me in light of religious right concerns about gender bending.
Barton told the story about the female soldier on Glenn Beck’s Founder Friday show. The rest of the show was actually quite interesting with several stories about female, African-American and Jewish patriots. I found myself enjoying the presentation and thought this is important information. Then a question occurred to me: are these stories true?
Yesterday, I posted about how Barton cherry-picked correspondence between Benjamin Rush and John Adams in order to create a fiction about John Adams beliefs. In general, the distortions about the beliefs and actions of Thomas Jefferson and others have created doubt in me about the rest of what he presents. The result is that I feel I must check anything from his organization before considering it accurate.
This is a shame. This is a huge concern and one which provides a powerful incentive for advocates and scholars alike to get their facts straight. Given the status of those who consult Barton, it apparently has not had much effect as yet. However, in my view, those who look for better among evangelicals are not finding it at Wallbuilders.
Confirmation bias is a strong and powerful phenomenon, so strong that it can compromise good intentions and undermine the very ends you seek. I would like to believe but there is only One Being who can ask me to walk by faith and not by sight and it is not David Barton.

David Barton on John Adams – The Holy Ghost letter

During his appearance on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart, David Barton claimed that John Adams believed in the Trinity and avoided discussing the meaning of John Adams letter to Benjamin Rush where Adams invokes the Holy Ghost. Last week, I noted that John Adams denied the Trinity in correspondence to Thomas Jefferson, who also denied it. In this post, I take up the letter from John Adams to Benjamin Rush where Adams discusses the Holy Ghost. On the Daily Show, Jon Stewart read a portion of the letter to Barton which referred to the Holy Ghost. The transcript of that segment is below. Elsewhere, Barton has written that the Holy Ghost letter is in some way related to Benjamin Rush’s effort to reconcile Adams and Jefferson. This post refers to what Adams was really saying in his letter to Rush and the next post takes up the reconciliation between Adams and Jefferson.
Here again is a transcript of the exchange between between Barton and Stewart where Barton makes his claims:

Stewart: Do you think people would be more comfortable with you if they felt like you were consistently looking to extend historical context and — because there are a lot of critics out there who say you cherry-pick your religious facts, take them out of context — your historical facts — to use them to bolster your argument.
Barton: They’ve never proven that. They’ve claimed that. Show me some documentation where it’s taken out of context. They’ve never provided that. They complain about it.
Stewart: Didn’t they say the John Adams quote, where you talk about, he says, “We were inspired by Divinity.”
Barton: No, I don’t recall him saying that. Have you got the quote?
Stewart: Yeah, let me see if I can find it. [consults notes] Okay, here it is. Here is what you wrote in your book about what Adams said, endorsing the Church being involved in the State: “The Holy Ghost carries on the whole Christian system in this earth. Not a baptism, not a marriage, not a sacrament can be administered, but by the Holy Ghost, who is transmitted from age to age by laying the hands of the bishop upon the heads of candidates for the ministry. […] There is no authority, civil or religious; there can be no legitimate government, but what is administered by the Holy Ghost. There can be no salvation without it; all without it is rebellion and perdition, or in more orthodox words, damnation.” That’s the quote that you used in your book.
Barton: Now, I have the original John Adams letter with me off the set. I brought the original. See, I posted that online; how can I misquote it when I put the whole thing up there. That’s the only John Adams letter in the world that he wrote on that day to that person, and that’s what’s in it. I posted that where everybody can see it, and that’s what we do with our documents.
Stewart: But you have then the sentence after the one, which is: “Although this is all artifice and cunning —”
Barton: Oh, the entire letter is posted. The entire letter is posted.
Stewart: But you can see that the next sentence shows that he’s being sarcastic in that passage.
Barton: Not in — no, not at all. You read the entire letter, Jon — now, see, they’ve given you their critique of it.
Stewart: But how could he say the Holy Ghost — I mean, this man was a Unitarian; why would he claim the Holy Ghost sincerely?
Barton: You know what a Unitarian was then?
Stewart: Yeah, someone who didn’t believe in the Trinity.
Barton: No, no. Not until 1839, long after his death. It did not become —
Stewart: So John Adams believed in the Holy Ghost?
Barton: He believed in the Trinity, and that’s where Unitarian —

David Barton does indeed have the original letter from John Adams to Benjamin Rush in his collection and has a picture of it on his website. Stewart asserts that Adams’ use of the terms “artifice and cunning” was sarcasm toward the belief that the Holy Ghost sets up governmental and religious authorities. Barton said Stewart was wrong. However, Stewart did not press Barton to say what he thought Adams meant. Too bad, because I would like to hear Barton’s explaination of Adams’ statements in context.
This letter is important to Barton. In a related article, Barton claims that Adams references to the Holy Ghost were in some way a reply to Benjamin Rush’s wish that Adams and Thomas Jefferson would reconcile their differences. An examination of the series of letters in 1809 makes this assertion very unlikely.
This issue has been visited in depth by Chris Rodda (this video, this article, and then her book – now free on her website– are must reads) and then lately by Messiah College historian John Fea (this post and his book are also must reads). In addition to consulting these resources, I also looked at the original sources myself. In short, Barton has taken correspondence between John Adams and Benjamin Rush, and selectively quoted from those letters to create a fiction, one which he repeated on Jon Stewart’s program. This post provides evidence to contradict Barton’s claims.
To understand the various claims about Adams, Rush and the Holy Ghost, one must read the relevant series of letters between Adams and Rush. Three of these letters are easily available on the internet; the other one, from Rush to Adams dated December 5, 1809, I reproduce below. Rush and Adams were good friends and exchanged warm and friendly correspondence often. In his letter to Adams on October 17, 1809, Rush used the device of a dream to express his wish that Adams and Thomas Jefferson would again resume communications. Read all four letters here.
Continue reading “David Barton on John Adams – The Holy Ghost letter”

David Barton on John Adams – The Trinity

During his appearance on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart, David Barton claimed that John Adams believed in the Trinity and avoided discussing the meaning of John Adams letter to Benjamin Rush where Adams invokes the Holy Ghost (at about 9 minutes in the clip).

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Here is a transcript of the exchange:

Stewart: Do you think people would be more comfortable with you if they felt like you were consistently looking to extend historical context and — because there are a lot of critics out there who say you cherry-pick your religious facts, take them out of context — your historical facts — to use them to bolster your argument.
Barton: They’ve never proven that. They’ve claimed that. Show me some documentation where it’s taken out of context. They’ve never provided that. They complain about it.
Stewart: Didn’t they say the John Adams quote, where you talk about, he says, “We were inspired by Divinity.”
Barton: No, I don’t recall him saying that. Have you got the quote?
Stewart: Yeah, let me see if I can find it. [consults notes] Okay, here it is. Here is what you wrote in your book about what Adams said, endorsing the Church being involved in the State: “The Holy Ghost carries on the whole Christian system in this earth. Not a baptism, not a marriage, not a sacrament can be administered, but by the Holy Ghost, who is transmitted from age to age by laying the hands of the bishop upon the heads of candidates for the ministry. […] There is no authority, civil or religious; there can be no legitimate government, but what is administered by the Holy Ghost. There can be no salvation without it; all without it is rebellion and perdition, or in more orthodox words, damnation.” That’s the quote that you used in your book.
Barton: Now, I have the original John Adams letter with me off the set. I brought the original. See, I posted that online; how can I misquote it when I put the whole thing up there. That’s the only John Adams letter in the world that he wrote on that day to that person, and that’s what’s in it. I posted that where everybody can see it, and that’s what we do with our documents.
Stewart: But you have then the sentence after the one, which is: “Although this is all artifice and cunning —”
Barton: Oh, the entire letter is posted. The entire letter is posted.
Stewart: But you can see that the next sentence shows that he’s being sarcastic in that passage.
Barton: Not in — no, not at all. You read the entire letter, Jon — now, see, they’ve given you their critique of it.
Stewart: But how could he say the Holy Ghost — I mean, this man was a Unitarian; why would he claim the Holy Ghost sincerely?
Barton: You know what a Unitarian was then?
Stewart: Yeah, someone who didn’t believe in the Trinity.
Barton: No, no. Not until 1839, long after his death. It did not become —
Stewart: So John Adams believed in the Holy Ghost?
Barton: He believed in the Trinity, and that’s where Unitarian

Stewart cut in at that point with a comment on The Treaty with Tripoli John Adams negotiated with the Barbary pirates. That is another story. For now, I want to address Barton’s claim that Unitarians and John Adams believed in the Trinity. My next post will examine Barton’s use of Adams’ letter to Benjamin Rush where Adams discusses the Holy Ghost.
According to Holley Ulbrichs, author of The Fellowship Movement, and member of the Universalist Unitarian church, Unitarians never believed in the Trinity. Recently, she told me in an email:

In 1819 William Ellery Channing preached a famous sermon in Baltimore at the ordination of Rev. Jared Sparks. The title of his sermon was “Unitarian Christianity.”  That brought to a head an ongoing battle between the religious liberals and the religious conservatives in the Congregational Church, of which John Adams was a member, but on the liberal side.  The American Unitarian Conference, later Association, came into being in 1825, a year before his death (and Thomas Jefferson’s), but both of them were very sympathetic to the anti-Trinitarian views that were at the heart of the controversy.
Unitarians were never okay with the trinity. Hence the name. Most of them like Jesus, but as a prophet, a role model, a nonviolent revolutionary. Not God.

As support for Ulbrich’s statements regarding Adams, I reproduce here an exchange about the doctrine of the Trinity between Thomas Jefferson and John Adams. First Jefferson wrote to Adams on August 22, 1813.

TO JOHN ADAMS.
Monticello, August 22, 1813.
DEAR SIR,—Since my letter of June the 27th, I am in your debt for many; all of which I have read with infinite delight. They open a wide field for reflection, and offer subjects enough to occupy the mind and the pen indefinitely. I must follow the good example you have set, and when I have not time to take up every subject, take up a single one. Your approbation of my outline to Dr. Priestley is a great gratification to me; and I very much suspect that if thinking men would have the courage to think for themselves, and to speak what they think, it would be found they do not differ in religious opinions as much as is supposed. I remember to have heard Dr. Priestley say, that if all England would candidly examine themselves, and confess, they would find that Unitarianism was really the religion of all; and I observe a bill is now depending in parliament for the relief of Anti-Trinitarians. It is too late in the day for men of sincerity to pretend they believe in the Platonic mysticisms that three are one, and one is three; and yet that the one is not three, and the three are not one…Sweep away their gossamer fabrics of factitious religion, and they would catch no more flies. We should all then, like the Quakers, live without an order of priests, moralize for ourselves, follow the oracle of conscience, and say nothing about what no man can understand, nor therefore believe; for I suppose belief to be the assent of the mind to an intelligible proposition. (emphasis mine)

Adams wrote to Jefferson in reply and affirmed the same views regarding the Trinity.

JOHN ADAMS TO THOMAS JEFFERSON.
QUINCY, September 14, 1813
DEAR SIR,—I owe you a thousand thanks for your favor of August 22d and its enclosures, and for Dr. Priestley’s doctrines of Heathen Philosophy compared with those of Revelation. Your letter to Dr. Rush and the syllabus, I return enclosed with this according to your injunctions, though with great reluctance. May I beg a copy of both?
They will do you no harm; me and others much good.
I hope you will pursue your plan, for I am confident you will produce a work much more valuable than Priestley’s, though that is curious, and considering the expiring powers with which it was written, admirable.
The bill in Parliament for the relief of Anti-Trinitarians, is a great event, and will form an epoch in ecclesiastical history. The motion was made by my friend Smith, of Clapham, a friend of the Belshams.
I should be very happy to hear that the bill is passed.
The human understanding is a revelation from its Maker which can never be disputed or doubted. There can be no scepticism, Pyrrhonism, or incredulity, or infidelity, here. No prophecies, no miracles are necessary to prove the celestial communication.
This revelation has made it certain that two and one make three, and that one is not three nor can three be one. We can never be so certain of any prophecy, or the fulfillment of any prophecy, or of any miracle, or the design of any miracle, as we are from the revelation of nature, i. e., Nature’s God, that two and two are equal to four. Miracles or prophecies might frighten us out of our wits; might scare us to death; might induce us to lie, to say that we believe that two and two make five. But we should not believe it. We should know the contrary.
Had you and I been forty days with Moses on Mount Sinai, and been admitted to behold the divine Shekinah, and there told that one was three and three one, we might not have had courage to deny it, but we could not have believed it.

Adams ridicules the idea of a trinitarian deity, saying that even if Jefferson and he were the presence of God, they would be unable to believe in the Trinity because it is an unreasonable doctrine. Reason, granted by God, asserted Adams, would prevent such belief.
Historian John Fea, teaching at evangelical Christian Messiah College agrees that Adams rejected the divinity of Christ, hence also the Trinity. Although, as Fea notes, Adams attended different churches, his views settled on a Unitarian theology, very much at odds with orthodox Christianity.
As always, if anyone has information that indicates Adams did believe in the Trinity, please pass it on. For now, it certainly appears that John Adams and the budding Unitarian movement did not hold to the doctrine of the Trinity.
Next up – David Barton on John Adams – The Holy Ghost letter