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The figure of John Adams looms large in American foreign relations of the Revolutionary and post-Revolutionary years. James H. Hutson captures this elusive personality of this remarkable figure, highlighting the triumphs and the despairs that Adams experienced as he sought—at times, he felt, single-handedly—to establish the new Republic on a solid footing among the nations of the world. Benjamin Franklin, thirty years Adams’s senior and already a world-respected figure, was his personal nemesis, seeming always to dog his steps in his diplomatic missions.

The diplomacy of the American Revolution as exemplified by John Adams was not radically revolutionary or peculiarly American. Whereas the prevailing progressive interpretation of Revolutionary diplomacy sees it as repudiating the standard European theories and practices, Hutson finds that Adams adhered consistently to a policy that was in fact basically European and conservative. Adams assumed—as did his contemporaries—that power was aggressive and that it should be contained in a balance, so his actions while in diplomatic service were generally directed toward this goal. Adams’s basic ideas survived his turbulent diplomatic missions with undiminished coherence. For him the value of the protective system of the balance of power—having been tested in the harsh theater of European diplomacy—was indisputable and could be applied to domestic political arrangements as well as to international relations.

James H. Hutson is supervisory librarian at the Library of Congress. He has taught history at Yale University and served as assistant editor of The Papers of Benjamin Franklin.

Publication Date



The University Press of Kentucky

Place of Publication

Lexington, KY






John Adams, United States foreign relations, American Revoluion


Diplomatic History

John Adams and the Diplomacy of the American Revolution
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