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The Framers’ Intent: John Adams, His Era, and the Fourth Amendment


Thomas K. Clancy


University of Mississippi School of Law

April 6, 2010

Indiana Law Journal, Vol. 86, 2011

Abstract:     
For many years, I have relied on others to cull the historical records and have cited them to support what I thought was accurate historical reporting. In the past decade or so, there have been some broad claims about the historical record that contradict conventional wisdom. Those views have gained substantial traction. I believe that none of the prior accounts properly report or assess the origins of the Fourth Amendment and the central role John Adams played. That is the purpose of the article, which contains new information and adds a new context to the framing of the Amendment.

Courts and scholars seeking the original understanding of the Fourth Amendment have confronted two fundamental questions: what practices was the Amendment designed to regulate; how should a constitution regulate such practices? To inform the answers to those questions, this article offers a new perspective of, and information on, the historical record regarding the framing of the Amendment. It also presents for the first time a detailed examination of John Adams’ fundamental influence on the language and structure of the Amendment and his knowledge of, and views on, how to regulate searches and seizures.

Most of the language and structure of the Fourth Amendment was primarily the work of one man, John Adams. Upon examination, Adams stands out in the founding era as having profound opportunities to examine search and seizure practices and as having the most important role in formulating the language and structure of the Fourth Amendment. If the intent of the Framers is a fundamental consideration in construing the Constitution, as the Court has repeatedly told us it is, then John Adams’ knowledge and views should be considered an important source for understanding the Fourth Amendment. More fundamentally, Adams’ appreciation of search and seizure principles reflects a broader mosaic that demonstrates that the Fourth Amendment was the product of a rich jurisprudence on search and seizure. That jurisprudence offered a structured series of principles to regulate the search and seizure activities of that era and the Amendment was not merely a reaction to general warrants. Further, although the framing era sources did not always agree on the details of the criteria for regulating searches and seizures, they were united in seeking objective criteria to measure the propriety of governmental actions. That quest was firmly embedded into the language and structure of the Fourth Amendment.

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Date posted: April 7, 2010 ; Last revised: May 1, 2012

Suggested Citation

Clancy, Thomas K., The Framers’ Intent: John Adams, His Era, and the Fourth Amendment (April 6, 2010). Indiana Law Journal, Vol. 86, 2011. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1585383

Contact Information

Thomas K. Clancy (Contact Author)
University of Mississippi School of Law ( email )
Lamar Law Center
P.O. Box 1848
University, MS 38677
United States
662-832-5244 (Phone)
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