You can read through this 31 page document that Bill Fortenberry compiled that has John Adams discussing his opinions on fellow unitarian Joseph Priestley. I come to a different conclusion than Mr. Fortenberry. I think Adams' opinion on Priestley is a net positive.
One thing about unitarians like Adams
and Thomas Jefferson -- and I agree this radical individualism is a
consequence of Protestantism -- is they liked to make their minds up for
themselves on theological matters and didn't necessarily carry anyone else's water. Jefferson
for instance, loved Priestley but had plenty of disagreements with him.
Priestley actually thought the Book of Revelation was inspired (and
foretold the coming success of the French Revolution) while Jefferson
thought it represented the delusions of a madman.
seriously doubt Adams believed the Book of Revelation was inspired at
all. He had a falling out with Priestley over their differences about
the French Revolution. It was issues like this and others like the
perfectibility of man that caused Adams to criticize Priestley. It was
not over Priestley's core tenets of unitarianism, the orthodox doctrines
they both thought of as "corruptions of Christianity" on which orthodox
Protestants AND Roman Catholics agree.
On balance, I support Dr. Gregg Frazer's work, but also not
without qualification. Instead of naming Priestley as guru to the "key Founders," rather I
would have included Priestley as notable figure in a cohort of British
contemporaries including Richard Price and lesser known figures like Benjamin Vaughan. These are
the "dissenters" in Britain who Ben Franklin invoked to Ezra Stiles that had
"doubts" about Jesus' divinity and were members of the Club of Honest
Whigs. I would have explored their beliefs as a cohort and noted the
parallels with those of the "theistic rationalists."
were earlier American unitarians who mentored John Adams into the creed
when he was a young man. The one figure who seemed to touch Adams then
and leave a lasting impression was Richard Cranch, someone most today who study this issue have never heard of.