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LETTERS TO JOHN TAYLOR, OF CAROLINE, VIRGINIA, IN REPLY TO HIS STRICTURES ON SOME PARTS OF THE DEFENCE OF THE AMERICAN CONSTITUTIONS. - John Adams, The Works of John Adams, vol. 6 (Defence of the Constitutions Vol. III cont’d, Davila, Essays on the Constitution) 
The Works of John Adams, Second President of the United States: with a Life of the Author, Notes and Illustrations, by his Grandson Charles Francis Adams (Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1856). 10 volumes. Vol. 6.
Part of: The Works of John Adams, 10 vols.
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LETTERS TO JOHN TAYLOR, OF CAROLINE, VIRGINIA, IN REPLY TO HIS STRICTURES ON SOME PARTS OF THE DEFENCE OF THE AMERICAN CONSTITUTIONS.
The treatises on the principles of Government, written by Mr. Adams, appeared at a time of great popular agitation in Europe and the United States, and furnished ready materials for use in the political contentions of the day. They were immediately attacked in the American newspapers and in pamphlets, as intended to subvert, instead of sustaining the republican forms already established, and to introduce the English system of hereditary orders,—a monarch and a house of lords. Although there is no just foundation for this charge, yet there can be no doubt that the tendency of the reasoning was all of it calculated to resist the current setting at the moment with great force towards unlimited democracy. The French revolution first roused this power, nor did it seriously decline, until the popular excesses to which it led awakened the minds of men to a sense of the dangers of the one, not less than of the other extreme. The writings of Mr. Adams, which had been directed to the same end, were then tacitly admitted to have force in them, even by many whose feelings and sympathies led them to regret that it was not otherwise. The popular impression had been made, from his opposition to the new theory of liberty, that he favored the old one of absolutism, and it became fixed by the circumstances attending the struggle at the close of the century, in which Mr. Adams’s position identified him with the success or failure of that party in the country supposed to hold the only conservative opinions.
It was perfectly natural, that, in violent party times, the sentiments and the language of the author, seldom guardedly expressed, should be subjected to all sorts of perversion and misrepresentation. Though fully sensible of this, and keenly alive to it, it does not appear that he ever took any steps to correct the impressions sought to be produced in the public mind. It was not until the publication, in 1814, by John Taylor of Caroline, Virginia, of an elaborate volume of six hundred and fifty pages, entitled “An Inquiry into the Principles and Policy of the Government of the United States,” and containing a running Commentary upon the Defence, that he was roused to make any reply. Mr. Taylor had been in the senate at the time he presided over that body; had subsequently led the opposition in the Virginia House of Delegates to his administration, by moving the celebrated resolutions of 1798, drawn up by Mr. Madison; and had always shown himself a conscientious and manly, though an earnest opponent of his theories of government and system of policy. It was Mr. Taylor’s book, then, though he frankly admitted his own disbelief that anybody ever would read it through, that Mr. Adams selected as the medium of a general reply to the strictures which had been made upon his own. Mr. Taylor’s work, the result of the reflections of twenty years, is marked with the characteristics of the Virginia school to which he belonged; the tendency to metaphysical niceties of speculation, the absence of a broad, logical grasp of statesmanship, and the love for technical distinctions without the corrective of extensive generalization. Occasionally he deals forcibly with a single proposition; but his conclusions are seldom the logical sequence of his premises. Especially does he fail as a controversialist, from his loose manner of performing an obligation of the first necessity to an adversary, the full and fair exposition of each doctrine which he means to contest. That this error proceeds from no evil intention, is clear enough from the perfectly unexceptionable temper in which he conducts his cause. It seems rather to be attributed to a want of early moral and intellectual discipline, the only broad foundation of accuracy of reasoning in later life. This defect makes itself frequently apparent in his ascription to Mr. Adams of propositions which are rather the result of violent inference than of his language. The object of the reply seems to be to expose this, which it does with success.
These letters appear to have been sent to Mr. Taylor, as they were written. They were copied, not into the general letter-book, but upon separate sheets of paper and stitched together as one work. Either they terminated abruptly, or the copy was not completed. The former is the most probable, as the writer shows signs of fatigue towards the end. Evidently intended as his last explanations of his meaning in the most disputed portions of his system, they seem necessary to the completeness of the present collection, and are therefore inserted. At first blush, it would not seem difficult for any one to comprehend the distinction between the equality of mankind in natural and moral rights at the moment of birth, and the inequality of condition, apart from the agency of positive law, always developed, wherever any advanced form of civilization is attained, and in some regular proportion to the degree of advancement. There can be little doubt that this inequality of external condition is much more marked in the old states now than it was at the beginning of the Revolution, notwithstanding the general acknowledgment of the equality of natural rights which was procured through that struggle. Yet the reluctance to admit this distinction as sound seems to have been the cause of much of the misconception of the author’s meaning. It must be conceded that he shares, perhaps, too little, in that hopefulness in the rapid improvement of the human race which makes so striking and so agreeable a feature in the speculations of writers of the present age. He deals with the realities of life as he finds them depicted in history and in his own experience. Yet, it is to be observed, that the latest advocates of speculative democracy, assuming them to be what he describes them, seek refuge from them in the doctrines of socialism, the only resource which would seem to be left open. And it yet remains to be seen, how far these doctrines will recommend themselves to the judgment of the nations in the nineteenth century.
The relations between Mr. Taylor and the author seem rather to have become more intimate than to have relaxed by reason of this correspondence, until they terminated in the remarkable letter of the eighth of April, 1824, which will be found in its place in the general correspondence.
Quincy, 15 April, 1814.
I have received your Inquiry in a large volume neatly bound. Though I have not read it in course, yet, upon an application to it of the Sortes Virgiliancæ, scarce a page has been found in which my name is not mentioned, and some public sentiment or expression of mine examined. Revived as these subjects are, in this manner, in the recollection of the public, after an oblivion of so many years, by a gentleman of your high rank, ample fortune, learned education, and powerful connections, I flatter myself it will not be thought improper in me to solicit your attention to a few explanations and justifications of a book that has been misunderstood, misrepresented, and abused, more than any other, except the Bible, that I have ever read.
In the first words of the first section, you say, “Mr. Adams’s political system deduces government from a natural fate; the policy of the United States deduces it from moral liberty.”
This sentence, I must acknowledge, passes all my understanding. I know not what is meant by fate, nor what distinction there is, or may be made or conceived, between a natural and artificial, or unnatural fate. Nor do I well know what “moral liberty” signifies. I have read a great deal about the words fate and chance; but though I close my eyes to abstract my meditations, I never could conceive any idea of either. When an action or event happens or occurs without a cause, some say it happens by chance. This is equivalent to saying that chance is no cause at all; it is nothing. Fate, too, is no cause, no agent, no power; it has neither understanding, will, affections, liberty, nor choice; it has no existence; it is not even a figment of imagination; it is a mere invention of a word without a meaning; it is a nonentity; it is nothing. Mr. Adams most certainly never deduced any system from chance or fate, natural, artificial, or unnatural.
Liberty, according to my metaphysics, is an intellectual quality; an attribute that belongs not to fate nor chance. Neither possesses it, neither is capable of it. There is nothing moral or immoral in the idea of it. The definition of it is a self-determining power in an intellectual agent. It implies thought and choice and power; it can elect between objects, indifferent in point of morality, neither morally good nor morally evil. If the substance in which this quality, attribute, adjective, call it what you will, exists, has a moral sense, a conscience, a moral faculty; if it can distinguish between moral good and moral evil, and has power to choose the former and refuse the latter, it can, if it will, choose the evil and reject the good, as we see in experience it very often does.
“Mr. Adams’s system,” and “the policy of the United States,” are drawn from the same sources, deduced from the same principles, wrought into the same frame; indeed, they are the same, and ought never to have been divided or separated; much less set in opposition to each other, as they have been.
That we may more clearly see how these hints apply, certain technical terms must be defined.
1. Despotism. A sovereignty unlimited, that is,—the suprema lex, the summa potestatis in one. This has rarely, if ever, existed but in theory.
2. Monarchy. Sovereignty in one, variously limited.
3. Aristocracy. Sovereignty in a few.
4. Democracy. Sovereignty in the many, that is, in the whole nation, the whole body, assemblage, congregation, or if you are an Episcopalian, you may call it, if you please, church, of the whole people. This sovereignty must, in all cases, be exerted or exercised by the whole people assembled together. This form of government has seldom, if ever, existed but in theory; as rarely, at least, as an unlimited despotism in one individual.
5. The infinite variety of mixed governments are all so many different combinations, modifications, and intermixtures of the second, third, and fourth species or divisions.
Now, every one of these sovereigns possesses intellectual liberty to act for the public good or not. Being men, they have all what Dr. Rush calls a moral faculty; Dr. Hutcheson, a moral sense; and the Bible and the generality of the world, a conscience. They are all, therefore, under moral obligations to do to others as they would have others do to them; to consider themselves born, authorized, empowered for the good of society as well as their own good. Despots, monarchs, aristocrats, democrats, holding such high trusts, are under the most solemn and the most sacred moral obligations, to consider their trusts and their power to be instituted for the benefit and happiness of their nations, not their nations as servants to them or their friends or parties. In other words, to exert all their intellectual liberty to employ all their faculties, talents, and power for the public, general, universal good of their nations, not for their own separate good, or the interest of any party.
In this point of view, there is no difference in forms of government. All of them, and all men concerned in them,—all are under equal moral obligations. The intellectual liberty of aristocracies and democracies can be exerted only by votes, and ascertained only by ayes and noes. The sovereign judgment and will can be determined, known, and declared, only by majorities. This will, this decision, is sometimes determined by a single vote; often by two or three; very rarely by a large majority; scarcely ever by a unanimous suffrage. And from the impossibility of keeping together at all times the same number of voters, the majorities are apt to waver from day to day, and swing like a pendulum from side to side.
Nevertheless, the minorities have, in all cases, the same intellectual liberty, and are under the same moral obligations as the majorities.
In what manner these theoretical, intellectual liberties have been exercised, and these moral obligations fulfilled, by despots, monarchs, aristocrats, and democrats, is obvious enough in history and in experience. They have all in general conducted themselves alike.
But this investigation is not at present before us.
It is unnecessary to discuss the nice distinctions, which follow in the first page of your respectable volume, between mind, body, and morals. The essence and substance of mind and body, of soul and body, of spirit and matter, are wholly withheld as yet from our knowledge; from the penetration of our sharpest faculties; from the keenest of our incision knives, the most amplifying of our microscopes. With some of the attributes or qualities of each and of both we are well acquainted. We cannot pretend to improve the essence of either, till we know it. Mr. Adams has never thought “of limiting the improvements or amelioration” of the properties or qualities of either. The definition of matter is,—a dead, inactive, inert substance. That of spirit is,—a living, active substance, sometimes, if not always, intelligent. Morals are no qualities of matter; nor, as far as we know, of simple spirit or simple intelligence. Morals are attributes of spirits only when those spirits are free as well as intelligent agents, and have consciences or a moral sense, a faculty of discrimination not only between right and wrong, but between good and evil, happiness and misery, pleasure and pain. This freedom of choice and action, united with conscience, necessarily implies a responsibility to a lawgiver and to a law, and has a necessary relation to right and wrong, to happiness and misery.
It is unnecessary for Mr. Adams to allow or disallow the distinctions in this first page to be applicable to his theory. But if he speaks of natural political systems, he certainly comprehends not only all the intellectual and physical powers and qualities of man, but all his moral powers and faculties, all his duties and obligations as a man and a citizen of this world, as well as of the state in which he lives, and every interest, thing, or concern that belongs to him, from his cradle to his grave. This comprehension of all the perfections and imperfections, all the powers and wants of man, is certainly not for the purpose of “circumscribing the powers of mind.” But it is to enlarge them, to give them free scope to run, expand, and be glorified.
If you should speak of a natural system of geography, would you not comprehend the whole globe, and even its relations to the sun, moon, and stars? of astronomy, all that the telescope has discovered? of chemistry or natural history, all that the microscope has found? of architecture, every thing that can make a building commodious, useful, elegant, graceful, and ornamental?
In the second page, Mr. Adams is totally misunderstood or misrepresented. He has never said, written, or thought, “that the human mind is able to circumscribe its own powers.” Nor has he ever asserted or believed that, “man can ascertain his own moral capacity.” Nor has he ever “deduced any consequences from such postulata, or erected any scheme of government” upon them or either of them.
If mankind have not “agreed upon any form of government,” does it follow that there is no natural form of government? and that all forms are equally natural? It might as well be contended that all are equally good, and that the constitution of the Ottoman Empire is as natural, as free, and as good, as that of the United States. If men have not agreed in any system of architecture, will you infer that there are no natural principles of that noble art? If some prefer the Gothic, and others the Grecian models, will you say that both are equally natural, convenient, and elegant? If some prefer the Doric, and others the Corinthian pillars, are the five orders equally beautiful? If “human nature has been perpetually escaping from all forms,” will it be inferred that all forms are equally natural? equal for the preservation of liberty?
There is no necessity of “confronting Mr. Adams’s opinion, that aristocracy is natural, and therefore unavoidable, with the other, that it is artificial or factitious, and therefore avoidable,” because the opinions are both true and perfectly consistent with each other.
By natural aristocracy, in general, may be understood those superiorities of influence in society which grow out of the constitution of human nature. By artificial aristocracy, those inequalities of weight and superiorities of influence which are created and established by civil laws. Terms must be defined before we can reason. By aristocracy, I understand all those men who can command, influence, or procure more than an average of votes; by an aristocrat, every man who can and will influence one man to vote besides himself. Few men will deny that there is a natural aristocracy of virtues and talents in every nation and in every party, in every city and village. Inequalities are a part of the natural history of man.
I believe that none but Helvetius will affirm, that all children are born with equal genius.
None will pretend, that all are born of dispositions exactly alike,—of equal weight; equal strength; equal length; equal delicacy of nerves; equal elasticity of muscles; equal complexions; equal figure, grace, or beauty.
I have seen, in the Hospital of Foundlings, the “Enfans Trouvés,” at Paris, fifty babes in one room;—all under four days old; all in cradles alike; all nursed and attended alike; all dressed alike; all equally neat. I went from one end to the other of the whole row, and attentively observed all their countenances. And I never saw a greater variety, or more striking inequalities, in the streets of Paris or London. Some had every sign of grief, sorrow, and despair; others had joy and gayety in their faces. Some were sinking in the arms of death; others looked as if they might live to fourscore. Some were as ugly and others as beautiful, as children or adults ever are; these were stupid; those sensible. These were all born to equal rights, but to very different fortunes; to very different success and influence in life.
The world would not contain the books, if one should produce all the examples that reading and experience would furnish. One or two permit me to hint.
Will any man say, would Helvetius say, that all men are born equal in strength? Was Hercules no stronger than his neighbors? How many nations, for how many ages, have been governed by his strength, and by the reputation and renown of it by his posterity? If you have lately read Hume, Robertson or the Scottish Chiefs, let me ask you, if Sir William Wallace was no more than equal in strength to the average of Scotchmen? and whether Wallace could have done what he did without that extraordinary strength?
Will Helvetius or Rousseau say that all men and women are born equal in beauty? Will any philosopher say, that beauty has no influence in human society? If he does, let him read the histories of Eve, Judith, Helen, the fair Gabrielle, Diana of Poitiers, Pompadour, Du Barry, Susanna, Abigail, Lady Hamilton, Mrs. Clark, and a million others. Are not despots, monarchs, aristocrats, and democrats, equally liable to be seduced by beauty to confer favors and influence suffrages?
Socrates calls beauty a short-lived tyranny; Plato, the privilege of nature; Theophrastus, a mute eloquence; Diogenes, the best letter of recommendation; Carneades, a queen without soldiers; Theocritus, a serpent covered with flowers; Bion, a good that does not belong to the possessor, because it is impossible to give ourselves beauty, or to preserve it. Madame du Barry expressed the philosophy of Carneades in more laconic language, when she said, “La véritable royauté, c’est la beauté,”—the genuine royalty is beauty. And she might have said with equal truth, that it is genuine aristocracy; for it has as much influence in one form of government as in any other; and produces aristocracy in the deepest democracy that ever was known or imagined, as infallibly as in any other form of government. What shall we say to all these philosophers, male and female? Is not beauty a privilege granted by nature, according to Plato and to truth, often more influential in society, and even upon laws and government, than stars, garters, crosses, eagles, golden fleeces, or any hereditary titles or other distinctions? The grave elders were not proof against the charms of Susanna. The Grecian sages wondered not at the Trojan war when they saw Helen. Holofernes’s guards, when they saw Judith, said, “one such woman let go would deceive the whole earth.”
Can you believe, Mr. Taylor, that the brother of such a sister, the father of such a daughter, the husband of such a wife, or even the gallant of such a mistress, would have but one vote in your moral republic? Ingenious,—but not historical, philosophical, or political,—learned, classical, poetical Barlow! I mourn over thy life and thy death. Had truth, instead of popularity and party, been thy object, your pamphlet on privileged orders would have been a very different thing!
That all men are born to equal rights is true. Every being has a right to his own, as clear, as moral, as sacred, as any other being has. This is as indubitable as a moral government in the universe. But to teach that all men are born with equal powers and faculties, to equal influence in society, to equal property and advantages through life, is as gross a fraud, as glaring an imposition on the credulity of the people, as ever was practised by monks, by Druids, by Brahmins, by priests of the immortal Lama, or by the self-styled philosophers of the French revolution. For honor’s sake, Mr. Taylor, for truth and virtue’s sake, let American philosophers and politicians despise it.
Mr. Adams leaves to Homer and Virgil, to Tacitus and Quintilian, to Mahomet and Calvin, to Edwards and Priestley, or, if you will, to Milton’s angels reasoning high in pandemonium, all their acute speculations about fate, destiny, foreknowledge absolute, necessity, and predestination. He thinks it problematical, whether there is, or ever will be, more than one Being capable of understanding this vast subject. In his principles of legislation, he has nothing to do with these interminable controversies. He considers men as free, moral, and accountable agents; and he takes men as God has made them. And will Mr. Taylor deny, that God has made some men deaf and some blind, or will he affirm that these will infallibly have as much influence in society, and be able to procure as many votes as any who can see and hear?
Honor the day,1 and believe me no enemy.
That aristocracies, both ancient and modern, have been “variable and artificial,” as well as natural and unchangeable, Mr. Adams knows as well as Mr. Taylor, and has never denied or doubted. That “they have all proceeded from moral causes,” is not so clear, since many of them appear to proceed from physical causes, many from immoral causes, many from pharisaical, jesuitical, and Machiavelian villany; many from sacerdotal and despotic fraud, and as many as all the rest, from democratical dupery, credulity, adulation, corruption, adoration, superstition, and enthusiasm. If all these cannot be regulated by political laws, and controlled, checked, or balanced by constitutional energies, I am willing Mr. Taylor should say of them what Bishop Burnet said of the hierarchy, or the severest things he can express or imagine.
That nature makes king-bees or queen-bees, I have heard and read. But I never read in any philosopher or political writer, as I remember, that nature makes state-kings and lords of state. Though even this, for aught I know, might be sometimes pretended. I have read of hereditary rights from Adam to Noah; and the divine right of nobility derived from the Dukes of Edom; but those divine rights did not make kings, till holy oil was poured upon their heads from the vial brought down from heaven in her beak, by the Holy Ghost in the person of a dove. If we consult books, Mr. Taylor, we shall find that nonsense, absurdity, and impiety are infinite. Whether “the policy of the United States” has been wisdom or folly, is not the question at present. But it is confidently asserted, without fear of contradiction, that every page and every line Mr. Adams has ever written, was intended to illustrate, to prove, to exhibit, and to demonstrate its wisdom.
The association of “Mr. Adams with Filmer” in the third page, may excite a smile! I give you full credit, Mr. Taylor, for the wit and shrewdness of this remark. It is droll and good-humored. But if ever policy was in diametrical opposition to Filmer, it is that of the United States. If ever writings were opposed to his principles, Mr. Adams’s are so opposed. They are as much so as those of Sidney or Locke.
Mr. Adams thanks Mr. Taylor for proposing in the third page to analyze and ascertain the ideas intended to be expressed by the word “aristocracy.” This is one of those words which have been abused. It has been employed to signify any thing, every thing, and nothing. Mr. Taylor has read Mr. Locke’s chapter “on the abuse of words,” which, though it contains nothing but what daily experience exhibits to all mankind, ought, nevertheless, if he had never written any thing else, to secure him immortal gratitude and renown. Without the learning of Luzac, Vanderkemp, Jefferson, or Parsons, Mr. Adams recollects enough of Greek, to remember that “aristocracy” originally signified “the government of the best men.”
But who are to be judges of the best men? Who is to make the selection of the best men from the second best? and the third? and the fourth? and so on ad infinitum? For good and bad are infinitely divisible, like matter. Ay! there’s the rub! Despots, monarchs, aristocrats, and democrats have, in all ages hit, at times, upon the best men, in the best sense of the word. But, at other times, and much more frequently, they have all chosen the very worst men; the men who have the most devotedly and the most slavishly flattered their vanity, gratified their most extravagant passions, and promoted their selfish and private views. Without searching volumes, Mr. Taylor, I will tell you in a few words what I mean by an aristocrat, and, consequently, what I mean by aristocracy. By an aristocrat, I mean every man who can command or influence two votes; one besides his own.
Take the first hundred men you meet in the streets of a city, or on a turnpike road in the country, and constitute them a democratical republic. In my next, you may have some conjectures of what will appear in your new democracy.
When your new democratical republic meets, you will find half a dozen men of independent fortunes; half a dozen, of more eloquence; half a dozen, with more learning; half a dozen, with eloquence, learning, and fortune.
Let me see. We have now four-and-twenty; to these we may add six more, who will have more art, cunning, and intrigue, than learning, eloquence, or fortune. These will infallibly soon unite with the twenty-four. Thus we make thirty. The remaining seventy are composed of farmers, shopkeepers, merchants, tradesmen, and laborers. Now, if each of these thirty can, by any means, influence one vote besides his own, the whole thirty can carry sixty votes,—a decided and uncontrolled majority of the hundred. These thirty I mean by aristocrats; and they will instantly convert your democracy of one hundred into an aristocracy of thirty.
Take at random, or select with your utmost prudence, one hundred of your most faithful and capable domestics from your own numerous plantations, and make them a democratical republic. You will immediately perceive the same inequalities, and the same democratical republic, in a very few of the first sessions, transformed into an aristocratical republic; as complete and perfect an aristocracy as the senate of Rome, and much more so. Some will be beloved and followed, others hated and avoided by their fellows.
It would be easy to quote Greek and Latin, to produce a hundred authorities to show the original signification of the word aristocracy and its infinite variations and application in the history of ages. But this would be all waste water. Once for all, I give you notice, that whenever I use the word aristocrat, I mean a citizen who can command or govern two votes or more in society, whether by his virtues, his talents, his learning, his loquacity, his taciturnity, his frankness, his reserve, his face, figure, eloquence, grace, air, attitude, movements, wealth, birth, art, address, intrigue, good fellowship, drunkenness, debauchery, fraud, perjury, violence, treachery, pyrrhonism, deism, or atheism; for by every one of these instruments have votes been obtained and will be obtained. You seem to think aristocracy consists altogether in artificial titles, tinsel decorations of stars, garters, ribbons, golden eagles and golden fleeces, crosses and roses and lilies, exclusive privileges, hereditary descents, established by kings or by positive laws of society. No such thing! Aristocracy was, from the beginning, now is, and ever will be, world without end, independent of all these artificial regulations, as really and as efficaciously as with them!
Let me say a word more. Your democratical republic picked in the streets, and your democratical African republic, or your domestic republic, call it which you will, in its first session, will become an aristocratical republic. In the second session it will become an oligarchical republic; because the seventy-four democrats and the twenty-six aristocrats will, by this time, discover that thirteen of the aristocrats can command four votes each; these thirteen will now command the majority, and, consequently, will be sovereign. The thirteen will then be an oligarchy. In the third session, it will be found that among these thirteen oligarchs there are seven, each of whom can command eight votes, equal in all to fifty-six, a decided majority. In the fourth session, it will be found that there are among these seven oligarchs four who can command thirteen votes apiece. The republic then becomes an oligarchy, whose sovereignty is in four individuals. In the fifth session, it will be discovered that two of the four can command six-and-twenty votes each. Then two will have the command of the sovereign oligarchy. In the sixth session, there will be a sharp contention between the two which shall have the command of the fifty-two votes. Here will commence the squabble of Danton and Robespierre, of Julius and Pompey, of Anthony and Augustus, of the white rose and the red rose, of Jefferson and Adams, of Burr and Jefferson, of Clinton and Madison, or, if you will, of Napoleon and Alexander.
This, my dear sir, is the history of mankind, past, present, and to come.
In the third page of your “Inquiry,” is an assertion which Mr. Adams has a right to regret, as a gross and egregious misrepresentation. He cannot believe it to have been intentional. He imputes it to haste; to ardor of temper; to defect of memory; to any thing rather than design. It is in these words,—“Mr. Adams asserts, ‘that every society naturally produces an order of men, which it is impossible to confine to an equality of rights.’ ” This pretended quotation, marked as it is by inverted commas, is totally and absolutely unfounded. No such expression ever fell from his lips; no such language was ever written by his pen; no such principle was ever approved or credited by his understanding, no such sentiment was ever felt without abhorrence in his heart. On the contrary, he has through life asserted the moral equality of all mankind. His system of government, which is the system of Massachusetts, as well as the system of the United States, which are the same as much as an original and a copy are the same, was calculated and framed for the express purpose of securing to all men equal laws and equal rights. Physical inequalities are proclaimed aloud by God Almighty through all his works. Mr. Adams must have been destitute of senses, not to have perceived them in men from their births to their deaths; and, at the same time, not to have perceived that they were incurable and inevitable, by human wisdom, goodness, or power. All that men can do, is to modify, organize, and arrange the powers of human society, that is to say, the physical strength and force of men, in the best manner to protect, secure, and cherish the moral, which are all the natural rights of mankind.
The French are very fond of the phrase “social order.” The English commonly hear it, or read it with a broad grin. I am not Englishman enough to join in this ridicule. A “social order” there must be, unless we would return to the forests, and assert individual independence in a more absolute sense than Tartars or Arabs, African negroes, or North American Indians, or Samoyedes, or Hottentots have ever conceived.
A beggar said at my father’s house, full seventy years ago, “The world is very unequally divided. But I do not wonder at it, nor think much of it. Because I know, that if it were equally divided to-day, in one month there would be as great odds as ever.” The beggar’s proverb contained as certain and as important truths as any that was ever uttered by the wise men of Greece.
Will Mr. Taylor profess himself a downright leveller? Will he vote for a community of property? or an equal division of property? and a community of wives and women? He must introduce and establish both, before he can reduce all men to an equality of influence. It is, indeed, questionable, whether such laws would not produce greater inequalities than ever were seen in the world. These are not new projects, Mr. Taylor. They are not original inventions, or discoveries of philosophers of the eighteenth century. They were as familiar to Plato as they were to Helvetius or Condorcet. If I were a young man, I should like to write a romance, and send a hero upon his travels through such a levelling community of wives and wealth. It would be very edifying to record his observations on the opinions, principles, customs, institutions, and manners of this democratical republic and such a virtuous and happy age. But a gentleman whose mind is so active, studious, and contemplative as Mr. Taylor’s, must easily foresee, that some men must take care of the property of others, or it must perish with its owners; and that some men would have as many wives as Solomon, and others none at all.
See, what is no uncommon sight, a family of six sons. Four of them are prudent, discreet, frugal, and industrious men; the other two are idle and profligate. The father leaves equal portions of his estate to all the six. How long will it be before the two will request the four to purchase their shares? and how long before the purchase money will be spent in sports, gambled away at races, or cards, or dice, or billiards, or dissipated at taverns or worse houses? When the two are thus reduced to beggars, will they have as much influence in society as any one of the four?
Suppose another case, which is not without examples,—a family of six daughters. Four of them are not only beautiful, but serious and discreet women. Two of them are not only ugly, but ill tempered and immodest. Will either of the two have an equal chance with any one of the four to attract the attention of a suitor, and obtain a husband of worth, respectability, and consideration in the world?
Such, and many other natural and acquired and habitual inequalities are visible, and palpable, and audible, every day, in every village, and in every family, in the whole world. The imagination, therefore, of a government, of a democratical republic, in which every man and every woman shall have an equal weight in society, is a chimera. They have all equal rights; but cannot, and ought not to have equal power.
Unhappily, the cases before stated are too often reversed, and four or five out of six sons, are unwise, and only one or two praiseworthy; and four or five out of six daughters, are mere triflers, and only one or two whose “price is above rubies.” And may I not ask, whether there are no instances, in which the whole of six sons and daughters are found wanting; and instead of maintaining their single vote, and their independence, become all dependent on others? Nay, there are examples of whole families wasted and totally lost by vice and folly. Can these, while any of them existed, have maintained an equality of consideration in Society, with other families of equal numbers, but of virtuous and considerate characters?
Matrimony, then, Mr. Taylor, I have a right to consider as another source of natural aristocracy.
Will you give me leave to ask you, Mr. Taylor, why you employ the phrase, “political power” in this third page, instead of sovereign power,—the summa potestatis, the supreme power, the legislative power, the power from which there is no appeal, but to Heaven, and the ratio ultima regum et rerum-publicarum? This language would be understood by readers, by scientific people, and by the vulgar. But “political power” is so indefinite, that it belongs to every man who has a vote, and every woman who has a charm. What, Mr. Taylor, is the resemblance of a president or a governor to a monarch? It is the resemblance of Mount Vernon to the Andes; of the Tiber at Washington to the Ganges or Mississippi. A president has the executive power only, and that under severe restrictions, jealous restrictions; and as I am too old to court popularity, I will venture to say, in my opinion, very pernicious restrictions; restrictions that will destroy this constitution before its time. A president has no legislative power; a monarch has it all.
What resemblance has an American senate to a hereditary order? It has a negative upon the laws. In this, it resembles the house of lords in England; but in nothing else. It has no resemblance to any hereditary order. It has no resemblance even to the hereditary descent of lands, tenements, and hereditaments. There is nothing hereditary in it.
And here, Mr. Taylor, permit me to ask you, whether the descent of lands and goods and chattels does not constitute a hereditary order as decidedly as the descent of stars and garters? I will be still bolder. Has not this law of descents constituted the Honorable John Randolph one of a hereditary order, for a time, as clearly as any Montmorenci or Howard, any Julius, any of the Heraclides, or any of the blood of Mahomet, or any of his connections by marriage?
You must allow me twenty years to answer a book that cost you twenty years of meditation to compose.
You must allow me also to ask you a question still nearer home. You had the honor and felicity to marry the only child of my honest and sincere friend, the Honorable John Penn, of North Carolina. From this marriage, you derived, with an amiable consort, a handsome fortune.
If you complain that this is personal, I confess it, and intend it should be personal, that it might be more striking to you, and to all others who may ever see or hear of our controversy. In return, I give you full leave to ask me any questions relative to myself, my ancestors, my posterity, my natural or political friends. I will answer every question you can ask with the same frankness, candor, and sincerity.
I will be bolder still, Mr. Taylor. Would Washington have ever been commander of the revolutionary army or president of the United States, if he had not married the rich widow of Mr. Custis? Would Jefferson ever have been president of the United States if he had not married the daughter of Mr. Wales?
I am weary and so are you. Ceremonies avaunt.
What shall I say of the “resemblance of our house of representatives to a legislating nation?” It is perhaps a miniature which resembles the original as much as a larger picture would or could. But, sir, let me say, once for all, that as no picture, great or small, no statue, no bust in brass or marble, gold or silver, ever yet perfectly resembled the original, so no representative government ever perfectly represented or resembled the original nation or people.
Is not representation an essential and fundamental departure from democracy? Is not every representative government in the universe an aristocracy? Call it despotism; call it oligarchy; call it aristocracy; call it democracy; call it a mixture ever so complicated; still is it not an aristocracy, in the strictest sense of the word, according to any rational definition of it that can be given? that is, a government of a few, who have the command of two votes, or more than two, over the many, who have only one?
Representation and democracy are a contradiction in terms. Pursue your principles, then, sir; demolish all aristocratical and representative government; divide our continent from St. Croix to Mississippi, into districts not of geographical miles, yards, or feet, but of voters of one hundred men in each. I will not stay to make a mathematical calculation; but put a certain for an uncertain number. Suppose the number of free, sovereign, independent democracies to be eighty thousand. In these assemblies, all questions of war and peace, commerce, &c. &c. &c. are to be discussed and decided. And when and how, and what would be the national result?
I dare not comment upon your book, sir, without quoting your words. You say, in this third page,—
“Upon this threefold resemblance Mr. Adams has seized, to bring the political system of America within the pale of the English system of checks and balances, by following the analysis of antiquity; and, in obedience to that authority, by modifying our temporary, elective, responsible governors, into monarchs; our senates into aristocratical orders; and our representatives into a nation personally exercising the functions of government.”
I fear I shall fatigue you with my observations. But it is of no great importance, since this correspondence is intended for your amusement and mine. You are not obliged to read my letters any longer than they amuse you; and I am confident that if my letters were printed, there would not be found six people in the world who would read them with attention. We will then amuse ourselves a little with a few of my remarks.
1. Mr. Adams has seized “upon a threefold resemblance,” to “bring the political system of America within the pale of the English system.” Figurative language is as dangerous in legislation and jurisprudence as in mathematics. This word pale is a figure, a metaphor, an emblem, a hieroglyphic. What is a pale? A slice of wood sunk in the ground at one end, to inclose a plat. Here is another figure. A pale, or “the pale,” is used to express many pales; enough in number and measure to inclose a very spacious plat,—“the English system of checks and balances.” Now, sir, have I brought the system of America within the pale of the English system? What, indeed, had I to do with “the system of America?” America, when my three volumes were printed, had no system but the old confederation. My volumes had nothing in view but the state governments; and, in strict truth, nothing in view, but the state constitution of Massachusetts,—a child, of which I was, right or wrong, the putative father. How, then, is the system of America brought within the English system? In the English system, the executive power is universal, unlimited in all affairs, foreign and domestic, and hereditary to all generations. In the system of America, the executive power is limited, shackled in most matters, foreign and domestic, and so far from being hereditary, it is limited to four years. The cereus, once in its life, blooms at midnight, and for one, two, three, or four hours, glows, with transcendent splendor, then fades and dies. A poet might bring this flower within the pale of the sun, which shines with equal glory through all ages, seen or unseen by the little animals whose sight is often obscured by clouds, fogs, and vapors, or within the pale of American policy.
2. “By following the analysis of antiquity.” What is this analysis of antiquity? The one, the few, and the many. And why is this called the “analysis of antiquity,” rather than the analysis of modernity? Is there a nation, at this hour of this sixteenth day of June, 1814, on this globe, in which this analysis is not as obvious and undeniable as it ever was in any age or any nation of antiquity? Is there a state in this union, is there a district, a parish, a party, a faction, a sedition, a rebellion, in the world, in which this analysis is not glaring? Should you detect a conspiracy among your domestics, which I hope you will, if it should exist, while I devoutly pray it may never exist, you would find this analysis in its perfection. A one, a few, and a many.
Why, then, sir, do you throw all the odium of this eternal, unchangeable truth upon poor “antiquity?” An ancient might say to a modern, as Nathan said unto David, Thou art the man.
3. “And in obedience to that authority!” What authority? “The authority of antiquity!” And why not the authority of St. Domingo? of the Spanish colonies in America? of the British colonies in America before and since the revolution? of the French revolution and counter-revolutions, from Marat and Robespierre, nay, from Rochefoucauld, Condorcet, and Turgot, to Bonaparte, Talleyrand, and Sieyes, in the last scene of the last act of the tragedy? And why not the authority of every tribe of Indians in America? every nation or tribe of negroes in Africa? Why not in every horde of Arabs, Tartars, Hottentots, Icelanders, Samoyedes, or Kamtschatkans? These are all among my authorities, as well as all antiquity over the whole globe, where men have existed. These authorities are modern enough, and ancient enough, to prove the analysis of the one, the three, and the many, to be universal, and proceeding from natural causes. Which of these authorities, sir, will you deny, contradict, or explain away?
Observation fourth. “By modifying our temporary, elective, responsible governors into monarchs.” How have I modified our governors into monarchs? My three volumes were written in defence of the constitution of Massachusetts, against a rude and insolent attack of M. Turgot. This constitution, which existed in my handwriting, made the governor annually elective, gave him the executive power, shackled with a council, that I now wish was annihilated, and made him as responsible as any executive power in the United States, or any one of the separate states is to this day. How then are my annual governors modified into hereditary monarchs? my annual elective governors, limited and shackled, even in the exercise of the executive authority, and responsible for all things, modified into hereditary monarchs, possessed of unlimited legislative and executive power, or even only of unlimited executive power, and responsible for nothing?
Observation fifth. By modifying “our senates into aristocratical orders.” What is meant by “our senates?” My books had not in contemplation any senate of the United States; for no such senate existed, or was expected by me. M. Turgot’s attack was, in reality, on the senate of Massachusetts. That senate was annually elective; had no executive power, positive or negative; was merely an independent branch of the legislative power. How, then, did Mr. Adams modify “our senates into aristocratical orders?” What is the meaning, the definition, the analysis of “aristocratical orders?” My anomalistical friend, and friend of mankind, Horne Tooke, has said, “mankind are not sufficiently aware that words without meaning, or of equivocal meaning, are the everlasting engines of fraud and injustice.” This wise saying of my learned friend, is no more than every attentive, thinking, and reflecting mind sees, feels, and laments every day. Yet “mankind are not sufficiently aware.” You will charge me here with an aristocratical distinction; with erecting an aristocratical order of thinking men, in contradiction to the democratical order of unthinking men. Well! is there not such a distinction in nature? Are not some children thoughtful and others thoughtless from their earliest years? Among the thoughtful, indeed, there is a distinction. Some think for good and others for evil; and this distinction is manifest through life, and shows itself in all the prosperities and all the adversities of human life. Recollect the history of our own dear country for the last fifty years, and the principal, prominent characters in our political drama, and then tell me whether there has not been a very glaring distinction between thoughtful and thoughtless characters, both good and evil! Our governors resemble monarchs in nothing, but in holding, for short periods, the executive power of the laws, under shackles and trammels, that destroy the efficacy of the constitution. Our senates resemble “aristocratical orders” in nothing, but holding for short periods a negative upon the laws, with the addition of a participation in the executive power, in some instances, which mixes the legislative and executive power together, in such a manner as to destroy the efficacy of the constitution. Our national representatives have no more nor less power, that I recollect, than they ought to have.
“Whether the terms ‘monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy,’ or the one, the few, and the many, are only numerical; or characteristic, like the calyx, petal, and stamina of plants; or complicated, with the idea of a balance; they have never yet, singly or collectively, been used to describe a government deduced from good moral principles.”
Linnæus is upon my shelf, very near me, but I will not take him down to consult him about calyx, petal, and stamina, because we are not now upon gardening, agriculture, or natural history. Politics and legislation are our present subjects.
I have no clear idea of your distinction between “numerical and characteristic.” You say, if I understand you, that no simple or mixed or balanced form of government has ever yet singly or collectively been used to describe a government deduced from good moral principles.
What government, then, ever was deduced from good moral principles? Certainly none. For simple, or mixed, or complicated with a balance, surely comprehend every species of government that ever had a being, or that ever will exist. Because imagination cannot conceive of any government besides those of the one, the few, or the many, or such as are compounded of them, whether complicated with the idea of a balance or not. The whole is equal to all its parts, and all the parts are equal to the whole. In a right-angled triangle, the hypothenuse and the two legs comprehend the whole diagram.
Again, how are the United States distinguished from all other governments, or from any other government? What are the good moral principles from which the governments of the United States are deduced, which are not common to many other governments? In all that great number and variety of constitutions which the last twenty-five years have produced in France, in Holland, in Geneva, in Spain, we find the most excellent moral principles, precepts, and maxims, and all of them complicated with the idea of a balance. We make ourselves popular, Mr. Taylor, by telling our fellow-citizens that we have made discoveries, conceived inventions, and made improvements. We may boast that we are the chosen people; we may even thank God that we are not like other men; but, after all, it will be but flattery, and the delusion, the self-deceit of the Pharisee.
Is not the constitution of the United States “complicated with the idea of a balance?” Is there a constitution upon record more complicated with balances than ours? In the first place, eighteen states and some territories are balanced against the national government, whether judiciously or injudiciously, I will not presume at present to conjecture. We have seen some effects of it in some of the middle and some of the southern and western states, under the two first administrations; and we now behold some similar effects of it under the two last. Some genius more prompt and fertile than mine, may infer from a little what a great deal means. In the second place, the house of representatives is balanced against the senate, and the senate against the house. In the third place, the executive authority is, in some degree, balanced against the legislative. In the fourth place, the judiciary power is balanced against the house, the senate, the executive power, and the state governments. In the fifth place, the senate is balanced against the president in all appointments to office, and in all treaties. This, in my opinion, is not merely a useless, but a very pernicious balance. In the sixth place, the people hold in their own hands the balance against their own representatives, by biennial, which I wish had been annual elections. In the seventh place, the legislatures of the several states are balanced against the senate by sextennial elections. In the eighth place, the electors are balanced against the people in the choice of the president. And here is a complication and refinement of balances, which, for any thing I recollect, is an invention of our own, and peculiar to us.
The state legislatures can direct the choice of electors by the people at large, or by the people in what districts they please, or by themselves, without consulting the people at all. However, all this complication of machinery, all these wheels within wheels, these imperia within imperiis have not been sufficient to satisfy the people. They have invented a balance to all balances in their caucuses. We have congressional caucuses, state caucuses, county caucuses, city caucuses, district caucuses, town caucuses, parish caucuses, and Sunday caucuses at church doors; and in these aristocratical caucuses elections are decided.
Do you not tremble, Mr. Taylor, with fear, that another balance to all these balances, an over balance of all “moral liberty,” and to every moral principle and feeling, may soon be invented and introduced; I mean the balance of corruption? Corruption! Be not surprised, sir. If the spirit of party is corruption, have we not seen much of it already? If the spirit of faction is corruption, have we seen none of that evil spirit? If the spirit of banking is corruption, as you have uniformly proclaimed it to be, ever since I had the honor of your acquaintance, and as your “Arator” and your “Inquiry” everywhere sufficiently demonstrate, have you ever heard or read of any country in which this spirit prevailed to a greater degree than in this? Are you informed of any aristocratical institution by which the property of the many is more manifestly sacrificed to the profit of the few?
Are all these impure spirits “deduced from moral liberty,” or are any of them reconcilable to moral principle?
In your fourth page, you “are unable to discover in our form of government any resemblance of monarchy, aristocracy, or democracy, as defined by ancient writers, and by Mr. Adams himself.”
As these words are technical terms, whose meaning is as well defined, both by ancients and moderns, as the words point, line, surface, or solid, in geometry, I shall not turn over volumes to quote authorities in a question of so easy a solution. To avoid misrepresentation, however, I shall explicitly premise that all intelligence, all power, all force, all authority, originally, inherently, necessarily, inseparably, and inalienably resides in the people.
In the language of civilians, the summa potestatis, the supreme, sovereign, absolute, and uncontrollable power, is placed by God and nature in the people, and they never can divest themselves of it. All this was truth, before the people themselves, by their own sagacity, or their moral sentiments, or, if you had rather say, by their own simplicity, credulity, and imbecility, began to distinguish the one and the few from their own average and level. For you may depend upon it, the people themselves, by their own observation and experience and feelings, their own sensations and reflections, made these distinctions before kingcraft, priestcraft, or noblecraft had any thing to do with them.
An inevitable consequence of this great truth is another, namely,—that all government, except the simplest and most perfect democracy, is representative government. The simplest despotism, monarchy, or aristocracy, and all the most complicated mixtures of them that ever existed or can be imagined, are mere representatives of the people, and can exist no longer than the people will to support them.
À bas le tyran, à bas le gouvernement, bon ou mauvais,—good, bad, or indifferent, whenever the people decree and proclaim its downfall, it falls.
Is this explicit concession democratical enough? I beg your pardon. I had forgotten for a moment that you do not allow “democracy to be deduced from moral liberty.” Let me vary my question then. Do you admit those two great truths to be consistent with “moral liberty” and “the constitution of the United States?”
But to return, and approach the question, if peradventure we can find it. Scientific definitions are commonly in the abstract merely ideal and intellectual and theoretical. For example,—“point has no parts;” “a line is longitude without latitude;” “a superficies is length and breadth without thickness;” yet, in practice, we can neither see nor feel these points, lines, or surfaces. Thus monarchy is defined to be “a sovereignty in one,” that is to say, all the rights, powers, and authorities of a whole nation, committed in trust to a single man, without limitation or restriction. Aristocracy, the same ample and unlimited power, vested in a small number of men. Democracy reserves all these rights, prerogatives, and privileges to the whole nation, and every act of its volition must be determined by a vote.
Now it is manifest, that no such simple government as either of these, ever existed in any nation; no, nor in any city, town, village, nor scarcely in any private social club. To say, then, that a mixed, balanced government can be formed of monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy, in this sense of the words, would be as absurd, as for a Hindoo to say, that the best government would be that of three omniscient and almighty Brahmins, mixed or commixed together and reciprocally balancing each other. Thus far, for what I know, we may be pretty well agreed. But when you say, that, “in our form of government,” no resemblance can be discovered of monarchy, aristocracy, or democracy, I beg leave to differ from you.
The Prince of Orange, William V., in a conversation with which he honored me in 1788, was pleased to say, that “he had read our new constitution,” and he added, “Monsieur, vous allez avoir un roi, sous le titre de président,” which may be translated, “Sir, you have given yourselves a king, under the title of president.”
Turgot, Rochefoucauld and Condorcet, Brissot and Robespierre and Mazzei were all offended, that we had given too much eclat to our governors and presidents. It is true, and I rejoice in it, that our presidents, limited as they are, have more power, that is, more executive power, than the stadtholders, the doges, the podestàs, the avoyers, or the archons, or the kings of Lacedæmon or of Poland. To be brief, the general sense of mankind differs from you in opinion, and clearly sees, and fully believes, that our president’s office has “some resemblance of monarchy,” and God forbid that it should ever be diminished.
All these monarchical powers, however, “are deduced” in your judgment, “from moral liberty.” I agree that they are “deduced” from morality and liberty; but if they had been more deliberately considered and better digested, the morality and liberty would have been better secured, and of longer duration, if the senatorial limitation of them had been omitted.
In my next, we will see if we can discover any resemblance of aristocracy in our form of government.
You “are unable to discover in our form of government any resemblance of aristocracy.”
As every branch of executive authority committed or intrusted exclusively to one, resembles and is properly called a monarchical power, and a government, in proportion as its powers, legislative or executive, are lodged in one, resembles monarchy, so whatever authority or power of making or executing laws is exclusively vested in a few is properly called aristocratical; and a government, in proportion as it is constituted with such powers, resembles aristocracy.
Now, sir, let me ask you, whether you can discover no “resemblance of aristocracy in our form of government?” Are not great, very great, important, and essential powers intrusted to a few, a very few? Thirty-four senators, composed of two senators from each state, are an integral part of the legislature, which is the representative sovereignty of seven or eight millions of the people in the United States. These thirty-four men possess an absolute negative on all the laws of the nation. Nor is this all. These few, these very few, thirty-four citizens only in seven or eight millions, have an absolute negative upon the executive authority in the appointment of all officers in the diplomacy, in the navy, the army, the customs, excises, and revenues. They have, moreover, an absolute negative on all treaties with foreign powers, even with the aboriginal Indians. They are also an absolute judicature in all impeachments, even of the judges. Such are the powers in legislation, in execution, and in judicature, which in our form of government are committed to thirty-four men.
If in all these mighty powers and “exclusive privileges” you can “discover no resemblance of aristocracy,” when and where did any resemblance of aristocracy exist? The Trigintivirs of Athens and the Decemvirs of Rome, I acknowledge, “resembled aristocracy” still more. But the lords of parliament in England do not resemble it so much. Nor did the nobility in Prussia, Germany, Russia, France, or Spain, possess such powers. The Palatines in Poland indeed!
How are these thirty-four senators appointed? Are they appointed by the people? Is the constitution of them democratical? They are chosen by the legislatures of the several states. And who are the legislatures of these separate states? Are they the people? No. They are a selection of the best men among the people, made by the people themselves. That is, they are the very ἄϱιστοι of the Greeks. Yet there is something more. These legislatures are composed of two bodies, a senate and a house of representatives, each assembly differently constituted, the senate more nearly “resembling aristocracy” than the house. Senators of the United States are chosen, in some states, by a convention of both houses; in others, by separate, independent, but concurrent votes. The senates in the former have great influence, and often turn the vote; in the latter, they have an absolute negative in the choice.
Here are refinements upon refinements of “resemblances of aristocracy,” a complication of checks and balances, evidently extended beyond any constitution of government that I can at present recollect. Whether an exact balance has been hit, or whether an exact balance will ever be hit, are different questions. But in this I am clear, that the nearer we approach to an exact balance, the nearer we shall approach to “moral liberty,” if I understand the phrase.
We have agreed to be civil and free. In my number thirteen, I will very modestly hint to you my humble opinion of the point where your principal mistake lies.
In my last, I ventured to say, that I would hint in this at a principal misconception that had misled you or me. I shall submit the question to yourself and to the world, if you or I please, to be decided between us with candor.
You appear to me, in all your writings, to consider hereditary descent as essential to monarchy and aristocracy. When you mention monarchy, monarch, or king, you seem to understand an office and an officer, unlimited in authority, power, and duration. But is this correct in speculation or in language? Everybody knows that the word monarchy has its etymology in the Greek words μόνος and ἄϱχη, and signifies single rule or authority in one. This authority may be limited or unlimited, of temporary or perpetual duration. It may be hereditary, or it may be for life, or it may be for years or only for one year, or for months or for one month, or for days or only for one day. Nevertheless, as far as it extends, and as long as it lasts, it may be called a monarchical authority with great propriety, by any man who is not afraid of a popular clamor and a scurrilous abuse of words. Monarchy, in this view of it, resembles property. A landed estate may be for years, a year, a half a year; or it may be for life, or for two, or three, or any number of lives; or it may be an inheritance to him, his heirs and assigns forever and ever. An estate in an office may be given by law for years, for life, or forever, as well as an estate in land. You or I may possess our houses for years, for life, or in tail, or in fee simple. And where is our title, our security for the possession of our firesides, but in the laws of society? And these laws of society have secured, and will secure to monarchs, to aristocrats, and to democrats such as you and I are, their estates in their offices, as well as in their houses, their lands, or their horses, in the same manner as they protect us asleep in our beds, or when at supper with our families. Mr. Madison has as clear a title to his estate in his office of president for four years, as you have to Hazelwood, to yourself, your heirs, and assigns forever, and by the same laws. Marshall has as good a right as either to his estate for life in his office of chief justice of the United States.
The Romans often conferred on the consuls, in very delicate terms, unlimited power to take care that the republic should suffer no injury. They conferred on Cincinnatus, on Sylla, and on Cæsar, the office of dictator, and the same power on many others, some for limited periods, some without limitation, and on Cæsar I believe for perpetuity. Were not the senates in such cases aristocrats or rather oligarchs for their several periods? Were not the dictators monarchs, some for years, some for life? Were they not made by law, in the strictest sense, monarchs, or if you will, despots? What were the kings of Crete or of Sparta? Monarchs, indeed, but how limited, though hereditary! What were the kings of Poland? How limited, and yet for life!
From these hints, I think it is clear, that the idea of hereditary descent is not an essential ingredient in the definition of monarchy or aristocracy; and that to employ those words in all cases, or in any case, as implying hereditary descent, is an abuse of words, and an imposition on vulgar popularity.
I know not how, when, or where, you discovered that Mr. Adams “supposed that monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy, or mixtures of them, constituted all the elements of government.” This language is not mine. There is but one element of government, and that is, the people. From this element spring all governments. “For a nation to be free, it is only necessary that she wills it.” For a nation to be slave, it is only necessary that she wills it. The governments of Hindostan and China, of Caffraria and Kamtschatka, the empires of Alexander the Macedonian, of Zingis Khan and Napoleon, of Tecumseh and Nimrod Hughes, all have grown out of this element,—the people. This fertile element, however, has never yet produced any other government than monarchy, aristocracy, democracy, and mixtures of them. And pray tell me how it can produce any other?
You say by “moral liberty.” Will you be so good as to give me a logical, mathematical, or moral, or any other definition of this phrase, “moral liberty;” and to tell me who is to exercise this “liberty;” and by what principle or system of morality it is to be exercised? Is not this liberty and morality to reside in the great and universal element, “the people?” Have they not always resided there? And will they not always reside there?
This moral liberty resides in Hindoos and Mahometans, as well as in Christians; in Cappadocian monarchists, as well as in Athenian democrats; in Shaking Quakers, as well as in the General Assembly of the Presbyterian clergy; in Tartars and Arabs, Negroes and Indians, as well as in the people of the United States of America.
In your fourth page, you give us your opinion, that the moral “efforts of mankind towards political improvement have been restrained and disappointed by the erroneous opinion, that monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy, or mixtures of them, constitute all the elements of government.” And you proceed to state, that “it will be an effort of your essay to prove, that the United States have refuted the ancient maxim, that monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy, are the only elements of government.”
This phraseology is by no means familiar to me. I know not any writer or speaker who has asserted such a doctrine, or advanced such a maxim. The words monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy are technical terms, invented by learned men, to express three different species of government. So they have invented many others,—oligarchy, ochlocracy, mobocracy, anarchy, jacobinism, sans culottism, federalism, republicanism, quiddism, or gunarkism. Any one of these hard words may be called an element of government, with as much propriety as any other.
The word “element,” as you employ it here, is a figure of rhetoric. Can you give—I acknowledge I have not ingenuity enough to invent—a logical or mathematical definition of it?
By “elements,” do you mean principles? If principles—physical or moral? If physical—I know of no physical principle of government but the bones and sinews, the timbers and ropes of the human body; that is, the mere strength, force, and power of constables, sheriffs, posse comitatus, armies and navies, soldiers and sailors. These elements or principles are applied in all the species of government that have been named, and must be the last resort of all that can be named or conceived. These elements or principles are not peculiar to the United States.
By “elements,” do you mean moral principles? If so, I know but one principle or element of government, and that is, “Constans et perpetua voluntas jus suum cuique tribuendi,” that is, a constant and perpetual disposition and determination to render to every one his right; or, in other words, a constant and perpetual disposition and determination to do to others as we would have others do to us. This is a perfect principle, applicable at all times, in all places, among all persons, in all circumstances. Justice, therefore, is the only moral principle or element of government. But how shall justice be done in human society? It can be done only by general laws. These can never comprehend or foresee all the circumstances attending every particular case; and, therefore, it has been found necessary to introduce another principle or element, mercy. In strictness, perfect justice includes mercy, and perfect mercy includes justice. Both together make but one principle or moral element of government. Have you read, heard, or discovered any other moral principle or element of the government of God, angels, or men, than justice and benevolence united?
This principle has been professed by all governments, and all governors, throughout all time and space, with which we are acquainted. By King Theodore and the Emperor Napoleon, by the Prince Regent and Tecumseh.
How then is the government of the United States “planted in moral principles” more than other governments?
That we have conformed our practice to our principles as well, or better, upon the whole, than the majority, or, if you will, than any other nation hitherto, I will not dispute; because the question, decide it as you will, makes no alteration in the argument.
In this fourth page you say, that “Mr. Adams’s system tells us that the art of government can never change.” I have said no such thing, Mr. Taylor! I know the art of government has changed, and probably will change, as often as the arts of architecture, painting, sculpture, music, poetry, agriculture, horticulture, medicine; and that is to say, almost as often as the weather or the fashion in dress.
But all these arts are founded in certain general principles of nature, which have never been known to change; and it is the duty of philosophers, legislators, and artists to study these principles; and the nearer they approach to them, the greater perfection will they attain in their arts. There may be principles in nature, not yet observed, that will improve all these arts; and nothing hinders any man from making experiments and pursuing researches, to investigate such principles and make such improvements. But America has made no discoveries of principles of government that have not been long known. Morality and liberty, and “moral liberty,” too, whatever it may mean, have been known from the creation. Cain knew it when he killed Abel, and knew that he violated it.
You say, sir, that I have gravely counted up several victims “of popular rage, as proofs that democracy is more pernicious than monarchy or aristocracy.” This is not my doctrine, Mr. Taylor. My opinion is, and always has been, that absolute power intoxicates alike despots, monarchs, aristocrats, and democrats, and jacobins, and sans culottes. I cannot say that democracy has been more pernicious, on the whole, than any of the others. Its atrocities have been more transient; those of the others have been more permanent. The history of all ages shows that the caprice, cruelties, and horrors of democracy have soon disgusted, alarmed, and terrified themselves. They soon cry, “this will not do; we have gone too far! We are all in the wrong! We are none of us safe! We must unite in some clever fellow, who can protect us all,—Cæsar, Bonaparte, who you will! Though we distrust, hate, and abhor them all; yet we must submit to one or another of them, stand by him, cry him up to the skies, and swear that he is the greatest, best, and finest man that ever lived!”
It has been my fortune, good or bad, to live in Europe ten years, from 1778 to 1788, in a public character. This destiny, singular in America, forced upon my attention the course of events in France, Holland, Geneva, and Switzerland, among many other nations; and this has irresistibly attracted my thoughts more than has been for my interest. The subject cannot have escaped you. What has been the conduct of the democratic parties in all those nations? How horribly bloody in some! Has it been steady, consistent, uniform, in any? Has it not leaped from democracy to aristocracy, to oligarchy, to military despotism, and back again to monarchy, as often, and as easily, as the birds fly to the lower, the middle, or the upper limbs of a tree, or leap from branch to branch, or hop from spray to spray?
Democracy, nevertheless, must not be disgraced; democracy must not be despised. Democracy must be respected; democracy must be honored; democracy must be cherished; democracy must be an essential, an integral part of the sovereignty, and have a control over the whole government, or moral liberty cannot exist, or any other liberty. I have been always grieved by the gross abuses of this respectable word. One party speak of it as the most amiable, venerable, indeed, as the sole object of its adoration; the other, as the sole object of its scorn, abhorrence, and execration. Neither party, in my opinion, know what they say. Some of them care not what they say, provided they can accomplish their own selfish purposes. These ought not to be forgiven.
You triumphantly demand: “What motives of preference between forms of government remain?” Is there no difference between a government of laws and a government of men? Between a government according to fixed laws, concerted by three branches of the legislature, composed of the most experienced men of a nation, established, recorded, promulgated to every individual, as the rule of his conduct, and a government according to the will of one man, or to a vote of a few men, or to a vote of a single assembly, whether of a nation or its representatives?
It is not Mr. Adams’s system which can “arrest our efforts or appall our hopes in pursuit of political good.” Other causes have obstructed and still embarrass the progress of the science of legislation.
In this number I have to hint at some causes which impede the course of investigation in civil and political knowledge. Religion, however, has been so universally associated with government, that it is impossible to separate them in this inquiry.
And where shall I begin, and where end? Shall I begin with the library at Alexandria, and finish with that at Washington, the latter Saracens more ferocious than the former, in proportion as they lived in a more civilized age? Where are the languages of antiquity? all the dialects of the Chaldean tongue? Where is Aristotle’s history of eighteen hundred republics, that had existed before his time? Where are Cicero’s writings upon government? What havoc has been made of books through every century of the Christian era? Where are fifty gospels, condemned as spurious by the bull of Pope Gelasius? Where are the forty wagon-loads of Hebrew manuscripts burned in France, by order of another pope, because suspected of heresy? Remember the index expurgatorius, the inquisition, the stake, the axe, the halter, and the guillotine; and, oh! horrible, the rack! This is as bad, if not worse, than a slow fire. Nor should the Lion’s Mouth be forgotten.
Have you considered that system of holy lies and pious frauds that has raged and triumphed for fifteen hundred years; and which Chateaubriand appears at this day to believe as sincerely as St. Austin did? Upon this system depend the royalty, loyalty, and allegiance of Europe. The vial of holy oil, with which the Kings of France and England are anointed, is one of the most splendid and important events in all the legends. Do you think that Mr. Adams’s system “arrests our efforts and appalls our hopes in pursuit of political good?” His maxim is, study government as you do astronomy, by facts, observations, and experiments; not by the dogmas of lying priests or knavish politicians.
The causes that impede political knowledge would fill a hundred volumes. How can I crowd a few hints at them in a single volume, much less, in a single letter?
Give me leave to select one attempt to improve civil, political, and ecclesiastical knowledge; or, at least, to arrest and retard the progress of ignorance, hypocrisy, and knavery; and the reception it met in the world, tending to “arrest our efforts and appall our hopes.” Can you believe that Jesuits conceived this design? Yet true it is.
About the year 1643, Bollandus, a Jesuit, began the great work, the “Acta Sanctorum.” Even Jesuits were convinced that impositions upon mankind had gone too far. Henschenius, another Jesuit, assisted him and Papebrock in the labor. The design was to give the lives of the saints, and to distinguish the miracles into the true, the false, and the dubious. They produced forty-seven volumes, in folio, an immense work, which, I believe, has never appeared in America. It was not, I am confident, in the library consumed by Ross, the savage, damned to everlasting fame,1 and I fear it is not in the noble collection of Mr. Jefferson. I wish it was. This was a great effort in favor of truth, and to arrest imposture, though made by Jesuits. But what was their reward? Among the miracles, pronounced by these able men to be true, there are probably millions which you and I should believe no more than we do those related by Paulinus, Athanasius, Basil, Jerome, or Chrysostom, as of their own knowledge.
Now, let us see how this generous effort in favor of truth was received and rewarded. Libels in abundance were printed against it. The authors were cited before the Inquisition in Spain, and the Pope in Italy, as authors of gross errors. The Inquisition pronounced its anathema in 1695. All Europe was in anxious suspense. The Pope, himself, was embarrassed by the interminable controversies excited, and, without deciding any thing, had no way to escape but by prohibiting all writings on the subject.
And what were the errors? They were only doubts.
1. Is it certain that the face of Jesus Christ was painted on the handkerchief of Saint Veronica?
2. Had the Carmelites the prophet Elias for their founder?
These questions set Europe in a flame, and might have roasted Papebrock at an auto-da-fé, had he been in Spain.
Such dangers as these might “arrest efforts and appall hopes of political good;” but Mr. Adams’s system cannot. That gaping, timid animal, man, dares not read or think. The prejudices, passions, habits, associations, and interests of his fellow-creatures surround him on every side; and if his reading or his thoughts interfere with any of these, he dares not acknowledge it. If he is hardy enough to venture even a hint, persecution, in some form or other, is his certain portion. Party spirit,—l’esprit du corps,—sects, factions, which threaten our existence in America at this moment, both in church and state, have “arrested all efforts, and appalled all hopes of political good.” Have the Protestants accomplished a thorough reformation? Is there a nation in Europe whose government is purified from monkish knavery? Even in England, is not the vial of holy oil still shown to travellers? How long will it be before the head of the Prince Regent, or the head of his daughter, will be anointed with this oil, and the right of impressing seamen from American ships deduced from it?
Mr. Adams’s system is that of Pope, in his Essay on Criticism:—
This rule, surely, cannot “arrest our efforts or appall our hopes.” Study government as you build ships or construct steam-engines. The steam frigate will not defend New York, if Nature has not been studied, and her principles regarded. And how is the nature of man, and of society, and of government, to be studied or known, but in the history and by the experience of human nature in its terrestrial existence?
But to come nearer home, in search of causes which “arrest our efforts.” Here I am, like the woodcutter on Mount Ida, who could not see wood for trees. Mariana wrote a book, De Regno, in which he had the temerity to insinuate that kings were instituted for good, and might be deposed if they did nothing but evil. Of course, the book was prohibited, and the writer prosecuted. Harrington wrote his Oceana, and other learned and ingenious works, for which he was committed to prison, where he became delirious and died. Sidney wrote discourses on government, for which he was beheaded, though they were only in manuscript, and robbed from his desk. Montesquieu was obliged to fly his country, and wander about Europe for many years; was compelled by the Sorbonne, after his return, to sign a recantation, as humiliating and as sincere as that of Galileo.1 The chagrin produced by the criticisms and misrepresentations of his writings, and the persecutions he suffered, destroyed his health, and he died in 1755.
These instances, among others without number, are the discouragements which “arrest our efforts and appall our hopes.” Nor are these all. Mankind do not love to read any thing upon any theory of government. Very few read any thing but libels. Theoretical books upon government will not sell. Booksellers and printers, far from purchasing the manuscript, will not accept it as a gift. For example, no printer would publish these remarks at his own risk; and if I should print them at mine, they would fall dead from the press. I should never sell ten copies of them. I cannot learn that your Inquiry has had a rapid sale. I fear that you or your printer will be a loser, which I shall regret, because I really wish it could be read by every one who can read. To you, who are rich, this loss is of little moment; but to me, who am poor, such losses would be a dangerous “arrest of efforts,” and a melancholy “appall of hopes.” Writers, in general, are poor and hungry. Few write for fame. Even the great religionist, moralist, and literator, Johnson, could not compose a sermon for a priest from simple charity. He must have the pleasing hope, the animating contemplation of a guinea, before he could write. By all that I can learn, few rich men ever wrote any thing, from the beginning of the world to this day. You, sir, are a rara avis in terris, much to your honor.
But I have not yet enumerated all the discouragements which “arrest our efforts and appall our hopes.”
I already feel all the ridicule of hinting at my poor four volumes of “Defence and Discourses on Davila,” after quoting Mariana, Harrington, Sidney, and Montesquieu. But I must submit to the imputation of vanity, arrogance, presumption, dotage, or insanity, or what you will. How have my feeble “efforts been arrested, and faint hopes appalled?” Look back upon the pamphlets, the newspapers, the handbills, and above all, upon the circular letters of members of congress to their constituents for four-and-twenty years past, and consider in what manner my writings and myself have been treated. Has it not been enough to “arrest efforts and appall hopes?”
Is it not a damper to any ardor in search of truth, to read the absurd criticism, the stupid observations, the jesuitical subtleties, the studied lies that have been printed concerning my writings, in this my dear, native country, for five-and-twenty years? To read the ribaldry of Markoe and Brown, Paine and Callender, four vagabonds from Great Britain? and to see their most profligate effusions applauded and sanctioned by a nation?
In fine, is it not humiliating to see a volume of six or seven hundred pages written by a gentleman of your rank, fortune, learning, genius, and eloquence, in which my system, my sentiments, and my writings, from beginning to end, are totally misunderstood and misrepresented?
After all, I am not dead, like Harrington and Secondat. I have read in a Frenchman, “Je n’ai jamais trop bien compris ce que c’étoit que de mourir de chagrin.” And I can say as confidently as he did, “I have never yet very well understood what it was to die of chagrin.” Yet I am daily not out of danger of griefs that might put an end to me in a few hours! Nevertheless, I will wait, if I can, for distempers,—the messenger of nature, because I have still much curiosity to see what turn will be taken by public affairs in this country and others. Where can we rationally look for the theory or practice of government, but to nature and experiment, unless you appeal to revelation? If you do, I am ready and willing to follow you to that tribunal. I find nothing there inconsistent with my system.
In your fifth page, you say, “Mr. Adams calls our attention to hundreds of wise and virtuous patricians, mangled and bleeding victims of popular fury, and gravely counts up several victims of democratic rage, as proofs that democracy is more pernicious than monarchy or aristocracy.”
Is this fair, sir? Do you deny any one of my facts? I do not say that democracy has been more pernicious on the whole, and in the long run, than monarchy or aristocracy. Democracy has never been and never can be so durable as aristocracy or monarchy; but while it lasts, it is more bloody than either. I beseech you, sir, to recollect the time when my three volumes of “Defence” were written and printed, in 1786, 1787, and 1788. The history of the universe had not then furnished me with a document I have since seen,—an Alphabetical Dictionary of the Names and Qualities of Persons, “Mangled and Bleeding Victims of Democratic Rage and Popular Fury” in France, during the Despotism of Democracy in that Country, which Napoleon ought to be immortalized for calling Ideology. This work is in two printed volumes, in octavo, as large as Johnson’s Dictionary, and is in the library of our late and excellent Vice-President, Elbridge Gerry, where I hope it will be preserved with anxious care. An edition of it ought to be printed in America; otherwise it will be forever suppressed. France will never dare look at it. The democrats themselves could not bear the sight of it; they prohibited and suppressed it as far as they could. It contains an immense number of as great and good men as France ever produced. We curse the Inquisition and the Jesuits, and yet the Inquisition and the Jesuits are restored. We curse religiously the memory of Mary, for burning good men in Smithfield, when, if England had then been democratical, she would have burned many more, and we murder many more by the guillotine in the latter years of the eighteenth century. We curse Guy Fawkes for thinking of blowing up Westminster Hall; yet Ross blows up the capitol, the palace, and the library at Washington, and would have done it with the same sang froid had congress and the president’s family been within the walls. O! my soul! I am weary of these dismal contemplations! When will mankind listen to reason, to nature, or to revelation?
You say, I “might have exhibited millions of plebeians sacrificed to the pride, folly, and ambition of monarcy and aristocracy.” This is very true. And I might have exhibited as many millions of plebeians sacrificed by the pride, folly, and ambition of their fellow-plebeians and their own, in proportion to the extent and duration of their power. Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide. It is in vain to say that democracy is less vain, less proud, less selfish, less ambitious, or less avaricious than aristocracy or monarchy. It is not true, in fact, and nowhere appears in history. Those passions are the same in all men, under all forms of simple government, and when unchecked, produce the same effects of fraud, violence, and cruelty. When clear prospects are opened before vanity, pride, avarice, or ambition, for their easy gratification, it is hard for the most considerate philosophers and the most conscientious moralists to resist the temptation. Individuals have conquered themselves. Nations and large bodies of men, never.
When Solon’s balance was destroyed by Aristides, and the preponderance given to the multitude, for which he was rewarded with the title of Just, when he ought to have been punished with the ostracism, the Athenians grew more and more democratic. I need not enumerate to you the foolish wars into which the people forced their wisest men and ablest generals against their own judgments, by which the state was finally ruined, and Philip and Alexander became their masters.
In proportion as the balance, imperfect and unskilful as it was originally, here as in Athens, inclined more and more to the dominatio plebis, the Carthaginians became more and more restless, impatient, enterprising, ambitious, avaricious, and rash, till Hannibal swore eternal hostility to the Romans, and the Romans were compelled to pronounce delenda est Carthago.
What can I say of the democracy of France? I dare not write what I think and what I know. Were Brissot, Condorcet, Danton, Robespierre, and Monseigneur Egalité less ambitious than Cæsar, Alexander, or Napoleon? Were Dumouriez, Pichegru, Moreau, less generals, less conquerors, or, in the end, less fortunate than the last was? What was the ambition of this democracy? Nothing less than to propagate itself, its principles, its system, through the world; to decapitate all the kings, destroy all the nobles and priests in Europe. And who were the instruments employed by the mountebanks behind the scene, to accomplish these sublime purposes? The firewomen, the badauds, the stage players, the atheists, the deists, the scribblers for any cause at three livres a day, the Jews, and oh! that I could erase from my memory the learned divines,—profound students in the prophecies,—real philosophers and sincere Christians, in amazing numbers, over all Europe and America, who were hurried away by the torrent of contagious enthusiasm. Democracy is chargeable with all the blood that has been spilled for five-and-twenty years.
Napoleon and all his generals were but creatures of democracy, as really as Rienzi, Theodore, Massaniello, Jack Cade, or Wat Tyler. This democratical hurricane, inundation, earthquake, pestilence, call it which you will, at last aroused and alarmed all the world, and produced a combination unexampled, to prevent its further progress.
I hope my last convinced you that democracy is as restless, as ambitious, as warlike and bloody, as aristocracy or monarchy.
You proceed to say, that I “ought to have placed right before us the effects of these three principles, namely,—democracy, aristocracy, and monarchy, commixed in the wars, rebellions, persecutions, and oppressions of the English form.”
Pray, sir, what was the object of my book? I was not writing a history of England, nor of the world. Inattention to this circumstance has been the cause of all the honest misapprehensions, misconstructions, and misrepresentations of the whole work. To see at one glance the design of the three volumes, you need only to look at the first page. M. Turgot “was not satisfied with the constitutions which had been formed for the different states of America. By most of them, the customs of England were imitated, without any particular motive. Instead of collecting all authority into one centre, that of the nation, they have established different bodies,—a body of representatives, a council, and a governor,—because there is in England a house of commons, a house of lords, and a king; they endeavor to balance these different powers.”
This solemn opinion of M. Turgot, is the object of the whole of the three volumes. M. Turgot had seen only the constitutions of New York, Massachusetts, and Maryland, and the first constitution of Pennsylvania. His principal intention was to censure the three former. From these three the constitution of the United States was afterwards almost entirely drawn.
The drift of my whole work was, to vindicate these three constitutions against the reproaches of that great statesman, philosopher, and really excellent man, whom I well knew, and to defend them against his attacks, and only upon those points on which he had assaulted them. If this fact had been considered, it would have prevented a thousand witticisms and criticisms about the “misnomer,” &c.
The points I had to illustrate and to prove, were,—
1. That the people of Massachusetts, New York, and Maryland were not to blame for instituting governors, councils, (or senates) and houses of representatives.
2. That they were not reprehensible for endeavoring to balance those different powers.
3. That they were to be applauded, not reproached, for not “collecting all authority into one centre, that of the nation,” in whatever sense those dark, obscure, and incomprehensible words could be understood.
4. Construing these phrases, as it is believed they were intended, to recommend a sovereignty in a single assembly of representatives, that is, a representative of democracy, it was my duty to show that democracy was as unsteady, equally envious, ambitious, avaricious, vain, proud, cruel, and bloody, as aristocracy or monarchy.
5. That an equilibrium of those “different powers” was indispensably necessary to guard and defend the rights, liberties, and happiness of the people against the deleterious, contagious, and pestilential effects of those passions of vanity, pride, ambition, envy, revenge, lust, and cruelty, which domineer more or less in every government that has no balance or an imperfect balance.
6. That it was not an affected imitation of the English government, so much as an attachment to their old colonial forms, in every one of which there had been three branches,—a governor, a council, and a house of representatives,—which, added to the eternal reason and unalterable nature of things, induced the legislators of those three states to adopt their new constitutions.
The design of the three volumes, pursued from the first page of the first to the last page of the last, was to illustrate, elucidate, and demonstrate those six important truths. To illustrate and prove these truths, or to show them to be falsehoods, where can we look but into the heart of man and the history of his heart? In the heart were found those appetites, passions, prejudices, and selfish interests, which ought always to be controlled by reason, conscience, and social affections; but which are never perfectly so controlled, even by any individual, still less by nations and large bodies of men, and less and less, as communities grow larger and larger, more populous, more commercial, more wealthy, and more luxurious. In the history of his heart, a transient glance of the eye was cast over the most conspicuous, remarkable, and celebrated of those nations who had preserved any share of authority to the people, or who had approached the nearest to preserving all authority to the people, or who had mixed the authority of the people with that of patricians, or senates, or councils, or where the executive power had been separated from, or united with the legislative, or where the judicial power had been complicated with either, or separate from both. And it was endeavored to be shown, that those nations had been the happiest who had separated the legislative from the executive power, the judicial from both, and divided the legislative power itself into three branches, thereby producing a balance between the legislative and executive authority, a balance between the branches of the legislature, and a salutary check upon all these powers in the judicial, as had been done in the constitutions of Maryland, New York, and Massachusetts. I had nothing to do with despotisms or simple monarchies, unless it were incidentally, and by way of illustration.
I know not that any one of my facts has ever been denied or disputed or doubted. Do you deny any of them? Are they not a sufficient apology for the people of Massachusetts, New York, and Maryland, against the accusations of M. Turgot, as well as against Sharp and his followers, who taught the same dogmas?
In my apology, if you like that word better than “defence,” I passed over England for more reasons than one. I very well knew that there had been no nation that had produced so many materials for the illustration of my system and confirmation of my principles, as that in which I wrote. There was anciently no people but serfs; no house of commons. The struggle between kings, barons, and priests, from Thomas à Kempis to Cardinal Wolsey, and from him to Archbishop Laud, and from him to King William, would have been instructive enough; and it would not have been difficult to show that “the wars, rebellions, persecutions, and oppressions of the English form” arose (the frenzy of superstition apart) from the want of that limitation of power in the king, the lords, the commons, and the judges, and of the balances between them, for which I contended. I had nothing to do with the ecclesiastical establishment in England. My observations related exclusively to the civil and political arrangement of powers. These powers were never accurately defined, and, consequently, balanced, till the revolution, nor the judges completely independent, till the present reign.
Nor had I any thing to do with the hereditary quality, superadded to the monarchical and aristocratical powers in England. The three great powers may be separated for some purposes, united for others, as clearly defined, limited, and balanced, for one, two, or three years, as in the constitutions of Maryland, New York, and Massachusetts, as they can be for an age, or as they are in England for endless ages.
A large proportion of “the wars, rebellions, persecutions, and oppressions,” in England have arisen from ecclesiastical artifices, and the intoxication of religious enthusiasm. Are you sure that any form of government can at all times secure the people from fanaticism? Although this country has done much, are you confident that our moral, civil, or political liberties are perfectly safe on this quarter? Is a democracy less liable to this evil than a mixed government? It is true that, in my apology, I expressed in strong terms my admiration of the English constitution; but I meant no more of it than was to the purpose of my argument; that is, the division and union of powers in our American constitutions, which were, indeed, so far, imitations of it. My argument had no more to do with hereditary descent than it had with the Church or the Bank of England.
My mind, I acknowledge, was deeply impressed with apprehensions from the accounts of the dangerous and irregular proceedings in several counties in Massachusetts, and the alarming extent of similar discontents in all the other states. And more than all this. The fountains of the great deep were broken up in France, and the proud wave of democracy was spreading and swelling and rolling, not only through that kingdom, but into England, Holland, Geneva, and Switzerland, and, indeed, threatened an inundation all over Europe. Innovation was making bold and large strides in every direction. I had great doubts of the success of the leaders in any useful degree; but of one thing I was fully convinced,—that if they aimed at any constitution of civil government more popular than the English, they would ruin themselves, after setting Europe on fire and shedding oceans of blood. The rise, progress, and termination to this time need only be hinted. Are you now convinced that France must have a more permanent executive than she had in the time of Barrère? The constitutions in France, Spain, and Holland, have at last approached nearer to such a division and balance of powers as are contended for, than ever was attempted before; but these constitutions of 1814 are all essentially defective, and cannot endure. As to rebellions in England, there was one in 1715, another in 1745. I recollect no more, unless you claim for one Lord George Gordon’s insanity, and that of his stupid, bigoted followers.
After all our “discoveries of new principles of moral liberty,” we have had Shays’s, Fries’s, and I know not whose rebellion in the western counties of Pennsylvania. How near did Virginia and Kentucky approach in the last years of the last century? And how near is New England approaching at this hour in Hartford?
Must you and I humble ourselves in dust and ashes to acknowledge that the United States have had more rebellions and quasi rebellions in thirty years than England has had in one hundred and twenty?
John Wilkes said to a confidential friend, who broke in unexpectedly to his closet when he was writing his North-Briton, number fifty-five, “I have been studying these four hours to see how near I could come to treason without committing it.” This study, Mr. Taylor, has become a fashionable study in the South, the Middle, and the North, of America.
You “admit that man is physically always the same, but deny that he is so morally.” I have not admitted that he is physically always the same, nor have I asserted that he is so morally. On the contrary, some are born strong, others weak, some tall, others short, some agile, others clumsy, some handsome, others ugly, some black, others white. These physical qualities, too, may be, and are both improved and depraved by education, practice, exercise, and nourishment. They are all born alike morally innocent, but do not all remain so. They soon become as different and unlike, and unequal in morals as virtue and vice, merit and guilt. In their intellects they are never equal nor the same. Perception is more quick, memory more retentive, judgment more mature, reason more correct, thoughts better arranged, in some than in others. And these inequalities are the sources of the natural aristocracy among mankind, according to my express words quoted by you.
The corporeal inequalities among mankind, from the cradle and from the womb to the age of Oglethorpe and Parr, the intellectual inequalities from Blackmore to Milton, from Crocker to Newton, and from Behmen to Locke, are so obvious and notorious, that I could not expect they would have been doubted. The moral equality, that is, the innocence, is only at the birth; as soon as they can walk or speak, you may discern a moral inequality. These inequalities, physical, intellectual, and moral, I have called sources of a natural aristocracy; and such they are, have been, and will be; and it would not be dangerous to say, they are sources of all the artificial aristocracies that have been, are, or will be.
Can you say that these physical, intellectual, and moral inequalities produce no inequalities of influence, consideration, and power in society?
You say, “upon the truth or error of this distinction, the truth or error of Mr. Adams’s mode of reasoning, and of this essay, will somewhat depend.” I know not whether I ought not to join issue with you upon this point. State the question or questions, then, fairly and candidly between us.
1. Are there, or are there not physical, corporeal, material inequalities among mankind, from the embryo to the tomb?
2. Are there, or are there not intellectual inequalities from the first opening of the senses, the sight, the hearing, the taste, the smell, and the touch, to the final loss of all sense?
3. Are there not moral inequalities, discernible almost, if not quite, from the original innocence to the last stage of guilt and depravity?
4. From these inequalities, physical, intellectual, and moral, does there or does there not arise a natural aristocracy among mankind? or, in other words, some men who have greater capacities and advantages to acquire the love, esteem, and respect of their fellow men, more wealth, fame, consideration, honor, influence, and power in society than other men?
When, where, have I said that men were always morally the same?
Never, in word or writing. I have said,—
1. There is an inequality of wealth.1
2. There is an inequality of birth.1
3. There are great inequalities of merit, talents, virtues, services, and reputations.2
4. There are a few in whom all these advantages of birth, fortune, and fame, are united.2
I then go on to say, “these sources of inequality, common to every people, founded in the constitution of nature a natural aristocracy, &c. &c.”
Now, sir, let me modestly and civilly request of you a direct and simple answer to the three foregoing questions. Ay or no; yea or nay. You and I have been so drilled to such answers that we can have as little difficulty in promising them as in understanding them; at least, unless we have become greater proficients in pyrrhonism, than we were when we lived together. When I shall be honored with your yea or nay to those three questions, I hope I shall know the real questions between us, and be enabled to confess my error, express my doubts, or state my replication.
But, sir, let me ask you why you direct your artillery at me alone? at me, a simple individual “in town obscure, of humble parents born?” I had fortified myself behind the intrenchments of Aristotle, Livy, Sidney, Harrington, Dr. Price, Machiavel, Montesquieu, Swift, &c. You should have battered down these strong outworks before you could demolish me.
The word “crown,” which you have quoted from me in your eighth page, was used merely to signify the executive authority. You, sir, who are a lawyer, know that this figure signifies nothing more nor less. “The prince” is used by J. J. Rousseau, and by other writers on the social compact, for the same thing. Had I been blessed with time to revise a work which is full of errors of the press, I should have noted this as an erratum, especially if I had thought of guarding against malevolent criticism in America. I now request a formal erratum; page 117,1 at the bottom, dele “crown,” and insert “executive authority.”
In your eighth page, you begin to consider my natural causes of aristocracy.
1. “Superior abilities.” Let us keep to nature and experience. Is there no such thing as genius? Had Raphael no more genius than the common sign-post painters? Had Newton no more genius than even his great master, that learned, profound, and most excellent man, Dr. Barrow? Had Alexander no more genius than Darius? Had Cæsar no more than Catiline, or even than Pompey? Had Napoleon no more than Santerre? Has the Honorable John Randolph no more than Nimrod Hughes and Christopher Macpherson? Has every clerk in a counting-house as great a genius for numbers as Zerah Colburne, who, at six years of age, demonstrated faculties which Sanderson and Newton never possessed in their ripest days? Is there in the world a father of a family who has not perceived diversities in the natural capacities of his children?
These questions deserve direct answers. If you allow that there are natural inequalities of abilities, consider the effects that the genius of Alexander produced! They are visible to this day. And what effect has the genius of Napoleon produced? They will be felt for three thousand years to come. What effect have the genius of Washington and Franklin produced? Had these men no more influence in society than the ordinary average of other men? Genius is sometimes long lived; and it has accumulated fame, wealth, and power, greater than can be commanded by millions of ordinary citizens. These advantages are sometimes applied to good purposes, and sometimes to bad.
When superior genius gives greater influence in society than is possessed by inferior genius, or a mediocrity of genius, that is, than by the ordinary level of men, this superior influence I call natural aristocracy. This cause, you say, is “fluctuating.” What then? it is aristocracy still, while it exists. And is not democracy “fluctuating” too? Are the waves of the sea, or the winds of the air, or the gossamer that idles in the wanton summer air, more fluctuating than democracy? While I admit the existence of democracy, notwithstanding its instability, you must acknowledge the existence of natural aristocracy, notwithstanding its fluctuations.
I find it difficult to understand you, when you say that “knowledge and ignorance are fluctuating.” Knowledge is unchangeable; and ignorance cannot change, because it is nothing. It is a nonentity. Truth is one, uniform and eternal; knowledge of it cannot fluctuate any more than itself. Ignorance of truth, being a nonentity, cannot, surely, become entity and fluctuate and change like Proteus, or wind, or water. You sport away so merrily upon this topic, that I will have the pleasure of transcribing you. You say, “the aristocracy of superior abilities will be regulated by the extent of the space between knowledge and ignorance; as the space contracts or widens, it will be diminished or increased; and if aristocracy may be thus diminished, it follows that it may be thus destroyed.”
What is the amount of this argument? Ignorance may be destroyed and knowledge increased ad infinitum. And do you expect that all men are to become omniscient, like the almighty and omniscient Hindoo, perfect Brahmins? Are your hopes founded upon an expectation that knowledge will one day be equally divided? Will women have as much knowledge as men? Will children have as much as their parents? If the time will never come when all men will have equal knowledge, it seems to follow, that some will know more than others; and that those who know most will have more influence than those who know least, or than those who know half way between the two extremes; and consequently will be aristocrats. “Superior abilities,” comprehend abilities acquired by education and study, as well as genius and natural parts; and what a source of inequality and aristocracy is here! Suffer me to dilate a little in this place. Massachusetts has probably educated as many sons to letters, in proportion to her numbers, as any State in the Union, perhaps as any nation, ancient or modern. What proportion do the scholars bear to the whole number of people? I wish I had a catalogue of our Harvard University, that I might state exact numbers. Say that, in almost two hundred years, there have been three or four thousand educated, from perhaps two or three millions of people. Are not these aristocrats? or, in other words, have they not had more influence than any equal number of uneducated men? In fact, these men governed the province from its first settlement; these men have governed, and still govern, the state. These men, in schools, academies, colleges, and universities; these men, in the shape of ministers, lawyers, and physicians; these men, in academies of arts and sciences, in agricultural societies, in historical societies, in medical societies and in antiquarian societies, in banking institutions and in Washington benevolent societies, govern the state, at this twenty-sixth of December, 1814. The more you educate, without a balance in the government, the more aristocratical will the people and the government be. There never can be, in any nation, more than one fifth—no, not one tenth of the men, regularly educated to science and letters. I hope, then, you will acknowledge, that “abilities” form a distinction and confer a privilege, in fact, though they give no peculiar rights in society.
2. You appear, sir, to have overlooked or forgotten one great source of natural aristocracy, mentioned by me in my Apology, and dilated on in subsequent pages, I mean birth. I should be obliged to you for your candid sentiments upon this important subject. Exceptions have been taken to the phrase well born; but I can see no more impropriety in it than in the epithets well bred, well educated, well brought up, well taught, well informed, well read, well to live, well dressed, well fed, well clothed, well armed, well accoutred, well furnished, well made, well fought, well aimed, well meant, well mounted, well fortified, well tempered, well fatted, well spoken, well argued, well reasoned, well decked, well ducked, well trimmed, well wrought, or any other well in common parlance.
And here, sir, permit me, by way of digression, to remark another discouragement to honest political literature, and the progress of real political science. If a well-meant publication appears, it is instantly searched for an unpopular word, or one that can be made so by misconstruction, misrepresentation, or by any credible and imposing deception. Some ambitious, popular demagogue gives the alarm,—“heresy?” Holy, democratical church has decreed that word to be “heresy!” Down with him! And, if there was no check to their passions, and no balance to their government, they would say, à la lanterne! à la guillotine! roast him! bake him! boil him! fry him! The Inquisition in Spain would not celebrate more joyfully an autoda-fé.
Some years ago, more than forty, a writer unfortunately made use of the term better sort. Instantly, a popular clamor was raised, and an odium excited, which remains to this day, to such a degree, that no man dares to employ that expression at the bar, in conversation, in a newspaper, or pamphlet, no, nor in the pulpit; though the “baser sort” are sufficiently marked and distinguished in the New Testament, to prove that there is no wrong in believing a “better sort.” And if there is any difference between virtue and vice, there is a “better sort” and a worse sort in every human society.
With sincere reverence, let me here quote one of the most profound philosophical, moral, and religious sentiments that ever was expressed:—“We know not what spirit we are of.”
I have not yet finished what the poets call an episode, and prose-men a digression. Can you account for a caprice in the public opinion? Burke’s “swinish multitude” has not been half so unpopular, nor excited half the irritation, odium, resentment, or indignation that “well born” and “better sort” have produced. Burke’s phrase, nevertheless, must be allowed to be infinitely more unphilosophical, immoral, irreligious, uncivil, impolitic, inhuman, and insolent than either, or both the other. Impudent libeller of your species! Whom do you mean by your “multitude?” The multitude, in your country, means the people of England, Scotland, and Ireland, and all the rest of your dominions. The multitude, in this country, means the people of the United States. The multitude means mankind. Make your exceptions, and then say, after an attention, whether they are not, upon an average, as swinish as the rest. All the delicacy of your classical criticism, all the subtilty of your metaphysical discrimination, cannot devise a justifiable limitation of your words.
But, to return from this digression, till I meet another. Our present subject is birth. It is acknowledged that we are all children of the same benevolent parent; all born under the same moral law of our nature; all equally free; and all entitled to the same equal rights. Thus far, I hope, we are agreed. But, not to repeat the physical inequalities and the intellectual inequalities of capacity, before enumerated, and perhaps more than once, is there not a distinction made in society between children of different parents? and is it not produced by natural causes? If you deny that such distinctions are made in fact and practice, how shall I prove it?
1. The general sense, and still more, the universal consent of mankind, is allowed to be a strong argument to prove the truth of any fact, or any opinion. Is there any practice, custom, or sentiment, in which mankind have more universally agreed, than in making distinctions of nativity, and manifesting more respect for the children of some parents than for those of others? Not only all civilized, cultivated, and polished societies, but all pastoral nations and savage hordes, the negroes of Africa and our Indian tribes, all concur in this usage. If, in all your reading, conversation, or experience, you have found an exception, I pray you to communicate it to me. I know none.
2. Look over our States, (which, I pray, may be sometime or other truly called United.) Is no distinction made here? It might be thought invidious to mention names, and indeed it would be endless. But are there not names almost as much revered as those of patriarchs, prophets, or apostles? Have names no influence in governing men? Had the word “Gueux” no influence in the Dutch Revolution? Had the word “sans culotte” none in the French? Have the words “Jacobin,” “democrat,” no influence? Have the words “federalist” and “republican” no effect? If these transient, momentary, cant words of faction, or at best of party, have such effects, what must be the more permanent influence of names that have been revered for ages, and never heard but like music?
3. In this argument, I have a right to state cases as strong as any that occur in human life. Suppose ten thousand people assembled to see the execution of a man for burglary, robbery, arson, fratricide, patricide, or the meanest, most treacherous, perfidious, and cruel crime that can be committed or imagined. Suppose, the next day, the same ten thousand people should attend the funeral obsequies of Washington, Hamilton, or Ames. Is it possible that these ten thousand people should have the same feelings for the children of the criminal that they have for the hero and the sages?
4. Is there not a presumption in favor of some children? At least a probable presumption, if not a violent presumption? Here, again, I have a right to put strong cases. Here are two families in the same neighborhood; the parents in one are ignorant, intemperate, idle, thievish, lying, and, consequently, destitute; in the other, they are sober, prudent, honest, decent, frugal, industrious, possessed of comfortable property, studious, inquisitive, well informed, and, if you will, literary and scientific. Is there not a violent presumption in favor of the children of the latter family, and against those of the former? Exceptions there are; but exceptions prove the general rule.
5. Is there not a prejudice in favor of some children, and against others? Prejudices, associations, habits, customs, usages, manners, must, in some cases and in some degree, be studied, respected, and indulged by legislators, even the most wise, virtuous, pious, learned, and profound. Here, sir, I will appeal to yourself. A young man appears. You ask of the bystanders who he is? The answer is, “I do not know.” “No matter; let him go.” Another appears,—“Who is he?” The answer is, “The son of A. B.” “I do not know A. B.” A third appears,—“Who is this?” “The son of C. D.” “C. D.! my friend! He has been dead these fifty years; but I love his memory, and should be glad to be acquainted with any of his posterity. Please to walk in, sir, and favor me with your company for a few weeks or months; you will be always welcome to my house, and will always oblige me with your company.”
6. Theognis, a Greek poet, twenty-four hundred years ago, complains that, although mankind were very anxious to purchase stallions, bulls, and rams of the best breed; yet, in some instances, men would marry wives of mean extraction for the sake of their fortunes, and ladies of high birth would marry men of low descent because they were rich.1 And I believe there has not been a poet, orator, historian, or philosopher, from his age to this, who has not in his writings expressed or implied some distinction of nativities; nor has there been one of either sex who, in choosing a companion for life, between two rivals of equal youth, beauty, fortune, talents, and accomplishments, would not prefer the one of respectable parentage to the other of meaner and lower original.
I am still upon birth, and my seventh argument is,—
7. It was a custom among the Greeks and Romans,—probably in all civilized nations,—to give names to the castles, palaces, and mansions of their consuls, dictators, and other magistrates, senators, &c. This practice is still followed in England, France, &c. Among the ancients, the distinctions of extraction were most constantly marked by the spots on which they were born. “Illustri loco natus,” “claro loco natus,” “clarissimo loco natus,” “illustrissimo loco natus,” were common expressions of conspicuous origin. On the contrary, “obscuro loco nati,” “vili loco nati,” designated low original, base extraction, sordid descent, and were expressions, however unjustly, of odium, or at least contempt. I perceive, sir, that you gentlemen of Virginia, who are good classical scholars, have not suffered this observation to escape you. You have taken the modest name of Hazlewood; my friend Richard Lee, the superb name, Chantilly; Mr. Madison, the beautiful name of Montpelier; and Mr. Jefferson, the lofty name of Monticello; and Mr. Washington, the very humble name of a British sea captain, Mount Vernon; the Hon. John Randolph, that of Roanoke. I would advise the present proprietor of Mount Vernon to change the name to Mount Talbot, Truxton, Decatur, Rodgers, Bainbridge, or Hull. And I would advise our Boston gentlemen, who have given this name of the British sea captain to the most beautiful hill on the globe, to change it to Mount Hancock, or Mount Perry, or Mount Macdonough.
8. I wish I could take a walk with you in all the churchyards and burying grounds in Virginia,—Episcopalian, Presbyterian, Methodist, or what you will. Are there not tombs, monuments, gravestones, and inscriptions, ancient and modern? Is there no distinction made among these memorials? Are they all seen with equal eyes, with equal indifference? Is there no peculiar attachment, no particular veneration for any of them? Are they all beheld by the whole people and by every individual with similar sensations and reflections? How many hundreds of thousands of men, women, and children have lived and died in Virginia, to whom no monument has been erected, whose posterity know not, and cannot conjecture, where their ancestors were deposited? Do all these cemeteries, which are found all over the world, exhibit no distinctions of names and families and persons? Are not these distinctions natural? produced by natural and inevitable causes?
9. I should be highly honored and vastly delighted to visit with you every great planter in Virginia. I should be pleased to look into their parlors, banqueting rooms, bedchambers, and great halls, as Mr. Jefferson and I once did together the most celebrated of the gentlemen’s country seats in England. Should we there see no statues, no busts, no pictures, no portraits of their ancestors? no trinkets, no garments, no pieces of furniture carefully preserved, because they belonged to great grandfathers, and estimated at ten times the value of similar articles of superior quality, that might be bought at any shop or store? What are ancestors, or their little or great elegance or conveniences, to the present planter, more than those of the fifty-acre man, his neighbor, who perhaps never knew the name of his grandfather or father? Are there no natural feelings, and, consequently, no natural distinctions here?
I think I have been impartial, and have suspected no vanity or weakness in Virginians, which I have not recognized in Massachusettensians; and I could enumerate many more. I will go farther. It seems to be generally agreed and settled among men, that John Adams is a weak and vain man. I fall down under the public opinion, the general sense, and frankly and penitently acknowledge, that I have been all my lifetime, and still am, a weak and vain man. One instance of my vanity and weakness I will distinguish. Within two or three years, I have followed to the tomb the nearest, the dearest, the tenderest connections, relations, and friends of my life, from almost ninety years of age to eighteen months. This has made me contemplate much among the tombs,—a gloomy region to which I had been much a stranger. In this churchyard, I found the monumental stones of my father and mother, my grandfather and grandmother, my great grandfather and great grandmother, and my great great grandfather. My great great grandmother died in England. If you will do me the favor, sir, to come to Quincy and spend a few weeks with me, I will take a walk with you, and show you all these monuments and inscriptions, and will confess to you, I would not exchange this line of ancestors for that of Guelphs, or Bowdoins, or Carters, or Winthrops. Such is my vanity, imbecility, and dotage! And I suspect that you are not a whit wiser than I am in this respect. Open your soul, sir, and disclose your natural feelings, and frankly say, whether you would exchange ancestors with any man living. I believe you would not. Is there a human being who would? If these feelings for ancestors are universal, how shall any legislator prevent the rich, the great, the powerful, the learned, the ingenious, from distinguishing by durable, costly, and permanent memorials, their own ancestors, and, consequently, their children and remote posterity, from the descendants of the vast, the immense majority, who lie mingled with the dust, totally forgotten? And how shall he prevent these names and families from being more noted and respected by nations, as well as smaller communities, than names never before heard?
A word or two more upon birth.
10. Birth is naturally and necessarily and inevitably so connected and blended with property, fame, power, education, genius, strength, beauty, learning, science, taste, figure, air, attitudes, movements, &c. &c. &c., that it is often impossible, and always difficult to separate them. Two children are born on the same day, of equal genius,—one, the son of Mr. Jefferson; the other, of Nimrod Hughes. Which will meet with most favor in the world? Would a child of Anthony Benezet, good creature as he was, have an equal chance in life with a son of Robert Morris, when the wealth of nations was believed to be in his power? Would a son of the good Rutherford, the predecessor of General Morgan, have an equal favor in the world with a son of the great General and President Washington? Would a son of Sir Isaac Newton have no more favor in the sight of the whole human race than a son of Mr. Rittenhouse, the worthy President of the Philosophical Society of Philadelphia? Beau Nash meet no more complaisance than one of the Hercules du Roi, whom I have seen leap at Sadlers Wells, and turn his heels over his head, at a height of ten or twelve feet, and come down on the other side of the stage erect? I leave, sir, to your fertile genius, ample reading, and long experience, to pursue the inquiries. I could continue to enumerate examples through sheets of paper.
11. Have you not observed in life, and have you not remarked in history, that the common people,—and by common people, I here mean all mankind, despots, emperors, kings, princes, nobles, presidents, senators, representatives, lawyers, divines, physicians, merchants, farmers, shopkeepers, mechanics, tradesmen, day laborers, tavern haunters, dram-shop frequenters, mob, rabble, and canaille, that is to say, all human kind,—have you not observed that all these feel more respect, more real respect for birth than even for wealth; may I not say than for genius, fame, talents, or power? Though they follow and hosanna for the loaves and fishes, you will often hear them say, “proud as he is, I knew his father, who was only a blacksmith; his grandfather, who was only a carpenter; or his great grandfather, who was only a shoemaker; he need not be so topping.”
12. Has not the experience of six thousand years shown that the common people submit more easily and quietly to birth than to wealth, genius, fame, or any other talents? Whence the prejudices against upstarts, parvenus, &c.? Whence the general respect, reverence, and submission in all ages and nations, of plebeians to patricians, of sieurs to monsieurs, of juffrouws to mevrouws? If a man of high birth is promoted, little or nothing is said by the plebeians. If one of their own level, the son of a tradesman or common farmer is advanced, all the envy and bile of his equals is excited. He is abused and belittled, if not reviled, by all his former equals, as they thought themselves, whatever may have been the superiority of his genius, education, services, experience, or other talents. There is nothing, Mr. Taylor, to which the vulgar, in general, so quietly and patiently and cordially submit as to birth.
13. What in all ages has been the source of the submission of nobility to royalty? Every nobleman envies his sovereign, and would pull him down, if he could get into his throne and wear his crown. But when nobles and ignobles have torn one another to pieces for years or ages in their eternal squabbles of jealousy, envy, rivalry, hatred, and revenge, and all are convinced that this anarchy will not do, that the world will be depopulated, that a head must be set up, and all the members must be guided by it, then, and not till then, will nobles submit to Kings as of superior birth. What subjects all the nobility of Europe to all the kings of Europe, but birth? though some of them cannot well make out their pretensions; particularly the proudest of them all,—the house of Austria.
14. What has excited a universal insurrection of all Europe against Bonaparte, (if we dive to the bottom of this awful gulf, and recollect the succession of coalitions against him and against republican France,) but because he was obscuro loco natus, the son of a simple gentillâtre of Corsica?
15. Such, and so universal are the manifest distinctions of birth in every village and every city, so tremendous are their effects on nations and governments, that one might almost pronounce them self-evident. I may justly be ridiculed for laboring to demonstrate in re non dubià, testibus non necessariis. Can you discern no good in this eternal ordinance of nature, the varieties of birth? If you cannot, as the facts are indisputable, you must assert that, so far as you can see, the world is ill made, and that the whole of mankind are miscreants. For there are no two of them born alike in any thing but divine right and moral liberty.
17. Please to remember that birth confers no right on one more than another! But birth naturally and unavoidably produces more influence in society, in some more than in others; and the superiority of influence in society, in some more than in others; and the superiority of influence is aristocracy.
18. When birth, genius, beauty, strength, wealth, education, fame, services, heroism, experience, unite in an individual, they produce inequality of influence, that is, aristocracy with a witness, so that one can chase a thousand, and two put ten thousand to flight in any political conflict; and without any hereditary descent, or any artificial marks, titles, or decorations, whatever.
In page 10, you say, “Mr. Adams has omitted a cause of aristocracy in the quotation, which he forgets not to urge in other places, namely,—exclusive wealth.” This is your omission, sir, not mine. In page 109, vol. i.1 I expressly enumerated, “inequality of wealth” as one of the causes of aristocracy, and as having a natural and inevitable influence in society. I said nothing about “exclusive” wealth. The word “exclusive,” is an interpolation of your own. This you acknowledge to be, “by much the most formidable with which mankind have to contend;” that is, as I understand you, superior wealth is the most formidable cause of aristocracy, or of superior influence in society. There may be some difficulty in determining the question, whether distinctions of birth, or distinctions of property, have the greatest influence in the world? Both have very great influence, much too great, when not restrained by something besides the passions or the consciences of the possessors. Were I required to give an answer to the question, my answer would be, with some diffidence, that, in my opinion, taking into consideration history and experience, birth has had, and still has, most power and the greatest effects; because conspicuous birth is hereditary; it is derived from ancestors, descends to posterity, and is inalienable. Titles and ribbons, and stars and garters, and crosses and legal establishments, are by no means essential or necessary to the preservation of it. The evidences of it are in history and records, and in the memories and hearts they remain, and it never fails to descend to posterity as long as that posterity furnishes any one or more whose talents and virtues can support the reputation of the name. Birth and wealth are commonly so entangled together, from an emperor down to a constable or tithing-man, that it is difficult to separate them so distinctly as to place one in one scale, and the other in an opposite scale, to ascertain in grains and scruples the preponderance. The complaint of Theognis, that pelf is sometimes preferred to blood, was, and is true; and it is also true that beauty, wit, art, disposition, and “winning ways,” are more successful than descent; yet, in general, I believe this prevails oftener than any of the others. I may be mistaken in this opinion; but of this I am certain; that it always has the same weight, when it is at all considered. You must recur, Mr. Taylor, to Plato’s republic and the French republic, destroy all marriages, introduce a perfect community of women, render it impossible to know, or suspect, or conjecture one’s own father or mother, son or daughter, brother or sister, uncle or aunt, before you can annihilate all distinctions of birth. I conclude, therefore, that birth has naturally and necessarily and unavoidably some influence, more or less, in human society. Will you say it has none? I have a right, sir, to an answer to this question, yea or nay. You have summoned me before the world and posterity, in my last hours, by your voluminous criticisms and ratiocinations, which gives me a right to demand fair play. On my part, I promise to answer any question you can state, by an affirmative, negative, or doubt, without equivocation. Property, wealth, riches, although you allow them to be a cause of aristocracy in your tenth page, yet you will not permit this cause to be “ascribed to nature.” But why not? If, as I have heard, “the shortest road to men’s hearts is down their throats,” this is surely a natural route. Hunger and thirst are natural wants, and the supplies of them are natural. Nature has settled the point, that wood and stones shall not invigorate and enliven them like wine. Suppose one of your southern gentlemen to have only one hundred thousand acres of land. He settles one thousand tenants with families upon it. If he is a humane, easy, generous landlord, will not his tenants feel an attachment to him? will he not have influence among them? will they not naturally think and vote as he votes? If, on the contrary, he is an austere, griping, racking, rack-renting tyrant, will not his tenants be afraid to offend him? will not some, if not all of them, pretend to think with him, and vote as he would have them, upon the same principle as some nations have worshipped the devil, because they knew not into whose hands they might fall? Now, sir, my argument is this. If either the generous landlord or the selfish landlord can obtain by gratitude or fear only one vote more than his own from his tenants in general, he is an aristocrat, whether his vote and those of his dependents be beneficial or maleficial, salutary or pestilential, or fatal to the community.
I remember the time, Mr. Taylor, when one thousand families depended on Mr. Hancock for their daily bread; perhaps more. All men allowed him to be punctual, humane, generous. How many of the heads of these families would naturally be inclined to vote with and for Mr. Hancock? Could not Mr. Hancock command, or at least influence one vote, besides his own? If he could, he was an aristocrat, according to my definition and conscientious opinion. Let me appeal now to your own experience. Are there not in your own Caroline County, in Virginia, two or three, or four, five or six, eight or ten great planters, who, if united, can carry any point in your elections? These are every one of them aristocrats, and you, who are the first of them, are the most eminent aristocrat of them all.
Give me leave to add a few words on this topic. I remember the time when three gentlemen,—Thomas Hancock, Charles Apthorp, and Thomas Green, the three most opulent merchants in Boston, all honorable, virtuous, and humane men,—if united, could have carried any election almost unanimously in the town of Boston.
Harrington, whom I read forty or fifty years ago, and shall quote from memory, being too old to hunt for books and fumble over the leaves of folios, has been called the Newton in politics, and is supposed to have made a great discovery, namely,—that mankind are governed by the teeth, and that dominion is founded on property in land. Mr. Locke and the French economists countenance this opinion. Landed gentlemen are generally not only aristocrats, but tories. What but commerce, manufactures, navigation, and naval power, supported by a moneyed interest, restrains them from establishing aristocracies or oligarchies, as absolute, arbitrary, oppressive, and cruel, as any monarchy ever was? What has annihilated the astonishing commerce and naval power of Holland, but the influence of the landed gentlemen in the inland provinces, overbearing and outvoting the maritime provinces? What is it that prevents France from reducing and restraining, if not annihilating, the commerce, manufactures, and naval power of Great Britain, but the landed gentry,—the proprietors of lands in France? Who never would suffer commerce, manufactures, or naval power to grow in that kingdom? Who would never permit Colbert or Necker to hold power, or even enjoy popularity, but with the moneyed interest? Yet these gentlemen could never be satisfied with the number of soldiers and land armies. No expense, no exertion to increase the number of officers and soldiers in the army could be too much. What has prevented our beloved country, to the astonishment of all Europe, from having at this hour a naval force amply sufficient to burn, sink, or destroy, or bring captive into our harbors, all the men of war that Britain has sent, or can send to our coasts, but the landed gentlemen, the great and little planters, the yeomen and farmers of the United States? Such it was in the beginning, is now, and, I fear, ever will be, world without end.
All these considerations prove the mighty influence of property in human affairs; they prove the influence of birth too; for landed property is hereditary generally all over the world. Truth, Mr. Taylor, cannot be ridiculed into error. Aristophanes could laugh Socrates out of his life, but not out of his merit or his fame. You seem to admit that “aristocracy is created by wealth,” but you seem to think it is “artificially,” not “naturally,” so created. But if superior genius, birth, strength, and activity, naturally obtain superior wealth, and if superior wealth has naturally influence in society, where is the impropriety in calling the influence of wealth “natural?” I am not, however, bigoted to the epithet natural; and you may substitute the epithet “actual” in the place of it, if you think it worth while.
“Alienation,” you say, “is the remedy for an aristocracy founded on landed wealth.” But alienation only transfers the aristocracy from one hand to another. The aristocracy remains the same. If Brutus transfers to Cassius a villa or a principality purchased by the unrighteous profits of usury, Cassius becomes as influential an aristocrat as Brutus was before. If John Randolph should manumit one of his negroes and alienate to him his plantation, that negro would become as great an aristocrat as John Randolph. And the negro, John Randolph, Brutus, and Cassius, were, and are, and would be aristocrats of a scarlet color and a crimson dye, if they could. Alienation, therefore, is no remedy against an aristocracy founded on landed wealth.
You say, sir, that “inhibitions upon monopoly and incorporation are remedies for aristocracy founded on paper wealth.” Here, sir, once for all, let me say, that you can write nothing too severe for me against “paper wealth.” You may say, if you please, as Swift says of party, that it is the madness of the many for the profit of the few. You may call a swindler, a pickpocket, a pirate, a thief, or a robber, and I will not contradict you, nor dispute with you. But, sir, how will you obtain your “inhibitions upon monopoly and incorporation,” when the few are craving and the many mad for the same thing? When democrats and aristocrats all unite, with perhaps only two or three exceptions, in urging these monopolies and incorporations to the last extremity, and when every man who opposes them is sure to be ruined? Paper wealth has been a source of aristocracy in this country, as well as landed wealth, with a vengeance. Witness the immense fortunes made per saltum by aristocratical speculations, both in land and paper. In human affairs, sir, we must consider what is practicable, as well as what is theoretical.
But, sir, land and paper are not the only sources of aristocracy. There are master shipwrights, housewrights, masons, &c. &c., who have each of them from twenty to a hundred families in their employment, and can carry a posse to the polls when they will. These are not only aristocrats, but a species of feudal barons. What are demagogues and popular orators, but aristocrats? John Cade and Wat Tyler were aristocrats. Callender and Paine were aristocrats. Shays and Fries were aristocrats. Mobs never follow any but aristocrats.
Knowledge, you say, invented alienation, and became the natural enemy of aristocracy. This “invention” of knowledge was not very profound or ingenious. There are hundreds in the patent office more brilliant. The right, power, and authority of alienation are essential to property. If I own a snuffbox, I can burn it in the fire, cast it in a salt pond, crush it in atoms under a wagon wheel, or make a present of it to you,—which last alienation I should prefer to all the others,—or I could sell it to a peddler, or give it to a beggar. But, in either case, of gift or sale, would the aristocratical power of the snuffbox be lessened by alienation? Should a palatinate of Poland, or a prince of Russia, alienate his palatinate or his principality, with all the serfs attached to them, would not the buyer derive all the aristocratical influence from the purchase which the latter alienated by the sale? Should a planter in Virginia sell his clarissimum et illustrissimum et celeberrimum locum with his thousand negroes, to a merchant, would not the merchant gain the aristocratical influence which the planter lost by his transfer? Run down, sir, through all the ranks of society, or, if you are shocked at the word rank, say all the classes, degrees, the ladder, the theatrical benches of society, from the first planter and the first merchant to the hog driver, the whiskey dramseller, or the Scottish peddler, and consider, whether the alienation of lands, wharves, stores, houses, funded stock, bank stock, bridge stock, canal stock, turnpike stock, or even lottery tickets, does not transfer the aristocracy as well as the property. When the thirsty soul of a hundred acre man carries him to the whiskey shop till he has mortgaged all his acres, has he not transferred his aristocracy with them? I hope these hints, sir, have convinced you that alienation is not an adequate remedy against the aristocracy of property.
“Inhibitions upon monopoly and incorporation,” you say, “are remedies for an aristocracy founded on paper wealth.” And are such “inhibitions” your only hope against such an aristocracy? Have those principles of government which we have discovered, and those institutions which we have invented, which have established a “moral liberty” undiscovered and universal, uninvented by all nations before us, “inhibited monopolies and incorporations?” Is not every bank a monopoly? Are there not more banks in the United States than ever before existed in any nation under heaven? Are not these banks established by law upon a more aristocratical principle than any others under the sun? Are there not more legal corporations,—literary, scientifical, sacerdotal, medical, academical, scholastic, mercantile, manufactural, marine insurance, fire, bridge, canal, turnpike, &c. &c. &c.,—than are to be found in any known country of the whole world? Political conventions, caucuses, and Washington benevolent societies, biblical societies, and missionary societies, may be added,—and are not all these nurseries of aristocracy? If “alienations” and “inhibitions” fail us, where shall we look next for a remedy against aristocracy? Shall we have recourse, as you have done, page 9, to the art of printing? But this has not destroyed property or aristocracy or corporations or paper wealth in Europe or America, or diminished the influence of either; on the contrary, it has multiplied aristocracy and diminished democracy. I pray you, not to think this a paradox. You may hereafter be convinced, that it is a serious, a solemn, and melancholy truth. Admit that the press transferred the pontificate of Rome to Henry VIII. and to all the subsequent kings of England, even if you will, down to his present royal highness, the prince regent. Admit that the press demolished in some sort the feudal system, and set the serfs and villains free; admit that the press demolished the monasteries, nunneries, and religious houses; into whose hands did all these alienated baronies, monasteries, and religious houses and lands fall? Into the hands of the democracy? into the hands of serfs and villains? Serfs and villains were the only real democracy in those times. No. They fell into the hands of other aristocrats, and there remain to this day, notwithstanding all the innumerable “alienations” and transfers from aristocrat to aristocrat to this hour. Admit, sir, that the press produced the reformation as well as the dissolution of the feudal system and the tenures in mortmain, what was the consequence? Two hundred years, at least, of thefts, larcenies, burglaries, robberies, murders, assassinations, such as no period of human history had before exhibited. The civil wars in England, the massacres in Ireland, the civil wars in France, and the massacre of Saint Bartholomew’s day, all proceed from the same source, and so did the late French revolution; and the consequences are not ended, and cannot yet be foreseen. The real democracy of mankind has found very little alteration for the better or the worse through all these changes. The serfs of the barons or the church lands lived as well, and were as humanely treated, as the manufacturers or laborers are in England, France, Germany, or Spain, at this day. These are the real democracy of every nation and every age. These, who have either no vote at all, or at best but one vote, are the most numerous class in every society. Property in land, they have none; property in goods, besides their clothes, they have very little. When the national convention in France voted all the negroes in St. Domingo, Martinique, Guadaloupe, St. Lucia, &c., free, at a breath, did the poor democracy among the negroes gain any thing by the change? Did they not immediately fall into the power of aristocrats of their own color? Are they more free, from Toussaint to Petion and Christophe? Do they live better? Bananas and water they still enjoy, and a whole regiment would follow a leader who should hold a saltfish to their noses.
Suppose congress should, at one vote, or by one act, declare all the negroes in the United States free, in imitation of that great authority, the French sovereign legislature, what would follow? Would the democracy, nine in ten, among the negroes, be gainers? Would not the most shiftless among them be in danger of perishing for want? Would not nine in ten, perhaps ninety-nine in a hundred of the rest, petition their old aristocratical masters to receive them again, to protect them, to feed them, to clothe them, and to lodge and shelter them as usual? Would not some of the most thinking and philosophical among the aristocratical negroes ramble into distant states, seeking a poor and precarious subsistence by daily labor? Would not some of the most enterprising aristocrats allure a few followers into the wilderness, and become squatters? or, perhaps, incorporate with Indians? Would not others who have the courage of crimes,—“Le courage du crime,”—as well as of enterprise, collect little parties of followers, hide themselves in caves, behind rocks and mountains, in deep forests, or thick and boggy swamps, and commit inroads, depredations, and brigandages, as the villains did in Europe for ages, after the dissolution of fiefs and monasteries? Will the poor, simple, democratical part of the people gain any happiness by such a rash revolution?
I hope, sir, that all these considerations will convince you,—
1. That property has been, is, and everlastingly will be, a natural and unavoidable cause of aristocracy, and that God Almighty has made it such by the constitution of human nature and the globe, the land, the sea, the air, the water, and the fire, among which he has placed it.
2. That the advice which was given to me by a good deacon, in a quotation from an ancient divine, in the spring of 1774, after I was chosen to go to Congress,—“In all cases of difficulty and danger, when you know not what to do, be very careful that you do not do you know not what,”—was good advice. You and I have had to see the rise and progress, perfection, decline, and termination of hot, rash, blind, headlong, furious efforts to ameliorate the condition of society, to establish liberty, equality, fraternity, and the rights of man. And in what have they ended? Festina lente! sobrius esto. Property makes a permanent distinction between aristocrats and democrats. There are many more persons in the world who have no property, than there are who have any; and, therefore, the democracy is, and will be, more numerous than the aristocracy. But we must remember that the art of printing, to which you appeal to level aristocracy, is almost entirely in the hands of the aristocracy. You resort to the press for the protection of democracy and the suppression of aristocracy! This, sir, in my humble opinion, is “committere agnum lupo.” It is to commit the lamb to the kind guardianship and protection of the wolf! a hungry wolf! a starving wolf! Emperors and kings and princes know the power of the press, at least as well, perhaps better, than you and I do. It is known to nobles and aristocrats of all shades, colors and denominations, much better than to democrats. It is known to domestic ministers and to foreign ambassadors, quite as well as to Duane, Benjamin Austin or John Randolph. Oxenstiern bid his son go among the ambassadors and ministers of state, to see by “what sort of men this world is governed.” That sensible man might as sensibly have recommended to his son to go among the booksellers, the hireling scribblers, printers, and printers’ devils. He might have more easily found how this lower world is governed. Half the expense would have let him into the secret. The gazettes, the journals, the newspapers, and fugitive pamphlets govern mankind at this day, and have governed, at least since the art of printing has become universal or even general. And what governors are these?
Here, Mr. Taylor, give me leave to relate an anecdote, which, upon honor, and, if you doubt, I will attest upon oath. There were times, when I had the honor to be in high favor with the Count de Vergennes, and to enjoy his confidence. I had found means to convey into English newspapers paragraphs and little essays, which he knew could come only from me. At his office, one morning, upon some particular business with him, he received me alone, and walked with me backwards and forwards in the most familiar conversation. “Mr. Adams,” said the Count, “the gazettes, the journals govern the world. It is necessary that we should attend to them in all parts and in England; and I should be glad to communicate with you on this plan.” You cannot conceive the impression these few words made upon me. I was dumb, but I said in my heart, “Monsieur le Comte, your spies have informed you, that I daily read the foreign gazettes, and that I have communicated some trifles in England; and I doubt not you know my channels of conveyance.” The truth was, I daily read the foreign gazettes from Holland, Germany, England, and daily saw the hand of the Count de Vergennes and his office of interpreters of three hundred clerks, as I was told, skilled in the languages of all nations. I give you but a sketch, or rather a hint, of what would require volumes to explain at large. And I give you this hint merely, to convince you that ministers of state know the press as well as John Randolph or any other democrat, aristocrat, or mongrel.
You remember I have reserved a right of employing twenty years to answer your book, because you consumed that number in writing it. I have now written you thirty letters, and have not advanced beyond a dozen pages of your work; at this rate, I must ask your indulgence for forty or fifty years more. You know that your amusement and my own are the principal objects that I have in view. My last was upon the power of the press and the influence of the art of printing; and I endeavored to convince you, that the great cause of democracy would not be exclusively promoted by that noble invention. It is certain that property is aristocracy, and that property commands the press. Think of this, sir! The types, the machinery, the office, the apprentices, the journeymen require a capital, and that capital is aristocracy. It does not appear that democracy has ever distinguished itself more than aristocracy, in zeal or exertion for the promotion of science, literature, the fine arts, or mechanic arts, not even the art of printing.
In ancient days, when all learning was in manuscript, it required a fortune to procure a small library. Books were in the hands of the rich. The Roman knights, with their gold rings, might have some knowledge; but the plebeians had none but such as they acquired from the actors on their theatres, and their popular orators in town meetings, all of whom were as proudly and vainly aristocratic, and nearly as flashy and as superficial, as your Baron of Roanoke. Will you call Terence and Epictetus and other Greek slaves, or the wandering sophists, the Græci esurientes, rambling about the world, like strolling players, to beg or earn a pitiful subsistence, democrats? Will you quote the rambling French dancing-masters, drawing-masters, fencing-masters, and grammarians, as democrats?
Have democrats been the promoters of science, arts, and literature? The aristocrat, monarchist, or tyrant, Pisistratus, his sons, &c., who assembled all the learned men of Greece to form a system of religion and government by the compilation of Homer, were not democrats. Alexander and Pericles, Themistocles and the Ptolemies, were not democrats. Augustus, nor Scipio, nor Lælius, were democrats. The Medici, who raised popes, emperors, queens, and kings, by the machinery of banks, were not democrats. Elizabeth, Anne, Louis XIV., Charles I., George III., Catherine, were not democrats. You may call Napoleon a democrat, if you will. These have been the great encouragers of arts and sciences and literature. But, perhaps, sir, I have rambled a little from the point. The question then is, concerning the influence of the art of printing, in diminishing aristocracy, and protecting, encouraging, supporting, increasing, and multiplying democracy. This subject will require volumes. My great misfortune, through a pretty long life, has been, that I have never had time to make my poor productions shorter. And I am more embarrassed now than ever, for I have neither eyes, nor fingers, nor clerks, nor secretaries, nor aids-de-camp, nor amanuenses, any more than time, at my command, to abridge and condense, or arrange and methodize any thing. Correction, revision,—nonumque prematur in annum,—have all been forbidden fruit to me.
Has the art of printing increased democracy? It has humiliated kings; it has humiliated popes; it has demolished, in some degree, feudality and chivalry; it has promoted commerce and manufactures; agreed if you will, and sing Io, triumphe, if you will. But is democracy increased or bettered? Remember always, as we go along, that by democrats I mean exclusively those who are simple units, who have but one vote in society. How shall we decide this question? Have these simple units acquired property? Have they acquired knowledge? Do they live better? Are they become more temperate, more industrious, more frugal, more considerate? Run over all Europe, and see! In France, 24,500,000, who can neither read nor write; in England, Protestant as it is, not much less in proportion; nor in Holland, nor Germany, nor Russia, nor Italy, nor the peninsula of Spain and Portugal. Knowledge, in France, I may acknowledge, has been more spread and divided among the aristocracy of five hundred thousand aristocrats; but the democratical twenty-four million five hundred thousand have gained nothing. Bread and water, oatmeal and potatoes, are still their rations. The benevolence of Henry IV. and all his successors have never procured so much as a chicken in the pot once a week for the poor democrats. Depend upon it, unless you give a share in the sovereignty to the democrats, the more you increase knowledge in the nation, the more you will grind and gripe the democrats, till you reduce them to the calculations concerning West India negroes, Scottish and English coal-heavers, Dutch turf-lifters, and the street-walking girls of the night in Paris and London. For knowledge will forever be monopolized by the aristocracy. The moment you give knowledge to a democrat, you make him an aristocrat. If you give more than a share in the sovereignty to the democrats, that is, if you give them the command or preponderance in the sovereignty, that is, the legislature, they will vote all property out of the hands of you aristocrats, and if they let you escape with your lives, it will be more humanity, consideration, and generosity than any triumphant democracy ever displayed since the creation. And what will follow? The aristocracy among the democrats will take your places, and treat their fellows as severely and sternly as you have treated them. For every democracy and portion of democracy has an aristocracy in it as distinct as that of Rome, France, or England.
That the first want of man is his dinner, and the second his girl, were truths well known to every democrat and aristocrat, long before the great philosopher Malthus arose, to think he enlightened the world by the discovery.
It has been equally well known that the second want is frequently so impetuous as to make men and women forget the first, and rush into rash marriages, leaving both the first and second wants, their own as well as those of their children and grandchildren, to the chapter of accidents. The most religious very often leave the consideration of these wants to him who supplies the young ravens when they cry.
The natural, necessary, and unavoidable consequence of all this is, that the multiplication of the population so far transcends the multiplication of the means of subsistence, that the constant labor of nine tenths of our species will forever be necessary to prevent all of them from starving with hunger, cold, and pestilence. Make all men Newtons, or, if you will, Jeffersons, or Taylors, or Randolphs, and they would all perish in a heap!
Knowledge, therefore, sir, can never be equally divided among mankind, any more than property, real or personal, any more than wives or women.
The modern improvers of society,—ameliorators of the condition of mankind, instructors of the human species,—have assumed too much. They have not only condemned all the philosophy and policy of all ages of men, but they have undertaken to build a new universe, to ameliorate the system of eternal wisdom and benevolence. I wish, sir, that you would agree with me and my, and, I hope, your friends, Pope and Horace.
Turn our thoughts, in the next place, to the characters of learned men. The priesthood have, in all ancient nations, nearly monopolized learning. Read over again all the accounts we have of Hindoos, Chaldeans, Persians, Greeks, Romans, Celts, Teutons, we shall find that priests had all the knowledge, and really governed all mankind. Examine Mahometanism, trace Christianity from its first promulgation; knowledge has been almost exclusively confined to the clergy. And, even since the Reformation, when or where has existed a Protestant or dissenting sect who would tolerate a free inquiry? The blackest billingsgate, the most ungentlemanly insolence, the most yahooish brutality is patiently endured, countenanced, propagated, and applauded. But touch a solemn truth in collision with a dogma of a sect, though capable of the clearest proof, and you will soon find you have disturbed a nest, and the hornets will swarm about your legs and hands, and fly into your face and eyes.
When we are weary of looking at religion, we will, if you please, turn our eyes to government. Is there toleration in politics? Where shall we find it, if not in Virginia? The Honorable John Randolph informs us that, in consequence of the independence of his soul, he is on bad terms with the world; that his nerves are of too weak a fibre to bear the questions ordinary and extraordinary from our political inquisitors; talks of the rancorous hatred of the numerous enemies he has made in his course; and says, that the avenue to the public ear is shut against him in Virginia, where the press is under a virtual imprimatur, and where it would be easier to force into circulation the treasurer’s notes, than opinions militating against the administration, through the press. If these things are so in Virginia, sir, where Callender was applauded, nourished, cherished, and paid; where the great historian, Wood, who wrote and printed the elegant and classical History of the Administration of John Adams, was kindly received and employed; and where the sedition act, the gag law, was so unpopular; where can we look with any prospect or hope of finding a candid freedom of the press? The truth is, party opinions, interests, passions, and prejudices may be as decisive an imprimatur as that of a monarch; and the public opinion, which is not always right, until it is too late, is sometimes as arbitrary a prohibition as an index expurgatorius. I hope it will be no offence to say, that public opinion is often formed upon imperfect, partial, and false information from the press. Public information cannot keep pace with facts. Knowledge cannot always accompany events. How many days intervene between a victory or a defeat, and the universal knowledge of it? How long do we wait for the result of a negotiation? How many erroneous public opinions are formed in the intervals? How long is a law enacted before the proclamation of it can reach the extremities of the nation?
A few words more concerning the characters of literary men. What sort of men have had the conduct of the presses in the United States for the last thirty years? In Germany, in England, in France, in Holland, the presses, even the newspapers, have been under the direction of learned men. How has it been in America? How many presses, how many newspapers have been directed by vagabonds, fugitives from a bailiff, a pillory, or a halter in Europe?
You know it is one of the sublimest and profoundest discoveries of the eighteenth century, that knowledge is corruption; that arts, sciences, and taste have deformed the beauty and destroyed the felicity of human nature, which appears only in perfection in the savage state,—the children of nature. One writer gravely tells us that the first man who fenced a tobacco yard, and said, “this is mine,” ought instantly to have been put to death; another as solemnly says, the first man who pronounced the word “dieu,” ought to have been despatched on the spot; yet these are advocates of toleration and enemies of the Inquisition.1
I never had enough of the ethereal spirit to rise to these heights. My humble opinion is, that knowledge, upon the whole, promotes virtue and happiness. I therefore hope that you and all other gentlemen of property, education, and reputation will exert your utmost influence in establishing schools, colleges, academies, and universities, and employ every means and opportunity to spread information, even to the lowest dregs of the people, if any such there are, even among your own domestics and John Randolph’s serfs. I fear not the propagation and dissemination of knowledge. The conditions of humanity will be improved and ameliorated by its expansion and diffusion in every direction. May every human being,—man, woman, and child,—be as well informed as possible! But, after all, did you ever see a rose without a briar, a convenience without an inconvenience, a good without an evil, in this mingled world? Knowledge is applied to bad purposes as well as to good ones. Knaves and hypocrites can acquire it, as well as honest, candid, and sincere men. It is employed as an engine and a vehicle to propagate error and falsehood, treason and vice, as well as truth, honor, virtue, and patriotism. It composes and pronounces, both panegyrics and philippics, with exquisite art, to confound all distinctions in society between right and wrong. And if I admit, as I do, that truth generally prevails, and virtue is, or will be triumphant in the end, you must allow that honesty has a hard struggle, and must prevail by many a well-fought and fortunate battle, and, after all, must often look to another world for justice, if not for pardon.
There is no necessary connection between knowledge and virtue. Simple intelligence has no association with morality. What connection is there between the mechanism of a clock or watch and the feeling of moral good and evil, right or wrong? A faculty or a quality of distinguishing between moral good and evil, as well as physical happiness and misery, that is, pleasure and pain, or, in other words, a conscience,—an old word almost out of fashion,—is essential to morality.
Now, how far does simple, theoretical knowledge quicken or sharpen conscience? La Harpe, in some part of his great work, his Course of Literature, has given us an account of a tribe of learned men and elegant writers, who kept a kind of office in Paris for selling at all prices, down to three livres, essays or paragraphs upon any subject, good or evil, for or against any party, any cause, or any person. One of the most conspicuous and popular booksellers in England, both with the courtiers and the citizens, who employed many printers and supported many writers, has said to me, “the men of learning in this country are stark mad. There are in this city a hundred men, gentlemen of liberal education, men of science, classical scholars, fine writers, whom I can hire at any time at a guinea a day, to write for me for or against any man, any party, or any cause.” Can we wonder, then, at any thing we read in British journals, magazines, newspapers, or reviews?
Where are, and where have been, the greatest masses of science, of literature, or of taste? Shall we look for them in the church or the state, in the universities or the academies? among Greek or Roman philosophers, Hindoos, Brahmins, Chinese mandarins, Chaldean magi, British druids, Indian prophets, or Christian monks? Has it not been the invariable maxim of them all to deceive the people by any lies, however gross? “Bonus populus vult decipi; ergo decipiatur.”
And after all that can be done to disseminate knowledge, you never can equalize it. The number of laborers must, and will forever be so much more multitudinous than that of the students, that there will always be giants as well as pygmies, the former of which will have more influence than the latter; man for man, and head for head; and, therefore, the former will be aristocrats, and the latter democrats, if not Jacobins or sans culottes.
These morsels, and a million others analogous to them, which will easily occur to you, if you will be pleased to give them a careful mastication and rumination, must, I think, convince you, that no practicable or possible advancement of learning can ever equalize knowledge among men to such a degree, that some will not have more influence in society than others; and, consequently, that some will always be aristocrats, and others democrats. You may read the history of all the universities, academies, monasteries of the world, and see whether learning extinguishes human passions or corrects human vices. You will find in them as many parties and factions, as much jealousy and envy, hatred and malice, revenge and intrigue, as you will in any legislative assembly or executive council, the most ignorant city or village. Are not the men of letters,—philosophers, divines, physicians, lawyers, orators, and poets,—all over the world, at perpetual strife with one another? Knowledge, therefore, as well as genius, strength, activity, industry, beauty, and twenty other things, will forever be a natural cause of aristocracy.
[1 ]19 April. The anniversary of the action at Lexington.
[1 ]The commander of the British troops, when the public buildings at Washington were burned.
[1 ]It is related of Montesquieu, that he suppressed some passages of his Persian Letters in a new edition, because they had been made by the king an obstacle to his admission to the French Academy. But he answered the Sorbonne without recanting; neither did he travel except from inclination. Voltaire says of him: “Montesquieu fut compté parmi les hommes les plus illustres du dixhuitième siècle, et cependant il ne fut pas persécuté, il ne fut qu’un peu molesté pour ses Lettres Persanes.”
[1 ]Vol. iv. p. 392, of the present work.
[2 ]Ibid. p. 397.
[1 ]Vol. iv. p. 398, line twenty.
[1 ]Vol. iv. p. 392.
[1 ]Vide Rousseau and Diderot passim.