Front Page Titles (by Subject) 25 Feb. 1785: THE ABBÉ DE MABLY TO JOHN ADAMS. - The Works of John Adams, vol. 9 (Letters and State Papers 1799-1811)
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
25 Feb. 1785: THE ABBÉ DE MABLY TO JOHN ADAMS. - John Adams, The Works of John Adams, vol. 9 (Letters and State Papers 1799-1811) 
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. 9.
Part of: The Works of John Adams, 10 vols.
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The text is in the public domain.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
THE ABBÉ DE MABLY TO JOHN ADAMS.
Paris, 25 Février, 1785.
Je réponds bien tard, Monsieur, à la lettre que vous m’avez fait l’honneur de m’écrire le 14 de ce mois. C’est que j’espérois de vous porter moi-même ma réponse. Je me suis flatté de cette douce espérance, mais de jour en jour la fortune a rompu nos projets. Tantôt le temps a été trop détestable pour oser se mettre en route, et tantôt Messieurs les Abbés de Chalut, Arnoux, et moi, nous avons été condamnés par quelque indisposition à garder la chambre. J’espère qu’à l’avenir nous serons moins contrariés, mais je ne veux plus me confier à des espérances qui pouvoient encore me tromper. Rien n’est plus glorieux pour moi, Monsieur, que l’invitation que vous avez la bonté de me faire. Je ne balancerois point à entreprendre le catéchisme moral et politique dont j’ai eu l’honneur de vous parler dans les lettres qui vous sont adressées,1 si je croyois que ce nouvel ouvrage fut de quelque utilité à votre pays. Si le premier ne produit aucun fruit, le second auroit le même sort; et ce n’est pas la peine de travailler, de chercher, d’arranger et de disposer des vérités qu’on ne voudra pas entendre. Quand j’ai invité le Congrès à cet ouvrage, je n’ai point prétendu que tous les membres de cet illustre corps y travaillassent à la fois. C’est une chose très impossible. Mais j’aurois voulu qu’après avoir chargé un de ses membres de cette besogne, il en eût fait l’examen, et après l’avoir approuvé l’eût fait paroître sous son nom. C’est ainsi qu’en usent nos parlemens, et les autres cours souveraines quand elles ordonnent des remontrances. Vous conviendrez qu’un catéchisme fait et présenté de cette manière au public, auroit un beaucoup plus grand poids, et produiroit sans doute un grand bien. Je suis occupé actuellement à corriger un ancien ouvrage que je veux faire imprimer. Je ne vous fatiguerai pas par un plus long griffonage, et je me réserve le plaisir de vous parler de tout cela la première fois que j’aurai l’honneur de vous voir. J’attends ce moment avec impatience, et je vous prie d’agréer d’avance les assurances du tendre et respectueux attachement, avec lequel j’ai l’honneur d’être, Monsieur, &c., &c.
TO BENJAMIN WATERHOUSE.
Auteuil, 24 April, 1785.
This letter will be delivered you by your old acquaintance John Quincy Adams, whom I beg leave to recommend to your attention and favor. He is anxious to study some time at your university before he begins the study of the law, which appears at present to be the profession of his choice. He must undergo an examination, in which I suspect he will not appear exactly what he is. In truth, there are few who take their degrees at college, who have so much knowledge. But his studies having been pursued by himself, on his travels, without any steady tutor, he will be found awkward in speaking Latin, in prosody, in parsing, and even, perhaps, in that accuracy of pronunciation in reading orations or poems in that language, which is often chiefly attended to in such examinations. It seems to be necessary, therefore, that I make this apology for him to you, and request you to communicate it in confidence to the gentlemen who are to examine him, and such others as you think prudent. If you were to examine him in English and French poetry, I know not where you would find anybody his superior; in Roman and English history, few persons of his age. It is rare to find a youth possessed of so much knowledge. He has translated Virgil’s Æneid, Suetonius, the whole of Sallust, and Tacitus’s Agricola, his Germany, and several books of his Annals, a great part of Horace, some of Ovid, and some of Cæsar’s commentaries, in writing, besides a number of Tully’s orations. These he may show you; and although you will find the translations in many places inaccurate in point of style, as must be expected at his age, you will see abundant proof that it is impossible to make those translations without understanding his authors and their language very well.
In Greek his progress has not been equal; yet he has studied morsels in Aristotle’s Poetics, in Plutarch’s Lives, and Lucian’s Dialogues, the choice of Hercules, in Xenophon, and lately he has gone through several books in Homer’s Iliad.
In mathematics I hope he will pass muster. In the course of the last year, instead of playing cards like the fashionable world, I have spent my evenings with him. We went with some accuracy through the geometry in the Preceptor, the eight books of Simpson’s Euclid in Latin, and compared it, problem by problem and theorem by theorem, with le père de Chales in French; we went through plane trigonometry and plain sailing, Fenning’s Algebra, and the decimal fractions, arithmetical and geometrical proportions, and the conic sections, in Ward’s mathematics. I then attempted a sublime flight, and endeavored to give him some idea of the differential method of calculation of the Marquis de L’Hôpital, and the method of fluxions and infinite series of Sir Isaac Newton; but alas! it is thirty years since I thought of mathematics, and I found I had lost the little I once knew, especially of these higher branches of geometry, so that he is as yet but a smatterer, like his father. However, he has a foundation laid, which will enable him with a year’s attendance on the mathematical professor, to make the necessary proficiency for a degree. He is studious enough, and emulous enough, and when he comes to mix with his new friends and young companions, he will make his way well enough. I hope he will be upon his guard against those airs of superiority among the scholars, which his larger acquaintance with the world, and his manifest superiority in the knowledge of some things, may but too naturally inspire into a young mind, and I beg of you, Sir, to be his friendly monitor in this respect and in all others.
TO SAMUEL ADAMS.
Auteuil, 27 April, 1785.
The child whom you used to lead out into the Common, to see with detestation the British troops, and with pleasure the Boston militia, will have the honor to deliver you this letter. He has since seen the troops of most nations in Europe, without any ambition, I hope, of becoming a military man. He thinks of the bar and peace and civil life, and I hope will follow and enjoy them with less interruption than his father could. If you have in Boston a virtuous club, such as we used to delight and improve ourselves in, they will inspire him with such sentiments as a young American ought to entertain, and give him less occasion for lighter company.
I think it no small proof of his discretion, that he chooses to go to New England rather than to Old. You and I know, that it will probably be more for his honor and his happiness in the result; but young gentlemen of eighteen do not always see through the same medium with old ones of fifty.
So I am going to London! I suppose you will threaten me with being envied again. I have more cause to be pitied; and although I will not say with Dr. Cutler, “I hate to be pitied,” I do not know why I should dread envy. I shall be sufficiently vexed, I expect. But as Congress are about to act with dignity, I do not much fear but that I shall be able to do something worth going for. If I do not, I shall come home, and envy nobody, nor be envied. If they send as good a man to Spain, as they have in Jay for their foreign department, and will have in Jefferson at Versailles, I shall be able to correspond in perfect confidence with all those public characters that I shall have most need of assistance from, and shall fear nothing.
TO JOHN JEBB.
London, 21 August, 1785.
As I had the misfortune, the other day, not to agree fully with you in opinion concerning the 36th article of the Constitution of Pennsylvania,1 I beg leave to state to you my objections against it, and then to ask you if there is not some weight in them.
My first objection is, that it is not intelligible. It is impossible to discover what is meant by “offices of profit.” Does it mean that there can be no necessity for, nor use in, annexing either salary, fees, or perquisites, to public offices? and that all who serve the public should have no pay from the public, but should subsist themselves and families out of their own private fortunes, or their own labor in their private profession, calling, trade, or farm? This seems to be the sense of it, and in this sense it may make its court to the Quakers and Moravians, Dunkers, Mennonites, or other worthy people in Pennsylvania, that is to say, to their prejudices, and it will recommend itself to whatever there is of popular malignity and envy, and of vulgar avarice, in every country. But it is founded in error and mischief. For public offices in general require the whole time, and all the attention of those who hold them. They can have no time nor strength of body or mind for their private professions, trades, or farms. They must then starve with their families unless they have ample fortunes. But would you make it a law that no man should hold an office who had not a private income sufficient for the subsistence and prospects of himself and family? What would be the consequence of this? All offices would be monopolized by the rich; the poor and the middling ranks would be excluded, and an aristocratic despotism would immediately follow, which would take by fraud and intrigue at first, and by open avowed usurpation soon, whatever they pleased for their compensation.
My second objection to the article is, that it is inconsistent. After seeming to require that offices should have no emoluments, it stumbles at its own absurdity, and adds: “But if any man is called into public service to the prejudice of his private affairs, he has a right to a reasonable compensation.” Is not this contrary to the doctrine that there can be no use in offices of profit? Are not the profits of offices intended as a reasonable compensation for time, labor, and neglect and prejudice of private affairs? If you look into the salaries and fees of offices in general, that is, into the legal profits, you will find them, not only in America, but in France, Holland, nay in England, far from being extravagant. You will find them but a moderate and reasonable compensation for their unavoidable expenses and the prejudice to their private affairs. It is not the legal profit, but the secret perquisites, the patronage, and the abuse, which is the evil. And this is what I complain of in the article, that it diverts the attention, jealousy, and hatred of the people from the perquisites, patronage, and abuse, which is the evil, to the legal, honest profit of the office, which is a blessing.
3. The dependence and servility in the possessors and expectants, and the faction, contention, corruption, and disorder among the people, do not proceed from the legal profits of offices, which are known to all, but from the perquisites, patronage, and abuses, which are known only to a few.
4. Nor is it by any means a good rule, that whenever an office, through increase of fees or otherwise, becomes so profitable as to occasion many to apply for it, the profit ought to be lessened by the legislature.
We are so fond of being seen and talked of, we have such a passion for the esteem and confidence of our fellow-men, that wherever applications for office are permitted by the laws and manners, there will be many to apply, whether the profits are large or small, or none at all. If the profits are none, all the rich will apply, that is to say, all who can live upon their own incomes; all others will be excluded, because, if they labor for the public, themselves and families must starve. By this means an aristocracy or oligarchy of the rich will be formed, which will soon put an end by their arts and craft to this self-denying system. If many apply, all applications should be forbidden, or, if they are permitted, a choice should be made of such out of the multitude as will be contented with legal profits, without making advantage of patronage and perquisites.
I do not mean by this, that the legal profits should be very great. They should afford a decent support, and should enable a man to educate and provide for his family as decent and moderate men do in private life; but it would be unjust as well as impolitic in the public, to call men of the best talents and characters from professions and occupations where they might provide for their families plentifully, and let them spend their lives in the service of the public, to the impoverishment and beggary of their posterity.
I have given you this trouble, because I think these to be fundamental errors in society. Mankind will never be happy nor their liberties secure, until the people shall lay it down as a fundamental rule to make the support and reward of public offices a matter of justice and not gratitude. Every public man should be honestly paid for his services; then justice is done to him. But he should be restrained from every perquisite not known to the laws, and he should make no claims upon the gratitude of the public, nor ever confer an office within his patronage, upon a son, a brother, a friend, upon pretence that he is not paid for his services by the profits of his office. Members of parliament should be paid, as well as soldiers and sailors.
I know very well that the word “disinterested” turns the heads of the people by exciting their enthusiasm. But although there are disinterested men, they are not enough in any age or any country to fill all the necessary offices, and therefore the people may depend upon it, that the hypocritical pretence of disinterestedness will be set up to deceive them, much oftener than the virtue will be practised for their good. It is worth while to read the lives of the Roman Catholic saints; your St. Ignatius Loyolas, your St. Bernards, and hundreds of others. It was always disinterestedness, which enabled them to excite enthusiasm among the people, and to command their purses to any amount, in order to establish their wild and pernicious institutions. The cry of gratitude has made more men mad, and established more despotism in the world, than all other causes put together. Every throne has been erected on it, and every mitre has sprung out of it; so has every coronet; and whenever any man serves the public without pay, a cry of gratitude is always set up, which pays him, or his cousins or sons, ten times as much as he ever deserved. Let government, then, be founded in justice; and let all claims upon popular gratitude be watched with a jealous eye. Hang well and pay well, conveys to my understanding infinitely more sense and more virtue than this whole article of the Pennsylvania Constitution.
I have long wanted to communicate with some of the enlightened friends of liberty here upon some parts of our constitutions, and I know of none who merits the character better. If you are willing, I will take some future opportunity to write you a few thoughts upon some other things. Meantime, let this remain between ourselves, if you please.
TO ARTHUR LEE.
London, 6 September, 1785.
I received yesterday your favor of 27th July, and wish it were in my power to relieve your anxiety by giving you any comfortable hopes from this country.
The national sense and public voice is decidedly against us in the whale-trade and ship-trade, and there are as yet but feeble parties for us in the West India trade and colony trade. I may say to you, that if Ireland had not escaped from the snare, we should have had a very dull prospect. I see no resource for us but in a navigation act, and this will not relieve us soon. Our merchants have enslaved themselves to this country by the debts they have contracted. They are afraid to explore new channels of commerce, lest they should offend the British merchants and be sued. But there is no choice left us. Our country must not be ruined, in tenderness to those who have run imprudently too far into debt.
As far as I can penetrate the hearts of the ministers, they are very far from being as they should be relative to us. Those of them who have acquired immense popularity, reputation, and influence, by former professions of attachment to the American cause, as Camden and Richmond, are much changed; in short, we have no party for us here. Yet, indeed, there is no party at present that dares declare very explicitly against us. All sides are as silent and mysterious as you can conceive them to be, and when I shall get any answer, I cannot guess; but I can confidently guess that when it does come, it will not be what it must finally be, in order to relieve us, and bring the two countries together in good humor.
Ireland, I think, stands between us and evil. Her indocility may have changed the plans of the cabinet in many particulars. In short, I do not believe there is any fixed plan, or will be any, until the next budget shall be opened. The debt stands between Ireland and harm. This country is in a more critical situation than ours. Yet it may take two years to decide its fate. Many persons express anxious fears of distractions and anarchy; others think they cannot stand under the burden of the debt; but must lower the interest.
The policy of our country is not perfect, neither. The most fatal and egregious fault of all is leaving their debt in Holland and France unfunded. This error is so easily rectified that it is astonishing it is not done. This single step may protect us from a war, and confute forever the numberless calumnies which circulate now, and will never cease until that is done. I have hitherto paid the interest in Holland out of the principal; but this will by and by be impracticable, and then such a clamor and obloquy will succeed as will make us all ashamed of ourselves. How will it be possible to vindicate the faith or the honor of our country?
You give me great pleasure by your approbation of my son’s conduct, and I am under great obligation to your brother for the notice he took of him. Count Sarsfield, who has just now left me, is rejoiced at your appointment to the treasury, and desires me to present his regards to you. He leads the life of a peripatetic philosopher here, has done so since May, and will stay till October. He rambles with Lord Shelburne and Lord Harcourt, and is the happiest man I know. I have seen him two summers in Holland. Observation and reflection are all his business, and his dinner and his friend all his pleasure. If a man was born for himself alone, I would take him for a model.
TO JOHN JEBB.
London, 10 September, 1785.
It is a wise maxim that every free man ought to have some profession, calling, trade, or farm, whereby he may honestly subsist; but it by no means follows as a consequence that there can be no necessity for, nor use in establishing offices of profit, if we mean by these, offices with moderate, decent, and stated salaries, sufficient for the comfortable support of the officers and their families. Offices in general ought to yield as honest a subsistence, and as clear an independence as professions, callings, trades, or farms. If by offices of profit we mean offices of excessive profit, it is not only true that there can be no necessity for them nor use in establishing them, but it is clear they ought never to exist. The dependence and servility unbecoming freemen in the possessors and expectants, the faction, contention, corruption, and disorder amongst the people, do not arise from the honest profit, but from the excess, and they oftener arise from ambition than avarice. An office without profits, without salary, fees, perquisites, or any kind of emolument, is sought for with servility, faction, and corruption, from ambition, as often as an office of profit is sought from avarice.
And this is the way in which corruption is constantly introduced into society. It constantly begins with the people, in their elections. Indeed, the first step of corruption is this dishonest disposition in the people, an unwillingness to pay their representatives. The moment they require of a candidate that he serve them gratis, they establish an aristocracy by excluding from a possibility of serving them, all who are poor and unambitious, and by confining their suffrages to a few rich men. When this point is once gained of the people, which is easily gained, because their own avarice pleads for it, tyranny has made a gigantic stride. I appeal to your knowledge of England, whether servility, faction, contention, and corruption appear anywhere in so gross forms as in the election of members of parliament, whose offices are very expensive and have no profits. Is not the legislative at this hour more corrupt than the executive? Are there not more servility, faction, contention, and corruption in the offices in the election of the people than in disposing of those in the gift of the crown? Are there not as many in proportion who apply for these elections as for offices in the army, navy, church, or revenue? The number of persons who apply for an office, then, is no proof of an increase of its fees or profits. The man who offers to a city or borough to serve them for nothing, offers a bribe to every elector, and the answer should be, “Sir, you affront me. I want a service which is worth something. I am able and willing to pay for it. I will not lay myself under any obligation to you by accepting your gift. I will owe you no gratitude any further than you serve me faithfully. The obligation and gratitude shall be from you to me, and if you do not do your duty to me, I will be perfectly free to call you to an account, and to punish you; and if you will not accept of pay for your service, you shall not serve me.”
There are in history examples of characters wholly disinterested, who have displayed the sublimest talents, the greatest virtues, at the same time that they have made long and severe sacrifices to their country, of their time, their estates, their labor, healths, and even their lives, and they are deservedly admired and revered, by all virtuous men. But how few have they been! One in two or three ages; certainly not enough to watch over the rights of mankind, for these have been lost in almost all ages and nations. Societies should not depend upon a succession of such men for the preservation of their liberties. The people ruin their own cause, by exacting such sacrifices in their service. Men see nothing but misery to themselves and ruin to their families, attached to the honest service of the people, and the examples of Aristides, Fabricius, and Cincinnatus, have in all ages terrified thousands of able and worthy men from engaging in a service so hopeless and uncomfortable. Knaves and hypocrites see through the whole system at once. “I will take the people their own way,” says one of these, “I will serve them without pay. I will give them money. I will make them believe that I am perfectly disinterested, until I gain their confidence and excite their enthusiasm. Then I will carry that confidence and enthusiasm to market, and will sell it for more than all I give them, and all their pay would have amounted to. Si populus vult decipi, decipiatur. It should be a fundamental maxim with the people never to receive any services gratis, nor to suffer any faithful service to go unrewarded, nor any unfaithful services unpunished. Their rewards should be temperate. Instead of this, how stingy are they at first, and how wild at last! Stingy, until the man has served them long enough to gain their confidence, mad and frantic with generosity, afterwards. Their gratitude, when once their enthusiasm is excited, knows no bounds; it scatters their favors all around the man. His family, his father, brother, son, all his relations, all his particular friends, must be idolized. Wealth and power without measure or end must be conferred upon them, without considering whether they be wise men or fools, honest men or knaves.
The social science will never be much improved, until the people unanimously know and consider themselves as the fountain of power, and until they shall know how to manage it wisely and honestly. Reformation must begin with the body of the people, which can be done only, to effect, in their educations. The whole people must take upon themselves the education of the whole people, and must be willing to bear the expenses of it. There should not be a district of one mile square, without a school in it, not founded by a charitable individual, but maintained at the expense of the people themselves. They must be taught to reverence themselves, instead of adoring their servants, their generals, admirals, bishops, and statesmen. Instead of admiring so extravagantly a prince of Orange, we should admire the Batavian nation, which produced him. Instead of adoring a Washington, mankind should applaud the nation which educated him. If Thebes owes its liberty and glory to Epaminondas, she will lose both when he dies, and it would have been as well if she had never enjoyed a taste of either. But if the knowledge, the principles, the virtues, and the capacities of the Theban nation produced an Epaminondas, her liberties and glory will remain when he is no more. And if an analogous system of education is established and enjoyed by the whole nation, it will produce a succession of Epaminondases. The human mind naturally exerts itself to form its character, according to the ideas of those about it. When children and youth hear their parents and neighbors, and all about them, applauding the love of country, of labor, of liberty, and all the virtues, habits, and faculties, which constitute a good citizen, that is, a patriot and a hero, those children endeavor to acquire those qualities, and a sensible and virtuous people will never fail to form multitudes of patriots and heroes. I glory in the character of a Washington, because I know him to be only an exemplification of the American character. I know that the general character of the natives of the United States is the same with his, and that the prevalence of such sentiments and principles produced his character and preserved it, and I know there are thousands of others who have in them all the essential qualities, moral and intellectual, which compose it. If his character stood alone, I should value it very little,—I should wish it had never existed; because, although it might have wrought a great event, yet that event would be no blessing. In the days of Pompey, Washington would have been a Cæsar; his officers and partisans would have stimulated him to it; he could not have had their confidence without it; in the time of Charles, a Cromwell; in the days of Philip the second, a prince of Orange, and would have wished to be Count of Holland. But in America he could have no other ambition than that of retiring. In wiser and more virtuous times he would not have had that, for that is an ambition. He would still be content to be Governor of Virginia, President of Congress, a member of a Senate, or a House of Representatives. It was a general sentiment in America that Washington must retire. Why? What is implied in this necessity? If he could not afford to serve the public longer without pay, let him be paid. Would it lessen his reputation? Why should it? If the people were perfectly judicious, instead of lessening, it would raise it. But if it did not, surely the late revolution was not undertaken to raise one great reputation to make a sublime page in history, but for the good of the people. Does not this idea of the necessity of his retiring, imply an opinion of danger to the public, from his continuing in public, a jealousy that he might become ambitious? and does it not imply something still more humiliating, a jealousy in the people of one another, a jealousy of one part of the people, that another part had grown too fond of him, and acquired habitually too much confidence in him, and that there would be danger of setting him up for a king? Undoubtedly it does, and undoubtedly there were such suspicions, and grounds for them too. Now, I ask, what occasioned this dangerous enthusiasm for him? I answer, that, great as his talents and virtues are, they did not altogether contribute so much to it as his serving without pay, which never fails to turn the heads of the multitude. His ten thousand officers under him, and all his other admirers, might have sounded his fame as much as they would, and they might have justly sounded it very high, and it would not all have produced such ecstasies among the people as this single circumstance. Now, I say, this is all wrong. There should have been no such distinction made between him and the other generals. He should have been paid, as well as they, and the people should have too high a sense of their own dignity ever to suffer any man to serve them for nothing. The higher and more important the office, the more rigorously should they insist upon acknowledging its appointment by them and its dependence upon them. But then they must be sensible of their own enthusiasm, and constantly upon their guard against it. They should consider that, although history presents us perhaps with one example in five hundred years of one disinterested character, it shows us two thousand instances every year of the semblance of disinterestedness, counterfeited for the most selfish purposes of cheating them more effectually. And the glory of an Aristides and half a dozen others, with the transient flashes of liberty they preserved in the world, is a miserable compensation to mankind for the long, dreary ages of gloomy despotism, which have passed almost over the whole earth by means of disinterested patriots becoming artful knaves, or rather by the people themselves not suffering their benefactors to persevere in that disinterestedness to the end, which they exact of them at first; for I think that it has been the people themselves who have always created their own despots.
You erased something you had written about the present times. I wish you would restore it. This correspondence must be confidential. But the late Lord Chatham is a striking example. He preserved the character of disinterestedness but imperfectly; yet it was somewhat of this kind that elevated him so high in the affections of the people, and you now see the consequences. The people think it a duty to God to make up in their devotion to his son, what they think they were wanting in gratitude to him. What but a whirlwind could have done what we have seen?
Government must become something more intelligible, rational, and steady.
Pardon all this from your friend.
TO JOHN JEBB.
London, 25 September, 1785.
I have read with pleasure your letter of the 13th, and although I cannot entirely agree with you, I find the difference between us is very small in comparison with that between me and some other of my friends. In Mr. Hume’s perfect Commonwealth, “no representative, magistrate, or Senator, as such, has any salary. The protector, secretaries, councils, and ambassadors have salaries.” Your opinion coincides with his, excepting that you think the higher magistrates, as the judges for example, should have salaries. I carry the point so far as to desire that all representatives, magistrates, and Senators, as well as judges and executive officers, should have salaries. Not merely upon the principle of justice, that every man has a right to compensation for his time and labor, but to maintain the responsibility of the person, and to raise and support, both in the minds of the people themselves, and of their representatives, senators, and magistrates, a sense of the dignity and importance of the people. These salaries, to be sure, should be in proportion to the nature and duration of the service. A project to introduce such a practice into this country, would be chimerical; but in a country where it has long obtained and still exists, I wish it to continue. In some parts of the United States it has ever prevailed, and it is to be hoped it may be extended to all other parts. It is thought by many to be one of the best securities of liberty and equality.
In the thirteenth section of the second chapter of the Constitution of Massachusetts, you may see their sense of the importance of salaries to governors and judges. My friend, de Mably, page 87, expresses great indignation against it. “Je voudrais, au contraire, qu’à mesure que les dignités sont plus importantes, on leur attribuât des appointemens moins considérables. Je voudraismême qu’elles n’en eûssent aucuns. . . . On aime bien peu la patrie quand on demande des salaires pour la servir. Que la république de Massachusetts ait le courage de détruire la loi dont je me plains.” I love the Abbé and revere his memory, but I was sorry that so crude an idea should be scattered in America, where many will be greedy to lay hold of it, and that a great writer who had spent fifty years in reading upon government, and had done honor to his age by his writings, should adopt with such facility so gross a vulgar error and popular blunder. Flattery has done more mischief to society, when addressed to the people, than when offered to kings. There is always, in every popular Assembly, a party actuated by a sordid avarice. One of two candidates for an election, by offering to serve without pay, will have all the votes of this description of electors. So will the Abbé’s doctrine, but he had not considered that an aristocracy would be the immediate and inevitable consequence of it. In the Massachusetts there would be no choice left; there are but two at most, if there is more than one, who could serve as governor. A fine bargain the people would make of it! For the sake of saving a penny a piece, which it would cost them for a salary, they must pass by a thousand wise and virtuous men, and give their votes only for two rich ones, and that, whether they have wisdom and virtues or not. The people save nothing in the end. The consequence is, there must be no strict inquiry, no exact accounts. The Governor’s family must be provided for by offices, and his son, fit or unfit, must be put in his place. The magistrates in France, instead of having salaries, buy their offices. What is the consequence? Let the Abbé himself say. He would answer from Heaven, that they find ways to levy partial taxes to support even their mistresses, at three times the expense of the whole salary of a Massachusetts Governor.
R. H. LEE TO JOHN ADAMS.
Chantilly, 12 December, 1785.
My presidential year being ended, I had left New York for this place (from which and from my family I had been thirteen months absent) before the letters which you did me the honor to write me on the 26th of August, the 6th and 7th of September, came to hand, which has prevented me from showing the civilities to Mr. Storer and Mr. Wingrove, that I should otherwise have taken pleasure in doing. The state of my health is so precarious (being at present prevented by the gout in my right hand from writing myself), that it is uncertain when I shall be permitted to return to Congress; but let me be where I will, I shall always be happy to correspond with you. My brother, Arthur Lee, who now resides at New York, a commissioner of the treasury of the United States, will receive and forward to me such letters as you are pleased to write. It gives me pleasure to know that Colonel Smith is so agreeable a secretary to you. Indeed, I had expected so from his politeness, his good sense, and his spirit. It is certainly a misfortune both to the United States and to Great Britain, that a singular kind of after wisdom of the latter, should so perpetually keep the two countries at variance with each other. To profit from experience so becometh nations as well as individuals, that it denoteth much ill to both, when advice is not taken from that best source of knowledge. It is this kind of wisdom that, having already irrecoverably lost to Great Britain a great and valuable part of her dominions, is now proceeding to deprive her of a great and valuable part of her commerce, also. For I plainly perceive that the State errors, and the commercial mistakes of that country, are going to force these United States, contrary to their inclination, into systems that will probably prevent our trade from ever again flowing, as it probably would have done, into British channels. It is true that we may be injured in the commencement of these experiments; but it is certain that those who compel them will be more hurt. A similar experiment has been lately made, and the issue recent; yet such is the curse attending Britain and British statesmen, that they will neither remember the one or profit from the other. I join with you in hoping soon to see American factories established in the east, and certainly it will be highly agreeable to me to find Mr. Steptoe promoting there his country’s and his own good.
I have the honor to be, &c.
Richard Henry Lee.
[1 ]This project of a moral catechism, to be drawn up by Congress for the use of schools, makes a leading feature of the writer’s essay upon the government of the United States.
[1 ]This was the first Constitution of that State. The article is in these words: “As every freeman, to preserve his own independence, (if without a sufficient estate), ought to have some profession, calling, trade, or farm, whereby he may honestly subsist, there can be no necessity for, nor use in, establishing offices of profit, the usual effects of which are dependence and servility unbecoming freemen in the possessors and expectants, faction, contention, corruption, and disorder among the people. But if any man is called into public service to the prejudice of his private affairs, he has a right to expect a reasonable compensation for his services; and whenever an office, through increase of fees, or otherwise, becomes so profitable as to occasion many to apply for it, the profits ought to be, and shall be lessened by the legislature.