Front Page Titles (by Subject) TO JOSHUA THOMAS, JAMES THACHER, AND WILLIAM JACKSON. - The Works of John Adams, vol. 9 (Letters and State Papers 1799-1811)
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TO JOSHUA THOMAS, JAMES THACHER, AND WILLIAM JACKSON. - 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.
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TO JOSHUA THOMAS, JAMES THACHER, AND WILLIAM JACKSON.
Quincy, 20 December, 1802.
Nothing could afford me more pleasure than to visit my friends in Plymouth (where I formerly so much delighted to reside) on the 22d instant, according to your polite and obliging invitation, but various circumstances will oblige me to deny myself that gratification.
I feel a well-grounded conviction, that the best principles of our great and glorious ancestors are inherited by a large portion of the American people. And if the talents, the policy, the address, the power, the bigotry, and tyranny of Archbishop Laud, and the court of Charles the First, were not able to destroy or discredit them in 1630 or 1635, there is little cause of apprehension for them from the feeble efforts of the frivolous libertines, who are combining, conspiring, and intriguing against them in 1802. These principles are a file that has broken the teeth of many a viper. Or, to borrow a figure from one of the reformers, they are an anvil which has broken to pieces or worn out a long succession of hammers of firmer metal and more formidable weight than any that have been or can be wielded by the present effeminate and profligate race of their enemies.
While I concur in your opinion, that our free Constitution and elective government can exist no longer than these principles, and must be destroyed in their fall, and although I have sometimes been staggered in my faith for a moment by the license of calumny, I still entertain a pleasing hope that this nation will long enjoy a continuance of felicity and prosperity under their pure principles and representative governments.
Your benevolent wishes for my happiness I with great sincerity reciprocate to you, to the town of Plymouth, to the Old Colony, and to all who rejoice in the day and event you so wisely celebrate.
TO F. A. VANDERKEMP.
Quincy, 3 March, 1804.
Last night I received your favor of the 15th of February. At the two last meetings of our academy I made inquiry concerning your manuscript, and found that the committee had referred it to a sub-committee, who were not then present, and had not reported. I will endeavor to get this matter settled at the next meeting in May. Buffon, I presume, from all I have heard or read of him, believed in nothing but matter, which he thought was eternal and self-existent. The universe had been from eternity as it is now, with all its good and evil, intelligence and accident, beauty and deformity, harmony and dissonance, order and confusion, virtue and vice, wisdom and folly, equity and inequity, truth and lies; that planets and suns, systems and systems of systems, are born and die, like animals and vegetables, and that this process will go on to all eternity. Something like this was the creed of the King of Prussia and D’Alembert, Diderot, and De la Lande. All this, I think, is neither more nor less than the creed of Epicurus set to music by Lucretius.
“The movements of nature” mean the movements of matter; but can matter move itself? “The renovating power of matter,”—what does this mean? Can matter, if annihilated, recreate itself? Matter, if at rest, can it set itself in motion?
A German ambassador once told me, “he could not bear St. Paul, he was so severe against fornication.” On the same principle these philosophers cannot bear a God, because he is just.
You could not apply more unfortunately than to me for any knowledge of natural history. A little law, a little ethics, and a little history constitute all the circle of my knowledge, and I am too old to acquire any thing new.
Sensible as I am of the honor, and grateful to you as I am for the offer, I beg leave to decline the dedication. I wish to pass off as little talked of and thought of as possible.
I can hear nothing of Ingraham’s journal. It might, for what I know, have gone to the bottom of the sea with him in the Insurgente.
In the wisdom, power, and goodness of our maker is all the security we have against roasting in volcanoes and writhing with the tortures of gout, stone, cholic, and cancers; sinking under the burdens of dray-horses and hackney coach-horses to all eternity. Nature produces all these evils, and if she does it by chance, she may assign them all to us, whether we behave well or ill, and the poor hag will not know what she does.
Almost forty years ago, that is in 1765, I wrote a few thoughts in Edes and Gill’s Gazette. Mr. Hollis of London printed them in a pamphlet, and imputed them to Mr. Gridley. He gave them the title of a Dissertation on the Canon and Feudal Law. A lamentable bagatelle it is. I have no copy of it, and know not where to get one.
I know nothing of Stuart’s success. I sat to him at the request of the Massachusetts legislature, but have never seen any thing of the picture but the first sketch.
There are no more than two volumes of the Memoirs of the Academy. Count Sarsfield solicited me very earnestly in London to let him import some French mirrors under my privilege. I told him I considered my privilege as sacred. He then answered: “Il ne vaut pas un sou d’être votre ami.” Do not let Hamilton know this. If you do, he will record it in his next pamphlet as an instance of my vanity. Your letters always give pleasure to your old friend.
TO F. A. VANDERKEMP.
Quincy, 5 February, 1805.
This day I received your favor of the 15th of last month. You and I are in the same predicament. You are buried and forgotten, as you say, in the western wilderness, and I am buried and forgotten at Mount Wollaston; but I believe you are happier than you were when bustling in Holland, and I am very sure I have been happier for these four years past, than I ever was in any four of forty years before that term began. From the year 1760 to the year 1800 I was swallowed up in cares, anxieties, and exertions for the public. At the close of the 18th century, I was dismissed, to the joy of both parties, to a retirement in which I was never more to see any thing but my plough between me and the grave. I submitted without murmuring, complaint, or dismay, and have enjoyed life and health with gratitude, calmness, and comfort. I cannot always be free from apprehensions for the public; but as all responsibility is cheerfully taken away from me by both parties, I have no fears of future remorse or reflection on myself for any errors or miscarriages of my own.
Such is the nature of the people, and such the construction of our government, that about once in a dozen years there will be an entire change in the administration. I lived twelve years as President and Vice-President; Jefferson may possibly last sixteen; but New York and Pennsylvania cannot remain longer than that period in their present unnatural attachment to the southern States, nor will the natural inconstancy of the people allow them to persevere longer in their present career. Our government will be a game of leap-frog, of factions leaping over one another’s backs about once in twelve years, according to my computation.
I am fearful of nothing more than of what you prognosticate, that the people at next change will “fearfully avenge themselves and their wrongs on some of the objects of their present idolatry.” The federalists, however, will be too wise to be vindictive.
Franklin’s parable against persecution was borrowed from Bishop Taylor, who quotes it from some of the cabalistical writings, as I understood. It is certain that Franklin was not the inventor of it.
The dart of Abaris might be the northern light, for what I know, but it will be difficult to prove it. Who, pray, is Sarbienus? I never heard of him, and cannot find his name in the Dictionnaire Historique, nor Moreri, nor any other writer. You must erase every word of panegyric upon Buffon and Jefferson, for Buffon was an atheist and Jefferson is President of the United States.
TO BENJAMIN RUSH.
Quincy, 1 May, 1807.
* * * * * * * * * * *
If credit can be given to Judge Innes’s deposition and Sebastian’s conviction, it is certain that Spain has tampered in the United States, and if she tampered once before with others, she might a second time with Burr. If I was convinced of his guilt of treason or treasonable intentions, I should infer that he was employed by Spain.
You ask me, if I do not sometimes imprecate evils on the day on which I became a politician. I have endeavored to recollect that day. It is a remote one. A mighty impression was made upon my little head at the time of the expedition against Cape Breton under General Pepperell in 1745, and on the approach of the Duke d’Enville’s armament against Boston. But I have only my memory to testify so early. An odd accident has within a month brought to light the inclosed letter, which has lain fifty-one years and a half in darkness and silence, in dust and oblivion.1 Pray tell me your reflections on the sight of this droll phenomenon. I fancy they will be, first, what would our tories and quakers and proprietors have said of this letter, had it been published in 1774, 5, or 6? But I will not guess at any more of your observations. You shall make them yourself and relate them to me. But I will make my own remarks first, and submit them to you.
1. Paine, in “Common Sense,” says, that nobody in America ever thought, till he revealed to them the mighty truth, that America would ever be independent. I remember not the words, but this is the sense as I remember it. This I have always, at all times and in all places, contradicted, and have affirmed that the idea of American independence, sooner or later, and of the necessity of it some time or other, was always familiar to gentlemen of reflection in all parts of America, and I spoke of my own knowledge in this province.
2. I very distinctly remember, that in the war of 1755, a union of the colonies, to defend themselves against the encroachments of the French, was the general wish of the gentlemen with whom I conversed, and it was the opinion of some that we could defend ourselves, and even conquer Canada, better without England than with her, if she would but allow us to unite and exert our strength, courage, and skill, diffident as we were of the last.
3. It was the fear of this union of the colonies, which was indeed commenced in a Congress at Albany, which induced the English to take the war into their own hands.
4. The war was so ill conducted by Shirley, Lord Loudon, Braddock, and all other British commanders, till Wolfe and Amherst came forward, that the utmost anxiety prevailed, and a thousand panics were spread lest the French should overrun us all. All this time I was not alone in wishing that we were unshackled by Britain, and left to defend ourselves.
5. The treatment of the provincial officers and soldiers by the British officers during that war made the blood boil in my veins.
6. Notwithstanding all this, I had no desire of independence as long as Britain would do us justice. I knew it must be an obstinate struggle, and saw no advantage in it as long as Britain should leave our liberties inviolate.
7. Jefferson has acquired such glory by his declaration of independence in 1776, that I think I may boast of my declaration of independence in 1755, twenty-one years older than his.
8. Our governor elect, in his biographical sketch of Samuel Adams, ascribes to him the honor of the first idea and project of independence. In 1755, when my letter to Dr. Webb was written, I had never seen the face of Samuel Adams.
9. The English, the Scotch, the tories, and hyperfederalists will rebellow their execrations against me as a rebel from my infancy, and a plotter of independence more than half a hundred years ago.
10. The present ruling party in the United States will repeat, renew, and redouble their curses and sarcasms against me for having meditated the ruin of this country from a boy, from a mere chicken in the eggshell, by building a navy under pretence of protecting our commerce and seaports, but in reality only as a hobby-horse for myself to ride and to increase my patronage. For there can be no doubt but the boy, though not yet twenty years old, and though pinched and starved in a stingy country school, fully expected to be King of North America, and to marry his daughter to the Prince of Wales, and his son, John Quincy, to the princess royal of England.
11. There can be no doubt but this letter, puerile and childish as it is, will make a distinguished figure in the memoirs of my life. A grave and important question arises on a point of chronology, whether it should be inserted in the month of October, 1755, the time of its birth, or in the month of April, 1807, the time of its resurrection. As you have advised me to write my own life, you must resolve this question for me, for it is too perplexed for my judgment to determine.
12. You may depend upon its authenticity, for I have copied it from the original, to every word and almost every letter of which I can attest, and so might any one else, who should compare it with this, from the similarity of hand and composition.
13. Vive la bagatelle!
Now, Sir, to be serious, I do not curse the day when I engaged in public affairs. I do not say when I became a politician, for that I never was. I cannot repent of any thing I ever did conscientiously and from a sense of duty. I never engaged in public affairs for my own interest, pleasure, envy, jealousy, avarice, or ambition, or even the desire of fame. If any of these had been my motive, my conduct would have been very different. In every considerable transaction of my public life, I have invariably acted according to my best judgment, and I can look up to God for the sincerity of my intentions. How, then, is it possible I can repent? Notwithstanding this, I have an immense load of errors, weaknesses, follies, and sins to mourn over and repent of, and these are the only afflictions of my present life.
But, notwithstanding all, St. Paul and Dr. Barrow have taught me to rejoice evermore, and be content. This phrase, “rejoice evermore,” shall never be out of my heart, memory, or mouth again, as long as I live, if I can help it. This is my perfectibility of man.
Your “palace of ice” is a most admirable image. I agree that you and I have been employed in building a palace of ice. However, if we did not believe it to be marble, or silver, or gold, or ivory, or alabaster, or stone, or brick, we both thought it good, sound white oak, which would shelter its inhabitants from the inclemency of the weather, and last a long time. But the heat of the climate in summer has proved it to have been ice. It is all melted to water.
P. S. I forgot a principal point I had in view when I sat down; that is, to congratulate you that the Queen of Etruria has fallen in love with you. Tell Mrs. Rush that I congratulate her that the Queen of Sheba is not likely to visit Solomon at Philadelphia.
[1 ]The letter to Nathan Webb, written in 1755, and inserted in the first chapter of the memoir in the first volume of this work.