Front Page Titles (by Subject) 16 Feb. 1809: TO F. A. VANDERKEMP. - The Works of John Adams, vol. 9 (Letters and State Papers 1799-1811)
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16 Feb. 1809: TO F. A. VANDERKEMP. - 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 F. A. VANDERKEMP.
Quincy, 16 February, 1809.
I have yours of the 18th of January. When you receive your diploma, you will have no fees to pay. We have not yet adopted any regulation which requires fees from the members elected. Perhaps it would be prudent in future to adopt such a measure, and give a salary to our secretary. Our officers are now men of so much business, and so dependent on it for the support of their families, that they cannot attend enough to the business of the Academy. I would send you our transactions, if I knew how. I spoke to Dr. Morse and Dr. Kirkland, but they have not informed me of a conveyance.
The Dutch history, as you say, should be instructive to us. The alliance with England has in the end been fatal to Holland. The close connection between the house of Hanover and the house of Orange, the Dutch policy to depend upon the protection of the English fleet, has given preponderance to the four agricultural provinces over the three maritime provinces, and induced the States General to neglect and abandon the marine for the purpose of maintaining a standing army for the Prince of Orange to review daily on the parade at the Hague. In consequence, their independence has been lost. Beware! Oh, my country, beware! lest you suffer English or French intrigues to render a naval power unpopular in America.
Robert Morris (since you ask me my opinion of him) was a frank, generous, and manly mortal. He rose from nothing but a naked boy, by his industry, ingenuity, and fidelity, to great business and credit as a merchant. At the beginning of our revolution, his commerce was stagnated, and as he had overtraded, he was much embarrassed. He took advantage of the times, united with the whigs, came into Congress, and united his credit, supported by my loans in Holland, and resources of the United States. By this means he supported his credit for many years; but at last grew extravagant, as all conquerors and extraordinary characters do, and died as he had lived, as I believe, all his days, worth very little solid capital. Like Lafontaine in his epitaph, he might say,
If you write dialogues of the dead, you must not put into the mouth of Dumas your correct notions of government. He, poor man, was too dependent on the French, and too devoted to democracy, to advocate the true system of government. I say with you and Voltaire,—
“Vivons, écrivons, aimons, buvons, cher Horace!”
We may be reduced to hard necessities. The two most powerful, active, and enterprising nations that ever existed are now contending with us. The two nations, to whom mankind are under more obligations for the progress of science and civilization than to any others, except the Hebrews. This consideration affects me more than the danger from either or both. I excepted the Hebrews, for in spite of Bolingbroke and Voltaire, I will insist that the Hebrews have done more to civilize men than any other nation. If I were an atheist, and believed in blind eternal fate, I should still believe that fate had ordained the Jews to be the most essential instrument for civilizing the nations. If I were an atheist of the other sect, who believe or pretend to believe that all is ordered by chance, I should believe that chance had ordered the Jews to preserve and propagate to all mankind the doctrine of a supreme, intelligent, wise, almighty sovereign of the universe, which I believe to be the great essential principle of all morality, and consequently of all civilization. I cannot say that I love the Jews very much neither, nor the French, nor the English, nor the Romans, nor the Greeks. We must love all nations as well as we can, but it is very hard to love most of them.
Our medium is depreciated by the multitude of swindling banks, which have emitted bank bills to an immense amount beyond the deposits of gold and silver in their vaults, by which means the price of labor and land and merchandise and produce is doubled, tripled, and quadrupled in many instances. Every dollar of a bank bill that is issued beyond the quantity of gold and silver in the vaults, represents nothing, and is therefore a cheat upon somebody.
Solomon built Palmyra, the ruins of which show that his magnificence was not a fable.
TO SKELTON JONES.
Quincy, 11 March, 1809.
I received yesterday your favor of the month of August, 1808, and if the following answers to your questions will be any gratification to your curiosity, or any aid to your work, they are at your service.
1. My father was John Adams, the son of Joseph Adams, the son of another Joseph Adams, the son of Henry Adams, who all lived independent New England farmers, and died and lie buried in this town of Quincy, formerly called Braintree, and more anciently still, Mount Wollaston. My mother was Susanna Boylston, daughter of Peter Boylston, of Brookline, the oldest son of Thomas Boylston, a physician who came from England in 1656, and purchased a farm in that town near Boston.
2. I was born in Quincy, on the 19th of October, 1735.
3. My early life and education were, first at the public latin school in the then town of Braintree; then at a private academy under Mr. Joseph Marsh, within three doors of my father’s house; then at Harvard College, in Cambridge, where, after four years’ studies, I received a degree as bachelor of arts in 1755, and, after three years more, that of master of arts.
4. Among these accidents,1 the principal that I recollect were certain theological controversies, which were conducted, as I thought, with an uncharitable spirit of intolerance that convinced me I should be forever unfit for the profession of divinity, and determined me to the profession of the law. To this cause were added many compliments from my academical companions, who endeavored to make me believe that I had a voice and a tongue, as well as a face and front, for a public speaker, and that I was better fitted for the bar than the pulpit. For the faculty of medicine I never had any inclination, having an aversion to sick rooms and no fondness for rising at all hours of the night to visit patients.
5. Mr. Maccarty, a clergyman of Worcester, authorized by the selectmen, at the commencement at college, in 1755, happening to be pleased with the performance of my part in the public exhibition, engaged me to take the charge of the latin school in that town, where in a few months I entered as a clerk in the office of Colonel James Putnam, a counsellor at law in very large practice and of very respectable talents and information. Here, as I boarded in his family, I had opportunities of conversing with all the judges, lawyers, and many others of the principal characters of the province, and heard their speculations upon public affairs. This was highly delightful to me, because my father, who had a public soul, had drawn my attention to public affairs. From my earliest infancy I had listened with eagerness to his conversation with his friends during the whole expedition to Cape Breton, in 1745, and I had received very grievous impressions of the injustice and ingratitude of Great Britain towards New England in that whole transaction, as well as many others before and after it, during the years 1754, 1755, 1756, and 1757. The conduct of Generals Shirley, Braddock, Abercrombie, Webb, and above all Lord London, which were daily discussed in Mr. Putnam’s family, gave me such an opinion and such a disgust of the British government, that I heartily wished the two countries were separated for ever. I was convinced we could defend ourselves against the French, and manage our affairs better without, than with, the English. In 1758 and 1759, Mr. Pitt coming into power, sent Wolfe, and Amherst, whom I saw with his army, as they passed through Worcester, and these conquered Cape Breton and Quebec. I then rejoiced that I was an Englishman, and gloried in the name of Briton. But, alas! how short was my triumph in British wisdom and justice! In February, 1761, I heard the argument in the council chamber in Boston upon writs of assistance, and there saw that Britain was determined to let nothing divert me from my fidelity to my country.
6.1 An inflexible course of studies and labors, to promote, preserve, and secure that independence of my country, which I so early saw to be inevitable, against all parties, factions, and nations that have shown themselves unfriendly to it.
7. The 4th of March, 1801. The causes of my retirement are to be found in the writings of Freneau, Markoe, Ned Church, Andrew Brown, Paine, Callender, Hamilton, Cobbet, and John Ward Fenno and many others, but more especially in the circular letters of members of Congress from the southern and middle States. Without a complete collection of all these libels, no faithful history of the last twenty years can ever be written, nor any adequate account given of the causes of my retirement from public life.
8. My life for the last eight years has been spent in the bosom of my family, surrounded by my children and grandchildren; on my farm, in my garden and library. But in all this there is nothing interesting to the public.
9. Five feet, seven or nine inches, I really know not which.
10. I have one head, four limbs, and five senses, like any other man, and nothing peculiar in any of them.
11. I have been married forty-four years.
12. To Miss Abigail Smith, on the 25th of October, 1764, in her father’s house at Weymouth, the next town to this, and by her father, who was a clergyman.
13. Three sons and a daughter.
14. This would require twenty volumes.1
15. My temper in general has been tranquil, except when any instance of extraordinary madness, deceit, hypocrisy, ingratitude, treachery or perfidy, has suddenly struck me. Then I have always been irascible enough, and in three or four instances, very extraordinary ones, too much so. The storm, however, never lasted for half an hour, and anger never rested in the bosom.
16. Very little, I believe.2
17. Under my first latin master, who was a churl, I spent my time in shooting, skating, swimming, flying kites, and every other boyish exercise and diversion I could invent. Never mischievous. Under my second master, who was kind, I began to love my books and neglect my sports.
18. From that time I have been too studious. At college, next to the ordinary routine of classical studies, mathematics and natural philosophy were my favorite pursuits. When I began to study law, I found ethics, the law of nations, the civil law, the common law, a field too vast to admit of many other inquiries. Classics, history, and philosophy have, however, never been wholly neglected to this day.
19. Such persons are all dead, or so old as to be incapable of writing any long details.
20. I have no miniature, and have been too much abused by painters ever to sit to any one again.
TO DANIEL WRIGHT AND ERASTUS LYMAN.
Quincy, 13 March, 1809.
I have received your very civil letter of the 3d of this month with emotions very similar to those which I felt many years ago upon the following occasion.
Returning from Holland to Paris in 1784, I was invited to dine, with my wife and daughter, by the Baron de Stael, ambassador from Sweden. As I was the first of the corps diplomatique who arrived, the ambassador was showing me a fine portrait of the King of Sweden, his master, when the Count Deodati, ambassador from the Elector of Saxony, came in. After compliments to De Stael, Deodati turned to me, whom he had known several years before, and the following dialogue ensued.
Very well, Mr. Adams, you are a republican, I suppose.
You are in the right, Mr. Ambassador, I have the honor to be a republican.
And your countrymen are republican, and your government is republican.
Certainly. My countrymen are republicans, and our government is republican.
And you have made your countrymen and your government republican.
Not at all, Sir. My country and its government have been republican from their origin, and long before I was born.
Very well. You at least have made your country very celebrated. You have made it independent. You have made an astonishing treaty with Holland. You have made a marvellous peace with England. You have made her acknowledge your independence.
I beg your pardon, Sir. You are too polite. You do me too much honor. I have no pretensions to have performed all these great achievements. I have acted a part in some of these affairs.
But! Very well! I will now tell you the recompense you will receive for all that you have done.
I shall be very glad to hear your prognostications concerning my destiny.
Your fortune will be that of all the republicans; of Aristides, of Phocion, of Miltiades, of Scipio, &c., &c.
I believe it.
You believe it?
You will experience all the ingratitude, all the injustice of the ancient republicans.
I expect it, and always have expected it.
You will be ill-treated, hated, despised, and persecuted.
I have no doubt of all that. It is in the ordinary nature and course of things.
Your virtue must be very heroical, or your philosophy very stoical, to undertake all those adventures, with your eyes open, for such a reward.
So much for Deodati and his warning voice; and so much for my well-grounded anticipations. This is no fabulous dialogue of the dead, but strict historical truth. A curious coalition of French and English emissaries with federal and republican libellers, have so completely fulfilled the prophecy of Deodati and my own forebodings, so totally destroyed my reputation by their calumnies, that I have neither power nor influence to do any thing for my country, to assist her in her present distresses, or guard her against future calamities. Nothing remains to me but the right of private judgment, and that I exercise freely, and communicate my sentiments as freely to those who wish to know them.
I am totis viribus against any division of the Union, by the North River, or by Delaware River, or by the Potomac, or any other river, or by any chain of mountains. I am for maintaining the independence of the nation at all events. I am no advocate of Mr. Gore’s declaration of war against France. Knowing, as I do, from personal experience, the mutually friendly dispositions between the people of France and the people of America, Bonaparte out of the question, I shall be very sorry to see them converted into ill will, and old English prejudices revived. Lasting injuries and misfortunes would arise to this country from such a change. I am averse, also, to a war with England, and wish to maintain our neutrality as long as possible without conceding important principles. If either of the belligerent powers forces us all into a war, I am for fighting that power, whichever it may be.
I always consider the whole nation as my children; but they have almost all been undutiful to me. You two gentlemen are almost the only ones, out of my own house, who have for a long time, and I thank you for it, expressed a filial affection for
TO BENJAMIN RUSH.
Quincy, 12 April, 1809.
Thank you for your favor of the 1st. I might have quoted Job as well as St. Paul as a precedent, but as I mix religion with politics as little as possible, I chose to confine myself to Cicero. You advise me to write my own life. I have made several attempts, but it is so dull an employment that I cannot endure it. I look so much like a small boy in my own eyes, that, with all my vanity, I cannot endure the sight of the picture. I am glad you have resolved to do yourself justice. I am determined to vindicate myself in some points while I live. Inclosed is a whimsical specimen.1 In future I shall not be so goguenard.
The dialogue between Deodati and me is literal truth; that is, it is a literal translation from the French, in which language the conversation was held, and which I reduced to writing. You may ask what reason I had for foreseeing such consequences. I will give you a few hints among a thousand.
1. When I went home to my family in May, 1770, from the town meeting in Boston, which was the first I had ever attended, and where I had been chosen in my absence, without any solicitation, one of their representatives, I said to my wife, “I have accepted a seat in the House of Representatives, and thereby have consented to my own ruin, to your ruin, and the ruin of our children. I give you this warning, that you may prepare your mind for your fate.” She burst into tears, but instantly cried out in a transport of magnanimity, “Well, I am willing in this cause to run all risks with you, and be ruined with you, if you are ruined.” These were times, my friend, in Boston, which tried women’s souls as well as men’s.
2. I saw the awful prospect before me and my country in all its horrors, and, notwithstanding all my vanity, was conscious of a thousand defects in my own character as well as health, which made me despair of going through and weathering the storms in which I must be tossed.
3. In the same year, 1770, my sense of equity and humanity impelled me, against a torrent of unpopularity, and the inclination of all my friends, to engage in defence of Captain Preston and the soldiers. My successful exertions in that cause, though the result was perfectly conformable to law and justice, brought upon me a load of indignation and unpopularity, which I knew would never be forgotten, nor entirely forgiven. The Boston newspapers to this day show that my apprehensions were well founded.
4. You can testify for me that in 1774 my conduct in Congress drew upon me the jealousy and aversion, not only of the tories in Congress, who were neither few nor feeble, but of the whole body of quakers and proprietary gentlemen in Pennsylvania. I have seen and felt the consequences of these prejudices to this day.
5. I call you to witness that I was the first member of Congress who ventured to come out in public, as I did in January, 1776, in my “Thoughts on Government, in a letter from a gentleman to his friend,” that is, Mr. Wythe, in favor of a government, in three branches, with an independent judiciary. This pamphlet, you know, was very unpopular. No man appeared in public to support it, but yourself. You attempted in the public papers to give it some countenance, but without much success. Franklin leaned against it. Dr. Young, Mr. Timothy Matlack, and Mr. James Cannon, and I suppose Mr. George Bryan were alarmed and displeased at it. Mr. Thomas Paine was so highly offended with it, that he came to visit me at my chamber at Mrs. Yard’s to remonstrate and even scold at me for it, which he did in very ungenteel terms. In return, I only laughed heartily at him, and rallied him upon his grave arguments from the Old Testament to prove that monarchy was unlawful in the sight of God. “Do you seriously believe, Paine,” said I, “in that pious doctrine of yours?” This put him in good humor, and he laughed out. “The Old Testament!” said he, “I do not believe in the Old Testament. I have had thoughts of publishing my sentiments of it, but, upon deliberation, I have concluded to put that off till the latter part of life.” Paine’s wrath was excited because my plan of government was essentially different from the silly projects that he had published in his “Common Sense.” By this means I became suspected and unpopular with the leading demagogues and the whole constitutional party in Pennsylvania.
6. Upon my return from France in 1779, I found myself elected by my native town of Braintree a member of the Convention for forming a Constitution for the State of Massachusetts. I attended that convention of near four hundred members. Here I found such a chaos of absurd sentiments concerning government, that I was obliged daily, before that great assembly, and afterwards in the Grand Committee, to propose plans, and advocate doctrines, which were extremely unpopular with the greater number. Lieutenant-Governor Cushing was avowedly for a single assembly, like Pennsylvania. Samuel Adams was of the same mind. Mr. Hancock kept aloof, in order to be governor. In short, I had at first no support but from the Essex junto, who had adopted my ideas in the letter to Mr. Wythe. They supported me timorously, and at last would not go with me to so high a mark as I aimed at, which was a complete negative in the governor upon all laws. They made me, however, draw up the Constitution, and it was finally adopted, with some amendments very much for the worse. The bold, decided, and determined part I took in this assembly in favor of a good government, acquired me the reputation of a man of high principles and strong notions in government, scarcely compatible with republicanism. A foundation was here laid of much jealousy and unpopularity among the democratical people in this State.
7. In Holland, I had driven the English party and the stockholders’ party before me, like clouds before the wind, and had brought that power to unite cordially with America, France, and Spain against England. If I had not before alienated the whole English nation from me, this would have been enough to produce an eternal jealousy of me; and I fully believed that whenever a free intercourse should take place between Britain and America, I might depend upon their perpetual ill will to me, and that their influence would be used to destroy mine.
8. In all my negotiations in France and Holland in 1778, 1779, 1780, 1781, 1782, 1783, and 1784, I had so uniformly resisted all the arts and intrigues of the Count de Vergennes and M. de Sartine and all their satellites, and that with such perfect success, that I well knew, although they treated me with great external respect, yet in their hearts they had conceived an ineradicable jealousy and aversion to me. I well knew, therefore, that French influence in America would do all in its power to trip me up.
9. Dr. Franklin’s behavior had been so excessively complaisant to the French ministry, and in my opinion had so endangered the essential interests of our country, that I had been frequently obliged to differ from him, and sometimes to withstand him to his face; so that I knew he had conceived an irreconcilable hatred of me, and that he had propagated and would continue to propagate prejudices, if nothing worse, against me in America from one end of it to the other. Look into Benjamin Franklin Bache’s Aurora and Duane’s Aurora for twenty years, and see whether my expectations have not been verified.
With all these reflections fresh in my mind, you may judge whether my anticipations in the good-humored conversation with Deodati were rash, peevish, or ill grounded.
In short, I have every reason to acknowledge the protecting providence of God, from my birth, and especially through my public life. I have gone through life with much more safety and felicity than I ever expected. With devout gratitude I acknowledge the divine favor in many instances, and among others for giving me a friend in you, who, though you would never follow me as a disciple, have always been my friend.
TO JOSEPH LYMAN.
Quincy, 20 April, 1809.
I have received your respectful letter of the 21st of March. It is not now necessary for me to say any thing concerning many of the topics. To explain myself fully, and enter into the histories of past occurrences alluded to, would require a volume.
I have forsaken the persons and interest of none of my friends. The leaders to whom the federal party has now blindly abandoned itself, were never my friends.
I have departed from no principle. My invariable principle for five-and-thirty years has been, to promote, preserve, and secure the integrity of the Union, and the independence of the nation, against the policy of England as well as France.
When France attempted to degrade us, I exerted all my industry to arouse, inspire, and animate my fellow-citizens to resistance, and with so much success, that the then French government were compelled to retract. If for this service I had no thanks from the republicans, I had nothing but insolence and scurrility from the federalists. Look back and read the federal newspapers in Boston, New York, and Philadelphia of that period, you will then see how I was treated. If your namesake, of Springfield, who was then a representative in Congress, one of the most amiable of men, were now alive, he could inform you, as he did me, with the kindest expressions of attachment to me, and indignation against the treachery of my pretended federal friends. He assured me that the federalists in New York, with Hamilton at their head, had in secret caucus agreed to sacrifice Adams. I had other information from other quarters, that at the meeting of the Cincinnati at New York, when they chose Hamilton their President-General, it was agreed, and the reverend doctors of divinity (and there were several of these present) concurred in the pious project and the pious language, to sacrifice Adams, and bring in Pinckney. The intrigues they practised to accomplish this were very extensive and very jesuitical; but to develop them would lead me too far. I will only add that the Boston and the Pennsylvania, if not the South Carolina federal leaders were in the same plot. They were assisted, too, by the publications in England, particularly the Anti-Jacobin, then under the direction of Mr. Canning. I know that French influence drove me into banishment; but it would not have had the power, if it had not been essentially assisted by the pharisaical, jesuitical, machiavelian intrigue and influence of the leading federalists.
I assure you, Sir, “a war with England will not meet my hearty reprobation,” if England makes it necessary. England and France have both given us just cause for war, but neither has yet made it necessary. The first of the two that shall render war necessary, shall have my vote for it.
I am surprised that you should think there is no pretext or excuse for a war with England, that you should talk of their bearing so much with the waywardness of our government, and that she has done nothing to injure us but from a principle of necessary self-defence, and a retaliation of injuries from their adversaries, which we had not the dignity to resent and repel. As you say, Mr. Adams would not have done thus. I assure you, Mr. Adams would have resisted and repelled, to the utmost of his power, the British proclamation of blockade of eleven hundred miles of sea-coast, from the Elbe to Brest, which was the first of the diabolical warfare of blockade, decrees, and orders of council. The Berlin decree is expressly grounded on a principle of retaliation. The wickedness of this first blockade cannot be set in a true light without detailing the history of Antwerp, the Scheld, Ostend, Nieuport, &c., the objects of all the Flanders wars for centuries.
In plain English, Great Britain is the first sinner, and the original guilt of our present calamities lies at her door, though France, in point of actual transgression, is not much behind her. The federal papers for the last year or two, assisted by English hirelings, have been employed in varnishing over the conduct of Great Britain, and in calumniating every impartial and disinterested man, till they appear to have obtained a temporary majority in New England. I greatly respect the public opinion of New England, when it is truly informed. In the present instance, with infinite grief I fear it is not. The press has not been free.
I am not able to see how the federalists are to get along with their new friends, the old English. If they succeed, I shall wish them joy, but I cannot expect to live to enjoy that felicity.
TO SAMUEL PERLEY.
Quincy, 19 June, 1809.
I received your favor of the 12th. You propose to me an abridgment of my works. Some fifty-five years ago, I learned from Lord Coke, that abridgments were chiefly useful to the makers of them. It would be of no use to me to abridge my poor productions; besides, I had rather write as many new ones than undertake to abridge the old ones.
You say that our ungovernable newspapers have published something concerning my works, to my disadvantage. I thank you for this epithet “ungovernable.” It is so fine an expression, and at the same time so simple, natural, and exact, that I wonder it has never occurred before. A great minister of State, in the estimation of the world, the Comte de Vergennes, once said to me, “Mr. Adams, the newspapers govern the world!” Let me ask you, Mr. Perley, whether this apothegm has not been verified in our own country, sometimes to her profit, and sometimes to her loss. Let me ask you again, if the world is governed by ungovernable newspapers, whether it does not follow by necessary logical consequence that the world is ungovernable.
The newspapers have represented my writings as monarchical, as having a monarchical tendency; as aristocratical, and having an aristocratical tendency. In answer to these charges, I only ask that they may be read.
I have represented the British Constitution as the most perfect model that has as yet been discovered or invented by human genius and experience, for the government of the great nations of Europe. It is a masterpiece. It is the only system that has preserved or can preserve the shadow, the color, the semblance of liberty to the people in any of the great nations of Europe. Consider the republics, Venice, Holland, Switzerland; not a particle of liberty to the people was preserved in any of them more than there was in France, nor so much either. Our own Constitutions I have represented as the best for us in our peculiar situation, and while we preserve ourselves independent and unallied to any of the great powers of Europe. An alliance with either France or England would, in my humble opinion, put an end to our fine system of liberty.
Let me give you a few hints of the history of my “Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the United States.”
In 1775 and 1776 there had been great disputes, in Congress and in the several States, concerning a proper constitution for the several States to adopt for their government. A Convention in Pennsylvania had adopted a government in one representative assembly, and Dr. Franklin was the President of that Convention. The Doctor, when he went to France in 1776, carried with him the printed copy of that Constitution, and it was immediately propagated through France that this was the plan of government of Mr. Franklin. In truth, it was not Franklin, but Timothy Matlack, James Cannon, Thomas Young, and Thomas Paine, who were the authors of it. Mr. Turgot, the Duke de la Rochefoucauld, Mr. Condorcet, and many others, became enamored with the Constitution of Mr. Franklin. And in my opinion, the two last owed their final and fatal catastrophe to this blind love.
In 1780, when I arrived in France, I carried a printed copy of the report of the Grand Committee of the Massachusetts Convention, which I had drawn up; and this became an object of speculation. Mr. Turgot, the Duke de la Rochefoucauld, and Mr. Condorcet and others, admired Mr. Franklin’s Constitution and reprobated mine. Mr. Turgot, in a letter to Dr. Price, printed in London, censured the American Constitution as adopting three branches, in imitation of the Constitution of Great Britain. The intention was to celebrate Franklin’s Constitution and condemn mine. I understood it, and undertook to defend my Constitution, and it cost me three volumes.
In justice to myself, however, I ought to say, that it was not the miserable vanity of justifying my own work, or eclipsing the glory of Mr. Franklin’s, that induced me to write. I never thought of writing till the Assembly of Notables in France had commenced a revolution, with the Duke de la Rochefoucauld and Mr. Condorcet at their head, who I knew would establish a government in one assembly, and that I knew would involve France and all Europe in all the horrors we have seen; carnage and desolation, for fifty, perhaps for a hundred years.
At the same time, every western wind brought us news of town and county meetings in Massachusetts, adopting Mr. Turgot’s ideas, condemning my Constitution, reprobating the office of governor and the assembly of the Senate as expensive, useless, and pernicious, and not only proposing to toss them off, but rising in rebellion against them.
In this situation I was determined to wash my hands of the blood that was about to be shed in France, Europe, and America, and show to the world that neither my sentiments nor actions should have any share in countenancing or encouraging any such pernicious, destructive, and fatal schemes. In this view I wrote my defence of the American Constitutions. I had only the Massachusetts Constitution in view, and such others as agreed with it in the distribution of the legislative power into three branches, in separating the executive from the legislative power, and the judiciary power from both. These three volumes had no relation to the Constitution of the United States. That was not in existence, and I scarcely knew that such a thing was in contemplation till I received it at the moment my third volume was about to issue from the press. I had hardly time to annex it at the end.
I was personally acquainted with Mr. Turgot, the Duke de la Rochefoucauld, and Mr. Condorcet. They were as amiable, as learned, and as honest men as any in France. But such was their inexperience in all that relates to free government, so superficial their reading in the science of government, and so obstinate their confidence in their own great characters for science and literature, that I should trust the most ignorant of our honest town meeting orators to make a Constitution sooner than any or all of them.
And now, Sir, give my compliments to Mr. Simon Greenleaf, your lawyer, and tell him that he is welcome to publish this letter, if he pleases, provided he publishes yours before it, not otherwise.
TO F. A. VANDERKEMP.
Quincy, 15 December, 1809.
I have received your kind letter of the 28th of November, and another, some time ago, that I have not answered.
I rejoice with you in your prosperity, particularly in the happy marriage of your son, and sympathize in all your sorrows, more especially in the misfortune of your friend Vreede, whom I remember well.
Happy are you in your various learning, and the enjoyment of your books; I can read but little, on account of my eyes. My wife and children and grandchildren are very good to read to me, but they cannot always read when I want, nor always such books as I should choose.
There is in one of the last Anthologies a handsome character of our friend Mr. John Luzac, which I hope you will read with pleasure. I should be glad to know who wrote it.
It is a little remarkable that you never heard the literary character of my consort. There have been few ladies in the world of a more correct or elegant taste. A collection of her letters, for the forty-five years that we have been married, would be worth ten times more than Madame de Sévigné’s, though not so perfectly measured in syllables and letters, and would, or at least ought to put to the blush Lady Mary Wortley Montagu and all her admirers. So much you will say, for conjugal complaisance. So much, I say, for simple justice to her merit.
What shall I say to you concerning your diploma? I have spoken twenty times to our secretaries to prepare and send it, and have as often been promised. But we are all men of business; our secretaries have been members of Congress, and I begin to think that politicians never should be academicians.
When I was in Leyden, a gentleman was introduced to me, I know not by whom, who presented me with a small volume of Latin poetry of his own composition. In it was the famous compliment to Dr. Franklin,—
Eripuit cœlo fulmen, sceptrumque tyrannis,
and I always understood that gentleman to be the author of it. Can you tell me his name? It has been, in France and the world, attributed to Mr. Turgot; but I have always understood that Mr. Turgot took it from that volume, and only altered it to “Eripuit cœlo fulmen; mox sceptrum tyrannis.” Pray, tell me, if you can, the name and character of that Leyden Latin poet, and whether my memory has not deceived me.
I am in the last year of my fifteenth lustre, and write with great difficulty. But as long as I can write at all, I shall express to Mr. Vanderkemp my best wishes for his happiness.
Your question, “Through what means the military and commercial spirit can be most effectually entertained, and rendered permanently advantageous to a free nation, under a republican form of government,” is of great importance. But no man would discuss it. Nine tenths of our nation would say the militia, the other tenth a standing army. The merchants would all say, “let commerce alone—merchants do as they please;” others would say, “protect trade with a navy;” others, “let commerce be annihilated.” Such questions would only make of our academies so many political caucuses.
[1 ]Mr. Jones’s inquiry was, respecting “those accidents which decided your destiny, and gave a color and complexion to all your future prospects and conduct.”
[1 ]Mr. Jones’s sixth question was as to “the part you acted during the time in which you were in a public station.”
[1 ]14. “Anecdotes relative to yourself or any of your acquaintances who have borne public offices.”
[2 ]16. “Has it (your temper) undergone any change?” Mr. Jones’s queries.
[1 ]A copy of the letter immediately preceding this.