Front Page Titles (by Subject) TO THOMAS JEFFERSON. - The Works of John Adams, vol. 10 (Letters 1811-1825, Indexes)
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
TO THOMAS JEFFERSON. - John Adams, The Works of John Adams, vol. 10 (Letters 1811-1825, Indexes) 
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. 10.
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.
TO THOMAS JEFFERSON.
Quincy, 14 June, 1813.
In your letter to Dr. Priestley, of March 21st, 1801, you “tender to him the protection of those laws which were made for the wise and good like him, and disclaim the legitimacy of that libel on legislation, which, under the form of a law, was, for some time, placed among them.” This law, I presume, was the alien law, as it was called.
As your name is subscribed to that law, as Vice-President, and mine as President, I know not why you are not as responsible for it as I am. Neither of us was concerned in the formation of it. We were then at war with France. French spies then swarmed in our cities and our country; some of them were intolerably impudent, turbulent, and seditious. To check these, was the design of this law. Was there ever a government which had not authority to defend itself against spies in its own bosom—spies of an enemy at war? This law was never executed by me in any instance.
But what is the conduct of our government now? Aliens are ordered to report their names, and obtain certificates once a month; and an industrious Scotchman, at this moment industriously laboring in my garden, is obliged to walk once a month to Boston, eight miles at least, to renew his certificate from the marshal. And a fat organist is ordered into the country, &c. All this is right. Every government has, by the law of nations, a right to make prisoners of war of every subject of an enemy. But a war with England differs not from a war with France. The law of nations is the same in both.
I cannot write volumes on a single sheet, but these letters of yours require volumes from me.
“The mighty wave of public opinion, which has rolled over!” This is in your style; and, sometimes, in mine, with less precision and less delicacy. O, Mr. Jefferson! what a wave of public opinion has rolled over the universe! By the universe here, I mean our globe. I can yet say, “there is nothing new under the sun” in my sense. The reformation rolled a wave of public opinion over the globe, as wonderful as this. A war of thirty years was necessary to compose this wave. The wars of Charlemagne rolled a wave. The Crusades rolled a wave more mountainous than the French revolution. Only one hundred years ago, a wave was rolled, when Austria, England, and Holland, in alliance, contended against France for the dominion, or rather, the alliance of Spain.
Had “the clock run down,” I am not so sanguine as you that the consequence would have been as you presume. I was determined, in all events, to retire. You and Mr. Madison are indebted to Bayard for an evasion of the contest. Had the voters for Burr addressed the nation, I am not sure that your convention would have decided in your favor.1 But what reflections does this suggest! What pretensions had Aaron Burr to be President or Vice-President?
What “a wave” has rolled over christendom for fifteen hundred years! What a wave has rolled over France for fifteen hundred years, supporting in power and glory the dynasty of Bourbon! What a wave supported the house of Austria! What a wave has supported the dynasty of Mahomet for twelve hundred years! What a wave supported the house of Hercules for so many ages in more remote antiquity! These waves are not to be slighted. They are less resistible than those in the gulf stream in a hurricane. What a wave has the French revolution spread! And what a wave is our navy of five frigates raising!
If I can keep this book, “Memoirs of Lindsey,” I shall have more to say. Meantime,
I remain, &c.
[1 ] “A convention, invited by the republican members of Congress with the virtual President and Vice-President, would have been on the ground in eight weeks, would have repaired the Constitution where it was defective, and wound it up again.” Jefferson to Priestley.