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, 28 June, 1813.
It is very true that the denunciations of the priesthood are fulminated against every advocate for a complete freedom of religion. Comminations, I believe, would be plenteously pronounced by even the most liberal of them, against atheism, deism,—against every man who disbelieved or doubted the resurrection of Jesus, or the miracles of the New Testament. Priestley himself would denounce the man who should deny the Apocalypse, or the prophecies of Daniel. Priestley and Lindsey have both denounced as idolaters and blasphemers all the Trinitarians and even the Arians. Poor weak man! when will thy perfection arrive? Thy perfectibility I shall not deny, for a greater character than Priestley or Godwin has said, “Be ye perfect,” &c. For my part, I cannot “deal damnation round the land” on all I judge the foes of God or man. But I did not intend to say a word on this subject in this letter. As much of it as you please, hereafter; but let me now return to politics.
With some difficulty I have hunted up or down the “address of the young men of the city of Philadelphia, the district of Southwark, and the northern liberties,” and the answer.
The addressers say, “actuated by the same principles on which our forefathers achieved their independence, the recent attempts of a foreign power to derogate from the rights and dignity of our country, awaken our liveliest sensibility and our strongest indignation.” Huzza, my brave boys! Could Thomas Jefferson or John Adams hear these words with insensibility and without emotion? These boys afterwards add, “we regard our liberty and independence as the richest portion given us by our ancestors.” And who were these ancestors? Among them were Thomas Jefferson and John Adams; and I very coolly believe that no two men among these ancestors did more towards it than those two. Could either hear this like a statue? If, one hundred years hence, your letters and mine should see the light, I hope the reader will hunt up this address, and read it all, and remember that we were then engaged, or on the point of engaging, in a war with France. I shall not repeat the answer till we come to the paragraph upon which you criticized to Dr. Priestley, though every word of it is true; and I now rejoice to see it recorded, though I had wholly forgotten it.
The paragraph is, “Science and morals are the great pillars on which this country has been raised to its present population, opulence, and prosperity; and these alone can advance, support, and preserve it. Without wishing to damp the ardor of curiosity, or influence the freedom of inquiry, I will hazard a prediction, that after the most industrious and impartial researches, the longest liver of you all will find no principles, institutions, or systems of education more fit, in general, to be transmitted to your posterity than those you have received from your ancestors.”1
Now, compare the paragraph in the answer with the paragraph in the address, as both are quoted above, and see if we can find the extent and the limits of the meaning of both.
Who composed that army of fine young fellows that was then before my eyes? There were among them Roman Catholics, English Episcopalians, Scotch and American Presbyterians, Methodists, Moravians, Anabaptists, German Lutherans, German Calvinists, Universalists, Arians, Priestleyans, Socinians, Independents, Congregationalists, Horse Protestants, and House Protestants,2 Deists and Atheists, and Protestants “qui ne croyent rien.” Very few, however, of several of these species; nevertheless, all educated in the general principles of Christianity, and the general principles of English and American liberty.
Could my answer be understood by any candid reader or hearer, to recommend to all the others the general principles, institutions, or systems of education of the Roman Catholics, or those of the Quakers, or those of the Presbyterians, or those of the Methodists, or those of the Moravians, or those of the Universalists, or those of the Philosophers? No. The general principles on which the fathers achieved independence, were the only principles in which that beautiful assembly of young men could unite, and these principles only could be intended by them in their address, or by me in my answer. And what were these general principles? I answer, the general principles of Christianity, in which all those sects were united, and the general principles of English and American liberty, in which all those young men united, and which had united all parties in America, in majorities sufficient to assert and maintain her independence. Now I will avow, that I then believed and now believe that those general principles of Christianity are as eternal and immutable as the existence and attributes of God; and that those principles of liberty are as unalterable as human nature and our terrestrial, mundane system. I could, therefore safely say, consistently with all my then and present information, that I believed they would never make discoveries in contradiction to these general principles. In favor of these general principles, in philosophy, religion, and government, I could fill sheets of quotations from Frederic of Prussia, from Hume, Gibbon, Bolingbroke, Rousseau, and Voltaire, as well as Newton and Locke; not to mention thousands of divines and philosophers of inferior fame.
I might have flattered myself that my sentiments were sufficiently known to have protected me against suspicions of narrow thoughts, contracted sentiments, bigoted, enthusiastic, or superstitious principles, civil, political, philosophical, or ecclesiastical. The first sentence of the preface to my Defence of the Constitution, vol. i., printed in 1787, is in these words: “The arts and sciences, in general, during the three or four last centuries, have had a regular course of progressive improvement. The inventions in mechanic arts, the discoveries in natural philosophy, navigation, and commerce, and the advancement of civilization and humanity, have occasioned changes in the condition of the world, and the human character, which would have astonished the most refined nations of antiquity,” &c. I will quote no farther, but request you to read again that whole page, and then say whether the writer of it could be suspected of recommending to youth “to look backward instead of forward,” for instruction and improvement. This letter is already too long. In my next, I shall consider “the terrorism of the day.”
[1 ] For the whole of the answer, of which this is a part, see vol. ix. p. 188.
[2 ] All the later letters of Mr. Adams are much marred in the copying. Unless these words refer to Messrs. Horne and Howes, two of the disputants with Dr. Priestley in England, the editor cannot explain them.