Front Page Titles (by Subject) TO THOMAS JEFFERSON. - The Works of John Adams, vol. 10 (Letters 1811-1825, Indexes)
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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.
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TO THOMAS JEFFERSON.
Quincy, 25 December, 1813.
Answer my letter at your leisure. Give yourself no concern. I write as a refuge and protection against ennui.
The fundamental principle of all philosophy and all Christianity is, “Rejoice always in all things.” “Be thankful at all times for all good, and all that we call evil.” Will it not follow, that I ought to rejoice and be thankful that Priestley has lived? Aye, that Voltaire has lived? I should have given my reason for rejoicing in Voltaire, &c. It is because I believe they have done more than even Luther or Calvin to lower the tone of that proud hierarchy that shot itself up above the clouds, and more to propagate religious liberty than Calvin, or Luther, or even Locke. That Gibbon has lived? That Hume has lived, though a conceited Scotchman? That Bolingbroke has lived, though a haughty, arrogant, supercilious dogmatist? That Burke and Johnson have lived, though superstitious slaves, or self-deceiving hypocrites both? Is it not laughable to hear Burke call Bolingbroke a superficial writer; to hear him ask, “who ever read him through!” Had I been present, I should have answered him: “I, I myself! I have read him through, more than fifty years ago, and more than five times in my life, and once within five years past. And, in my opinion, the epithet ‘superficial’ belongs to you and your friend Johnson more than to him.” I might say much more; but I believe Burke and Johnson to have been as political Christians as Leo X.
I return to Priestley, though I have great complaints against him for personal injuries and persecution, at the same time that I forgive it all, and hope and pray that he may be pardoned for it all above. Dr. Brocklesby, an intimate friend and convivial companion of Johnson, told me, that Johnson died in agonies of horror of annihilation; and all the accounts we have of his death corroborate this account of Brocklesby. Dread of annihilation! Dread of nothing! A dread of nothing, I should think, would be no dread at all. Can there be any real, substantial, rational fear of nothing? Were you on your deathbed, and in your last moments informed by demonstration or revelation that you would cease to think and to feel at your dissolution, should you be terrified? You might be ashamed of yourself for having lived so long, to bear the proud man’s contumely; you might be ashamed of your Maker, and compare Him to a little girl amusing herself, her brothers, and sisters by blowing bubbles in soapsuds; you might compare Him to boys, sporting with crackers and rockets, or to men employed in making more artificial fireworks, or to men and women at fairs and operas, or Sadler’s Wells exploits; or to politicians, in their intrigues; or to heroes, in their butcheries; or to Popes, in their devilisms. But what should you fear? Nothing. Emori nolo; sed me mortuum esse nihil æstimo.
To return to Priestley—you could make a more luminous book than his upon the “Doctrines of Heathen Philosophers, compared with those of Revelation.” Why has he not given us a more satisfactory account of the Pythagorean philosophy and theology? He barely names Ocellus, who lived long before Plato. His treatise of kings and monarchy has been destroyed, I conjecture, by Platonic philosophers, Platonic Jews or Christians, or by fraudulent republicans or despots. His treatise of the universe has been preserved. He labors to prove the eternity of the world. The Marquis D’Argens translated it in all its noble simplicity. The Abbé Batteux has given another translation. D’Argens not only explains the text, but sheds more light upon the ancient systems. His remarks are so many treatises, which develop the concatenation of ancient opinions. The most essential ideas of the theology, of the physics, and of the morality of the ancients are clearly explained, and their different doctrines compared with one another, and with the modern discoveries. I wish I owned this book, and one hundred thousand more that I want every day, now when I am almost incapable of making any use of them. No doubt, he informs us that Pythagoras was a great traveller.
Priestley barely mentions Timæus; but it does not appear that he had read him. Why has he not given us an account of him and his book? He was before Plato, and gave him the idea of his Timæus, and much more of his philosophy. After his master, he maintained the existence of matter; that matter was capable of receiving all sorts of forms; that a moving power agitates all the parts of it, and that an intelligence directed the moving power; that this intelligence produced a regular and harmonious world. The intelligence had seen a plan, an idea (logos), in conformity to which it wrought, and without which it would not have known what it was about, nor what it wanted to do. This plan was the idea, image, or model, which had represented to the Supreme Intelligence the world before it existed, which had directed it in its action upon the moving power, and which it contemplated in forming the elements, the bodies, and the world. This model was distinguished from the intelligence which produced the world, as the architect is from his plans. He divided the productive cause of the world into a spirit, which directed the moving force, and into an image, which determined it in the choice of the directions which it gave to the moving force, and the forms which it gave to matter.
I wonder that Priestley has overlooked this, because it is the same philosophy with Plato’s, and would have shown that the Pythagorean, as well as the Platonic philosophers, probably concurred in the fabrication of the Christian Trinity. Priestley mentions the name of Archytas, but does not appear to have read him, though he was a successor of Pythagoras, and a great mathematician, a great statesman, and a great general. John Gram, a learned and honorable Dane, has given a handsome edition of his works, with a Latin translation, and an ample account of his life and writings. Zaleucus, the legislator of Locris, and Charondas of Sybaris, were disciples of Pythagoras, and both celebrated to immortality for the wisdom of their laws, five hundred years before Christ. Why are those laws lost? I say, the spirit of party has destroyed them; civil, political, and ecclesiastical bigotry. Despotical, monarchical, aristocratical, and democratical fury, have all been employed in this work of destruction of every thing that could give us true light, and a clear insight of antiquity. For every one of these parties, when possessed of power, or when they have been undermost, and struggling to get uppermost, has been equally prone to every species of fraud and violence and usurpation. Why has not Priestley mentioned these legislators? The preamble to the laws of Zaleucus, which is all that remains, is as orthodox Christian theology as Priestley’s, and Christian benevolence and forgiveness of injuries almost as clearly expressed.
Priestley ought to have done impartial justice to philosophy and philosophers. Philosophy, which is the result of reason, is the first, the original revelation of the Creator to his creature, man. When this revelation is clear and certain, by intuition or necessary inductions, no subsequent revelation, supported by prophecies or miracles, can supersede it. Philosophy is not only the love of wisdom, but the science of the universe and its cause. There is, there was, and there will be but one master of philosophy in the universe. Portions of it, in different degrees, are revealed to creatures. Philosophy looks with an impartial eye on all terrestrial religions. I have examined all as well as my narrow sphere, my straitened means, and my busy life would allow me; and the result is, that the Bible is the best book in the world. It contains more of my little philosophy than all the libraries I have seen; and such parts of it as I cannot reconcile to my little philosophy, I postpone for future investigation. Priestley ought to have given us a sketch of the religion and morals of Zoroaster, of Sanchoniathon, of Confucius, and all the founders of religions before Christ, whose superiority would, from such a comparison, have appeared the more transcendent. Priestley ought to have told us that Pythagoras passed twenty years in his travels in India, in Egypt, in Chaldea, perhaps in Sodom and Gomorrah, Tyre and Sidon. He ought to have told us, that in India he conversed with the Brahmins, and read the Shasta, five thousand years old, written in the language of the sacred Sanscrit, with the elegance and sentiments of Plato. Where is to be found theology more orthodox, or philosophy more profound, than in the introduction to the Shasta? “God is one, creator of all, universal sphere, without beginning, without end. God governs all the creation by a general providence, resulting from his eternal designs. Search not the essence and the nature of the Eternal, who is one; your research will be vain and presumptuous. It is enough, that, day by day and night by night, you adore his power, his wisdom, and his goodness, in his works. The Eternal willed, in the fulness of time, to communicate of his essence and of his splendor, to beings capable of perceiving it. They as yet existed not. The Eternal willed, and they were. He created Birma, Vitsnow, and Sib.” These doctrines, sublime, if ever there were any sublime, Pythagoras learned in India, and taught them to Zaleucus and his other disciples. He there learned also his metempsychosis; but this never was popular, never made much progress in Greece or Italy, or any other country besides India and Tartary, the region of the grand immortal Lama. And how does this differ from the possessions of demons in Greece and Rome, from the demon of Socrates, from the worship of cows and crocodiles in Egypt and elsewhere? After migrating through various animals, from elephants to serpents, according to their behavior, souls that, at last, behaved well, became men and women, and then, if they were good, they went to Heaven. All ended in Heaven, if they became virtuous. Who can wonder at the widow of Malabar? Where is the lady who, if her faith were without doubt that she should go to Heaven with her husband on the one hand, or migrate into a toad or a wasp on the other, would not lie down on the pile, and set fire to the fuel? Modifications and disguises of the metempsychosis had crept into Egypt, and Greece, and Rome, and other countries. Have you read Farmer on the demons and possessions of the New Testament?
According to the Shasta, Moisayer, with his companions, rebelled against the Eternal, and were precipitated down to Ondero, the region of darkness.
Do you know any thing of the prophecy of Enoch? Can you give me a comment on the 6th, the 9th, the 14th verses of the epistle of Jude?
If I am not weary of writing, I am sure you must be of reading such incoherent rattle. I will not persecute you so severely in future, if I can help it, so farewell.
THOMAS McKEAN TO JOHN ADAMS.
Philadelphia, January, 1814.
In your favor of the 26th November last you say, “that you ventured to say, that about a third of the people of the colonies were against the revolution.” It required much reflection before I could fix my opinion on this subject; but on mature deliberation I conclude you are right, and that more than a third of influential characters were against it. The opposition consisted chiefly of the Friends or Quakers, the Menonists, the Protestant Episcopalians,—whose clergy received salaries from the Society for Propagating the Gospel in Foreign Parts,—and from the officers of the crown and proprietors of provinces, with their connections,—adding the timid and those who believed the colonies would be conquered, and that, of course, they would be safe in their persons and property from such conduct, and also have a probability of obtaining office and distinction,—and also the discontented and capricious of all grades.
I have not heard the specific sum of money Mr. C. J. Marshall received for his copyright of the Life of Washington, nor have I been able to obtain any certain information concerning it; but if he obtained a sixth part of what you mention, I think he ought to be contented.
During my protracted life, I neither have had leisure or inclination to write a history, and at my present age it is out of the question. It is true I have often been spoken to, and even solicited by a great many of my learned acquaintance, to undertake that of the American Revolution, beginning at the year 1760 or before: among them Dr. Rush, your former correspondent, was not the least anxious.
Though I shall never write a history, I will give you a historical fact respecting the declaration of independence, which may amuse, if not surprise.
On the 1st July, 1776, the question was taken in the committee of the whole of Congress, when Pennsylvania, represented by seven members then present, voted against it—four to three; among the majority were Robert Morris and John Dickinson. Delaware (having only two present, namely, myself and Mr. Read) was divided; all the other States voted in favor of it. The report was delayed until the 4th, and in the mean time I sent an express for Cæsar Rodney, to Dover, in the county of Kent, in Delaware, at my private expense, whom I met at the State-house door on the 4th of July in his boots; he resided eighty miles from the city, and just arrived as Congress met. The question was taken; Delaware voted in favor of independence; Pennsylvania (there being only five members present, Messrs. Dickinson and Morris absent) voted also for it; Messrs. Willing and Humphreys were against it. Thus the thirteen States were unanimous in favor of independence.1 Notwithstanding this, in the printed public journal of Congress for 1776, vol. ii., it appears that the declaration of independence was declared on the 4th of July, 1776, by the gentlemen whose names are there inserted; whereas no person signed it on that day, and among the names there inserted, one gentleman, namely George Read, was not in favor of it; and seven were not in Congress on that day, namely Messrs. Morris, Rush, Clymer, Smith, Taylor, and Ross, all of Pennsylvania, and Mr. Thornton, of New Hampshire; nor were the six gentlemen last named, members of Congress on the 4th of July. The five for Pennsylvania were appointed delegates by the convention of that State on the 20th July, and Mr. Thornton took his seat in Congress for the first time on the 4th November following; when the names of Henry Wisner, of New York, and Thomas M’Kean, of Delaware, are not printed as subscribers, though both were present in Congress on the 4th of July and voted for independence.
Here false colors are certainly hung out; there is culpability somewhere. What I have heard as an explanation is as follows. When the declaration was voted, it was ordered to be engrossed on parchment and then signed, and that a few days afterwards a resolution was entered on the secret journal, that no person should have a seat in Congress during that year until he should have signed the declaration of independence. After the 4th of July I was not in Congress for several months, having marched with a regiment of associators, as colonel, to support General Washington, until the flying camp of ten thousand men was completed. When the associators were discharged, I returned to Philadelphia, took my seat in Congress, and signed my name to the declaration on parchment. This transaction should be truly stated, and the then secret journal should be made public. In the manuscript journal, Mr. Pickering, then Secretary of State, and myself, saw a printed half sheet of paper, with the names of the members afterwards in the printed journals stitched in. We examined the parchment, where my name is signed in my own handwriting.
A glimmering of peace appears in the horizon; may it be realized; but every preparation should be made for a continuance of the war. When the British arms have been successful. I have never found their rulers or ministers otherwise than haughty, rude, imperious, nay, insolent. They and their allies have this year been successful both in the north and south of Europe.
My sight fades very fast, though my writing may not discover it. God bless you. Your friend,
[1 ] This account is not quite accurate. The writer has confounded the question on the motion to declare, and that on the form of the declaration. The first was taken on the 2d of July. The second was adopted on the 4th. See Mr. Jefferson’s clear statement rectifying this error, in his letter to S. A. Wells, in Randolph’s edition, vol. i. p. 98.