Front Page Titles (by Subject) 1814: THOMAS McKEAN TO JOHN ADAMS. - The Works of John Adams, vol. 10 (Letters 1811-1825, Indexes)
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1814: THOMAS McKEAN TO JOHN ADAMS. - 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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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,
TO THOMAS JEFFERSON.
Quincy, 14 March, 1814.1
I was sitting, nibbing my pen and brushing my faculties, to write a polite letter of thanks to Mr. Counsellor Barton, for his valuable Memoir of Dr. Rittenhouse, though I could not account for his sending it to me, when I received your favor of January 24th. I now most cordially indorse my thanks over to you. The book is in the modern American style, an able imitation of Marshall’s Washington, though far more entertaining and instructive, a Washington mausoleum, an Egyptian pyramid. I shall never read it, any more than Taylor’s Aristocracy. Mrs. Adams reads it with great delight, and reads to me what she finds interesting, and that is, indeed, the whole book. I have not time to hear it all.
Rittenhouse was a virtuous and amiable man; an exquisite mechanician, master of the astronomy known in his time, an expert mathematician, a patient calculator of numbers. But we have had a Winthrop, an Andrew Oliver, a Willard, a Webber, his equals, and we have a Bowditch, his superior, in all these particulars, except the mechanism. But you know Philadelphia is the heart, the sensorium, the pineal gland of the United States. In politics, Rittenhouse was good, simple, ignorant, well-meaning, Franklinian, democrat, totally ignorant of the world, as an anchorite, an honest dupe of the French revolution, a mere instrument of Jonathan Sergeant, Dr. Hutchinson, Genet, and Mifflin. I give him all the credit of his planetarium. The improvement of the orrery to the planetarium was an easy, natural thought, and nothing was wanting but calculations of orbits, distances, and periods of revolutions, all of which were made to his hands long before he existed. Patience, perseverance, and sleight of hand, is his undoubted merit and praise.
I had heard Taylor in Senate, till his style was so familiar to me, that I had not read three pages before I suspected the author. I wrote a letter to him, and he candidly acknowledged that the six hundred and fifty pages were sent me with his consent. I wait with impatience for the publication and annunciation of the work. Arator ought not to have been adulterated with politics; but his precept, “Gather up the fragments, that nothing be lost,” is of inestimable value in agriculture and horticulture. Every weed, cob, husk, stalk, ought to be saved for manure.
Your researches in the laws of England, establishing Christianity as the law of the land, and part of the common law, are curious and very important. Questions without number will arise in this country. Religious controversies and ecclesiastical contests are as common, and will be as sharp as any in civil politics, foreign or domestic. In what sense and to what extent the Bible is law, may give rise to as many doubts and quarrels as any civil, political, military, or maritime laws, and will intermix with them all to irritate faction of every sort. I dare not look beyond my nose into futurity. Our money, our commerce, our religion, our national and state constitutions, even our arts and sciences, are so many seed-plots of division, faction, sedition, and rebellion. Every thing is transmuted into an instrument of electioneering. Election is the Grand Brama, the immortal Lama, I had almost said the Juggernaut; for wives are almost ready to burn upon the pile, and children to be thrown under the wheel.
You will perceive, by these figures, that I have been looking into Oriental history and Hindoo religion. I have read voyages and travels, and every thing I could collect. Not the least is Priestley’s “Comparison of the Institutions of Moses with those of the Hindoos and other Ancient Nations,” a work of great labor, and not less haste. I thank him for the labor, and forgive, though I lament, the hurry. You would be fatigued to read, and I, just recruiting a little from a longer confinement and indisposition than I have had for thirty years, have not strength to write many observations. But I have been disappointed in the principal points of my curiosity.
I am disappointed,—
1. By finding that no just comparison can be made, because the original Shasta and the original Vedas are not obtained, or, if obtained, not yet.
2. In not finding such morsels of the sacred books as have been translated and published, which are more honorable to the original Hindoo religion than any thing he has quoted.
3. In the history of the rebellion of innumerable hosts of angels in heaven against the Supreme Being, who, after some thousands of years of war, conquered them, and hurled them down to the region of total darkness, where they suffered a part of the punishment of their crime, and then were mercifully released from prison, permitted to ascend to earth, and migrate into all sorts of animals, reptiles, birds, beasts, and men, according to their rank and character, and even into vegetables and minerals, there to serve on probation. If they passed without reproach their several gradations, they were permitted to become cows and men. If, as men, they behaved well, that is, to the satisfaction of the priests, they were restored to their original rank and bliss in heaven.
4. In not finding the Trinity of Pythagoras and Plato; their contempt of matter, flesh, and blood; their almost adoration of fire and water; their metempsychosis, and even the prohibition of beans, so evidently derived from India.
5. In not finding the prophecy of Enoch deduced from India, in which the fallen angels make such a figure.
But you are weary. Priestley has proved the superiority of the Hebrews to the Hindoos, as they appear in the Gentoo laws and institutions of Menu, but the comparison remains to be made with the Shasta.
In his remarks on M. Dupuis, p. 342, Priestley says: “the history of the fallen angels is another circumstance on which M. Dupuis lays much stress.” According to the Christians, he says, vol. i. p. 336, “there was, from the beginning, a division among the angels; some remaining faithful to the light, and others taking the part of darkness,” &c. “But this supposed history is not found in the Scriptures. It has only been inferred from a wrong interpretation of one passage in the second epistle of Peter, and a corresponding one in that of Jude, as has been shown by judicious writers. That there is such a person as the devil, is no part of my faith, nor that of many other Christians; nor am I sure that it was the belief of any of the Christian writers. Neither do I believe the doctrine of demoniacal possessions, whether it was believed by the sacred writers or not; and, yet my belief in these articles does not affect my faith in the great facts of which the Evangelists were eye and ear witnesses. They might not be competent judges in the one case, though perfectly so with respect to the other.”
I will ask Priestley, when I see him, do you believe those passages in Peter and Jude to be interpolations? If so, by whom made, and when, and where, and for what end? Was it to support or found the doctrine of the fall of man, original sin, the universal corruption, depravation, and guilt of human nature and mankind, and the subsequent incarnation of God to make atonement and redemption? Or, do you think that Peter and Jude believed the book of Enoch to have been written by the seventh from Adam, and one of the sacred canonical books of the Hebrew prophets? Peter, 2d epistle, chapter 2, verse 4, says: “for if God spared not the angels that sinned, but cast them down to hell, and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved unto judgment.” Jude, verse 6th, says: “and the angels which kept not their first estate, but left their own habitation, he hath reserved in everlasting chains, under darkness, unto the judgment of the great day.” Verse 14th, “And Enoch also, the seventh from Adam, prophesied of these, saying, Behold the Lord cometh with ten thousand of his saints, to execute judgment upon all,” &c. Priestley says, “a wrong interpretation has been given to the texts.” I wish he had favored us with his right interpretation of them.
In another place, p. 326, Priestley says, “there is no circumstance of which M. Dupuis avails himself so much, or repeats so often, both with respect to the Jewish and Christian religions, as the history of the fall of man, in the beginning of the book of Genesis. I believe with him, and have maintained in my writings, that this history is either an allegory, or founded on uncertain tradition; that it is a hypothesis to account for the origin of evil, adopted by Moses, which, by no means, accounts for the facts.”
March 3. So far was written almost a month ago; but sickness has prevented progress. I had much to say about this work. I shall never be a disciple of Priestley. He is as absurd, inconsistent, credulous, and incomprehensible as Athanasius. Read his letter to the Jews in this volume. Could a rational creature write it? Aye! such rational creatures as Rochefoucauld and Condorcet and John Taylor, in politics, and Towerses, Jurieus, and French prophets, in theology.
Priestley’s account of the philosophy and religion of India appears to me to be much such a work as a man of busy research would produce, who should undertake to describe Christianity from the sixth to the twelfth century, when a deluge of wonders overflowed the world; when miracles were performed and proclaimed from every convent and monastery, hospital, church-yard, mountain, valley, cave, and cupola.
There is a work which I wish I possessed. It has never crossed the Atlantic. It is entitled Acta Sanctorum, in forty-seven volumes in folio.1 It contains the lives of the saints. It was compiled in the beginning of the sixteenth century by Bollandus, Henschenius, and Papebroch. What would I give to possess, in one immense map, one stupendous draught, all the legends, true, doubtful, and false? These Bollandists dared to discuss some of the facts, and to hint that some of them were doubtful. E. g. Papebroch doubted the antiquity of the Carmelites from Elias; and whether the face of Jesus Christ was painted on the handkerchief of St. Veronique; and whether the prepuce of the Savior of the world, which was shown in the church at Antwerp, could be proved to be genuine. For these bold skepticisms, he was libelled in pamphlets, and denounced to the Pope and the inquisition in Spain. The inquisition condemned him; but the Pope, not daring to condemn or acquit him, prohibited all writings pro and con. But, as the physicians cure one disease by exciting another, as a fever by a salivation, this bull was produced by a new claim. The brothers of the Order of Charity asserted a descent from Abraham nine hundred years anterior to the Carmelites.
A philosopher, who should write a description of Christianism from the Bollandistic saints of the sixth or tenth century, would probably produce a work tolerably parallel to Priestley’s upon the Hindoos.
TO JOHN TAYLOR.
Quincy, 9 April, 1814.
I have received from Mr. John M. Carter your “Inquiry” in 656 pages, neatly bound. If I had any rational expectation, in my seventy-ninth year, of life, health, unclouded eyes, and unparalyzed fingers for twenty years to come, I would cheerfully engage with you in an analytical investigation of all those subjects which, you say, have amused some of your leisure hours for twenty years past.
The field is vast. It comprehends the first and the last philosophy; the end of man in all his existence. In this letter, I shall confine myself to one topic. In your 519th page, and several that follow, you have taken notice of something of my composition. But I cannot understand it. I suspect, by some accident or other, you have confounded together a little pamphlet with a letter that was never printed. Let me give you an unvarnished explanation, according to my best recollection. In January, 1776, six months before the declaration of independence, Mr. Wythe, of Virginia, passed an evening with me, at my chambers. In the course of conversation upon the necessity of independence, Mr. Wythe, observing that the greatest obstacle, in the way of a declaration of it, was the difficulty of agreeing upon a government for our future regulation, I replied that each colony should form a government for itself, as a free and independent State. “Well,” said Mr. Wythe, “what plan would you institute or advise for any one of the States?” My answer was, “It is a thing I have not thought much of, but I will give you the first ideas that occur to me;” and I went on to explain to him off-hand and in short-hand my first thoughts. Mr. Wythe appeared to think more of them than I did, and requested me to put down in writing what I had then said. I agreed, and, accordingly, that night and the next morning wrote it, and sent it in a letter to him. This letter he sent to R. H. Lee, who came and asked my leave to print it. I said it was not fit to be printed, nor worth printing; but, if he thought otherwise, he might, provided he would suppress my name. He went accordingly to Dunlap, and had it printed under the title of “Thoughts on Government, in a Letter from a Gentleman to his Friend.” Thus much for the printed pamphlet. Now for the unprinted letter. Some time in the ensuing spring, the delegates from North Carolina called upon me with a vote of the legislature of their State, instructing them to apply to me for advice concerning a form of government to be instituted in that State. I blushed, to be sure, to find that my name had reached so far as North Carolina; and still more at such an unexpected honor from so respectable an assembly.1
Overwhelmed, however, as I was at that period, night and day, with business in Congress and on committees, I found moments to write a letter, perhaps as long as that to Mr. Wythe, and containing nearly the same outlines. In what points the two letters agree or differ, I know not, for I kept no copy, and have never seen or heard of it since, till your volume revived the recollection of it. I suspect you have never seen either of the letters, but have taken extracts from them both, which may have been printed in newspapers, and blended them together; for certainly there was not a word about North Carolina in the printed letter to Mr. Wythe.
I may possibly hear hereafter of another letter I wrote to Jonathan Dickinson Sergeant, of New Jersey, in answer to an earnest solicitation from him to give him my sentiments of a proper form of government for that State. I took no copy, and have not heard of it for thirty-five or thirty-six years. Let it come to light, however. I have no wish to conceal any thing in any of these letters, though there may be many things I should not now approve. The experience of thirty-eight years alters many views. Opinionum commenta delet dies.
As you seem to have found some amusement in some of my scribbles, I beg your acceptance of another morsel, the Discourses on Davila, which you may call the fourth volume of the Defence of the Constitutions of the United States. I am, Sir, very respectfully, and with very friendly dispositions, &c.
TO RICHARD RUSH.
Quincy, 30 May, 1814.
Your favor of the 20th has given me great pleasure, because it informs me that you are happy. Your visit to Philadelphia must have been delightful, and the company of your excellent surviving parent on your return, and her domestication with you and the fair enchantress, must be more so. This family intercourse cannot be less pleasing to your mother. It will preserve her health and prolong her life, much more important to you, your brothers and sisters, than I dare say she esteems it for herself.
A stock of new law books, next to the renovation of social, domestic, and local feelings, was an object worthy of you. New law books, I hope, improve upon the old, but ought not to supersede them all. I fear you would laugh, if I should say that the Corpus Juris, Vinnius, and Cujacius, ought not to be wholly superseded by Hale and Coke, Holt and Mansfield. No, nor by Parsons, Ingersoll, or Marshall.
Why are we “astonished at the events in Europe”? They are every day occurrences in history. That heroes come to bad ends, has been the experience of all ages. Alexander, Cæsar, Charles XII., and Oliver Cromwell, and millions of others, as wild and delirious as they, have all come to a like catastrophe. Read the histories of our missionary societies. Is there not the same enthusiasm, the same heroism? I scarcely dare to say what I know, that many a kept mistress has dared for her lover as great hazards and sufferings, as any of these sublime heroes, temporal or spiritual. While we know that enthusiasm produces the most sublime and beautiful actions and events in human life, at times, we should always be jealous of it, watch its movements, and be prepared to escape, avoid, or resist its deleterious effects.
Alas! the Massachusetts triumvirate is broken! Judge Paine is no more! An old German doctor, Turner, when I was a little boy, asked me the age of my father. When I told him as well as I knew, “Alas!” said the old gentleman, “your father’s age is so near my own, that, when one dies of old age, the other may quake for fear.” If death were terrible to Gerry or to me, the death of Paine might make us “quake for fear.”
“What would New England say?”1 She will say as she ought to say, and as she always has said on like occasions, “I have been cheated, deceived, deluded. I thought Britain our friend, but find I have been mistaken.” The “intimations” you have had, have been made to me. The tories have “intimated” to me in various secret, confidential, round-about ways, these mighty bugbears. “Mr. Adams saved the fisheries once I hope his son will save them a second time. We have no confidence in Gallatin, Clay, Russell, or even Bayard; we believe they would all sacrifice the fisheries for Canada or even for peace.” My invariable answer has been, “You deceive yourselves with imaginary fears. You know that the men Bayard, Russell, Clay, and even Gallatin would cede the fee simple of the United States, as soon as they would the fisheries.”
Did you ever know a man, or nation, a coalition or alliance that could bear success, victory, and prosperity? Victory has destroyed Napoleon. Victory is in danger of destroying the allies. If not, and the Bourbons are restored, what is their prospect? The Stuarts were restored; for how long a time? and how many plots? how many Sidneys, Russells, Staffords, were beheaded? I know by experience that the swell is as dangerous as the storm. We must learn to know ourselves, to esteem ourselves, to respect ourselves, to confide in ourselves under heaven alone. We must hold Europe at arm’s length, do them justice, treat them with civility, and set their envy, jealousy, malice, retaliation, and revenge at defiance.
The lakes, the lakes, the lakes! shocking, indeed, that we have not the command of the lakes! But I could convince you that it is still more shocking that we have not the command of the ocean, or at least an independent power upon the ocean. But this would lead too far at present. If you have a curiosity upon this subject, I will give you a few hints in a future letter.
TO MRS. MERCY WARREN.
Quincy, 15 July, 1814.
. . . . . . . . . . .
What brain could ever have conceived or suspected Samuel Barrett, Esquire, to have been the author of the “Group”?1 The bishop had neither the natural genius nor the acquired talents, the knowledge of characters, nor the political principles, sentiments, or feelings that could have dictated that pungent drama. His worthy brother, the major, might have been as rationally suspected.
I could take my Bible oath to two proposition,—1st, that Bishop Barrett, in my opinion, was one of the last literary characters in the world who ought to have been suspected to have written the “Group.” 2d. That there was but one person in the world, male or female, who could at that time, in my opinion, have written it; and that person was Madam Mercy Warren, the historical, philosophical, poetical, and satirical consort of the then Colonel, since General, James Warren of Plymouth, sister of the great, but forgotten, James Otis.
This Group has mortified and confounded me. Since the receipt of your letter, I went to Boston and demanded of my nephew and quondam secretary,1 the volume. He says he obtained it, with other pamphlets, from Governor Adams’s collection, with the strange certificate in manuscript, in the handwriting, as he thinks, of Jo Dennie, the editor of the Port Folio.2 Jo Dennie in Sam. Adams’s library is as great an oddity as Sam. Barrett, author of the Group. But this is not the worst. The Group has convinced me of the decay of my memory more than any thing that has yet occurred. Hazelrod, Judge Meagre, Hateall, Beau Trumps, François, Dupe, and Spendall, I can comprehend; but Mushroom, Dick, Sapling, Crowbar, Fribble, Batteau, and Collateralis have escaped my recollection. The Group was printed in 1775. The “cawing cormorants” in the 16th page, and Novanglus and Massachusettensis in the 20th page, prove that it was written during the flickering between those two scribblers; but as no allusion is found in it to the skirmishes of Concord or Lexington, it must have been written and printed before the 19th of April, 1775. Now, I cannot recollect to have been in Plymouth since the spring of 1774. Help! O help my memory.
France is humbled and Napoleon is banished; but the tyrant, the tyrant of tyrants is not fallen. John Bull still paws, and bellows terrible menaces and defiances.
Sincerely your friend.
TO THOMAS JEFFERSON.
Quincy, 16 July, 1814
I received this morning your favor of the 5th, and as I can never let a sheet of yours rest, I sit down immediately to acknowledge it.
Whenever Mr. Rives, of whom I have heard nothing, shall arrive, he shall receive all the cordial civilities in my power.
I am sometimes afraid that my machine will not surcease motion soon enough; for I dread nothing so much as “dying at top,” and expiring like Dean Swift, a “driveller and a show,” or like Sam. Adams, a grief and distress to his family, a weeping, helpless object of compassion for years.
I am bold to say, that neither you nor I will live to see the course which the “wonders of the times” will take. Many years, and perhaps centuries must pass before the current will acquire a settled direction. If the Christian religion, as I understand it, or as you understand it, should maintain its ground, as I believe it will, yet Platonic, Pythagoric, Hindoo, and cabalistical Christianity, which is Catholic Christianity, and which has prevailed for fifteen hundred years, has received a mortal wound, of which the monster must finally die. Yet so strong is his constitution, that he may endure for centuries before he expires. Government has never been much studied by mankind; but their attention has been drawn to it in the latter part of the last century and the beginning of this, more than at any former period, and the vast variety of experiments which have been made of constitutions in America, in France, in Holland, in Geneva, in Switzerland, and even in Spain and South America, can never be forgotten. They will be studied, and their immediate and remote effects and final catastrophes noted. The result in time will be improvements; and I have no doubt that the horrors we have experienced for the last forty years will ultimately terminate in the advancement of civil and religious liberty, and amelioration in the condition of mankind. For I am a believer in the probable improvability and improvement, the ameliorability and amelioration in human affairs; though I never could understand the doctrine of the perfectibility of the human mind. This has always appeared to me like the philosophy or theology of the Gentoos, namely, that a Brahmin, by certain studies for a certain time pursued, and by certain ceremonies a certain number of times repeated, becomes omniscient and almighty.
Our hopes, however, of sudden tranquillity ought not to be too sanguine. Fanaticism and superstition will still be selfish, subtle, intriguing, and, at times, furious. Despotism will still struggle for domination; monarchy will still study to rival nobility in popularity; aristocracy will continue to envy all above it, and despise and oppress all below it; democracy will envy all, contend with all, endeavor to pull down all, and when by chance it happens to get the upper hand for a short time, it will be revengeful, bloody, and cruel. These and other elements of fanaticism and anarchy will yet for a long time continue a fermentation, which will excite alarms and require vigilance.
Napoleon is a military fanatic like Achilles, Alexander, Cæsar, Mahomet, Zengis, Kouli, Charles XII. The maxim and principle of all of them was the same.
“Jura negat sibi lata, nihil non arrogat armis.”
But is it strict to call him a usurper? Was not his elevation to the empire of France as legitimate and authentic a national act as that of William III. or the house of Hanoever to the throne of the three kingdoms? or as the election of Washington to the command of our army or to the chair of State?
Human nature, in no form of it, could bear prosperity. That peculiar tribe of men called conquerors, more remarkably than any other, have been swelled with vanity by a series of victories. Napoleon won so many mighty battles in such quick succession, and for so long a time, that it was no wonder his brain became completely intoxicated, and his enterprises rash, extravagant, and mad.
Though France is humbled, Britain is not; though Bona is banished, a greater tyrant and wider usurper still domineers. John Bull is quite as unfeeling, as unprincipled, more powerful, has shed more blood than Bona. John, by his money, his intrigues and arms, by exciting coalition after coalition against him, made him what he was, and at last what he is. How shall the tyrant of tyrants be brought low? Aye, there’s the rub! I still think Bona great, at least as any of his conquerors. “The wonders of his rise and fall” may be seen in the life of King Theodore, or Pascal Paoli, or Rienzi, or Dionysius, or Massaniello, or Jack Cade, or Wat Tyler. The only difference is, that between miniature and full length pictures. The schoolmaster at Corinth was a greater man than the tyrant of Syracuse, upon the principle, that “he who conquers himself is greater than he who takes a city.” Though the ferocious roar of the wounded lion may terrify the hunter with the possibility of another dangerous leap, Bona was shot dead at once by France. He could no longer roar or struggle, growl or paw, he could only gasp his grin of death; I wish that France may not still regret him. But these are speculations in the clouds. I agree with you that the milk of human kindness in the Bourbons is safer for mankind than the fierce ambition of Napoleon.
The autocrator appears in an imposing light. Fifty years ago, English writers held up terrible consequences from “thawing out the monstrous northern snake.” If Cossacs and Tartars, and Goths and Vandals, and Huns and Ripuarians should get a taste of European sweets, what may happen? Could Wellingtons or Bonapartes resist them? The greatest trait of sagacity that Alexander has yet exhibited to the world, is his courtship to the United States. But whether this is a mature, well digested policy, or only a transient gleam of thought, still remains to be explained and proved by time.
The refractory sister will not give up the fisheries. Not a man here dares to hint at so base a thought.
I am very glad you have seriously read Plato, and still more rejoiced to find that your reflections upon him so perfectly harmonize with mine. Some thirty years ago, I took upon me the severe task of going through all his works. With the help of two Latin translations and one English and one French translation, and comparing some of the most remarkable passages with the Greek, I labored through the tedious toil. My disappointment was very great, my astonishment was greater, and my disgust was shocking. Two things only did I learn from him. First, that Franklin’s ideas of exempting husbandmen and mariners, &c., from the depredations of war, were borrowed from him; and second, that sneezing is a cure for the hiccough. Accordingly, I have cured myself and all my friends of that provoking disorder, for thirty years, with a pinch of snuff.
Some parts of some of his dialogues are entertaining, like the writings of Rousseau; but his Laws and his Republic, from which I expected most, disappointed me most. I could scarcely exclude the suspicion, that he intended the latter as a bitter satire upon all republican governments, as Xenophon undoubtedly designed by his essay on democracy to ridicule that species of republic. In a late letter to the learned and ingenious Mr. Taylor, of Hazelwood, I suggested to him the project of writing a novel, in which the hero should be sent on his travels through Plato’s republic, and all his adventures, with his observations on the principles and opinions, the arts and sciences, the manners, customs, and habits of the citizens, should be recorded. Nothing can be conceived more destructive of human happiness, more infallibly contrived to transform men and women into brutes, yahoos, or demons, than a community of wives and property. Yet, in what are the writings of Rousseau and Helvetius wiser than those of Plato? “The man who first fenced a tobacco yard, and said, ‘this is mine,’ ought instantly to have been put to death,” says Rousseau. “The man who first pronounced the barbarous word Dieu, ought to have been immediately destroyed,” says Diderot. In short, philosophers, ancient and modern, appear to me as mad as Hindoos, Mahometans, and Christians. No doubt they would all think me mad, and for any thing I know, this globe may be the Bedlam, le Biçêtre of the universe.
After all, as long as property exists, it will accumulate in individuals and families. As long as marriage exists, knowledge, property, and influence will accumulate in families. Your and our equal partition of intestate estates, instead of preventing, will in time augment the evil, if it is one. The French revolutionists saw this, and were so far consistent. When they burned pedigrees and genealogical trees, they annihilated, as far as they could, marriages, knowing that marriage, among a thousand other things, was an infallible source of aristocracy. I repeat it, so sure as the idea and the existence of property is admitted and established in society, accumulations of it will be made,—the snowball will grow as it rolls.
Cicero was educated in the groves of Academus, where the name and memory of Plato were idolized to such a degree, that if he had wholly renounced the prejudices of his education, his reputation would have been lessened, if not injured and ruined. In his two volumes of Discourses on government, we may presume that he fully examined Plato’s Laws and Republic, as well as Aristotle’s writings on government. But these have been carefully destroyed, not improbably with the general consent of philosophers, politicians, and priests. The loss is as much to be regretted as that of any production of antiquity.
Nothing seizes the attention of the staring animal so surely as paradox, riddle, mystery, invention, discovery, wonder, temerity.
Plato, and his disciples from the fourth century Christians to Rousseau and Tom Paine, have been fully sensible of this weakness in mankind, and have too successfully grounded upon it their pretensions to fame. I might, indeed, have mentioned Bolingbroke, Hume, Gibbon, Voltaire, Turgot, Helvetius, Diderot, Condorcet, Buffon, De la Lande, and fifty others, all a little cracked.
Education! oh, education! the greatest grief of my heart, and the greatest affliction of my life! To my mortification I must confess that I have never closely thought or deliberately reflected upon the subject, which never occurs to me now without producing a deep sigh, a heavy groan, and sometimes tears. My cruel destiny separated me from my children almost continually from their birth to their manhood. I was compelled to leave them to the ordinary routine of reading, writing, and Latin school, academy, and college. John alone was much with me, and he, but occasionally.
If I venture to give you my thoughts at all, they must be very crude. I have turned over Locke, Milton, Condillac, Rousseau, and even Miss Edgeworth, as a bird flies through the air. The “Preceptor” I have thought a good book. Grammar, rhetoric, logic, ethics, mathematics, cannot be neglected. Classics, in spite of our friend Rush, I must think indispensable. Natural history, mechanics, and experimental philosophy, chemistry, &c., at least their rudiments, cannot be forgotten. Geography, astronomy, and even history and chronology, though I am myself afflicted with a kind of pyrrhonism in the two latter, I presume cannot be omitted. Theology I would leave to Ray, Durham, Nieuwentyt, and Paley, rather than to Luther, Zinzendorf, Swedenborg, Wesley, or Whitefield, or Thomas Aquinas, or Wollebius. Metaphysics I would leave in the clouds with the materialists and spiritualists, with Leibnitz, Berkeley, Priestley, and Edwards, and, I might add, Hume and Reed. Or, if permitted to be read, it should be with romances and novels. What shall I say of music, drawing, fencing, dancing, and gymnastic exercises? What of languages, oriental or occidental? Of French, Italian, German, or Russian, of Sanscrit or of Chinese? The task you have prescribed to me of grouping these sciences or arts, under professors, within the views of an enlightened economy, is far beyond my forces. Loose, indeed, and undigested must be all the hints I can note.
Might grammar, logic, and rhetoric be under one professor? Might mathematics, mechanics, natural philosophy be under another? Geography and astronomy under a third? Laws and government, history and chronology, under a fourth? Classics might require a fifth. Condillac’s course of study has excellent parts; among many systems of mathematics, English, French and American, there is none preferable to Bezout’s course; La Harpe’s Course of Literature is very valuable. But I am ashamed to add any thing more to the broken innuenda. Accept assurances of continued friendship.
TO JAMES MADISON.
Quincy, 28 November, 1814.
When my son departed for Russia, I enjoined it upon him to write nothing to me, which he was not willing should be published in French and English newspapers. He has very scrupulously observed the rule. I have been equally reserved in my letters to him; but the principle on both sides has been to me a cruel privation, for his correspondence when absent, and his conversation when present, have been a principal enjoyment of my life. In the inclosed letter he has ventured to deviate, and has assigned his reason for it. I think, however, that I ought to communicate it to you.
I have no papers, that I recollect, that can be of any service to him. I published in the Boston Patriot all I recollect of the negotiations for peace in 1782 and 1783. But I have no copy of that publication in manuscript or print, and I had hoped never to see or hear of it again.
All I can say is, that I would continue this war forever, rather than surrender one acre of our territory, one iota of the fisheries, as established by the third article of the treaty of 1783, or one sailor impressed from any merchant ship. I will not, however, say this to my son, though I shall be very much obliged to you, if you will give him orders to the same effect.
It is the decree of Providence, as I believe, that this nation must be purified in the furnace of affliction. You will be so good as to return my letter, and believe me, &c.
TO RUFUS KING.
Quincy, 2 December, 1814.
I am very much obliged to you for the information, melancholy as it is to me, of the death of Mr. Gerry. A friendship of forty years, I have found a rarity, though not a singularity.
I am left alone. While Paine, Gerry, and Lovell lived, there were some that I seemed to know; but now, not one of my contemporaries and colleagues is left. Can there be any deeper damnation in this universe than to be condemned to a long life, in danger, toil, and anxiety; to be rewarded only with abuse, insult, and slander; and to die at seventy, leaving to an amiable wife and nine amiable children nothing for an inheritance but the contempt, hatred, and malice of the world? How much prettier a thing it is to be a disinterested patriot, like Washington and Franklin, live and die among the hosannas and adorations of the multitude, and leave half a million to one child or to no child! Do you wonder at Tacitus and Quinctilian? I do; but not at the profoundness of their philosophy. I am astonished at the shallowness of it. I am amazed at their vanity and presumption in pretending to judge the government of this all. Their only true philosophy should have been submission and resignation.
JAMES MADISON TO JOHN ADAMS.
Washington, 17 December, 1814.
Your favor of the 28th ultimo was duly received, though with more delay than usually attends the mail. I return the interesting letter from your son, with my thanks for the opportunity of perusing it.
I have caused the archives of the Department of State to be searched, with an eye to what passed during the negotiations for peace on the subject of the fisheries. The search has not furnished a precise answer to the inquiry of Mr. Adams. It appears from one of your letters, referring to the instructions accompanying the commission to make a treaty of commerce with Great Britain, that the original views of Congress did not carry their ultimatum beyond the common right to fish in waters distant three leagues from the British shores. The negotiations, therefore, and not the instructions, if no subsequent change of them took place, have the merit of the terms actually obtained. That other instructions, founded on the resolutions of Congress, issued at subsequent periods, cannot be doubted, though, as yet, they do not appear. But how far they distinguished between the common use of the sea, and the use, then common, also, of the shores, in carrying on the fisheries, I have no recollection.
The view of the discussions at Ghent presented by the private letters of all our ministers there, as well as by their official despatches, leaves no doubt of the policy of the British cabinet so forcibly illustrated by the letter of Mr. Adams to you. Our enemy, knowing that he has peace in his own hands, speculates on the fortune of events. Should these be unfavorable, he can at any moment, as he supposes, come to our terms. Should they correspond with his hopes, his demands may be insisted on, or even extended. The point to be decided by our ministers is, whether, during the uncertainty of events, a categorical alternative of immediate peace, or a rupture of the negotiation, would not be preferable to a longer acquiescence in the gambling procrastinations of the other party. It may be presumed that they will, before this, have pushed the negotiations to this point.
It is very agreeable to find that the superior ability, which distinguishes the notes of our envoys, extorts commendation from the most obdurate of their political enemies. And we have the further satisfaction to learn, that the cause they are pleading is beginning to overcome the prejudice, which misrepresentations had spread over the continent of Europe against it. The British government is neither inattentive to this approaching revolution in the public opinion there, nor blind to its tendency. If it does not find in it a motive to immediate peace, it will infer the necessity of shortening the war by bringing upon us, the ensuing campaign, what it will consider as a force not to be resisted by us.
It were to be wished that this consideration had more effect in quickening the preparatory measures of Congress. I am unwilling to say how much distress in every branch of our affairs is the fruit of their tardiness; nor would it be necessary to you, who will discern the extent of the evil in the symptoms from which it is to be inferred.
I pray you, Sir, to accept assurances, &c.
[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.
[1 ] This letter was commenced in February, and bears the date of that month in the very imperfect copy of it which remains. But from Mr. Jefferson’s acknowledgment of the receipt, the actual date has been obtained.
[1 ] Fifty-four volumes; and it is still in course of publication. Two volumes have lately been issued under the auspices of the Belgian government.
[1 ] There can be no doubt that there were three separate letters of Mr. Adams in circulation, each of them embodying the same general idea, with more or less amplification. One of them is the printed pamphlet alluded to in the text; the second is that published by Mr. Taylor, which gave rise to this letter, and which that gentleman had obtained from Mr. John Penn, of North Carolina; and still a third has been found in North Carolina, a copy of which was transmitted to Mr. J. Q. Adams, a few years before his decease, by Mr. Charles Philips, Secretary of the Historical Society of the University of North Carolina.
[1 ] Mr. Rush had asked this question:—
“What, for example, would New England say to Great Britain talking about excluding us from trade beyond the Cape of Good Hope, from the West Indies, and from the Newfoundland fisheries?”
[1 ] “My next question, Sir, you may deem impertinent. Do you remember who was the author of a little pamphlet entitled The Group? To your hand it was committed by the writer. You brought it forward to the public eye. I will therefore give you my reason for naming it now. A friend of mine, who lately visited the Athenæum, saw it among a bundle of pamphlets, with a high encomium of the author, who, he asserted, was Mr. Samuel Barrett. You can, if you please, give a written testimony contradictory of the false assertion.” Extract from Mrs. Warren’s letter.
[1 ] W. S. Shaw, the librarian of the Boston Athenæum.
[2 ] This certificate yet remains attached to the volume at the Athenæum, but another has been added, correcting the mistake. The Group has little merit as a literary work, but it will always be a curiosity on other accounts. Mr. Adams afterwards wrote with his own hand in the same copy, the names of the persons designed to be represented. And another copy in the same library has the names written in the hand of Norton Quincy, to whom it belonged. They are as follows:
Harrison Gray was unquestionably intended, although the association of ideas prompted the accidental addition in the book, of the name of his grandson, then a child.