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, 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.
[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.