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, 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.