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, 13 November, 1815.
The fundamental article of my political creed is, that despotism, or unlimited sovereignty, or absolute power, is the same in a majority of a popular assembly, an aristocratical council, an oligarchical junto, and a single emperor. Equally arbitrary, cruel, bloody, and in every respect diabolical. Accordingly, arbitrary power, wherever it has resided, has never failed to destroy all the records, memorials, and histories of former times, which it did not like, and to corrupt and interpolate such as it was cunning enough to preserve or to tolerate. We cannot therefore say with much confidence what knowledge or what virtues may have prevailed in some former ages in some quarters of the world.
Nevertheless, according to the few lights that remain to us, we may say that the eighteenth century, notwithstanding all its errors and vices, has been, of all that are past, the most honorable to human nature. Knowledge and virtue were increased and diffused; arts, sciences, useful to men, ameliorating their condition, were improved more than in any former equal period.
But what are we to say now? Is the nineteenth century to be a contrast to the eighteenth? Is it to extinguish all the lights of its predecessor? Are the Sorbonne, the Inquisition, the Index expurgatorius, and the Knights-errant of St. Ignatius Loyola to be revived and restored to all their salutary powers of supporting and propagating the mild spirit of Christianity? The proceedings of the allies and their Congress at Vienna, the accounts from Spain and France, and the Chateaubriands, and the Genlis, indicate which way the wind blows. The priests are at their old work again; the Protestants are denounced, and another St. Bartholomew’s day threatened. This, however, will probably, twenty-five years hence, be honored with the character of “the effusions of a splenetic mind, rather than as the sober reflections of an unbiased understanding.”
I have received Memoirs of the life of Dr. Price, by William Morgan, F. R. S. In page 157 and 185, Mr. Morgan says, “So well assured was Dr. Price of the establishment of a free constitution in France, and of the subsequent overthrow of despotism throughout Europe, as the consequence of it, that he never failed to express his gratitude to Heaven for having extended his life to the present happy period, in which, after sharing the benefits of one revolution, he had been spared to be a witness to two other revolutions, both glorious. But some of his correspondents were not quite so sanguine in their expectations from the last of these revolutions, and among these the late American ambassador, Mr. John Adams. In a long letter, which he wrote to Dr. Price at this time, so far from congratulating him on the occasion, he expresses himself in terms of contempt in regard to the French revolution; and after asking rather too severely, what good was to be expected from a nation of atheists, he concludes with foretelling the destruction of a million of human beings, as the probable consequence of it. These harsh censures and gloomy predictions were particularly ungrateful to Dr. Price; nor can it be denied, that they must have then appeared as the effusions of a splenetic mind, rather than as the sober reflections of an unbiased understanding.”
I know not what a candid public will think of this practice of Mr. Morgan, after the example of Mr. Belsham, who, finding private letters in the cabinet of a great and good man, after his decease, written in the utmost freedom and confidence of intimate friendship by persons still living, though after the lapse of a quarter of a century, produces them before the world. Dr. Disney had different feelings and a different judgment. Finding some cursory letters among the papers of Mr. Hollis, he would not publish them without my consent. In answer to his request, I submitted them to his discretion, and might have done the same to Mr. Morgan. Indeed, had Mr. Morgan published my letter entire, I should not have given him nor myself any concern about it. But as in his summary he has not done the letter justice, I shall give it with all its faults.1
Mr. Morgan has been more discreet and complaisant to you than to me. He has mentioned respectfully your letters from Paris to Dr. Price, but has given us none of them. As I would give more for those letters than for all the rest of the book, I am more angry with him for disappointing me than for all he says of me, and my letter, which, scambling as it is, contains nothing but sure words of prophecy.
[1 ] See the letter to Dr. Price, vol. ix. p. 563.