Front Page Titles (by Subject) TO F. A. VANDERKEMP. - The Works of John Adams, vol. 10 (Letters 1811-1825, Indexes)
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TO F. A. VANDERKEMP. - 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 F. A. VANDERKEMP.
Quincy, 27 December, 1816.
I do declare that I can write Greek better than you do, though I cannot say, so well as you can if you will. I can make nothing but pothooks and trammels of the frontispiece of your amiable letter of the 15th. If you had quoted your authority, I might have found it.
Jesus is benevolence personified, an example for all men. Dupuis has made no alteration in my opinions of the Christian religion, in its primitive purity and simplicity, which I have entertained for more than sixty years. It is the religion of reason, equity, and love; it is the religion of the head and of the heart.
It would be idle for me to write observations upon Dupuis. I must fill thirteen volumes. If I was twenty-five years old, and had the necessary books and leisure, I would write an answer to Dupuis; but when, or where, or how should I get it printed? Dupuis can be answered, to the honor and advantage of the Christian religion as I understand it. To this end I must study astrology as well as astronomy, Hebrew, Greek, Latin, Arabic, Persian, and Sanscrit.
But to leave Dupuis to be answered or reviewed in Edinburgh or London, I must inquire into the attributes given by the ancient nations to their divinities; gods with stars and new moons in their foreheads or on their shoulders; gods with heads of dogs, horns of oxen, bulls, cows, calves, rams, sheep, or lambs; gods with the bodies of horses; gods with the tails of fishes; gods with the tails of dragons and serpents; gods with the feet of goats. The bull of Mithra; the dog of Anubis; the serpent of Esculapius!!!!
Is man the most irrational beast of the forest? Never did bullock, or sheep, or snake imagine himself a god. What, then, can all this wild theory mean? Can it be any thing but allegory founded in astrology? Your Manilius would inform you as well as Dupuis.
The Hebrew unity of Jehovah, the prohibition of all similitudes, appears to me the greatest wonder of antiquity. How could that nation preserve its creed among the monstrous theologies of all the other nations of the earth? Revelation, you will say, and especial Providence; and I will not contradict you, for I cannot say with Dupuis that a revelation is impossible or improbable.
Christianity, you will say, was a fresh revelation. I will not deny this. As I understand the Christian religion, it was, and is, a revelation. But how has it happened that millions of fables, tales, legends, have been blended with both Jewish and Christian revelation that have made them the most bloody religion that ever existed? How has it happened that all the fine arts, architecture, painting, sculpture, statuary, music, poetry, and oratory, have been prostituted, from the creation of the world, to the sordid and detestable purposes of superstition and fraud?
The eighteenth century had the honor to discover that Ocellus of Lucania, Timæus of Locris, Aristotle, Tacitus, Quintilian, and Pliny, were in the right. The philosophy of Frederic, Catharine, Buffon, De la Lande, Diderot, d’Alembert, Condorcet, d’Holbach, and Dupuis, appears to me to be no more nor less than the philosophy of those ancient men of science and letters, whose speculations came principally from India, Egypt, Chaldea, and Phœnicia. A consolatory discovery, to be sure! Let it once be revealed or demonstrated that there is no future state, and my advice to every man, woman, and child would be, as our existence would be in our own power, to take opium. For, I am certain, there is nothing in this world worth living for but hope, and every hope will fail us, if the last hope, that of a future state, is extinguished.
I know how to sympathize with a wounded leg, having been laid up with one for two or three months, and I have felt the delightful attentions of a daughter. May you have the felicity to celebrate as many more lustres of Madam Vanderkemp as human nature can bear.
TO WILLIAM TUDOR.
Quincy, 24 January, 1817.
Bernard, Hutchinson, Oliver, the commissioners of the customs, and their satellites, had an espionage as inquisitive as zealous, and as faithful as that in France, before, during, or since the revolution, by which the Tories were better informed of the anecdote which I am about to relate to you, than the Whigs themselves were in general. That the Tory histories may not hereafter misrepresent it without detection, I will now state the facts in writing, that they may remain in your archives and mine, to be used as an antidote to the poison that may hereafter appear.1
The public had been long alarmed with rumors and predictions that the king, that is the ministry, would take into their own hands the payment of the salaries of the Judges of the Supreme Court. The people would not believe it; the most thinking men dreaded it. They said, “With an executive authority in a Governor possessed of an absolute negative on all the acts of the legislature, and with Judges dependent only on the Crown for salaries as well as their commissions, what protection have we? We may as well abolish all limitations, and resign our lives and liberties at once to the will of a prime minister at St. James’s.” You remember the controversy that General Brattle excited concerning the tenor of the Judges’ commissions, and the universal anxiety that then prevailed on this subject. The despatches at length arrived, and expectation was raised to its highest pitch of exultation and triumph on one side, and of grief, terror, degradation, and despondency on the other. The Legislature assembled, and the Governor communicated to the two houses his Majesty’s commands.
It happened that I was invited to dine that day with Samuel Winthrop, an excellent character, and a predecessor in the respectable office you now hold in the Supreme Court. Arrived at his house in New Boston, I found it full of counsellors and representatives and clergy. Such a group of melancholy countenances I had rarely, if ever, seen. No conversation, except some insipid observations on the weather, till the great topic of the day was introduced, and at the same time a summons to the feast. All harps upon the willow, we sat down to a triste dinner, which all the delicacies before us could not enliven. A few glasses of good wine, however, in time brought up some spirit, and the conversation assumed a little vigor, but it was the energy of grief, complaint, and despair. All expressed their detestation and horror of the insidious ministerial plot, but all agreed that it was irremediable. There was no means or mode of opposing or resisting it.
Indignation, and despair too, boiled in my breast as ardently as in any of them, though, as the company were so much superior to me in age and station, I had not said any thing; but Dr. Winthrop, the professor, then of the council, observing my silence, and perhaps my countenance, said, “Mr. Adams, what is your opinion? Can you think of any way of escaping this snare?” My answer was, “No, Sir; I am as much at a loss as any of the company. I agree with all the gentlemen, that petitions and remonstrances to king or parliament will be ineffectual. Nothing but force will succeed; but I would try one project before I had recourse to the last reason and fitness of things.” The company cried out, almost or quite together, “What project is that? What would you do?” A. “I would impeach the judges.” “Impeach the judges! How? Where? Who can impeach them?” A. “The House of Representatives.” “The House of Representatives! Before whom? Before the House of Lords in England?” A. “No, surely. You might as well impeach them before Lord North alone.” “Where, then?” A. “Before the Governor and Council.” “Is there any precedent for that?” A. “If there is not, it is now high time that a precedent should be set.” “The Governor and Council will not receive the impeachment.” A. “I know that very well, but the record of it will stand upon the journals, be published in pamphlets and newspapers, and perhaps make the judges repent of their salaries, and decline them; perhaps make it too troublesome to hold them.” “What right had we to impeach anybody?” A. “Our House of Representatives have the same right to impeach as the House of Commons has in England, and our Governor and Council have the same right and duty to receive and hear impeachments as the King and House of Lords have in Parliament. If the Governor and Council would not do their duty, that would not be the fault of the people; their representatives ought nevertheless to do theirs.” Some of the company said the idea was so new to them, that they wished I would show them some reasons for my opinion that we had the right. I repeated to them the clause of the charter, which I relied on, the constant practice in England, and the necessity of such a power and practice in every free government.
The company dispersed, and I went home. Dr. Cooper and others were excellent hands to spread a rumor, and before nine o’clock half the town and most of the members of the General Court had in their heads the idea of an impeachment. The next morning early, Major Hawley, of Northampton, came to my house under great concern, and said he heard that I had yesterday, in a public company, suggested a thought of impeaching the judges; that report had got about and had excited some uneasiness, and he desired to know my meaning. I invited him into my office, opened the charter, and requested him to read the paragraphs that I had marked. I then produced to him that volume of Selden’s works which contains his treatise on Judicature and Parliament; other authorities in law were produced to him, and the State Trials, and a profusion of impeachments with which that work abounds. Major Hawley, who was one of the best men in the province, and one of the ablest lawyers and best speakers in the legislature, was struck with surprise. He said, “I know not what to think. This is in a manner all new to me. I must think of it.” You, Mr. Tudor, will not wonder at Major Hawley’s embarrassment, if you recollect that my copy of Selden’s works, of the State Trials and the Statutes at Large, were the only ones in Boston at that time. I think, also, Mr. Tudor, that you must know that I imported from England Selden, State Trials, and Statutes at Large. Now, Sir, will the editor of the North American Review, will the Athenæum Shaw, will the Historical Society, will the Society of Antiquarians, please to investigate this important point? My opinion is that there was not another copy of either of those works in the United States. Let them convict me of error, if they can.
My strange brother, Robert Treat Paine, came to me with grief and terror in his face and manners. He said he had heard that I talked of an impeachment of the Judges; that it had excited a great deal of conversation, and that it seemed to prevail, and that, according to all appearances, it would be brought forward in the House; he was very uneasy about it, &c. I knew the man. Instead of entering into particular conversation with him, I took him into my office, and showed him all that I had before shown to Major Hawley. He had not patience to read much, and went away with the same anxious brow. This man had an upright heart, an abundance of wit, and upon the whole a deeper policy than I had. He soon found, however, that the impeachment was popular and would prevail, and prudently acquiesced. Major Hawley, always conscientious, always deliberate, always cautious, had not slept soundly. What were his dreams about impeachment, I know not. But this I know; he drove away to Cambridge to consult Judge Trowbridge, and appealed to his conscience. The charter was called for; Selden and the State Trials were quoted. Trowbridge said to him what I had said before, that “the power of impeachment was essential to a free government; that the charter had given it to our House of Representatives as clearly as the Constitution, in the common law or immemorial usage, had given it to the House of Commons in England.” This was all he could say, though he lamented the occasion of it.
Major Hawley returned full in the faith. An impeachment was voted, a committee appointed to prepare articles. But Major Hawley insisted upon it in private with the committee, that they should consult me, and take my advice upon every article before they reported it to the House. Such was the state of parties at that moment, that the patriots could carry nothing in the House without the support of Major Hawley. The committee very politely requested me to meet them. To avoid all questions about time and place, I invited them to my house in the evening. They came, and produced a draft of articles, which were examined, considered, and discussed, article by article and paragraph by paragraph. I objected to some, and proposed alterations in others; sometimes succeeded, and often failed. You know the majority decide upon such occasions. The result, upon the whole, was not satisfactory to me in all points, but I was not responsible.
Next day I met Ben Gridley, who accosted me in his pompous style, “Brother Adams, you keep late hours! Last night I saw a host of senators vomit forth from your door after mid-night.” Now, brother Tudor, judge you whether this whole transaction was not as well known at head-quarters, and better too, than in the House of Representatives. This confidence of Major Hawley in me became an object of jealousy to the patriots. Not only Mr. Paine, but Mr. Adams and Mr. Hancock could not refrain from expressing, at times, their feeling of it. But they could do nothing without Major Hawley. These little passions, of which even the Apostles could not wholly divest themselves, have in all ages been small causes of great events; too small, indeed, to be described by historians, or even known to them or suspected by them.
The articles were reported to the House, discussed, accepted; the impeachment voted, and sent up in form to the Governor and Council; rejected, of course, as everybody knew beforehand that it would be; but it remained on the journals of the House, was printed in the newspapers, and went abroad into the world. And what were the consequences? Chief Justice Oliver and his Superior Court, your Supreme Judicial Court, commenced their regular circuit. The Chief Justice opened his court as usual. Grand Jurors and Petit Jurors refused to take their oaths. They never, as I believe, could prevail on one Juror to take the oath. I attended at the bar in two counties, and I heard Grand Jurors and Petit Jurors say to Chief Justice Oliver to his face, “The Chief Justice of this Court stands impeached, by the representatives of the people, of high crimes and misdemeanors, and of a conspiracy against the charter privileges of the people. I therefore cannot serve as a Juror, or take the oath.” The cool, calm, sedate intrepidity with which these honest freeholders went through this fiery trial, filled my eyes and my heart.
In one word, the royal government was from that moment laid prostrate in the dust, and has never since revived in substance, though a dark shadow of the hobgoblin haunts me at times to this day.
[1 ] The substance of this letter appears in another form in this work, but as there is an interval of fifteen years in the date of the two compositions, it may be interesting to the curious to compare them. See vol. ii. pp. 328-332.