Front Page Titles (by Subject) TO JAMES MADISON. - The Works of John Adams, vol. 10 (Letters 1811-1825, Indexes)
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TO JAMES MADISON. - 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 JAMES MADISON.
Quincy, 17 June, 1817.
Accept my thanks for your favor of last month. The safe arrival of your books has quieted my conscience.
There is nothing within the narrow compass of human knowledge more interesting than the subject of your letter. If the idea of a government in one centre seems to be everywhere “exploded,” perhaps something remains undefined, as dangerous, as plausible, and pernicious as that idea. Half a million of people in England have petitioned Parliament for annual parliaments and universal suffrage. Parliament is unanimous against them. What is this state of things short of a declaration of war between the government and people? And is not this the picture of all Europe? Sovereigns, who modestly call themselves legitimate, are conspiring, in holy and unhallowed leagues, against the progress of human knowledge and human liberty.
War seems on the point of breaking out between government and people. Were the latter united, the question would be soon decided; but they are everywhere divided into innumerable sects, whereas the former are united, and have all the artillery and bayonets in their hands; and what is most melancholy of all, an appeal to arms almost always results in an exchange of one military tyranny for another.
The questions concerning universal suffrage, and those coucerning the necessary limitations of the power of suffrage, are among the most difficult. It is hard to say that every man has not an equal right; but, admit this equal right and equal power, and an immediate revolution would ensue. In all the nations of Europe, the number of persons, who have not a penny, is double those who have a groat; admit all these to an equality of power, and you would soon see how the groats would be divided. Yet, in a few days, the party of the pennies and the party of the groats would be found to exist again, and a new revolution and a new division must ensue.
If there is anywhere an exception from this reasoning, it is in America; nevertheless, there is in these United States a majority of persons, who have no property, over those who have any. I know of nothing more desirable in society than the abolition of all hereditary distinctions. But is not distinction among voters as arbitrary and aristocratical as hereditary distinctions? You will remember that, between thirty and forty years ago, the Irish patriots asked advice of the Duke of Richmond, Dr. Price, Dr. Jebb, &c. These three great statesmen, divines, and philosophers, solemnly advised a universal suffrage. Tracy, in his review of Montesquieu, adopts this principle in its largest extent. A party among mankind, countenanced, at this day, by such numbers and such names, is not to be despised, neglected, nor easily overborne.
There is nothing more irrational, absurd, or ridiculous in the sight of philosophy than the idea of hereditary kings and nobles; yet all the nations of the earth, civilized, savage, and brutal, have adopted them. Whence this universal and irresistible propensity? How shall it be controlled, restrained, corrected, modified, or managed? A government, a mixed government, may be so organized, I hope, as to preserve the liberty, equality, and fraternity of the people without any hereditary ingredient in its composition. Our nation has attempted it, and, if any people can accomplish it, it must be this; and may God Almighty prosper and bless them!
I have seen the efforts of the people in France, Holland, and England. You have read them in all Europe. We both know the result. What is to come, we know not.
My personal interest in such disquisitions can last but a few hours; but, still, homo sum, and homo I shall be.
May you live to a greater age than mine, and be able to die with brighter prospects for your species than can fall to the lot of your friend.