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, 18 December, 1819.
I must answer your great question of the 10th in the words of D’Alembert to his correspondent, who asked him what is matter; “Je vous avoue que je n’en sais rien.” In some part of my life I read a great work of a Scotchman on the court of Augustus, in which, with much learning, hard study, and fatiguing labor, he undertook to prove that, had Brutus and Cassius been conquerors, they would have restored virtue and liberty to Rome. Mais je n’en crois rien. Have you ever found in history one single example of a nation thoroughly corrupted, that was afterwards restored to virtue? And without virtue, there can be no political liberty.
If I were a Calvinist, I might pray that God, by a miracle of divine grace, would instantaneously convert a whole contaminated nation from turpitude to purity; but even in this I should be inconsistent, for the fatalism of Mahometans, Materialists, Atheists, Pantheists, and Calvinists, and Church of England articles, appears to me to render all prayer futile and absurd. The French and the Dutch in our day have attempted reforms and revolutions. We know the results, and I fear the English reformers will have no better success.
Will you tell me how to prevent riches from becoming the effects of temperance and industry? Will you tell me how to prevent riches from producing luxury? Will you tell me how to prevent luxury from producing effeminacy, intoxication, extravagance, vice and folly?
When you will answer me these questions, I hope I may venture to answer yours. Yet all these things ought not to discourage us from exertion, for, with my friend Jebb, I believe no effort in favor of virtue is lost, and all good men ought to struggle, both by their counsel and example.
The Missouri question, I hope, will follow the other waves under the ship, and do no harm. I know it is high treason to express a doubt of the perpetual duration of our vast American empire and our free institutions; and I say as devoutly as father Paul, “Esto perpetua;” but I am sometimes Cassandra enough to dream that another Hamilton, another Burr, might rend this mighty fabric in twain, or, perhaps, into a leash, and a few more choice spirits of the same stamp might produce as many nations in North America as there are in Europe.
To return to the Romans. I never could discover that they possessed much virtue or real liberty. Their patricians were, in general, griping usurers and tyrannical creditors in all ages. Pride, strength, and courage, were all the virtues that composed their national character. A few of their nobles affecting simplicity, frugality, and piety, perhaps really possessing them, acquired popularity among the plebeians, extended the power and dominions of the republic, and advanced in glory till riches and luxury came in, sat like an incubus on the republic, “victamque ulciscitur orbem.”
Our winter sets in a fortnight earlier than usual, and is pretty severe. I hope you have fairer skies and milder air. Wishing your health may last as long as your life, and your life as long as you desire it, I am, &c.
TO THOMAS JEFFERSON.
Quincy, 17 January, 1820.
When Harris was returned a member of Parliament, a friend introduced him to Chesterfield, whom he had never seen. “So, Mr. Harris,” said his lordship, “you are a member of the House of Commons. You have written upon universal and scientific grammar; you have written upon art, upon music, painting, and poetry;—and what has the House of Commons to do with art, or music, or painting, or poetry, or taste? Have not you written upon virtue and happiness?” “I have, my lord, indulged myself in speculations upon those subjects.” “And what the devil has the House of Lords to do with either happiness or virtue?” This idle tale, which I had from the mouth of Sir James Harris, now Lord Malmesbury, I repeat to you for a preface to another idle tale, which I am about to relate to you, namely—Too much confined by the cold weather, I have for a few days past whiled away the time in reading these pieces of Harris, and another, entitled Philosophical Arrangements. The Dialogue upon Happiness is one of the first pieces of morals I ever read. The Hermes is acknowledged a masterpiece; the others, under the appearance of immense learning and much ingenuity, contain little information, and few ideas that are new. But I have read them with the fond delight of a young lady reading a romance, on account of the investigation of the sentiments of ancient philosophers, poets, and orators, and the quotations from them in their own words—such as are by David Williams called the beautiful rags and tatters of antiquity.
By Philosophical Arrangements, he says, he means categories or predicaments, or general or universal truths, or the first philosophy; but I have been most amused with his endeavors to find the meaning of the ancient philosophers concerning the first principles or elements of matter, which they reduce down to particles so nice and minute as to become geometrical points; and this seems to me to be much more orthodox philosophy and mathematics, too, than Buffon’s “Molécules organiques,” or Epicurus’s atoms. With such games at push-pin have the childish philosophers of all ages diverted and distracted themselves, not once considering that neither human sense, nor imagination, nor intellect, was ever formed to comprehend all things. Harris’s Dialogue on Happiness is worth all the metaphysical researches of philosophers, from the beginning of the world, into the nature of matter and spirit, of energy, of power, of activity, of motion, or any such thing. When we say God is a spirit, we know what we mean, as well as we do when we say that the pyramids of Egypt are matter. Let us be content, therefore, to believe him to be a spirit, that is, an essence that we know nothing of, in which originally and necessarily reside all energy, all power, all capacity, all activity, all wisdom, all goodness.
Behold the creed and confession of faith of your ever affectionate friend.