Front Page Titles (by Subject) 1820: TO THOMAS JEFFERSON. - The Works of John Adams, vol. 10 (Letters 1811-1825, Indexes)
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1820: 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, 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.
TO ELIHU MARSHALL.
Quincy, 7 March, 1820.
I thank you for the honor you have done me by your letter of the 16th of last month, and for the valuable present of the American Tutor’s Assistant, which I believe to be a valuable book. At the moment I received these favors, I was deeply engaged in reading Cato Major, and I could scarce help thinking that I was reading Tillotson, Sherlock, Butler, or our Buckminster or Everett; for there are few Christian theologians who teach better doctrines or express more ravishing feelings. I can read Cicero de Senectute, because I have read him for almost seventy years, and seem to have him almost by heart; but he never appeared so delightful to me as on this last reading, which may be partly owing to Cato’s age so near my own; he was in his eighty-fourth, and I in my eighty-fifth year.
I never delighted much in contemplating commas and colons, or in spelling or measuring syllables; but now, while reading Cato, if I attempt to look at these little objects, I find my imagination, in spite of all my exertions, roaming in the milky way, among the nebulæ, those mighty orbs, and stupendous orbits of suns, planets, satellites, and comets, which compose this incomprehensible universe; and, if I do not sink into nothing in my own estimation, I feel an irresistible impulse to fall on my knees, in adoration of the power that moves, the wisdom that directs, and the benevolence that sanctifies this wonderful whole.
As to writing a review of your volume, it is out of the question. My eyes are not able to read, nor my hand to write it; but as I have four grandchildren gone to school this morning where there are between one and two hundred scholars, I have given it to them to carry to their master, who is very capable of appreciating its value.
TO SAMUEL MILLER.
Quincy, 8 July, 1820.
You know not the gratification you have given me by your kind, frank, and candid letter. I must be a very unnatural son to entertain any prejudices against the Calvinists, or Calvinism, according to your confession of faith; for my father and mother, my uncles and aunts, and all my predecessors, from our common ancestor, who landed in this country two hundred years ago, wanting five months, were of that persuasion. Indeed, I have never known any better people than the Calvinists. Nevertheless, I must acknowledge that I cannot class myself under that denomination. My opinions, indeed, on religious subjects ought not to be of any consequence to any but myself. To develop them, and the reasons for them, would require a folio larger than Willard’s Body of Divinity, and, after all, I might scatter darkness rather than light. Before I was twelve years of age, I necessarily became a reader of polemical writings of religion, as well as politics, and for more than seventy years I have indulged myself in that kind of reading, as far as the wandering, anxious, and perplexed kind of life, which Providence has compelled me to pursue, would admit. I have endeavored to obtain as much information as I could of all the religions which have ever existed in the world. Mankind are by nature religious creatures. I have found no nation without a religion, nor any people without the belief of a supreme Being. I have been overwhelmed with sorrow to see the natural love and fear of that Being wrought upon by politicians to produce the most horrid cruelties, superstitions, and hypocrisy, from the sacrifices to Moloch down to those of Juggernaut, and the sacrifices of the kings of Whidah and Ashantee. The great result of all my researches has been a most diffusive and comprehensive charity. I believe with Justin Martyr, that all good men are Christians, and I believe there have been, and are, good men in all nations, sincere and conscientious. That you and I shall meet in a better world, I have no more doubt than I have that we now exist on the same globe. If my natural reason did not convince me of this, Cicero’s dream of Scipio, and his essays on friendship and old age, would have been sufficient for the purpose. But Jesus has taught us, that a future state is a social state, when he promised to prepare places in his father’s house of many mansions for his disciples.
By the way, I wonder not at the petition of the pagans to the emperor, that he would call in and destroy all the writings of Cicero, because they tended to prepare the mind of the people, as well as of the philosophers, to receive the Christian religion.
My kind compliments to Mrs. Miller, and thanks for the obliging visit she made me. I interest myself much in her family. Her father was one of my most intimate friends in an earlier part of his life, though we differed in opinion on the French Revolution, in the latter part of his days. I find that differences of opinion in politics, and even in religion, make but little alteration in my feelings and friendships when once contracted.
I have not received Mr. Sergeant’s speech, nor the sketch.
TO CHARLES HOLT.
Quincy, 4 September, 1820.
The universal vanity of human nature must have obtruded itself on your observation, in the course of your experience, so forcibly, that you will easily imagine that your letter of August 27th has been received and read with much pleasure; besides, you know that the just always rejoiceth over every sinner that repenteth. Your letter,1 however, did not surprise me, because I had received many such testimonials from other persons. For example, Mr. Matthew Carey has, in letters to me, acknowledged the same error, and has lately repented to me, in person and in conversation, and, moreover, has repeatedly printed handsome encomiums on my Defence of the American Constitutions, which he had many years vilified, before he had read it. And, what is more agreeably surprising to me, Judge Cooper, the learned and ingenious friend of Dr. Priestley, has lately published, in the Portfolio, a very handsome eulogium of that work. And what, perhaps, will be considered more than all, the learned and scientific President Jefferson has, in letters to me, acknowledged that I was right, and that he was wrong.2
My plain writings have been misunderstood by many, misrepresented by more, and vilified and anathematized by multitudes who never read them. They have, indeed, nothing to recommend them but stubborn facts, simple principles, and irresistible inferences from both, without any recommendation from ambitious ornaments of style, or studied artifices of arrangement; notwithstanding all which, amidst all the calumnies they have occasioned, I have the consolation to know, and the injustice I have suffered ought to excuse me in saying, that they have been translated into the French, German, and Spanish languages; that they are now contributing to introduce representative governments into various nations of Europe, as they have before contributed to the introduction and establishment of our American Constitutions, both of the individual States and the nation at large; and that they are now employed, and have been, in assisting the South Americans in establishing their liberties, from the days of Miranda to this hour. I may say, with Lord Bacon, that I bequeathe my writings to foreign nations, and to my own country, after a few generations shall be overpast.
This letter has so much the appearance of vanity, that I pray you not to publish it in print; though calumny, with her hundred cat-o’-nine-tails, has lashed me so long, that my skin has become almost as hard and insensible as steel, and her severest strokes would scarcely be felt. After all, I sincerely thank you for your frank and candid letter, which does you much honor, and is a full atonement for all your errors in relation to me, who am, Sir, your sincere well-wisher and most humble servant.
TO HENRY CHANNING.
Quincy, 3 November, 1820.
I have received your favor of the 26th of October, with the copy of the Connecticut constitution. This is the second copy which I have received from you, and I am afraid it is the first that has been acknowledged. For this negligence I beg your pardon, and pray you to accept my cordial thanks for both these valuable favors.
The cantilena sacerdotis will be sung as long as priesthood shall exist. I mean not by this, however, to condemn the article in our Declaration of Rights. I mean to keep my mind open to conviction upon this subject, until I shall be called upon to give a vote.1 An abolition of this law would have so great an effect in this State that it seems hazardous to touch it. However, I am not about to discuss the question at present. In Rhode Island, I am informed, public preaching is supported by three or four wealthy men in the parish, who either have, or appear to have, a regard for religion, while all others sneak away, and avoid payment of any thing. And such, I believe, would be the effect in this State almost universally; yet this I own is not a decisive argument in favor of the law. Sub judice lis est. The feelings of the people will have pomp and parade of some sort or another, in the State as well as in the Church. In the Church they have risen from the parson’s band and the communion plate up to the church of St. Peter’s and the Vatican library. In the State they have risen from oaken crowns and olive branches up to thrones, sceptres, and diadems, gold, ivory, and precious stones to the amount of millions. In Pliny’s Natural History you may see the gradual rise and progress for seven hundred years of luxury and ceremony, from iron rings upon the fingers, to the splendors of Lucullus, Antony, and Crassus.
I have great reason to rejoice in the happiness of my country, which has fully equalled, though not exceeded, the sanguine anticipation of my youth. God prosper long our glorious country, and make it a pattern to the world!
As a member to the convention, I can be but the shadow of a man. An election, however, to this situation, at my great age and feeble condition of body and mind, I esteem the purest honor of my life, and shall endeavor to do as much of my duty as my strength will permit. I presume it will not be made a question now, as it was forty years ago, whether we should have a governor, or a senate, or judges during good behavior. What questions will be moved, I cannot say; but I hope that no essential flaw will be found or made in the good old forty-two pounder, though it should be tried over again after forty years usage, by a double charge of powder and ball.
[1 ] Mr. Holt, in 1800, was editor of the Bee, a partisan newspaper, published in Connecticut, and was imprisoned, under the sedition law, for a libel. In his letter he says: “I then wrote and published much against you, Sir, as an aristocrat in principle or royalist at heart, no friend to the “rights of man,” and hostile to the “republicanism” of the United States. I had not read your “Defence of the American Constitutions,” nor much of any political history, and but very little in the book of living experience. But, Sir, I have since, although publisher of a political gazette sixteen years after, seen and felt abundant cause for discarding the impressions I then entertained, and adopting opinions gathered from all observation and confirmed by all experience.”
[2 ] Perhaps this is too general a statement. The allusion is to the opposite opinions entertained of the probable results of the French Revolution.
[1 ] Mr. Adams had been chosen a member of the convention about to be held for the revision of the Constitution of Massachusetts. The third article is the one referred to. See vol. iv. p. 221.