Front Page Titles (by Subject) 1823: 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:
1823: 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, 9 March, 1823.
The sight of your well-known handwriting in your favor of February 25th last, gave me great pleasure, as it proved your arm to be restored, and your pen still manageable. May it continue till you shall become as perfect a Calvinist as I am, in one particular. Poor Calvin’s infirmities, his rheumatism, his gout, and sciatica, made him frequently cry out, “Mon dieu! jusqu’à quand?” “Lord! how long?” Pratt, once Chief Justice of New York, always tormented with infirmities, dreamed that he was situated on a single rock in the midst of the Atlantic ocean. He heard a voice,
The ladies’ visit to Monticello has put my readers in requisition to read to me “Simond’s Travels in Switzerland.” I thought I had some knowledge of that country before, but I find I had no idea of it. How degenerated are the Swiss! They might defend their country against France, Austria, and Russia, neither of whom ought to be suffered to march armies over their mountains. Those powers have practised as much tyranny and immorality, as ever the Emperor Napoleon did, over them, or over the roitelets of Germany or Italy. Neither France, Austria, or Spain, ought to have one foot of land in Italy.
All conquerors are alike. Every one of them, “jura negat sibi lata, nihil non arrogat armis.” We have nothing but fables concerning Theseus, Bacchus, and Hercules, and even Sesostris, but I dare say that every one of them was as tyrannical and immoral as Napoleon. Nebuchadnezzar is the first great conqueror of whom we have any thing like history, and he was as great as any of them. Alexander and Cæsar were more immoral than Napoleon. Genghis Khan was as great a conqueror as any of them, and destroyed as many millions of lives, and thought he had a right to the whole globe, if he could subdue it. What are we to think of the crusades, in which three millions of lives, at least, were probably sacrificed. And what right had St. Louis and Richard Cœur de Lion to Palestine and Syria, more than Alexander to India, or Napoleon to Egypt and Italy? Right and justice have hard fare in this world, but there is a Power above who is capable and willing to put all things right in the end, “et pour mettre chacun à sa place dans l’univers;” and I doubt not he will.
Mr. English, a Bostonian, has published a volume of his expedition with Ismael Pasha up the river Nile. He advanced above the third cataract, and opens a prospect of a resurrection from the dead of those vast and ancient countries of Abyssinia and Ethiopia; a free communication with India, and the river Niger, and the city of Timbuctoo. This, however, is conjecture and speculation rather than certainty; but a free communication by land between Europe and India will ere long be opened. A few American steamboats and our Quincy stone-cutters would soon make the Nile as navigable as our Hudson, Potomac, or Mississippi.
You see, as my reason and intellect fail, my imagination grows more wild and ungovernable, but my friendship remains the same. Adieu.
TO F. A. VANDERKEMP.
Quincy, 9 March, 1823.
In one of your letters, if I remember right, you expressed a desire to see my letters to Mr. Calkoen. The history of those letters is this. At a dinner with a large company, I met with that learned civilian, who came to me, and seated himself by my side, and expressed an ardent curiosity to converse with me upon the subject of the American war. He asked me many questions in French, in which language he was very imperfect; he had no English, and I had no Dutch. I was about as clumsy in French as he was; however, he asked me many questions, to which I gave him prompt answers. Some of the gentlemen present, who understood the language better, helped us a little to interpret; but at the conclusion of the conversation I said to him I feared I had not fully understood his questions, and not clearly expressed my answers, but if he would do me the honor to commit his questions to writing, I would give him the answers in writing. Accordingly, in a very short time I received from him twenty-six questions in Dutch. Mr. Le Roy (now, I presume, one of the most opulent merchants in New York) was then a young gentleman, very amiable, very intelligent, always very friendly to me, as was his aunt, Madame Chabanelle, and all her family. Mr. Le Roy offered to translate them for me into English, and he did so, in a very correct and literal sense. I immediately commenced writing answers, and I wrote him twenty-six letters, one letter every day. Mr. Calkoen acknowledged that I had comprehended his questions, and given him perfectly intelligible answers. Mr. Calkoen composed out of these letters a dissertation upon the question, whether the Americans would maintain their independence or not. He composed a comparison between the Dutch revolution and the American, and concluded by this observation, “as it was a miracle that the Dutch revolution succeeded, it would be, in his opinion, a greater miracle still if the American did not.” This composition he read to a society of men of letters, who met periodically at Amsterdam, and it consequently became a subject of much conversation in the city. But these letters had much less effect in opening the eyes of the Dutch nation, than two other measures. I had received from London two large pamphlets; one from General Burgoyne, an apology for his conduct and ill success in America; another from General Howe, containing his justification of his conduct in America and his want of success. Both these works represented the British cause in America as more forlorn and desperate than even I had done in my letters to Mr. Calkoen. I employed Cerisier to get these translated into French, and he had it done in so short a time as amazed me. I had a large edition of them printed, and scattered as many as I could, and they were scattered by others, and read by everybody who had given any attention to the war, and produced a general conviction that the game was up with England.
When you have kept this pamphlet as long as you please, and read it as much as you please, return it to me, as I have no other copy.
TO THOMAS JEFFERSON.
Quincy, 15 August, 1823.
Watchman! what of the night? Is darkness that may be felt, to prevail over the whole world, or can you perceive any rays of a returning dawn? Is the devil to be the “Lord’s anointed” over the whole globe? or do you foresee the fulfilment of the prophecies according to Dr. Priestley’s interpretation of them? I know not but I have in some of my familiar and frivolous letters to you told the story four times over; but if I have, I never applied it so well as now. Not long after the dénouement of the tragedy of Louis XVI., when I was Vice-President, my friend, the Doctor, came to breakfast with me alone. He was very sociable, very learned and eloquent on the subject of the French Revolution. It was opening a new era in the world, and presenting a near view of the millennium. I listened, I heard with great attention, and perfect sang froid; at last I asked the Doctor, “Do you really believe the French will establish a free, democratic government in France?” He answered, “I do firmly believe it.” “Will you give me leave to ask you upon what grounds you entertain this opinion? Is it from any thing you ever read in history? Is there any instance of a Roman Catholic monarchy of five-and-twenty millions of people, at once converted into intelligent, free, and rational people?” “No. I know of no instance like it.” “Is there any thing in your knowledge of human nature, derived from books or experience, that any empire, ancient or modern, consisting of such multitudes of ignorant people, ever were, or ever can be, suddenly converted into materials capable of conducting a free government, especially a democratic republic?” “No. I know of nothing of the kind.” “Well, then, Sir, what is the ground of your opinion?” The answer was, “My opinion is founded altogether upon revelation and the prophecies. I take it that the ten horns of the great beast in Revelations mean the ten crowned heads of Europe, and that the execution of the king of France is the falling off of the first of those horns; and the nine monarchies of Europe will fall, one after another, in the same way.” Such was the enthusiasm of that great man, that reasoning machine! After all, however, he did recollect himself so far as to say, “There is, however, a possibility of doubt, for I read yesterday a book, put into my hands by a gentleman, a volume of travels, written by a French gentleman in 1659, in which he says he had been travelling a whole year in England, had travelled into every part, and conversed freely with all ranks of people. He found the whole nation earnestly engaged in discussing and contriving a form of government for their future regulation. There was but one point on which they all agreed, and in that they were unanimous, that monarchy, nobility, and prelacy never would exist in England again.” The Doctor then paused, and said, “yet in the very next year the whole nation called in the king, and ran mad with monarchy nobility, and prelacy.
I am no king killer, merely because they are kings. Poor creatures! they know no better; they sincerely and conscientiously believe that God made them to rule the world. I would not, therefore, behead them, or send them to St. Helena to be treated like Napoleon; but I would shut them up like the man in the mask, feed them well, and give them as much finery as they please, until they could be converted to right reason and common sense.
TO THOMAS JEFFERSON.
Quincy, 17 September, 1823.
With much pleasure I have heard read the sure words of prophecy in your letter of September 4th. It is melancholy to contemplate the cruel wars, desolations of countries, and oceans of blood, which must occur before rational principles and rational systems of government can prevail and be established; but as these are inevitable, we must content ourselves with the consolations which you from sound and sure reasons so clearly suggest. These hopes are as well founded as our fears of the contrary evils. On the whole, the prospect is cheering. I have lately undertaken to read Algernon Sidney on Government There is a great difference in reading a book at four-and-twenty and at eighty-eight. As often as I have read it and fumbled it over, it now excites fresh admiration that this work has excited so little interest in the literary world. As splendid an edition of it as the art of printing can produce, as well for the intrinsic merits of the work, as for the proof it brings of the bitter sufferings of the advocates of liberty from that time to this, and to show the slow progress of moral, philosophical, political illumination in the world, ought to be now published in America.
It is true that Mr. Jay, as well as Mr. Dickinson and Mr. Johnson, contributed to retard many vigorous measures, and particularly the vote of independence, until he left Congress; but I have reason to think he would have concurred in that vote when it was taken, if he had been there. His absence was accidental. Congress, on the 15th of May preceding, as I remember, had recommended to all the States to abolish all authority under the crown, and institute and organize a new government, under the authority of the people. Mr. Jay had promoted this resolution in New York, by advising them to call a convention to frame a new constitution. He had been chosen a member of that convention, and called home by his constituents to assist in it, and as Duane told me, he had gone home, with my letter to Wythe in his pocket, for his model and foundation; and the same Duane, after the Constitution appeared, asked me if it was not sufficiently conformable to my letter to Wythe. I answered him, I believed it would do very well. Mr. Jay was immediately appointed Chief Justice of the State, and obliged to enter immediately on the duties of his office, which occasioned his detention from Congress afterwards. But I have no doubt had he been in Congress at the time, he would have subscribed to the Declaration of Independence. He would have been neither recalled by his constituents, nor have left Congress himself, like Mr. Dickinson, Mr. Willing, Governor Livingston, and several others.
As you write so easily and so well, I pray you to write me as often as possible, for nothing revives my spirits so much as your letters, except the society of my son and his family, who are now happily with me after an absence of two years.
P. S. Warmly as I feel for the Spanish patriots, I fear the most sensible men among them have little confidence in their constitution, which it appears to me is modelled upon that in France of the year 1789, in which the sovereignty in a single assembly was every thing, and the executive nothing. The Spaniards have adopted all this, with the singular addition that the members of the Cortes can serve only two years? What rational being can have any well-grounded confidence in such a constitution?