Front Page Titles (by Subject) TO JOHN ADAMS - The Works, vol. 12 (Correspondence and Papers 1816-1826)
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TO JOHN ADAMS - Thomas Jefferson, The Works, vol. 12 (Correspondence and Papers 1816-1826) 
The Works of Thomas Jefferson, Federal Edition (New York and London, G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1904-5). Vol. 12.
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TO JOHN ADAMS
Monticello, May 17, 1818
—I was so unfortunate as not to receive from Mr. Holly’s own hand your favor of January the 28th, being then at my other home. He dined only with my family, and left them with an impression which has filled me with regret that I did not partake of the pleasure his visit gave them. I am glad he is gone to Kentucky. Rational Christianity will thrive more rapidly there than here. They are freer from prejudices than we are, and bolder in grasping at truth. The time is not distant, though neither you nor I shall see it, when we shall be but a secondary people to them. Our greediness for wealth, and fantastical expense, have degraded, and will degrade, the minds of our maritime citizens. These are the peculiar vices of commerce.
I had been long without hearing from you, but I had heard of you through a letter from Doctor Waterhouse. He wrote to reclaim against an expression of Mr. Wirt’s, as to the commencement of motion in the revolutionary ball. The lawyers say that words are always to be expounded secundum subjectam materiem, which, in Mr. Wirt’s case, was Virginia. It would, moreover, be as difficult to say at what moment the Revolution began, and what incident set it in motion, as to fix the moment that the embryo becomes an animal, or the act which gives him a beginning. But the most agreeable part of his letter was that which informed me of your health, your activity, and strength of memory; and the most wonderful, that which assured me that you retained your industry and promptness in epistolary correspondence. Here you have entire advantage over me. My repugnance to the writing table becomes daily and hourly more deadly and insurmountable. In place of this has come on a canine appetite for reading. And I indulge it, because I see in it a relief against the tædium senectutis; a lamp to lighten my path through the dreary wilderness of time before me, whose bourne I see not. Losing daily all interest in the things around us, something else is necessary to fill the void. With me it is reading, which occupies the mind without the labor of producing ideas from my own stock.
I enter into all your doubts as to the event of the revolution of South America. They will succeed against Spain. But the dangerous enemy is within their own breasts. Ignorance and superstition will chain their minds and bodies under religious and military despotism. I do believe it would be better for them to obtain freedom by degrees only; because that would by degrees bring on light and information, and qualify them to take charge of themselves understandingly; with more certainty, if in the meantime, under so much control as may keep them at peace with one another. Surely, it is our duty to wish them independence and self-government, because they wish it themselves, and they have the right, and we none, to choose for themselves, and I wish, moreover, that our ideas may be erroneous, and theirs prove well founded. But these are speculations, my friend, which we may as well deliver over to those who are to see their development. We shall only be lookers on, from the clouds above, as now we look down on the labors, the hurry and bustle of the ants and bees. Perhaps in that supermundane region, we may be amused with seeing the fallacy of our own guesses, and even the nothingness of those labors which have filled and agitated our own time here.
En attendant, with sincere affections to Mrs. Adams and yourself, I salute you both cordially.