John Adams to Thomas Jefferson, 13 July 1813
From John Adams
Quincy July 13th 1813
Let me allude, to one circumstance more, in one of your letters to me, before I touch upon the subject of religion in your letters to Priestley.
The first time, that you and I differed in opinion on any material question; was after your arrival from Europe; and that point was the French Revolution.
You were well persuaded in your own mind that the nation would succeed in establishing a free republican government. I was as well persuaded, in mine, that a project of such a government, over five and twenty millions people, when four and twenty millions and five hundred thousands of them could neither write nor read, was as unnatural irrational and impracticable as it would be over the elephants, lions, tigers, panthers, wolves, and bears in the royal menagerie, at Versailles. Napoleon has lately invented a word, which perfectly expresses my opinion at that time and ever since. He calls the project Ideology; and John Randolph, though he was, fourteen years ago, as wild an enthusiast for equality and fraternity, as any of them, appears to be now a regenerated proselyte to Napoleon's opinion and mine, that it was all madness.
The Greeks in their allegorical style said that the two ladies Αριστοκρατια and δημοκρατια, always in a quarrel, disturbed every neigborhood with their brawls. It is a fine observation of yours that “Whig and Tory belong to natural history.” Inequalities of mind and body are so established by God Almighty in his constitution of human nature that no art or policy can ever plain them down to a level. I have never read reasoning more absurd, sophistry more gross, in proof of the Athanasian Creed, or Transubstantiation, than the subtle labors of Helvetius and Rousseau to demonstrate the natural equality of mankind. Jus cuique; the golden rule, do as you would be done by, is all the equality that can be supported or defended by reason, or reconciled to common sense.
It is very true, as you justly observe, I can say nothing new on this or any other subject of government. But when LaFayette harangued you and me, and John Quincy Adams, through a whole evening in your hotel in the Cul de Sac, at Paris, and developed the plans then in operation to reform France, though I was as silent as you were, I then thought I could say something new to him.
In plain Truth I was astonished at the grossness of his ignorance of government and history, as I had been for years before at that of Turgot, Rochefaucault, Condorcet and Franklin. This gross Ideology of them all, first suggested to me the thought and the inclination which I afterwards hinted to you in London, of writing something upon aristocracy. I was restrained for years, by many fearful considerations. Who and what was I,? A Man of no name or consideration in Europe.
The manual exercise of writing was painful and distressing to me, almost like a blow, on the elbow or the knee. My style was habitually negligent, unstudied, unpolished; I should make enemies of all the French patriots, the Dutch patriots, the English republicans, dissenters, reformers, call them what you will; and what came nearer home to my bosom than all the rest, I knew, I should give offense to many, if not all of my best friends in America, and very probably destroy all the little popularity I ever had, in a country where popularity had more omnipotence than the British Parliament assumed. Where should I get the necessary books? What printer or bookseller would undertake to print such hazardous writings?
But when the French assembly of notables met, and I saw that Turgot's “Government in one centre and that center the nation” a sentence as mysterious or as contradictory as the Athanasian creed, was about to take place; and when I saw that Shaises Rebellion was breaking out in Massachusetts, and when I saw that even my obscure name was often quoted in France as an advocate for simple democracy; when I saw that the sympathies in America had caught the French flame: I was determined to wash my own hands as clean as I could of all this foulness. I had then strong forebodings that I was sacrificing all the honors and emoluments of this life; and so it has happened: but not in so great a degree as I apprehended.
In truth my “defense of the constitutions” and “discourses on Davila,” laid the foundation of that immense unpopularity, which fell like the Tower of Siloam upon me. Your steady defense of democratical principles, and your invariable favorable opinion of the French Revolution laid the foundation of your unbounded popularity.
Sic transit Gloria Mundi.
Now, I will forfeit my life, if you can find one sentence in my defense of the constitutions, or the discourses on Davila, which by a fair construction, can favor the introduction of hereditary monarchy or aristocracy into America.
They were all written to support and strengthen the constitutions of the United States.
The woodcutter on Ida, though he was puzzled to find a Tree to chop, at first, I presume knew how to leave off, when he was weary; But I never know when to cease, when I begin to write to you.
Thursday, October 11, 2018
You were well persuaded in your own mind that the nation would succeed in establishing a free republican government
From Founders Online My own paragraphing.