Adams Papers

John Adams to Charles Adams, 11 May 1794

John Adams to Charles Adams

Philadelphia May 11. 1794

Dr. Charles

Your Favour of April 19. I believe has not yet been acknowledged. The Extracts from the King of Prussia were very acceptable.1

Yesterday I received your favour of May 9th.— You ask whether there might not exist Such an Equality in Society as the Democrats of this Day Seem to advocate? Yes my Son, there are many Such Societies, in the Forrests of America, called Indian Tribes. Yet among these there are Princely Chiefs, noble Families and Aristocratical Sachems and Warriours. Plato’s Laws, are a fictitious Example— But he thought himself obliged to prohibit Commerce and all Communication with Foreigners.2 Lycurgus prohibited Commerce & Intercourse with foreigners and made an equal Division of Lands it is Said.3 The Lawgivers of the East, both in China and in India prohibited Commerce or at least Navigation. Yet in China, they have an oppressive Aristocracy, tho under an Emperor and in India their Casts established as horrid Inequalities as any in Europe.

If you admit Arts and Sciences, Manufactures, Commerce and Industry into your Society, you must provide against all Inequalities of Property which will be the natural and unavoidable fruit of them.

If you exclude all Art and Industry, you must be Savages, and Submit to all the Evils of that State of society. Yet even there there are Inequalities, of Birth as well as Merit. The Tartars & Arabs who lead the Lives of shepherds are Said to be more absolutely under the Influence of particular hereditary families, than the Indians of America the Negroes of Africa or the polished Nations of Europe.

Plato not only equalized Property, or rather established a Community of Property: but in order to make this practicable or even conceivable he was obliged to introduce a Community of Wives and Children: knowing that unequal families would rise up, if Individuals had Wives and Children— But all systems so unnatural will forever be found chimerical: and impossible.

New England is happy from her Education and Institutions: but her happiness is preserved by continual Emigrations into the Wilderness. fill up that Country with People, and their manners & Institutions will change.

The other Evils you mention are Corruptions in Elections which arise from Ambition more than Avarice. Ambition or Emulation would exist where there is no Property, or an Equality of Property or a Community of Property. Emulation would produce Jealousy and Envy and consequently Crimes, in every state of society you can conceive, even that the most destitute of Property.— Love allso would produce disputes and Crimes in all possible states of society— even in Platos Commonwealth— For neither Love of Women nor of Children could be extinguished—nor all Knowledge of Parents and Children prevented.

I am pleased to see your Mind taking a turn to such Speculations, and am glad you have got an office to your Wish. The Baron I fear will find too much Ennui in his retreat. Yet I long for mine— If I had his Land and even his small Income I should be tempted to follow his Example. I am indeed weary. May you, my son find an easier Path in Life, than that into which Providence has cast / your affectionate Father

John Adams.

RC (MHi:Seymour Coll.).

1On 19 April CA responded to JA’s interest in sequestration of debts by summarizing Prussia’s use of such a policy against Britain in the 1750s (Adams Papers).

2Plato set down rules for the proper treatment of foreigners, suggesting that they should be accorded respect but that “intercourse with them [shall be] within the strict bounds of necessity.” They might be shown the temples and entertained by military leaders but should not be allowed to wander freely (The Laws of Plato, transl. A. E. Taylor, London, 1934, Book XII, p. 346–347).

3In Plutarch’s life of Lycurgus, he describes both Lycurgus’ division of the lands of Sparta, “that they might be perfectly equal in their possessions and way of living,” and his forbidding strangers to come “who could not assign a good reason for their coming; … lest they should teach his own people some evil” (Plutarch, Lives, transl. John Langhorne and William Langhorne, rev. edn., N.Y., 1859, p. 33, 41).

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