John Adams to John Quincy Adams
Quincy November 17. 1795
My dear Son
Since my last I have received your No. 11. dated 27. July with the Pamphlets which accompanied it.1 The Entertainment and Enjoyment I derive from these Communications as well as from all your Letters, is beyond all your Conception as well as my Expression. My greatest Satisfaction arises from the Proofs they carry with them that your Judgment and Constancy and Fortitude are not to be warped by any Seductions, Temptations or Illusions.
I cannot Say with you, however that most Heresies are eternal Truths: for Heresies as well as orthodoxies have been often Nonsence, Villany and Blasphemy: but I fully agree with you, it is not yet time to expect in Europe a Government which will be “at the Same time Strong to enforce the Law, and weak for any Abuse of its Power.[”]2
If Elections of Executives and Legislatives, are found by Experience to produce better Magistrates and Lawgivers, than hereditary Education, I should join in the Warfare against all Hereditaments (to use an Expression of our Law) as heartily as any Man— But as past Experience has not proved it, I must wait for future Experience to decide: and further to prove that Legislatives and Executives wholly elective can either make or execute any Laws at all.
In Europe most Writers at the present Day confound all Ideas of popular Esteem Affection Gratitude and Respect for particular Families with The Feudal Aristocracy. But these are different Things. Popular Families exist among African Negroes and American Indians as well as in any of the Feudal Kingdoms. Nor would the Cessation of all the Civilization in the World and the Restoration of the Savage Life over the whole Globe, prevent the hereditary descent of Popularity. if all public Men are elective, Birth will procure more Votes and have more Influence than ever. A few Families will more decidedly govern. This appears to me—time will show. The natural Descent of Popularity in Governments perfectly elective will be found to be So certain and so general, that it will produce an Aristocratical Government every where, an exclusive Aristocratical Government, untill Laws and Regulations are introduced to prevent it, against the popular Inclination.
A Government of Sans Culottes cannot long endure— The poor People find themselves Starved with Cold and Hunger, in a very short time in Consequence of their own Rule, and soon cry “This will not do.” We must have somebody to give Us Bread and Cloaths as well as Circeuses. Hereditary Popularity, which no political Institutions can prevent, and which being unlimited & unconfined will always be mad or extravagant3 will be found more dangerous, pernicious & destructive than hereditary Prerogatives and Priviledges ascertained by Law and directed to the national Good
There is Heresy for You! enough to expose me to Persecution in any Country at this day: but
Nullius Addictus jurare in verba Magestri.—4
I cannot believe what I please: much less what is dictated by every Fool who pleases to think himself popular.
on the 30th. of this Month I shall set out for Philadelphia, and reach it in 9 days, where I fear I must reside till next June. A Stormy session We may have: but I presume We shall weather it.
If report says the Truth you will have as nice a Task as any of Us: but be of good Cheer. preserve your good humour as well as your Independence: and especially guard yourself against all Approaches of Presumption and Vanity.
I am with the kindest Affection / your Father
Love to Thomas— I will write him soon.
and I too will write by capt Scott who is to sail soon. to both my dear Sons adieu5
RC (Adams Papers); internal address: “John Quincy Adams Esqr”; endorsed: “My Father. / 17. November. 1795. Quincy. / 1. February 1796. recd: London. / 10. do: Ansd:.” Tr (Adams Papers).
1. For JQA’s letter of 27 July, see JQA to AA, 30 July, note 3, above. JQA concluded his letter, “By the present opportunity I send several new publications lately received from Paris: they discover in some degree the state of the public mind, and furnish materials for the History of a philosophical Revolution. The man that can read them and retain an ardor for Revolutions, must indeed possess more philosophy than humanity” (Adams Papers). The pamphlets cannot be definitively identified but were possibly François Antoine, Comte de Boissy d’Anglas, Discours préliminaire au projet de constitution pour la République Française, [Paris?], 1795; Calendrier républicain, Paris, 1795; and Konrad Engelbert Oelsner, Notice sur la vie de Sieyes, Switzerland, 1795. All three are in JA’s library at MB (Catalogue of JA’s Library description begins Catalogue of the John Adams Library in the Public Library of the City of Boston, Boston, 1917. description ends ).
2. In discussing popular support for the Jacobins and royalists in France, JQA commented to JA in his letter of 27 July, “In short there is no Revolution whatever but may be expected in that Country except one that shall give them Peace and a regulated Liberty. If in the most favourable circumstances the perfection of human legislation is scarcely adequate to the construction of a Government which may be at the same time strong to enforce the law, and weak for any abuse of its power, it may without hesitation be pronounced impossible in France. I suppose this opinion is yet a political heresy, and like most other heresies it is an eternal truth” (Adams Papers).
3. The previous twelve words were interlined by JA.
4. “I am not bound over to swear as any master dictates” (Horace, Epistles, Book I, epistle i, line 14).
5. This paragraph is in AA’s hand. She sent a letter to JQA of 29 Nov. and to TBA of 30 Nov., both below, with Capt. James Scott, who sailed from Boston on the Minerva on 11 Dec. (Boston Courier, 12 Dec.). JA wrote a joint letter, which presumably traveled by the same conveyance, to the brothers on 29 Nov., confirming his travel plans for Philadelphia and commenting on the public and congressional response to the Jay Treaty (Adams Papers).