Adams Papers

From John Adams to Boston Patriot, 8 June 1809

Quincy, June 8, 1809.


IN page 20, Mr. Hamilton says, my "conduct in the office of President was a heterogeneous compound of right and wrong, of wisdom and error." As at that time, in my opinion, his principal rule of right and wrong, of wisdom and error, was his own ambition and indelicate pleasures, I despise his censure, and should consider his approbation as a satire on my administration.

“The outset," he says, "was distinguished by a speech which his friends lamented as temporizing. It had the air of a lure for the favor of his opponents at the expense of his sincerity." Until I read this, I never heard one objection to that speech, and I have never heard another since, except in a letter from a lady, who said she did not like it, because there was but one period in it, and that period was too long. I fully agreed to that lady’s opinion, and now thank her for her criticism. Since that time I have never heard nor read, except in Wood’s History, any objection or criticism.

That address was dictated by the same spirit which produced my conference the next day with Mr. Jefferson, in which I proposed to him the idea of sending him to France, and the more serious thought of nominating Mr. Madison. It sprung from a very serious apprehension of danger to our country, and a sense of injustice to individuals, from that arbitrary and exclusive principle of faction which confines all employments and promotions to its own favorites. There is a distinction founded in truth and nature, between party and faction. The former is founded in principle and system, concerning the public good; the latter in private interest and passions. An honest party man will never exclude talents and virtues, and qualities eminently useful to the public, merely on account of a difference in opinion. A factious man will exclude every man alike, saint or sinner, who will not be a blind, passive tool. If I had been allowed to follow my own ideas, Hamilton and Burr, in my opinion, with submission to Divine Providence, would have been alive at this hour—General Muhlenburg, of Pennsylvania, would have been a Brigadier, under Hamilton, in the army, as long as it lasted; and the great body of Germans in Pennsylvania, instead of being disgraced with imputations of rebellion, would have been good friends of government. I have not room to develope all this at present.

But I soon found myself shackled. The heads of departments were exclusive patriots. I could not name a man who was not devoted to Hamilton, without kindling a fire.

The Senate was now decidedly federal. During President Washington’s whole administration of eight years, his authority in the Senate was extremely weak. The Senate was equally divided in all great constitutional questions, and in all great questions of foreign relations, and such as were the most sharply contested were brought to my decision as Vice-President.

When I was elected, the States had been pleased to make an entire change in the Senate. Two thirds of that honorable body were now decidedly federal. And prosperity had its usual effect, on federal minds. It made them confident and presumptuous. I soon found, that if I had not the previous consent of the heads of departments, and the approbation of Mr. Hamilton, I run the utmost risque of a dead negative in the Senate. One such negative at least I had, after a very formal and a very uncivil remonstrance of one of their large, unconstitutional committees in secret.

I have great reason to believe, that Mr. Jefferson came into office with the same spirit that I did—that is, with a sincere desire of conciliating parties, as far as he possibly could, consistently with his principles. But he soon found, as I did, that the Senate had a decided majority of republicans, five or six to one, a much greater majority than there was in my time, of federalists, which were never more than two to one.

In the House of Representatives, in Mr. Washington’s time, the majority of federalists was very small. In my time, it was somewhat larger, but still small. In Mr. Jefferson’s time, the majority of republicans was immense, two or three, or four, to one. Consciousness of this strength had the same effect upon republicans as it had upon federalists in my time. It made them confident, exclusive, and presumptuous. Mr. Jefferson found it impossible, as I did, to follow his own inclination on many occasions.

It may be thought presumption in me to impute errors to the nation; but as I have never concealed from the people any truth which it was important to them to know, nor any opinion of my own, which was material in public affairs, I hope to be excused if I suggest that the general sentiment in most parts of the continent, that all the danger to liberty arises from the executive power, and that the President’s office cannot be too much restrained, is an error.

Corruption in almost all free governments has begun and been first introduced in the Legislature. When any portion of executive power has been lodged in popular or aristocratical assemblies, it has seldom, if ever, failed to introduce intrigue.—The executive powers lodged in the Senate are the most dangerous to the constitution and to liberty of all the powers in it. The people then ought to consider the President’s office as the indispensible guardian of their rights. I have ever, therefore, been of opinion, that the electors of President ought to be chosen by the people at large. The people cannot be too careful in the choice of their Presidents; but when they have chosen them, they ought to expect that they will act their own independent judgments, and not be wheedled nor intimidated by factious combinations of Senators, Representatives, heads of departments, or military officers.

The exclusive principle which has been adopted, and too openly avowed by both our great divisions, when the pendulum has swung to their side, is a principle of faction, and not of honest party. It is intolerance! It is despotism! It destroys the freedom of the press! The freedom of elections! the freedom of debate! the freedom of deliberation! the freedom of private judgment! And as long as the Senate shall be determined to negative all but their own party, the President can have no will or judgment of his own. I most earnestly entreat all parties to reconsider their resolutions on this subject.

John Adams.

Printed Source--Boston Patriot.

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