Thomas Jefferson Papers

John Adams to Thomas Jefferson, 4 November 1816

From John Adams

Quincy Nov. 4 1816

Dr Sir

Your Letter of Oct. 14 has greatly obliged me. Tracys Analysis, I have read once; and wish to read it a Second time. It Shall be returned to you. But I wish to be informed whether this Gentleman is of that Family of Tracys with which the Marquis La Fayette is connected by intermariages.?

I have read, not only the Analysis, but Eight Volumes out of 12 of The origine de tous les Cultes, and if Life lasts will read the other four.

But, my dear Sir, I have been often obliged to Stop; and talk to myself like the Reverend, Alegorical, Hierogriphical and Apocalyptical1 Mr John Bunyan; and Say “Sobrius esto John!2 Be not carried away by Sudden blasts of Wind, by unexpected flashes of Lightening, nor terrified by the Sharpest Crashes of Thunder.!”

We have now, it Seems a National Bible Society to propagate King James’s Bible, through All Nations. Would it not be better, to apply these pious Subscriptions, to purify Christendom from the Corruptions of Christianity; than to propagate those Corruptions in Europe Asia, Africa and America.!

Suppose, We Should project a Society to translate Dupuis into all Languages and offer a Reward in Medals and Diamonds to any Man or Body of Men who would produce the best answer to it.

Enthusiasms,3 Crusades, French Revolutions are Epidemical or Endemial Distempers, to which Man kind are liable. They are not tertian or Quartan Agues. Ages and Centuries are Sometimes required to cure them.

It is more worth your while to live to read Dupuis than Grim. Of all the Romances,4 and true Histories I ever read, it is the most entertaining5 And instructive, though Priestley calls it “dull.”

Conclude not from all this, that I have renounced the Christian Religion, or that I agree with Dupuis in all his Sentiments. Far from it. I See in every Page, Something to recommend Christianity in its Purity, and Something to discredit its Corruptions.

If I had Strength, I would give you my Opinion of it in a Fable of the Bees.

The Ten Commandments and The Sermon on the Mount contain my Religion.

I agree perfectly with you, that “The Moral Sense is as much a part of our Constitution as that of Feeling,” and in all that you Say, upon this Subject.

My History of the Jesuits, is in 4. Vol: in twelves, under the Title of “Histoire Generale de la naissance et des progres, de la Compagnie de Jesus, et l’analyse de Ses Constitutions et Ses Privileges.6 printed at Amsterdam in 1761.

The Work is anonymous; because, as I Suppose, the Author was afraid as all the Monarks of Europe were at that time of Jesuitical Assassination. The Author however7 Supports his Facts by authentic Records and known Authorities which the Publick may consult.

This Society has been a greater Calamity to Man kind than the French Revolution or Napoleons Despotism or Idiology. It has obstructed the Progres of Reformation and the Improvement of the human Mind in Society much longer and more fatally.

The Situation of England may be learned from the enclosed Letter, which I pray you to return to me.

Little reason as I have to love the old Lady, I cannot but dread that She is going after France, into a Revolution which will end like that of England in 1660 and like that of France in 1816. In all Events, our Country must rise. England cannot.

We have been long afflicted with a Report that your Books and Harvard Colledge Books,8 and John Q. Adams’s Ouranologia were lost at Sea. But lo! The Astronomy has arrived in one Ship and Colledge Books in another. We hope your Books are equally Safe: but Should be glad to know.

It seems that Father and Son have been employed in contemplating The Heavens. I Should like to Sitt down with him and compare Du Puis with his Uranologia

I have been disappointed in the Review of Sir John Malcoms History of Persia. Those cunning Edinburgh men break off, at the Point of the only Subject that excited my Curiosity the ancient modern Religion and Government of Persia. I Should admire to read an Edinburg or a Quarterly9 Review of Du Puis 12. Volumes. They have reviewed Grim who is not of half the importance to Mankind. I Suspect the Reviewers evaded the Religion of Persia for fear they Should be compelled to compare it with Du Puis.

A Scrap of an English Paper in which you are honorably mentioned and I am not much abused must close this Letter from your Friend

John Adams

RC (DLC); at foot of text: “President Jefferson”; endorsed by TJ as received 21 Nov. 1816 and so recorded in SJL; notation by TJ beneath endorsement: “Tracy?—bible society—fable of the bees. my books.—uranologia.” FC (Lb in MHi: Adams Papers). Enclosures not found.

Lafayette’s son George Washington Lafayette joined Destutt de Tracy’s family in 1802 by marrying Françoise Émilie Destutt de Tracy, the daughter of the author and TJ correspondent (PTJ description begins Julian P. Boyd, Charles T. Cullen, John Catanzariti, Barbara B. Oberg, and others, eds., The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, 1950– , 39 vols. description ends , 38:615, 616, 724). hierogriphical: possibly related to hierography, the description of religions or sacred things (OED description begins James A. H. Murray, J. A. Simpson, E. S. C. Weiner, and others, eds., The Oxford English Dictionary, 2d ed., 1989, 20 vols. description ends ). sobrius esto john: “Be sober, John.” The American Bible Society (national bible society) was founded in New York City in May 1816 (Constitution of the American Bible Society [New York, 1816]).

Joseph Priestley described Charles François Dupuis, Origine de Tous les Cultes: ou, Religion Universelle, 12 vols. in 7 (Paris, year III [1794/95]; Adams’s copy in MBPLi), as dull in his A Comparison of the Institutions of Moses with those of the Hindoos and Other Ancient Nations; with Remarks on Mr. Dupuis’s Origin of all Religions (Northumberland, Pa., 1799), 303. a fable of the bees refers to a work by Bernard Mandeville, The Fable of the Bees: or, Private Vices Publick Benefits (London, 1714; Sowerby, description begins E. Millicent Sowerby, comp., Catalogue of the Library of Thomas Jefferson, 1952–59, 5 vols. description ends no. 1259). ouranologia: Johann Elert Bode, Uranographia sive Astrorum Descriptio (Berlin, 1801). A review of sir john Malcolm’s The History of Persia, from the Most Early Period to the Present Time, 2 vols. (London, 1815), appeared in the Edinburgh Review 26 (1816): 282–304.

1RC: “Apocatiptical.” FC: “Apocalyptical.”

2Superfluous closing quotation mark before the exclamation point editorially omitted.

3RC: “Enthusiams.” FC: “Enthusiasms.”

4RC: “Romancs.” FC: “romances.”

5RC: “entertaing.” FC: “entertaining.”

6Omitted closing quotation mark supplied from FC.

7RC: “honever.” FC: “however.”

8Word interlined.

9RC: “Quarly,” with the missing letters interlined in an unidentified hand. FC: “Quarterly.”

Index Entries

  • A Comparison of the Institutions of Moses with those of the Hindoos and Other Ancient Nations (J. Priestley) search
  • Adams, John; and Ten Commandments search
  • Adams, John; letters from search
  • Adams, John; on Christianity search
  • Adams, John; on French Revolution search
  • Adams, John; on Great Britain search
  • Adams, John; on Jesuits search
  • Adams, John; on Napoleon search
  • Adams, John; on religion search
  • Adams, John; reading habits of search
  • Adams, John Quincy; mentioned search
  • American Bible Society search
  • Analyse Raisonnée de l’Origine de Tous les Cultes, ou Religion Universelle (Destutt de Tracy) search
  • astronomy; books on search
  • Bible; societies for distribution of search
  • Bible; Ten Commandments search
  • Bode, Johann Elert; Uranographia sive Astrorum Descriptio search
  • books; on astronomy search
  • books; on history search
  • Bunyan, John; J. Adams references search
  • Christianity; Crusades search
  • Christianity; J. Adams on search
  • Destutt de Tracy, Antoine Louis Claude; Analyse Raisonnée de l’Origine de Tous les Cultes, ou Religion Universelle search
  • Destutt de Tracy, Antoine Louis Claude; family of search
  • Dupuis, Charles François; Origine de Tous les Cultes: ou, Religion Universelle search
  • Edinburgh Review; and review of J. Malcolm’sThe History of Persia search
  • Edinburgh Review; J. Adams on search
  • French Revolution; J. Adams on search
  • French Revolution; mentioned search
  • Great Britain; J. Adams on search
  • Grimm, Friedrich Melchior, Baron von; J. Adams on search
  • Harvard University; books for search
  • Histoire Generale de la Naissance & des progrès de la Compagnie de Jesus search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Books & Library; works sent to search
  • Jesuits; history of search
  • Jesuits; J. Adams on search
  • Lafayette, Françoise Émilie Destutt de Tracy (Lafayette’s daughter-in-law) search
  • Lafayette, George Washington (Lafayette’s son); marriage of search
  • Lafayette, Marie Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier, marquis de; family of search
  • Malcolm, Sir John; The History of Persia search
  • Mandeville, Bernard; The Fable of the Bees search
  • Napoleon I, emperor of France; J. Adams on search
  • Origine de Tous les Cultes: ou, Religion Universelle (C. Dupuis) search
  • Persia; history of search
  • Persia; religion in search
  • Priestley, Joseph; A Comparison of the Institutions of Moses with those of the Hindoos and Other Ancient Nations search
  • Quarterly Review search
  • religion; J. Adams on search
  • religion; Jesuits search
  • religion; societies for Bible distribution search
  • religion; works on search
  • The Fable of the Bees (B. Mandeville) search
  • The History of Persia (J. Malcolm) search
  • Uranographia sive Astrorum Descriptio (J. Bode) search