Thomas Jefferson Papers
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John Adams to Thomas Jefferson, 15 July 1813, with Postscript from Abigail Adams to Thomas Jefferson, [ca. 15 July 1813]

From John Adams, with Postscript by Abigail Adams

Quincy July 15th 1813

Never mind it, my dear Sir, if I write four Letters to your one: your one is worth more than my four.

It is true that I can Say and have Said nothing new on the Subject of Government. yet I did Say in my Defence and in my Discourses on Davila, though in an uncouth Style, what was new to Lock, to Harrington, to Milton, to Hume1 to Montesquieu to Reauseau, to Turgot, Condorcet, to Rochefaucault, to Price to Franklin and to yourself; and at that time to almost all Europe and America. I can prove all this by indisputable Authorities and documents. Writings on Government had been not only neglected, but discountenanced and discouraged, throughout all Europe, from the Restoration of Charles the Second in England, till the french Revolution commenced. The English Commonwealth, the Fate of Charles 1st and the military despotism of Cromwell had Sickened Mankind with disquisitions on Government to Such a degree, that there was Scarcely a Man in Europe who had looked into the Subject. David Hume had made himself, So fashionable2 with the Aid of the Court and Clergy, Atheist as they call’d him,3 and by his elegant Lies against the Republicans and gaudy daubings of the Courtiers, that he had nearly laughed into contempt Rapin Sydney and even Lock. It was ridiculous and even criminal in almost all Europe to Speak of Constitutions, or Writers upon the Principles or the Fabricks of them.

In this State of Things my poor, unprotected, unpatronised Books appeared; and met with a Fate, not quite So cruel as I had anticipated. They were At last however4 overborne by Misrepresentations and will perish in obscurity, though they have been translated into German as well as french. The three Emperors of Europe, the Prince Regents, and all the ruling Powers would no more countenance5 or tolerate Such Writings, than the Pope, the Emperor of Haiti, Ben. Austin or Tom Paine.

The Nations of Europe, appeared to me, when I was among them, from the begining of 1778, to 1785 i.e to the commencement of the Troubles in France, to be advancing by Slow but Sure Steps towards an Amelioration of the condition of Man, in Religion and Government, in Liberty, Equality, Fraternity Knowledge Civilization and Humanity. The French Revolution I dreaded; because I was Sure it would, not only arrest the progress of Improvement, but give it a retrograde course, for at least a Century, if not many Centuries. The French Patriots appeared to me, like young Schollars from a Colledge, or Sailors flushed with recent pay or prize Money, mounted on wild Horses, lashing and Spurring, till they would kill the Horses and break their own Necks.

Let me now ask you, very Seriously my Friend, Where are now in 1813, the Perfection and perfectability of human Nature? Where is now, the progress of the human Mind? Where is the Amelioration of Society? Where the Augmentations of human Comforts? Where the diminutions of human Pains and Miseries? I know not whether the last day of Dr young can exhibit; to a Mind unstaid by Phylosophy and Religion, for I hold there can be no Philosophy without Religion; more terrors than the present State of the World.

When? Where? and how? is the present Chaos to be arranged into order?

There is not, there cannot be, a greater Abuse of Words than to call the Writings of Calender, Paine, Austin and Lowell or the Speeches of Ned. Livingston and John Randolph, Public Discussions. The Ravings and Rantings of Bedlam, merit the Character as well; and yet Joel Barlow was about to record Tom Paine as the great Author of the American Revolution! If he was; I desire that my name may be blotted out forever, from its Records.

You and I, ought not to die, before We have explained ourselves to each other.

I Shall come to the Subject of Religion, by and by. your Friend

John Adams.

I have been looking for some time for a space in6 my good Husbands Letters to add the regards,7 of an old Friend, which are Still cherished and perserved through all the changes and vissitudes which have taken place since we first became acquainted, and will I trust remain as long as

A Adams.

RC (DLC); at foot of text: “President Jefferson”; endorsed by TJ as a letter from John Adams received 28 July 1813 and so recorded in SJL. FC (Lb in MHi: Adams Papers); lacks Abigail Adams postscript.

Abigail Smith Adams (1744–1818), noted letter writer and first lady of the United States, 1797–1801, was born in Weymouth, Massachusetts, to William Smith, a Congregationalist minister, and Elizabeth Quincy Smith. Both the custom of the day and her own delicate health restricted her education to her parents’ and grandparents’ homes. Nonetheless, with the aid of educated relatives and a well-stocked library she became well versed in literature and history. In 1759 she met John Adams. After a long-distance epistolary courtship, the couple married in 1764. Four of their five children survived to adulthood, including future United States president John Quincy Adams. During her husband’s long absences as he attended to public duties, Adams adroitly managed a household and farm on her own, even during the tumultuous years of the American Revolution. She joined her husband in Paris in 1784 and subsequently traveled with him to London, New York, Philadelphia, and Washington before they retired to Quincy in 1801. Adams’s extensive correspondence with her family and such others as Mercy Otis Warren and TJ attest to her political acumen and keen interest in the success of the American republic while also providing valuable and revealing details about daily life (ANB description begins John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes, eds., American National Biography, 1999, 24 vols. description ends ; DAB description begins Allen Johnson and Dumas Malone, eds., Dictionary of American Biography, 1928–36, 20 vols. description ends ; Phyllis Lee Levin, Abigail Adams: A Biography [1987]; Edith Belle Gelles, Portia: The World of Abigail Adams [1992]; Margaret A. Hogan and C. James Taylor, eds., My Dearest Friend: Letters of Abigail and John Adams [2007]; Lyman H. Butterfield, Richard Alan Ryerson, C. James Taylor, and others, eds., Adams Family Correspondence, 8 vols. [1963– ]; PTJ description begins Julian P. Boyd, Charles T. Cullen, John Catanzariti, Barbara B. Oberg, and others, eds., The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, 1950– , 34 vols. description ends , 8:178–80; Peter Whitney, A Sermon Delivered on the Lord’s Day Succeeding the Interment of Madam Abigail Adams … November 1, 1818 … With an Appendix, Containing an Extract of a Letter, From President Jefferson, to President Adams, and Four Obituary Notices [Boston, 1819]).

Edward young was the author of Last Day. A Poem In Three Books (Philadelphia, 1786). John lowell (1769–1840) was a Boston political writer closely associated with Timothy Pickering (DAB description begins Allen Johnson and Dumas Malone, eds., Dictionary of American Biography, 1928–36, 20 vols. description ends ).

1Preceding two words interlined.

2Preceding two words interlined.

3Preceding five words interlined.

4RC: “hower.” FC: “however.”

5RC: “countenanc.” FC: “countenance.”

6Manuscript: “in in.”

7Manuscript: “regades.”

Index Entries

  • Adams, Abigail Smith (John Adams’s wife); identified search
  • Adams, Abigail Smith (John Adams’s wife); sends greetings to TJ search
  • Adams, John; Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America search
  • Adams, John; Discourses on Davila search
  • Adams, John; letters from search
  • Adams, John; on French Revolution search
  • Adams, John; on governmental systems search
  • Adams, John; on human progress search
  • Adams, John; on religion search
  • Adams, John; on T. Paine search
  • Austin, Benjamin search
  • Barlow, Joel; on T. Paine search
  • Callender, James Thomson; J. Adams on search
  • Charles I, king of England search
  • Charles II, king of England search
  • Condorcet, Marie Jean Antoine Nicolas de Caritat, marquis de; mentioned search
  • Cromwell, Oliver; mentioned search
  • Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America (Adams) search
  • Discourses on Davila (Adams) search
  • Franklin, Benjamin; mentioned search
  • French Revolution; J. Adams on search
  • George, Prince Regent (later George IV, king of Great Britain); as Prince of Wales search
  • Harrington, James; English political theorist search
  • Hume, David; mentioned search
  • Hume, David; political opinions of search
  • La Rochefoucauld, François de search
  • Last Day. A Poem In Three Books (Young) search
  • Livingston, Edward; speeches of search
  • Locke, John; mentioned search
  • Lowell, John; political writings of search
  • Milton, John; mentioned search
  • Montesquieu, Charles Louis de Secondat; mentioned search
  • Paine, Thomas; J. Adams on search
  • Paine, Thomas; mentioned search
  • Pickering, Timothy; mentioned search
  • poetry; in America search
  • Price, Richard (British author and philosopher); as theologian and moral philosopher search
  • Randolph, John (of Roanoke); speeches of search
  • Rapin Thoyras, Paul de; mentioned search
  • Rousseau, Jean Jacques; mentioned search
  • Sidney, Algernon; British patriot search
  • Turgot, Anne Robert Jacques; French economist search
  • Young, Edward; Last Day. A Poem In Three Books search