Thomas Jefferson Papers
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John Adams to Thomas Jefferson, 15 July 1817

From John Adams

Quincy July 15 1817

Dear Sir

I am impatient to See your Plan of a University and new System of Education. To assist you in your contemplations, I Send you, a Pamphlet,1 “The Politicks of Connecticut.” By a federal Republican in the name of Hamilton. Was there ever Such a combination? Two Copies were Sent me from the Post on Saturday last: I know not from whence nor by whom.

Now Sir! please to hear a modest Proposal. Let me go back to twenty. Give me a million of Revenue, a Library of a Million of Volumes, and as many more as I Should want. I would devote my Life to Such an Œvrage as Condercet2 tells us, that Turgot had in contemplation, all his Lifetime. I would digest Bryant Gebelin, Dupuis, Sir William Jones and above all the Acta Sanctorum of the Bolandists.

I know where this investigation would end. In Montesquiues 12 duodecimo3 Pages.

Is the Biography of Democratus4 and Heraclitus a Fable, or History? I cannot contemplate human affairs, without laughing or crying.

I choose to laugh. When People talk of the Freedom of Writing Speaking or thinking, I cannot choose but laugh. No such thing ever existed, No such thing now exists: but I hope it will exist, But it must be hundreds of years after you and I Shall write and Speak no more.

John Adams

RC (DLC); endorsed by TJ as received 29 July 1817 and so recorded in SJL. RC (MHi); address cover only; with PoC of TJ to Bernard Peyton, 11 Nov. 1819, on verso; addressed: “Thomas Jefferson. Monticello. Virginia”; postmarked Quincy, 16 July. FC (Lb in MHi: Adams Papers). Enclosure: “A Federal Republican,” later signing himself “Hamilton” [George H. Richards], The Politics of Connecticut: or, a Statement of Facts, Addressed to Honest Men of All Parties, religious and political, in the State: particularly to the mass of community, a Bold and Hardy Yeomanry, who compose the flesh and muscle, the blood and bone of the Body Politic (Hartford, 1817).

In his biography of turgot, Condorcet included a chapter describing a work that his subject had contemplated writing “respecting the human soul, the order of the universe, and the Supreme Being; respecting the principles of society and the rights of man; respecting political constitutions, legislation, and executive power; respecting natural education; and respecting the means of perfecting the human race relatively to the exercise and increase of its powers” (Condorcet, The Life of M. Turgot [London, 1787; translation of the 1786 Paris edition of the Vie de Monsieur Turgot; Adams’s copies of both works in MBPLi], 272). For the 12 duodecimo pages of Montesquieu, see Adams to TJ, 28 June 1812. The Greek philosophers Democritus (democratus) and heraclitus are often depicted together for contrast, with the former characterized as constantly laughing and the latter always weeping (Cora E. Lutz, “Democritus and Heraclitus,” Classical Journal 49 [1954]: 309–14).

1RC: “Pamplet.” FC: “Pamphlet.”

2FC: “Condorcet.”

3RC: “duodedimo.” FC: “duodecimo.”

4FC: “Democritus.”

Index Entries

  • Acta Sanctorum (J. de Bolland and others) search
  • Adams, John; letters from search
  • Adams, John; onActa Sanctorum (J. de Bolland and others) search
  • Adams, John; on Condorcet search
  • Adams, John; on Montesquieu search
  • Adams, John; sends works to TJ search
  • Bolland, Jean de; Acta Sanctorum search
  • Bryant, Jacob; works of search
  • Condorcet, Marie Jean Antoine Nicolas de Caritat, marquis de; J. Adams on search
  • Condorcet, Marie Jean Antoine Nicolas de Caritat, marquis de; The Life of M. Turgot search
  • Condorcet, Marie Jean Antoine Nicolas de Caritat, marquis de; Vie de Monsieur Turgot search
  • Court de Gébelin, Antoine; works of search
  • Democritus (ancient Greek philosopher) search
  • Dupuis, Charles François; works of search
  • Heraclitus (ancient Greek philosopher) search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Books & Library; works sent to search
  • Jones, Sir William (1746–94); works of search
  • Montesquieu, Charles Louis de Secondat; J. Adams on search
  • Richards, George Hallam; The Politics of Connecticut search
  • The Life of M. Turgot (Condorcet) search
  • The Politics of Connecticut (“Hamilton” [G. H. Richards]) search
  • Turgot, Anne Robert Jacques; biography of search
  • Vie de Monsieur Turgot (Condorcet) search