Thomas Jefferson Papers
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John Adams to Thomas Jefferson, 19 June 1815

From John Adams

Quincy June 19. 1815

Dear Sir

Education, which you brought into View in one of your Letters; is a Subject So vast, and the Systems of Writers are So various and So contradictory: that human Life is too Short to examine it; and a Man must die before he can learn to bring up his Children. The Phylosophers, Divines, Politicians and Pædagogues, who have published their Theories and Practices, in this department are without number.

Your present Inquiries, I presume, are not confined to early Education; perhaps do not comprehend it. The Constitution of a University is your object, as I understand you. Here also the Subject is infinite. The Science has So long laboured with a Dropsy, that it is a wonder the Patient has not long Since expired. Sciences of all kinds have need of Reform, as much as Religion and Government.

I never know what to write to you; because I consider it, as Sending Coal to Newcastle.

Tallerand Perigord, Soon after his arrival at Philadelphia presented to me his “Rapport Sur l’instruction publique.” I presume he presented the Same Work to you, This production has Some fame and may Suggest Some Ideas to you.

The Universities in Protestant Germany have at present the Vogue and the Ton in their favour. There is in Print a “Coup-Dœil Sur les Universités, et le mode D’Instruction Publique de L’Allemagne Protestante; en particulier Du Royaume de Westphalie, Par Charles Villers.” Correspondant de l’Institut national de France, de la Societé Royale des Sciences de Gœttingue, etc.

There is also in print “Recueil de recherches Sur l’education; memoire qui a concouru, en l’an XI a la Société des Sciences et Arts de Grenoble, Sur cette question, Quells Sont les moyens de perfectioner l’Education physique et morale des enfans?” Par J. J. Droüin, employé au ministere des relations exterieures.1

If I had not reason to presume that you possess these Pamplets I would attempt to give you Some Account of them. They will convince you, that you have a task difficult and perplexed enough.

The War of the Reformation Still continues. The Struggle between different and opposite Systems of Religion and Government has lasted from Huss and Wickliff to Lindsey and Priestly. How many pouder Plotts, Bartholomews days, Irish Massacres, Paris Guillotines, how many Charles’es and Maurices Louis’s and Williams, Georges and Napoleons have intervened. And the Philosophers, if we believe Condorcet, have been as arrant Hypocrites as any of them.

I am, as ever,

John Adams,

RC (DLC); addressed in an unidentified hand: “Thomas Jefferson—late President of the United States—Monticello”; franked; postmarked Quincy, 19 June; endorsed by TJ as received 30 June 1815 and so recorded in SJL. FC (Lb in MHi: Adams Papers).

The French exile Talleyrand (tallerand) arrived in Philadelphia on 28 Apr. 1794 and lived there until he set sail for Europe in June 1796 (John L. Earl III, “Talleyrand in Philadelphia, 1794–1796,” PMHB description begins Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, 1877–  description ends 91 [1967]: 282–98). TJ is not known to have owned his Rapport sur L’Instruction Publique, Fait au Nom du Comité de Constitution a L’Assemblée Nationale, les 10, 11, et 19 Septembre 1791 (Paris, 1791). pouder plotts, bartholomews days, irish massacres: the Gunpowder Plot was a failed attempt by Roman Catholic conspirators to blow up the English Parliament building on 5 Nov. 1605 and thereby kill James I and the legislators in attendance that day; the Saint Bartholomew’s Day massacre of Protestant Huguenots began in Paris on 24 Aug. 1572 and lasted for weeks after spreading to the countryside; and a 1641 rebellion in Ireland that began with the slaughter of many Protestants was soon countered by reprisal killings of Catholics.

1Superfluous closing double quotation mark editorially omitted.

Index Entries

  • Adams, John; and correspondence with TJ search
  • Adams, John; letters from search
  • Adams, John; on Condorcet search
  • Adams, John; on education search
  • Adams, John; on human progress search
  • Adams, John; on J. Priestley search
  • Adams, John; on Napoleon search
  • Adams, John; on religion search
  • Adams, John; on riots and insurrections search
  • books; on education search
  • Charles V, Holy Roman emperor; and sectarian violence search
  • Condorcet, Marie Jean Antoine Nicolas de Caritat, marquis de; J. Adams on search
  • Condorcet, Marie Jean Antoine Nicolas de Caritat, marquis de; on the philosophes search
  • Coup-D’œil sur Les Universités et Le Mode D’Instruction Publique de L’Allemagne Protestante (C. F. D. de Villers) search
  • Drouin, J. J.; Recueil de Recherches sur l’Education search
  • education; books on search
  • France; guillotine used in search
  • France; Saint Bartholomew’s Day massacre search
  • George III, king of Great Britain; mentioned search
  • Great Britain; Gunpowder Plot search
  • Hus (Huss), Jan (John) search
  • Ireland; agitation in search
  • Lindsey, Theophilus; mentioned search
  • Louis XIV, king of France; reign of search
  • Maurice, Duke of Saxony; and sectarian violence search
  • Napoleon I, emperor of France; J. Adams on search
  • Paris; guillotine used in search
  • philosophy; of the philosophes search
  • Priestley, Joseph; J. Adams on search
  • Rapport sur L’Instruction Publique, Fait au Nom du Comité de Constitution a L’Assemblée Nationale, les 10, 11, et 19 Septembre 1791 (Talleyrand-Périgord) search
  • Recueil de Recherches sur l’Education (J. J. Drouin) search
  • religion; and sectarian violence search
  • religion; J. Adams on search
  • Saint Bartholomew’s Day massacre search
  • Talleyrand-Périgord, Charles Maurice de; immigrates to Philadelphia search
  • Talleyrand-Périgord, Charles Maurice de; Rapport sur L’Instruction Publique, Fait au Nom du Comité de Constitution a L’Assemblée Nationale, les 10, 11, et 19 Septembre 1791 search
  • Villers, Charles François Dominique de; Coup-D’œil sur Les Universités et Le Mode D’Instruction Publique de L’Allemagne Protestante search
  • William III, king of Great Britain; reign of search
  • Wycliffe, John search