Thomas Jefferson Papers
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John Adams to Thomas Jefferson, 2 February 1817

From John Adams

Quincy Feb. 2d 1817

Dear Sir

In our good old English language of Gratitude, I owe you and give you a thousand thanks, for Tracy’s Review of Montesquieu which Mr Dufief has Sent me by your order. I have read an hundred1 pages, and will read the rest. He is a Sensible Man and is easily understood. He is not an abstruse misterious incomprehensi[ble]2 Condorcet. Though I have banished the Subject from my thoughts for many years, yet if Tracy and I were thirty years younger I would ask him an hundred or two of questions. His book was written when the French Experiment was glowing in the furnace not yet blown out. He all along Supposes that Men are rational and consciencious creatures. I Say So too: but I Say at the Same time that their passions and Interests generally prevail over their Reason and their consciences: and if Society does not contrive Some means of controuling and restraining3 the former the World will go on as it has done;

I was tollerably well informed, fifty years ago, how it had gone on, and formed Some plausible conjectures how it would go on. Grim, Dupuis and Eustace have confirmed all my former Notions and made immense Additions to them. Eustace is a Suppliment to Dupuis; and both together contain a compleat draught of the Superstition Credulity and Despotism of our terrestrial Universe. They Show how Science Litteratur, mechanic Arts, and those fine Arts of Architecture, Painting, Statuary, Poetry, Musick and Eloquence: which you Love So well, and taste So exquisitely; have been Subservient to Priests and Kings Nobles and commons Monarchies and Republicks.

For they have all used them when they could: but as the rich had them oftener than the poor, in their power, the latter have always gone to the Wall.

Eustace is inestimable to a young Schollar; and a classic Traveller: but he is a plausible insidious Roman Catholick Priest and I doubt not Jesuit: He should have read Dupuis before he comenced his Travels. Very little, of the Religions of Nations more antient than the Greeks and Romans, appears to have been known to him.

I am glad to see, that De la plane has published a part of your Letter, and I hope it will procure you Some relief. I have Suffered in the same manner, though not probably in the Same degree. Necessity has compelled me to resort to two expedients to avoid or escape excessive importunity. One has been, by totally neglecting to answer Letter, after Letter. But this Method has cost me very dear in the loss of many correspondances that had been and would have been instructive and profitable to me, as well as honourable and entertaining.4 The other has been by giving gruff, short, unintelligible misterious, enigmatical, or pedantical answers. This resource is out of your power, because it is not in your nature to avail yourself of it.

The practice however of publishing private Letters without leave, though even as rude ones as mine, is an abuse and must be reformed.

Theodore Lyman Esqr Junior, will I hope, deliver you this. He is an Educated and travelled Son of one of our Richest Merchants. His Health5 has been, and is precarious,

I have been indebted to him for the perusal of the Baron de Grim. I find that all our young Gentlemen who have any Nous, and can afford to travel, have an ardent Curiosity to visit, what Shall I Say? the Man of the Mountain? The Sage of Monticello? Or the celebrated Philosopher and Statesman of Virginia? They all apply to me for Introduction. In hopes of Softening asperities, and promoting Union, I have refused none whom I thought Men of Sense.

I forgot one thing that I intended to Say. I pitty our good Brother Madison. You and I have had Children and Grand Children and great grand Children. Though they have cost Us Grief, Anxiety often Vexation, and Some times humiliation; Yet it has been cheering to have them hovering about Us; and I verily believe they have contributed largely to keep Us alive. Books cannot always expell Ennui. I therefore pitty Brother Madison and especially his Lady. I pitty him the more, because, notwithstand6 a thousand Faults and blunders, his Administration has acquired more glory, and established more Union, than all his three Predecessors Washington Adams and Jefferson put together.

I am, as ever

John Adams

RC (DLC); endorsed by TJ as received 16 Feb. 1817 and so recorded in SJL; with TJ’s notes for his 5 May 1817 reply on verso of last page beneath endorsement: “Feb. 2. Apr. 19. De la plaine’s publicn of my lre Lyman J. M’s retiremtPickerings & Gardeniers active men must have enemies. books from authors religion? Independt whig. Connectict.” RC (DLC); address cover only; with PoC of TJ to James Madison, 13 Apr. 1817, on verso; addressed: “His Excellency Thomas Jefferson Monticello Virginia”; postmarked Quincy, 3 Feb. FC (Lb in MHi: Adams Papers).

Theodore Lyman (1792–1849), author, public official, and philanthropist, was educated at Phillips Exeter Academy and graduated from Harvard University in 1810. After several years of intermittent study and travel in Europe, he returned to Boston in 1819. Lyman’s published works include A Few Weeks in Paris, during the Residence of the Allied Sovereigns in that Metropolis (Boston, 1814), A Short Account of the Hartford Convention (Boston, 1823), and The Diplomacy Of The United States (Boston, 1826). Initially a passionate Federalist, he supported Andrew Jackson for a time but eventually became a Whig. Lyman sat in the Massachusetts legislature from 1820–25 and served terms as mayor of Boston in 1834 and 1835. He provided financial support to various reform and farm schools during his later years and bequeathed funds to the Boston Farm School and the Horticultural Society of Boston (DAB description begins Allen Johnson and Dumas Malone, eds., Dictionary of American Biography, 1928–36, 20 vols. description ends ; Boston Weekly Messenger, 18 May 1820; Boston Columbian Centinel, 8 June 1822; Boston Daily Atlas, 19 July 1849).

For the letter published by Joseph Delaplaine, see TJ to Delaplaine, 25 Dec. 1816 (second letter). notwithstand: “notwithstanding” (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 ).

1RC: “hudred.” FC: “hundred.”

2RC: “incomprehensi.” FC: “incomprehensive.”

3RC: “restraing.” FC: “restraining.”

4RC: “entertaing.” FC: “entertaining.”

5RC: “Heath.” FC: “health.”

6FC: “notwithstanding.”

Index Entries

  • Adams, John; and Destutt de Tracy’s writings search
  • Adams, John; and letters of introduction for T. Lyman search
  • Adams, John; family of search
  • Adams, John; letters from search
  • Adams, John; on books search
  • Adams, John; on Condorcet search
  • Adams, John; on correspondence search
  • Adams, John; on human progress search
  • Adams, John; on religion search
  • Adams, John; on TJ’s appeal to younger generation search
  • Adams, John; presidency of search
  • Commentary and Review of Montesquieu’s Spirit of Laws (Destutt de Tracy); J. Adams on search
  • Condorcet, Marie Jean Antoine Nicolas de Caritat, marquis de; J. Adams on search
  • Delaplaine, Joseph; and publication of TJ’s letters search
  • Destutt de Tracy, Antoine Louis Claude; Commentary and Review of Montesquieu’s Spirit of Laws search
  • Dufief, Nicolas Gouin; and J. Adams search
  • Dupuis, Charles François; J. Adams on search
  • Eustace, John Chetwode; J. Adams on search
  • Grimm, Friedrich Melchior, baron von; J. Adams on search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Correspondence; fatiguing to search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Correspondence; letters of introduction to search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Public Service; as president search
  • Lyman, Theodore (1755–1839); family of search
  • Lyman, Theodore (1792–1849); identified search
  • Lyman, Theodore (1792–1849); letters of introduction requested for search
  • Madison, Dolley Payne Todd (James Madison’s wife); J. Adams on search
  • Madison, James (1751–1836); J. Adams on search
  • Madison, James (1751–1836); retirement from presidency search
  • religion; J. Adams on search
  • Washington, George; J. Adams on search