Adams Papers

To John Adams from Arthur Lee, 10 August 1788

Augt. 10th. 1788

I receivd your favor, my dear Sir, by which I percieve you are once more a farmer at Braintree—a real Cincinnatus without being of that noble Body which resembles him in name alone. I am inclined to believe that you also will be calld from your plough to fill the place of Vice President under the new Constitution. Virginia, I think will return Genl. Washington and yourself. If the four New England states support you, wch I presume they will do, shoud Mr. Hancock not interfere, your election will be certain. I shall very much rejoice in it. Because tho’ I never coud approve of the Constitution, nor ever wishd to see it adopted, yet since our Countrymen have chosen it, my wish is, that it may have a fair trial, & may become productive of the good, which the nation hopes from it, by a wise & upright administration.

Since this Constitution has become the great Law under which we must live, it is unnecessary to enter into a detail of those objections which prevented me from wishing its adoption. It is more agreable to cherish the hope that the event of it will shew I was mistaken. but I see—and see with sorrow, the manifold difficulties with whch. the administration will have to struggle in consequence of the extravagant expectations of its friends and the jealousies of its opponents. Already a torrent of speculation is pouring down upon it & if it should not realize to the speculators their golden hopes they will become its most virulent revilers. The efforts they will make to secure this gratification, I apprehend will be one great source of difficulty & embarrassment to those who may administer the government. And yet these will be small, compared with those which will arise from the State influences, which are left so prevalent that they may fetter every great national object. However there are hardly any difficulties which may not be overcome, by an Administration, wise, temperate, & pure. On that we must rest our hopes.

In your book on republics, which you was so good as to send me, you have omitted, I think, those of Neufchatel & Les Vallais. To me they seem to have merited your attention, by the antiquity as well as the singularity of their Constitutions. The[y] are singular, in the one having a foreign Prince for its sovereign, and the other being one part of the nation under an Aristocratic & the remainder under a democratic form of government. I do not know any other Community in which these different forms prevail pure & unmixed, & yet they make one whole.

You ask me what Aristotle or Plato woud have said to a federative Republic of thirteen states, inhabiting a Country of five hundred Leagues in extent? I am inclind to think that whey would have enquired what number of People was containd in that extent, how they were circumstancd and what energy there would be in one head to govern the whole. If they found, that a few People were so dispersd over this vast tract as to be out of the reach and regulation of a single power,—that they had been habituated to separate a Government vested with every energy that a general government could have, & yet these were hardly competent, from the dispersion & unconnected state of their Citizens, to maintain order & obedience. These things being considered, I apprehend, Sir, they shoud answer, that in such a state of the people—a federative union was the only practicable one; & that a national one was premature & inadmissable. But if in addition to this they were told—that the proposd general Government was not to have half the powers which each part had, & that to these several parts was left so large a portion of sovereign power, as to render their jealousy formidable & their counteraction fatal—These great statesmen would be inclined to say, that the proposed plan was not only premature but visionary & virtuous. In short Sir, I presume they would say—we ought not to expect, that the hand of an infant woud wield the club of Hercules—& that it would be wise in us to learn to walk before we attempted to run—I think we have been in much too great a hurry, & am persuaded that if the Convention had not been in the corrupt focus of Philadelphia they would never had been heated enough to attempt so great a novelty. But the attempt having been made, & the enthusiasm spread abroad among our people; I agree with you that we should endeavor, by a wise & beneficient execution of the system to make it, if possible, answer their expectations.

Congress have not yet fixd the place of meeting for the new Congress. Philadelphia contends and from it with the answer which the sweets of former enjoyments & still high expectations inspire. Perhaps too this ardour is augmented by the apprehension that Congress being assembled anywhere else, will be more rigorous in existing accounts for the millions which have passed thro the hands of a few individuals in Pennsylvania & it is apprehended have not left their hands perfectly clean. Mr. Madison is the Atlas of their cause, which is much to be lamented. It has been a matter of equal sorrow & surprise to me, that a man of his character & talents shoud have been uniformly influenced by such men as Morris & Marbois, men certainly not of doubtful designs, nor of depth to escape the penetration of discernment above the common level. Under the present inpression that prevails in the general mind of the conduct & designs of several influential men in Philadelphia, & under the proofs that will soon appear of the dangerous abuses committed by them when formerly trusted; nothing could be more ominous to the new Governmt than its meeting in that place. We are endeavoring by the most cautious management to make the public funds support Government ‘till the new Constitution gets into efficient operation—This we could hardly have done without the aid of yr: last loan.

Present me to Mrs. Adams & believe me yours. Adieu

A. Lee

MHi: Adams Papers.

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