Thomas Jefferson Papers

John Adams to Thomas Jefferson, 10 June 1813

From John Adams

Quincy June 10. 1813.

Dear Sir

In your Letter to Dr Priestley of March 21. 1801, you ask “What an Effort, of Bigotry in politics and religion have We gone through! The barbarians really flattered themselves, they should be able to bring back the times of Vandalism, when ignorance put every thing into the hands of power and priestcraft. All Advances in Science were proscribed as innovations; they pretended to praise and encourage education, but it was to be the education of our ancestors; We were to look backwards, not forwards, for improvement; the President himself declaring, in one of his Answers to addresses, that We were never to expect to go beyond them in real Science.” I Shall [stop] here. Other parts of this Letter, may hereafter be considered if I can keep the Book long enough: but only four Copies have arrived in Boston, and they have Spread terror, as yet, however in secret.

“The President himself declaring, that We1 were never to expect to go beyond them in real Science.” This Sentence Shall be the theme of the present Letter.

I would ask, what President is meant? I remember no Such Sentiment in any of Washingtons Answers to addresses. I, myself, must have been mean’d. Now I have no recollection of any Such Sentiment ever issued from my Pen, or my tongue, or of any Such thought in my heart for, at least Sixty years of my past life. I Should be obliged to you, for the Words of any Answer of mine, that you have thus misunderstood. A man of 77 or 78 cannot commonly be expected to recollect promptly every passage of his past life, or every trifle he has written. Much less can it be expected of me, to recollect every Expression of every Answer to an Address, when for Six months together, I was compelled to answer Addresses of all Sorts from all quarters of the Union. My private Secretary has declared that he has copied fifteen Answers from me in one morning. The greatest Affliction, distress, confusion of my Administration arose from the necessity of receiving and Answering these Addresses. Richard Cromwells Trunk, did not contain So many of the Lives and Fortunes of the English Nati[on,] as mine of those in the United States, For the hon[our] of my Country I wish these Addresses and Answe[rs were] annihilated. For my own Character and repu[tation, I] wish every Word of every Address and every Answer were published.

The Sentiment, that you have attributed to me in your letter to Dr Priestley I totally disclaim and demand in the French Sense of the Word demand2 of you the proof. It is totally incongruous to every principle of my mind and every Sentiment of my heart for Threescore years at least.

you may expect, many more expostulations from one who has loved and esteemed you for Eight and thirty years

John Adams

When this Letter was ready to go, I recd your favour of May 27th came to hand, I can only thank you for it, at present

RC (DLC); torn at seal, with missing text supplied from FC; at foot of text: “Thomas Jefferson Esqr late President of U.S.”; endorsed by TJ as received 23 June 1813 and so recorded in SJL. FC (Lb in MHi: Adams Papers); with postscript and one revision in Adams’s hand.

After the English monarchy was restored in 1660, the revolutionary leader Richard Cromwell, son of Oliver Cromwell, reputedly kept a trunk filled with faithless pledges of the lives and fortunes of his fellow countrymen (James Hardie, The New Universal Biographical Dictionary and American Remembrancer of Departed Merit [New York, 1801], 2:171). In English the word demand implies authority and insistence, but in French it is more often used to communicate a request, desire or wish.

1Redundant opening quotation mark at beginning of this word editorially omitted.

2Adams interlined the preceding eight words in RC and added them (save the last word) to FC.

Index Entries

  • Adams, John; and presidential addresses search
  • Adams, John; and T. Belsham’s Memoirs of the Late Reverend Theophilus Lindsey search
  • Adams, John; letters from search
  • Adams, John; on wisdom of ancestors search
  • Belsham, Thomas; Memoirs of the Late Reverend Theophilus Lindsey, M.A. search
  • Cromwell, Richard search
  • education; TJ on search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Opinions on; education search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Opinions on; J. Adams search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Opinions on; religion search
  • Lindsey, Theophilus; Memoirs of the Late Reverend Theophilus Lindsey search
  • Memoirs of the Late Reverend Theophilus Lindsey, M.A. (T. Belsham) search
  • Priestley, Joseph; TJ’s correspondence with search
  • religion; TJ on search
  • Washington, George; answers by to addresses search