Thomas Jefferson Papers

John Adams to Thomas Jefferson, 10 October 1817

From John Adams

Quincy Oct. 10. 1817

Dear Sir

I thank you for your kind congratulations on the return of my little family from Europe. To receive them all in fine health1 and good Spirits, after So long an absence, was a greater Blessing, than at my time of Life when they went away I had any right to hope or reason to expect. If the Secretary of State can give Satisfaction to his fellow citizens in his new Office it will be a Source of consolation to me while I live: though it is not probable that I Shall long be a Witness of his good Success or ill Success. I Shall Soon be obliged to Say to him and to you and to your Country and mine, God bless you all! Fare Ye well. Indeed I need not wait a moment. I can Say all that now with as good a Will and as clear a conscience as at any time past or future.

I thank you also for the loan of Depradts narration of the Intrigues at the Second restoration of the Bourbons. In this as in many other Instances is Seen the influence of a Single Subtel mind and a trifling Accident in deciding the fate of Mankind for Ages. De Pradt and Talleyrand were well associated. I have ventured to send the Pamphlet to Washington with a charge to return it to you. The French have a King a Chamber of Peers and a Chamber of Deputies Voila! Les Ossemens of a constitution of a limited monarchy; and of a good one, provided the bones are united by good joints and knitted together by Strong tendons. But where does the Souvereignty reside? Are the three branches Sufficiently defined? A fair representation of the body of the People by Elections Sufficiently frequent is essential to a free Government: but if the commons cannot make themselves respected by the Peers and the King, they can do no good nor prevent any evil. Can any organisation of Government Secure public and private liberty without a general or universal freedom without Licence or licentiousness2 of thinking Speaking and writing. Have the French Such Freedom? Will their Religion, or Policy allow it?

When I think of Liberty and a free Government, in an ancient opulent populous and commercial empire I fear I Shall always recollect a Fable of Plato.

Love is a Son of the God of Riches and the Goddess3 of Poverty. He inherits from his father, the intrepidity of his Courage, the Enthusiasm of his thoughts, his Generosity, his prodigality, his confidence in himself, the opinion of his own merit, his impatience to have always the preference: but he derives from his mother that indigence which makes him always a beggar,4 that importunity with which he demands every thing, that timidity which Sometimes hinders him from daring to ask any thing, that disposition which he has to Servitude, and that dread of being despised which he can never overcome.

Such is Love according to Plato, who calls him a Demon, and Such is Liberty in France and England and all other great rich old corrupted commercial Nations. The opposite qualities of the father and mother are perpetually tearing to pieces himself and his friends as well as his Enemies.

Mr Monroe has got the universal5 Character among all our common People of “A very Smart Man” And verily I am of the same Mind. I know not another who could have executed So great a plan So cleverly. I wish him the same happy Success through his whole Administration.

I am, Sir with respect and Friendship6 your

John Adams

RC (DLC); endorsed by TJ as received 27 Oct. 1817 and so recorded in SJL. RC (DLC); address cover only; with PoC of TJ to William Lee, 8 Jan. 1818, on verso; addressed by Susanna Boylston Adams Clark (Treadway): “Thomas Jefferson Esqr late President of the United States Monticello”; postmarked Quincy, Mass., 13 Oct. FC (Lb in MHi: Adams Papers).

les ossemens: “the bones.” Socrates tells the fable of the birth of love in Plato’s Symposium, 203–4a (Plato, Lysis, Symposium, Gorgias, trans. Walter R. M. Lamb, Loeb Classical Library [1925], 5:179–83). President James Monroe’s plan to tour the eastern United States, which included a visit to Adams at Quincy in July 1817, helped promote a sense of political unity and ushered in what the Boston Columbian Centinel called an “era of good feelings” (Independent Chronicle & Boston Patriot, 8 July 1817; Columbian Centinel, 12 July 1817).

1RC: “heath.” FC: “health.”

2Preceding four words interlined.

3RC: “Godess.” FC: “Goddess.”

4RC: “begger.” FC: “beggar.”

5RC: “unversal.” FC: “universal.”

6RC: “Frienship.” FC: “Friendship.”

Index Entries

  • Adams, John; family of search
  • Adams, John; letters from search
  • Adams, John; on death and dying search
  • Adams, John; on France search
  • Adams, John; on governmental systems search
  • Adams, John; on Great Britain search
  • Adams, John; on Plato search
  • Adams, John Quincy; as minister plenipotentiary to Great Britain search
  • Adams, John Quincy; as secretary of state search
  • France; Bourbon dynasty restored search
  • France; political situation in search
  • Great Britain; J. Adams on search
  • Monroe, James; presidency of search
  • Monroe, James; presidential tour search
  • Plato; J. Adams on search
  • Pradt, Dominique Dufour, baron de; Récit Historique sur la Restauration de la Royauté en France, le 31 Mars 1814 search
  • Récit Historique sur la Restauration de la Royauté en France, le 31 Mars 1814 (D. D. de Pradt) search
  • Talleyrand-Périgord, Charles Maurice de; French statesman search