Thomas Jefferson Papers

John Adams to Thomas Jefferson, 21 February 1820

From John Adams

Montezillo Febuary 21st 1820—

dear Sir,

Was you ever acquainted with Dugald Stuart—before I left France I received a letter from Benjamin Vaughn Esqre in London—Introducing, and recommending in strong terms two gentlemen from Scotland, one by the name of Dugald Stuart and the other Lord —— whose name and title I forget—as young gentlemen of great talents and attainments sufficient to diminish our American prejudices against Scotland—I received the Letter, but never saw the gentlemen—from which I conjectured that they did not reach Paris, till after I went away and that you probably had the satisfaction to enjoy their Company—I regret very much that I missed his Visit—Can you tell me anything of his present State—I am informed that he is dying at top like Sir Isaac Newton, and Dr Swift—I have a prejudice against what they call metaphysicks because they pretend to fathom deeper than the human line extends—I know not very well what the1 ta metaphusica2 of Aristotle means, but I can form some idea of Investigations into the human mind, and I think Dugald in his Elements of the Philosophy of the human Mind, has searched deeper, and reasoned more correctly than Aristotle, Des Cartes, Locke Berkeley Hume Condillac and even Reid—I would therefore propose this problem or Theorem for your consideration—whether it would not be adviseable to institute in the Universities—Professorships of the Philosophy of the human Understanding—whose object should be to ascertain the Limits of human knowledge already acquired—If I was worth as much money as some of the shop Boys, I left in Boston—I would give fifty thousand dollars to establish such a professorship—though I suppose you will have doubts of the propriety of setting any limits, or thinking of any limits of human Power, or human Wisdom, and human Virtue—

I wish the Missouri question may not sett two narrow limits to the Power and Respectability of the United States—yet I hope some good natured way or other will be found out to untie this very intricate knot.—

and am dear Sir, as ever your friend—

John Adams

RC (DLC); in Louisa C. Smith’s hand, signed by Adams and with one addition by him as noted below; endorsed by TJ as received 2 Mar. 1820 and so recorded in SJL. RC (MHi); address cover only; with PoC of TJ to Bernard Peyton, 11 Apr. 1820, on verso; addressed in an unidentified hand: “Thomas Jefferson Esqre Monticello Virginia”; franked; postmarked Quincy, 22 Feb. FC (Lb in MHi: Adams Papers).

Benjamin Vaughan wrote to Adams in Paris introducing Dugald Stewart and William Kerr, Earl of Ancram (later 6th Marquess of Lothian) on 8 Aug. 1783 (MHi: Adams Papers). Adams’s son John Quincy Adams recorded that on 22 Aug. 1783 both Adamses joined Stewart and Kerr on a visit to a French academy for the education of the deaf and mute (David Grayson Allen and others, eds., Diary of John Quincy Adams [1981–  ], 1:185). τὰ μετὰ τὰ Φυσικά (ta metaphusica) was a term applied to some of the works of Aristotle by early cataloguers to indicate that these works followed writings on physics in the catalogue (Ted Honderich, ed., The Oxford Companion to Philosophy [1995], 556).

1RC and FC: “what are the.”

2Preceding two words added by Adams to blank space in RC. Similar space left blank in FC.

Index Entries

  • Adams, John; and Missouri question search
  • Adams, John; and philosophy search
  • Adams, John; D. Stewart introduced to search
  • Adams, John; letters from search
  • Adams, John; W. Kerr, Earl of Ancram, introduced to search
  • Adams, John Quincy; in France with J. Adams search
  • Ancram, William Kerr, Earl of; introduced to J. Adams search
  • Aristotle; J. Adams on search
  • Berkeley, George; J. Adams on search
  • Condillac, Étienne Bonnot de; J. Adams on search
  • deafness; education of deaf and mute search
  • Descartes, René; J. Adams on search
  • education; for deaf, mute, and blind search
  • Elements of the Philosophy of the Human Mind (D. Stewart) search
  • France; education of deaf and mute in search
  • Hume, David; J. Adams on search
  • Locke, John; J. Adams on search
  • Missouri question; J. Adams on search
  • Newton, Sir Isaac; mental decline of search
  • Reid, Thomas; J. Adams on search
  • Smith, Louisa Catharine (John Adams’s niece); as J. Adams’s amanuensis search
  • Stewart, Dugald; Elements of the Philosophy of the Human Mind search
  • Stewart, Dugald; introduced to J. Adams search
  • Swift, Jonathan; mental decline of search
  • Vaughan, Benjamin; introduces D. Stewart to J. Adams search