Thomas Jefferson Papers

John Adams to Thomas Jefferson, 3 February 1821

From John Adams

Montezillo February 3d 1821

Dear Sir

I have just read a sketch of the life of Swedenborg, and a larger work in two huge volumes of Memoirs of John Westley1 by Southey, and your kind letter of January 22d came to hand in the nick of time to furnish me with a very rational exclamation, “What a bedlamite is man”! They are histories of Galvanism and Mesmerism thrown into hotch potch,2 they say that these men were honest and sincere, so were the Worshipers3 of the White Bull in Egypt and now in Calcutta, so were the Worshipers of Bacchus and Venus, so were the worshipers of St Dominick and St Bernard. Swedenborg and Westley had certainly vast memories and immaginations, and great talents for Lunaticks.   Slavery in this Country I have seen hanging over it like a black cloud for half a Century, if I were as drunk with enthusiasm as Swedenborg or Westley I might probably say I had seen Armies of Negroes marching and countermarching in the air shining in Armour. I have been so terrified with this Phenomenon that I constantly said in former times to the Southern Gentleman, I cannot comprehend this object I must leave it to you, I will vote for forceing no measure against your judgements what we are to see God knows and I leave it to him, and his agents in posterity. I have none of the genius of Franklin to invent a rod to draw from the cloud its Thunder and lightning. I have long been decided in opinion that a free governme[nt] and the Roman Catholick religion can never exist together in any nation or Country, and consequently that all projects for reconciling them in old Spain or new are Utopian,4 Platonick and Chimerical. I have seen such a prostration and prostitution of Human Nature, to the Priest hood in old Spain as settled my judgment long ago, and I understand that in new Spain it is still worse if that is possible.

My appearance in the late convention was too ludicrous to be talked of. I was a member in the Convention of 1779 and there I was loquacious enough. I have harrangued and scribbled more than my share but from that time to the convention in 1820 I never opened my lips in a publick debate.5 after a total desuetude for 40 years I boggled and blundered more than a young fellow just rising to speak at the bar, what I said I know not, I beleive the Printers have made better spee[ch]es than I made for myself. Feeling my weakness I attempted little and that seldom, What would I give for nerves as good as yours? but as Westley said of himself at my age, “old time has shaken me by the hand, and parallized it.”6

What pictures of Monarchy even limited Monarchy, have the trials of the Duke of York and the Queen of England held up to the astonishment contempt and scorn of mankind, I should think it would do more than the French [or] American revolutions, to bring it into discredit. indeed all human affairs, without your philosophical and Christian mantle of resignation would be deeply melancholy;7 even that friendship which I feel for you ardent and sincere as it is would be over clouded by constant fears of its termination.

John Adams

RC (DLC); in an unidentified hand, signed by Adams; edges chipped, with missing text supplied from FC; endorsed by TJ as received 15 Feb. 1821 and so recorded in SJL. RC (MHi); address cover only; with PoC of TJ to John Vaughan, 11 June 1822, on verso; addressed by Susanna Boylston Adams Clark (Treadway): “Honble Thomas Jefferson. Monticello. Virginia”; franked; postmarked Boston, 6 Feb. FC (Lb in MHi: Adams Papers).

Robert Southey reported in The Life of Wesley; and the Rise and Progress of Methodism (London, 1820) that shortly before his death at the age of eighty-seven, John Wesley said that “time has shaken me by the hand, and death is not far behind” (2:561). The trial of the duke of york likely refers to the 1809 examination in the British House of Commons into the conduct of Prince Frederick, Duke of York and Albany, when it became known that his mistress Mary Anne Clarke had used her connection with him to sell military commissions (ODNB description begins H. C. G. Matthew and Brian Harrison, eds., Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, 2004, 60 vols. description ends ). For the trial of the queen of england, see note to TJ to William Roscoe, 27 Dec. 1820.

1Adams’s amanuensis here inserted an asterisk keyed to a note at foot of first page: “Wesley.”

2Omitted comma at right margin supplied from FC.

3RC: “Worsipers.” FC: “Worshipers.”

4RC: “Eutopian.” FC: “Utopian.”

5Omitted period at right margin supplied from FC.

6Omitted closing quotation mark editorially supplied.

7RC: “malancloly.” FC: “malancholly.” Semicolon supplied from FC.

Index Entries

  • Adams, John; and B. Franklin search
  • Adams, John; and Mass. constitutional convention search
  • Adams, John; letters from search
  • Adams, John; on aging search
  • Adams, John; on governmental systems search
  • Adams, John; on religion search
  • Adams, John; on slavery search
  • aging; J. Adams on search
  • American Revolution; J. Adams on search
  • Bacchus (Roman deity) search
  • Bernard, Saint search
  • Caroline (Princess Caroline of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel, queen of England); investigations of search
  • Catholicism; criticized search
  • Clarke, Mary Anne; sells military commissions search
  • Dominic, Saint search
  • Egypt; deities of search
  • Franklin, Benjamin; on J. Adams search
  • Frederick Augustus, Duke of York and Albany search
  • French Revolution; J. Adams on search
  • Great Britain; House of Commons search
  • Great Britain; J. Adams on search
  • India; deities of search
  • Latin America; religion in search
  • Massachusetts; constitutional convention of1820–21 search
  • religion; J. Adams on search
  • slavery; J. Adams on search
  • Southey, Robert; The Life of Wesley search
  • Spain; religion in search
  • Swedenborg, Emanuel; J. Adams on search
  • The Life of Wesley (R. Southey) search
  • Venus (Roman deity); worship of search
  • Wesley, John; biographies of search