Thomas Jefferson Papers

John Adams to Thomas Jefferson, 19 May 1821

From John Adams

Montezillo May 19. 1821

My dear Friend

Must We, before We take our departure from this grand and beautiful World, Surrender all our pleasing hopes of the progres of Society? Of improvement of the intellectual and moral condition of the World? of the reformation of mankind?

The Piemontese1 Revolution Scarcely assumed a form; and the Neapolitain bubble is burst. And what Should hinder the Spanish and Portuguese Constitutions from rushing2 to the Same ruin? The Cortes is in one Assembly, vested with the legislative power.—The King and his Priests Armies Navies and all other Officers are vested with the Execcutive Authority of Government. Are not here two Authorities Up, neither Supream? Are they not necessarily Rivals constantly contending like Law Physick and Divinity for Superiority? Are they not two Armies drawn up in battle Array3 just ready for civil War?

Can a free Government possibly exist with a Roman Catholic Religion?

The Art of Lawgiving is not So easy as that of Architecture or Painting. New York and Rhode Island are Struggleing for Conventions to reform their Constitutions and I am told there is danger of making them worse. Massachusetts has had her Convention: but our Sovereign Lords The People think themselves wiser than their Representatives, and in Several Articles I agree with their Lordships. Yet there never was a cooler, a more patient candid, or a wiser deliberative Body than that Convention.

I may refine too much. I may be an Enthusiast. But I think a free Government is necessarily a complicated Piece of Machinery, the nice and exact Adjustment of whose Springs Wheels and Weights are not yet well comprehended by the Artists of the Age and Still less by the People.

I began this letter principally to enquire after your health and to repeat Assurances of the Affection

of your Friend

John Adams

RC (DLC); endorsed by TJ as received 31 May 1821 and so recorded in SJL. RC (ViU: TJP); address cover only; with PoC of TJ to John Brockenbrough and Philip N. Nicholas, 14 Aug. 1821, on verso; addressed in Louisa C. Smith’s hand: “Honble Thomas Jefferson late President of the United States. Monticello”; franked; postmarked Boston, 21 May. FC (Lb in MHi: Adams Papers).

In 1821 new york held a convention and adopted a new state constitution, while rhode island voted against calling a convention to write one. The previous year massachusetts convened its own constitutional assembly, which Adams attended. Of fourteen amendments proposed, nine were ultimately adopted (Constitution of the State of New-York [Albany, 1821]; Rhode-Island Republican, 9 May 1821; Amendments of the Constitution of Massachusetts proposed by the Convention of Delegates [Boston, 1821]; Journal of Debates and Proceedings in the Convention of Delegates, chosen to revise the Constitution of Massachusetts, Begun and holden at Boston, November 15, 1820, and continued by Adjournment to January 9, 1821 [Boston, 1821]; Samuel Eliot Morison, A History of the Constitution of Massachusetts [1917], 28–41).

1FC: “Piedmontese.”

2FC: “running.”

3Preceding ten words not in FC.

Index Entries

  • Adams, John; and European affairs search
  • Adams, John; and Mass. constitutional convention search
  • Adams, John; letters from search
  • Adams, John; on progress toward republicanism search
  • Catholicism; J. Adams on search
  • Ferdinand VII, king of Spain; and Spanish revolution of1820 search
  • Italy; and revolution in Naples search
  • Massachusetts; constitutional convention of1820–21 search
  • Naples, kingdom of (later Kingdom of the Two Sicilies); revolution in search
  • New York (state); constitutional convention of1821 search
  • Portugal; constitution of search
  • religion; J. Adams on search
  • Rhode Island; constitutional convention for search
  • Spain; constitution of search
  • Spain; Cortes of search