THE NATURAL ARISTOCRACY

_To John Adams_

_Monticello, Oct. 28, 1813_

DEAR SIR -- According to the reservation between us, of taking

up one of the subjects of our correspondence at a time, I turn to

your letters of Aug. 16. and Sep. 2.

The passage you quote from Theognis, I think has an Ethical,

rather than a political object. The whole piece is a moral

_exhortation_, {parainesis}, and this passage particularly seems to

be a reproof to man, who, while with his domestic animals he is

curious to improve the race by employing always the finest male, pays

no attention to the improvement of his own race, but intermarries

with the vicious, the ugly, or the old, for considerations of wealth

or ambition. It is in conformity with the principle adopted

afterwards by the Pythagoreans, and expressed by Ocellus in another

form. {Peri de tes ek ton allelon anthropon geneseos} etc. -- {oych

edones eneka e} {mixis}. Which, as literally as intelligibility will

admit, may be thus translated. `Concerning the interprocreation of

men, how, and of whom it shall be, in a perfect manner, and according

to the laws of modesty and sanctity, conjointly, this is what I think

right. First to lay it down that we do not commix for the sake of

pleasure, but of the procreation of children. For the powers, the

organs and desires for coition have not been given by god to man for

the sake of pleasure, but for the procreation of the race. For as it

were incongruous for a mortal born to partake of divine life, the

immortality of the race being taken away, god fulfilled the purpose

by making the generations uninterrupted and continuous. This

therefore we are especially to lay down as a principle, that coition

is not for the sake of pleasure.' But Nature, not trusting to this

moral and abstract motive, seems to have provided more securely for

the perpetuation of the species by making it the effect of the

oestrum implanted in the constitution of both sexes. And not only

has the commerce of love been indulged on this unhallowed impulse,

but made subservient also to wealth and ambition by marriages without

regard to the beauty, the healthiness, the understanding, or virtue

of the subject from which we are to breed. The selecting the best

male for a Haram of well chosen females also, which Theognis seems to

recommend from the example of our sheep and asses, would doubtless

improve the human, as it does the brute animal, and produce a race of

veritable {aristoi} ["aristocrats"]. For experience proves that the

moral and physical qualities of man, whether good or evil, are

transmissible in a certain degree from father to son. But I suspect

that the equal rights of men will rise up against this privileged

Solomon, and oblige us to continue acquiescence under the {'Amayrosis

geneos aston} ["the degeneration of the race of men"] which Theognis

complains of, and to content ourselves with the accidental aristoi

produced by the fortuitous concourse of breeders. For I agree with

you that there is a natural aristocracy among men. The grounds of

this are virtue and talents. Formerly bodily powers gave place among

the aristoi. But since the invention of gunpowder has armed the weak

as well as the strong with missile death, bodily strength, like

beauty, good humor, politeness and other accomplishments, has become

but an auxiliary ground of distinction. There is also an artificial

aristocracy founded on wealth and birth, without either virtue or

talents; for with these it would belong to the first class. The

natural aristocracy I consider as the most precious gift of nature

for the instruction, the trusts, and government of society. And

indeed it would have been inconsistent in creation to have formed man

for the social state, and not to have provided virtue and wisdom

enough to manage the concerns of the society. May we not even say

that that form of government is the best which provides the most

effectually for a pure selection of these natural aristoi into the

offices of government? The artificial aristocracy is a mischievous

ingredient in government, and provision should be made to prevent

it's ascendancy. On the question, What is the best provision, you

and I differ; but we differ as rational friends, using the free

exercise of our own reason, and mutually indulging it's errors.

_You_ think it best to put the Pseudo-aristoi into a separate chamber

of legislation where they may be hindered from doing mischief by

their coordinate branches, and where also they may be a protection to

wealth against the Agrarian and plundering enterprises of the

Majority of the people. I think that to give them power in order to

prevent them from doing mischief, is arming them for it, and

increasing instead of remedying the evil. For if the coordinate

branches can arrest their action, so may they that of the

coordinates. Mischief may be done negatively as well as positively.

Of this a cabal in the Senate of the U.S. has furnished many proofs.

Nor do I believe them necessary to protect the wealthy; because

enough of these will find their way into every branch of the

legislation to protect themselves. From 15. to 20. legislatures of

our own, in action for 30. years past, have proved that no fears of

an equalisation of property are to be apprehended from them.

_I_ think the best remedy is exactly that provided by all our

constitutions, to leave to the citizens the free election and

separation of the aristoi from the pseudo-aristoi, of the wheat from

the chaff. In general they will elect the real good and wise. In

some instances, wealth may corrupt, and birth blind them; but not in

sufficient degree to endanger the society.

It is probable that our difference of opinion may in some

measure be produced by a difference of character in those among whom

we live. From what I have seen of Massachusets and Connecticut

myself, and still more from what I have heard, and the character

given of the former by yourself, [vol. 1. pa. 111.] who know them so

much better, there seems to be in those two states a traditionary

reverence for certain families, which has rendered the offices of the

government nearly hereditary in those families. I presume that from

an early period of your history, members of these families happening

to possess virtue and talents, have honestly exercised them for the

good of the people, and by their services have endeared their names

to them.

In coupling Connecticut with you, I mean it politically only,

not morally. For having made the Bible the Common law of their land

they seem to have modelled their morality on the story of Jacob and

Laban. But altho' this hereditary succession to office with you may

in some degree be founded in real family merit, yet in a much higher

degree it has proceeded from your strict alliance of church and

state. These families are canonised in the eyes of the people on the

common principle `you tickle me, and I will tickle you.' In Virginia

we have nothing of this. Our clergy, before the revolution, having

been secured against rivalship by fixed salaries, did not give

themselves the trouble of acquiring influence over the people. Of

wealth, there were great accumulations in particular families, handed

down from generation to generation under the English law of entails.

But the only object of ambition for the wealthy was a seat in the

king's council. All their court then was paid to the crown and it's

creatures; and they Philipised in all collisions between the king and

people. Hence they were unpopular; and that unpopularity continues

attached to their names. A Randolph, a Carter, or a Burwell must

have great personal superiority over a common competitor to be

elected by the people, even at this day.

At the first session of our legislature after the Declaration

of Independance, we passed a law abolishing entails. And this was

followed by one abolishing the privilege of Primogeniture, and

dividing the lands of intestates equally among all their children, or

other representatives. These laws, drawn by myself, laid the axe to

the root of Pseudo-aristocracy. And had another which I prepared

been adopted by the legislature, our work would have been compleat.

It was a Bill for the more general diffusion of learning. This

proposed to divide every county into wards of 5. or 6. miles square,

like your townships; to establish in each ward a free school for

reading, writing and common arithmetic; to provide for the annual

selection of the best subjects from these schools who might recieve

at the public expence a higher degree of education at a district

school; and from these district schools to select a certain number of

the most promising subjects to be compleated at an University, where

all the useful sciences should be taught. Worth and genius would

thus have been sought out from every condition of life, and

compleatly prepared by education for defeating the competition of

wealth and birth for public trusts.

My proposition had for a further object to impart to these

wards those portions of self-government for which they are best

qualified, by confiding to them the care of their poor, their roads,

police, elections, the nomination of jurors, administration of

justice in small cases, elementary exercises of militia, in short, to

have made them little republics, with a Warden at the head of each,

for all those concerns which, being under their eye, they would

better manage than the larger republics of the county or state. A

general call of ward-meetings by their Wardens on the same day thro'

the state would at any time produce the genuine sense of the people

on any required point, and would enable the state to act in mass, as

your people have so often done, and with so much effect, by their

town meetings. The law for religious freedom, which made a part of

this system, having put down the aristocracy of the clergy, and

restored to the citizen the freedom of the mind, and those of entails

and descents nurturing an equality of condition among them, this on

Education would have raised the mass of the people to the high ground

of moral respectability necessary to their own safety, and to orderly

government; and would have compleated the great object of qualifying

them to select the veritable aristoi, for the trusts of government,

to the exclusion of the Pseudalists: and the same Theognis who has

furnished the epigraphs of your two letters assures us that

{`oydemian po Kyrn agathoi polin olesan andres,} ["Curnis, good men

have never harmed any city"]'. Altho' this law has not yet been

acted on but in a small and inefficient degree, it is still

considered as before the legislature, with other bills of the revised

code, not yet taken up, and I have great hope that some patriotic

spirit will, at a favorable moment, call it up, and make it the

key-stone of the arch of our government.

With respect to Aristocracy, we should further consider that,

before the establishment of the American states, nothing was known to

History but the Man of the old world, crouded within limits either

small or overcharged, and steeped in the vices which that situation

generates. A government adapted to such men would be one thing; but

a very different one that for the Man of these states. Here every

one may have land to labor for himself if he chuses; or, preferring

the exercise of any other industry, may exact for it such

compensation as not only to afford a comfortable subsistence, but

where-with to provide for a cessation from labor in old age. Every

one, by his property, or by his satisfactory situation, is interested

in the support of law and order. And such men maysafely and

advantageously reserve to themselves a wholsome controul over their

public affairs, and a degree of freedom, which in the hands of the

Canaille of the cities of Europe, would be instantly perverted to the

demolition and destruction of every thing public and private. The

history of the last 25. years of France, and of the last 40. years in

America, nay of it's last 200. years, proves the truth of both parts

of this observation.

But even in Europe a change has sensibly taken place in the

mind of Man. Science had liberated the ideas of those who read and

reflect, and the American example had kindled feelings of right in

the people. An insurrection has consequently begun, of science,

talents and courage against rank and birth, which have fallen into

contempt. It has failed in it's first effort, because the mobs of

the cities, the instrument used for it's accomplishment, debased by

ignorance, poverty and vice, could not be restrained to rational

action. But the world will recover from the panic of this first

catastrophe. Science is progressive, and talents and enterprize on

the alert. Resort may be had to the people of the country, a more

governable power from their principles and subordination; and rank,

and birth, and tinsel-aristocracy will finally shrink into

insignificance, even there. This however we have no right to meddle

with. It suffices for us, if the moral and physical condition of our

own citizens qualifies them to select the able and good for the

direction of their government, with a recurrence of elections at such

short periods as will enable them to displace an unfaithful servant

before the mischief he meditates may be irremediable.

I have thus stated my opinion on a point on which we differ,

not with a view to controversy, for we are both too old to change

opinions which are the result of a long life of inquiry and

reflection; but on the suggestion of a former letter of yours, that

we ought not to die before we have explained ourselves to each other.

We acted in perfect harmony thro' a long and perilous contest for our

liberty and independance. A constitution has been acquired which,

tho neither of us think perfect, yet both consider as competent to

render our fellow-citizens the happiest and the securest on whom the

sun has ever shone. If we do not think exactly alike as to it's

imperfections, it matters little to our country which, after devoting

to it long lives of disinterested labor, we have delivered over to

our successors in life, who will be able to take care of it, and of

themselves.

Of the pamphlet on aristocracy which has been sent to you, or

who may be it's author, I have heard nothing but thro' your letter.

If the person you suspect it may be known from the quaint, mystical

and hyperbolical ideas, involved in affected, new-fangled and

pedantic terms, which stamp his writings. Whatever it be, I hope

your quiet is not to be affected at this day by the rudeness of

intemperance of scribblers; but that you may continue in tranquility

to live and to rejoice in the prosperity of our country until it

shall be your own wish to take your seat among the Aristoi who have

gone beforeyou. Ever and affectionately yours.

P. S. Can you assist my memory on the enquiries of my letter of

Aug. 22.?

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