Thursday, May 16, 2013

John Adams on the French Revolution

For Withywindle and fellow inveterate pessimists, a letter from John Adams to Samuel Adams*:
New York, 12 September, 1790. 
Dear Sir,— 
Upon my return from Philadelphia, to which beloved city I have been, for the purpose of getting a house to put my head in next winter, I had the pleasure of receiving your favor of the second of this month. The sight of our old Liberty Hall and of several of our old friends, had brought your venerable idea to my mind, and continued it there a great part of the last week; so that a letter from you, on my arrival, seemed but in continuation... 
What, my old friend, is this world about to become? Is the millennium commencing? Are the kingdoms of it about to be governed by reason? Your Boston town meetings and our Harvard College have set the universe in motion. Every thing will be pulled down. So much seems certain. But what will be built up? Are there any principles of political architecture? What are they? Were Voltaire and Rousseau masters of them? Are their disciples acquainted with them? Locke taught them principles of liberty. But I doubt whether they have not yet to learn the principles of government. Will the struggle in Europe be any thing more than a change of impostors and impositions? 
With great esteem and sincere affection,
I am, my dear sir, your friend and servant, 
John Adams.

*This is as good a place as any to note that, in a modern secular sense, the Liberty Fund is doing what was once called God's work by collecting, republishing, and digitizing all of early modern thought, and if I ever have more than $5 to donate to worthy causes, the Online Library of Liberty will have to be a primary beneficiary of my largess.


Withywindle said...

Ah, John Adams; thank you! Yes, I'm a devotee of the OLL too. Although i always have to go and get the same quotation out of an actual book for footnoting purposes, darn it.

Miss Self-Important said...

Oh we have to do that? [frantically backscrolling through Word doc]

Withywindle said...

Seriously? I don't think I've ever found any errors (although the capitalization differs), but somehow I still feel reluctant to cite the web. Aside from the possibility of prestige, I vaguely worry that the Web will Crash, and I want post-apocalypse scholars to be able to trace my sources in the mouldering ruins of the New York Public Library.

That stopped being entirely Seriously. But I do feel more comfortable having a print source, for whatever irrational reasons.

Withywindle said...

"Possibility of prestige" meaning "possibility my MS will be rejected because reviewers don't consider a web-source to have Prestige."

Tim said...

Liberty Fund books are fricking gorgeous, to boot.

Miss Self-Important said...

Withwindle: But their texts are from books too, just really old and out of copyright ones.

Tim: Yes, though strangely heavy, which you will discover next time you have to move.