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“It would be very consistent with the present professed Principles to destroy every Type and Press as Engines of Aristocracy, and murder every Pen and Ink Man as aiming at superiority. I hope in all Events that Religion and Learning will find an Asylum in America.”
John Adams worries over the survival of civilization in the wake of the French Revolution. JOHN ADAMS.
Autograph Letter Signed as Vice President, to Winthrop Sargent. Philadelphia, Pa., January 24, 1795. 2 pp., 8 x 10 in.
Philadelphia January 24. 1795
I have received your favour of the 30th of November and transmitted to Dr Belknap as you desire the Papers inclosed. The Utensils and ornaments represented in the Drawings, are great Curiosities, and seem to shew more skill in Arts, than any of the native Indians, at this day are possessed of. I am not enough in the habit of Antiquarian Speculations to hazard any Conjectures concerning them. I have never interested myself much in the Inquiries concerning the ancient Inhabitants of this Country, or the Part of the World from which they first emigrated.
I should not be at all surprised, if hereafter evidence should be discovered that America was once a Seat of Arts Science and Civilization: nor should I wonder if any one should prophecy that Europe, will cease to be what it is and become as Savage and barbarous as America was three hundred years ago. The Temper and Principles prevailing at present in that quarter of the World, have a Tendency to as general and total a destruction, as ever befel Tyre and Sidon Sodom and Gomorrah. If all Religion and Governments all arts and sciences are destroyed the Trees will grow up, Cities will moulder into common Earth, and a few human Beings may be left naked to chase the Wild Beasts with Bows and arrows. <2>
Printing they say will prevent it. But it would be very consistent with the present professed Principles to destroy every Type and Press as Engines of Aristocracy, and murder every Pen and Ink Man as aiming at superiority.
I hope in all Events that Religion and Learning will find an Asylum in America: But too many of our fellow Citizens are carried away in the dirty Torrent of dissolving Europe.
I thank you Sir for giving me an opportunity to see those Antiquities, and should be glad to see any others that may appear.
I am, Sir with great Esteem, your most obedient
Mr. Secretary Sargent
[Docketing]: Mr. Adams 24th Jany 1795.
Vice President John Adams served as ambassador to England and helped negotiate the 1783 Peace of Paris that ended the American Revolution. He was familiar with French society and undoubtedly grateful to their help during the Revolution. Adams, a Federalist, viewed the unfolding (and increasingly violent) events of the French Revolution with horror. By contrast, archrival and Francophile Thomas Jefferson considered the Revolution a necessary corrective. Adams’s prophecy about attacks on the press is ironic, considering that he would sign the Sedition Act to stifle press opposition during his own presidency.
In early 1795, Adams wrote this letter to Winthrop Sargent, a fellow Harvard alum who became the first Secretary of the Northwest Territory in 1788, regarding papers sent from the frontier to “Dr. Belknap.” Jeremy Belknap was a clergyman, historian, president of Harvard, and founder of the Massachusetts Historical Society.
Adams uses the occasion of discussing the artistic and cultural evidence of Native American societies with Sargent to contrast the tumultuous situation in France. While Americans, both Indian and English, can lay claims to civilization, the violent recent years in France threaten a regression in Europe back to primitive society. Louis XVI had his appointment with the “national razor” in early 1793, the power struggle that ensued led to the Reign of Terror in September 1793, suspending the French Constitution, outlawing priests and church supporters, and sending thousands to the guillotine. The “Thermidorian Reaction” to Jacobin rule ended the Terror in July 1794, but was similarly violent. Adams remains concerned that America’s first ally has gone so far over the brink as to never be a civilized nation again.
Winthrop Sargent (1753-1820) was appointed by the Confederation Congress as the first Secretary of the Northwest Territory, a post second in importance only to the governor. When Adams became President, he appointed Sargent the first Governor of the Mississippi Territory, in 1798.
John Adams (1735-1826), second president of the United States, was born in Braintree, Massachusetts, educated at Harvard, and admitted to the bar in 1759. Of strong colonial sympathies, Adams participated in the protests against the Stamp Act in 1765, and wrote influential pamphlets in the lead-up to Lexington and Concord. Adams attended the First Continental Congress, where he nominated George Washington as Commander-in-Chief of the embryonic Continental Army. He also attended the Second Continental Congress, where he served on many important committees, including the committee to draft a Declaration of Independence. He presided over the Board of War for a time, and worked tirelessly for the revolutionary cause. In the latter years of the Revolution, Adams filled various diplomatic posts, procured loans from the Netherlands, participated in the negotiation of the final peace treaty in Paris, and served as minister to England from 1785 to 1788. During his one visit home to Braintree, Adams drafted the influential 1780 Massachusetts state constitution. In 1788, Adams returned home and was elected vice president under the new federal Constitution. Washington and Adams were reelected in 1792, and in 1796 Adams defeated Thomas Jefferson in a close race to become our nation’s second President. His one term in office was stormy, marked by a quasi-war with France, vitriolic partisan battles, and Adams’s ultimate and untimely split with Alexander Hamilton, leader of the Federalist Party, which, in part, led to his defeat by Jefferson in the election of 1800.
Two small fold-tears neatly repaired; overall very fine.