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John Adams Appraises the People

What does Adams think about ordinary people? How does that thinking change over the
course of these selections?
John Adams, diary entry (December 18, 1765)
....The Year 1765 has been the most remarkable Year of my Life. That enormous Engine,
fabricated by the british Parliament, for battering down all the Rights and Liberties of America, I
mean the Stamp Act, has raised and spread, thro the whole Continent, a Spirit that will be
recorded to our Honour, with all future Generations. In every Colony, from Georgia to NewHampshire inclusively, the Stamp Distributors and Inspectors have been compelled, by the
unconquerable Rage of the People, to renounce their offices. Such and so universal has been the
Resentment of the People, that every Man who has dared to speak in favour of the Stamps, or to
soften the detestation in which they are held, how great soever his Abilities and Virtues had been
esteemed before, or whatever his fortune, Connections and Influence had been, has been seen to
sink into universal Contempt and Ignominy.
The People, even to the lowest Ranks, have become more attentive to their Liberties, more
inquisitive about them, and more determined to defend them, than they were ever before known
or had occasion to be. Innumerable have been the Monuments of Wit, Humour, Sense, Learning,
Spirit, Patriotism, and Heroism, erected in the several Colonies and Provinces, in the Course of
this Year. Our Presses have groaned, our Pulpits have thundered, our Legislatures have resolved,
our Towns have voted, The Crown Officers have every where trembled, and all their little Tools
and Creatures, been afraid to Speak and ashamed to be seen....

John Adams, letter to James Sullivan (May 26, 1776).

....It is certain in Theory, that the only moral Foundation of Government is the Consent of the
People, But to what an Extent Shall We carry this Principle? Shall We Say, that every Individual
of the Community, old and young, male and female, as well as rich and poor, must consent,
expressly to every Act of Legislation? No, you will Say, this is impossible. How then does the
Right arise in the Majority to govern the Minority, against their Will? Whence arises the Right
of the Men to govern Women, without their Consent? Whence the Right of the old to bind the
Young, without theirs.
But let us first Suppose, that the whole Community of every Age, Rank, Sex, and Condition, has
a Right to vote. This Community, is assembled -- a Motion is made and carried by a Majority of
one Voice. The Minority will not agree to this. Whence arises the Right of the Majority to
govern, and the Obligation of the Minority to obey? from Necessity, you will Say, because there
can be no other Rule. But why exclude Women? You will Say, because their Delicacy renders
them unfit for Practice and Experience, in the great Business of Life, and the hardy Enterprises
of War, as well as the arduous Cares of State. Besides, their attention is So much engaged with

the necessary Nurture of their Children, that Nature has made them fittest for domestic Cares.
And Children have not Judgment or Will of their own. True. But will not these Reasons apply to
others? Is it not equally true, that Men in general in every Society, who are wholly destitute of
Property, are also too little acquainted with public Affairs to form a Right Judgment, and too
dependent upon other Men to have a Will of their own? If this is a Fact, if you give to every
Man, who has no Property, a Vote, will you not make a fine encouraging Provision for
Corruption by your fundamental Law? Such is the Frailty of the human Heart, that very few
Men, who have no Property, have any Judgment of their own. They talk and vote as they are
directed by Some Man of Property, who has attached their Minds to his Interest.
Upon my Word, sir, I have long thought an Army, a Piece of Clock Work and to be governed
only by Principles and Maxims, as fixed as any in Mechanics, and by all that I have read in the
History of Mankind, and in Authors, who have Speculated upon Society and Government, I am
much inclined to think, a Government must manage a Society in the Same manner; and that this
is Machinery too.
Harrington has Shewn that Power always follows Property. This I believe to be as infallible a
Maxim, in Politicks, as, that Action and Re-action are equal, is in Mechanics. Nay I believe We
may advance one Step farther and affirm that the Ballance of Power in a Society, accompanies
the Ballance of Property in Land. The only possible Way then of preserving the Ballance of
Power on the side of equal Liberty and public Virtue, is to make the Acquisition of Land easy to
every Member of Society to make a Division of the Land into Small Quantities, So that the
Multitude may be possessed of landed Estates. If the Multitude is possessed of the Ballance of
real Estate, the Multitude will have the Ballance of Power, and in that Case the Multitude will
take Care of the Liberty, Virtue, and Interest of the Multitude in all Acts of Government.
I believe these Principles have been felt, if not understood in the Massachusetts Bay, from the
Beginning And therefore I Should think that Wisdom and Policy would dictate in these Times, to
be very cautious of making Alterations, Our people have never been very rigid in Scrutinizing
into the Qualifications of Voters, and I presume they will not now begin to be so. But I would
not advise them to make any alteration in the Laws, at present, respecting the Qualifications of
Your Idea, that those Laws, which affect the Lives and personal Liberty of all, or which inflict
corporal Punishment, affect those, who are not qualified to vote, as well as those who are, is just.
But, So they do Women, as well as Men, Children as well as Adults. What Reason Should there
be, for excluding a Man of Twenty years, Eleven Months and twenty-seven days old, from a Vote
when you admit one, who is twenty one? The Reason is, you must fix upon Some Period in Life,
when the Understanding and Will of Men in general is fit to be trusted by the Public. Will not
the Same Reason justify the State in fixing upon Some certain Quantity of Property, as a
The Same Reasoning, which will induce you to admit all Men, who have no Property, to vote,
with those who have, for those Laws, which affect the Person will prove that you ought to admit
Women and Children: for generally Speaking, Women and Children, have as good Judgment, and
as independent Minds as those Men who are wholly destitute of Property these last being to all

Intents and Purposes as much dependent upon others, who will please to feed, cloath, and
employ them, as Women are upon their Husbands, or Children on their Parents.
As to your Idea of proportioning the Votes of Men in Money Matters, to the Property they hold,
it is utterly impracticable. There is no possible Way of Ascertaining, at any one Time, how much
every Man in a Community, is worth, and if there was, So fluctuating is Trade and Property, that
this State of it, would change in half an Hour. The Property of the whole Community, is Shifting
every Hour, and no Record can be kept of the Changes. Society can be governed only by general
Rules. Government cannot accommodate itself to every particular Case, as it happens, nor to the
Circumstances of particular Persons. It must establish general, comprehensive Regulations for
Cases and Persons. The only Question is, which general Rule, will accommodate most Cases
and most Persons.
Depend upon it, sir, it is dangerous to open So fruitfull a Source of Controversy and Altercation,
as would be opened by attempting to alter the Qualifications of Voters. There will be no End of
it. New Claims will arise. Women will demand a Vote. Lads from 12 to 21 will think their
Rights not enough attended to, and every Man, who has not a Farthing, will demand an equal
Voice with any other in all Acts of State, It tends to confound and destroy all Distinctions, and
prostrate all Ranks, to one common Levell. I am &c.

Adams, John. Discourses on Davila; A Series of Papers on Political History. Gazette of

the United States (Philadelphia) (1790).
VI.... There is a voice within us, which seems to intimate, that real merit should govern the
world; and that men ought to be respected only in proportion to their talents, virtues, and
services. But the question always has been, how can this arrangement be accomplished? How
shall the men of merit be discovered? How shall the proportions of merit be ascertained and
graduated? Who shall be the judge? When the government of a great nation is in question, shall
the whole nation choose? Will such a choice be better than chance? Shall the whole nation vote
for senators? Thirty millions of votes, for example, for each senator in France! It is obvious that
this would be a lottery of millions of blanks to one prize, and that the chance of having wisdom
and integrity in a senator by hereditary descent would be far better. There is no individual
personally known to an hundredth part of the nation. The voters, then, must be exposed to
deception, from the intrigues and manoeuvres without number, that is to say, from all the
chicanery, impostures, and falsehoods imaginable, with scarce a possibility of preferring real
merit. Will you divide the nation into districts, and let each district choose a senator? This is
giving up the idea of national merit, and annexing the honor and the trust to an accident, that of
living on a particular spot. A hundred or a thousand men of the first merit in a nation, may live
in one city, and none at all of this description in several whole provinces. Real merit is so remote
from the knowledge of whole nations, that were magistrates to be chosen by that criterion alone,
and by a universal suffrage, dissensions and venality would be endless. The difficulties, arising
from this source, are so obvious and universal, that nations have tried all sorts of experiments to
avoid them.

As no appetite in human nature is more universal than that for honor, and real merit is confined
to a very few, the numbers who thirst for respect, are out of all proportion to those who seek it
only by merit. The great majority trouble themselves little about merit, but apply themselves to
seek for honor, by means which they see will more easily and certainly obtain it, by displaying
their taste and address, their wealth and magnificence, their ancient parchments, pictures, and
statues, and the virtues of their ancestors; and if these fail, as they seldom have done, they have
recourse to artifice, dissimulation, hypocrisy, flattery, imposture, empiricism, quackery, and
bribery. What chance has humble, modest, obscure, and poor merit in such a scramble? Nations,
perceiving that the still small voice of merit has drowned in the insolent roar of such dupes of
impudence and knavery in national elections, without a possibility of a remedy, have sought for
something more permanent than the popular voice to designate honor. Many nations have
attempted to annex it to land, presuming that a good estate would at least furnish means of a
good education; and have resolved that those who should possess certain territories, should have
certain legislative, executive, and judicial powers over the people. Other nations have
endeavored to connect honor with offices; and the names and ideas at least of certain moral
virtues and intellectual qualities have been by law annexed to certain offices, as veneration,
grace, excellence, honor, serenity, majesty. Other nations have attempted to annex honor to
families, without regard to lands or offices....

William Manning, The Key of Liberty: Showing the Causes Why a

Free Government Has Always Failed and a Remedy against It
What does Manning think about ordinary Americans? What does he think about elite
Americans such as John Adams? How does he view of human nature differ from Adamss?
What is the greatest threat to the United States that he sees?

To all the Republicans, Farmers, Mechanics, and Laborers in America in America. Your candid
attention is requested to the sentiments of a Laborer.
Learning and knowledge is essential to the preservation of liberty; and unless we have more of it
among us, we cannot support our liberties long.
Millions and millions of lives have been lost and oceans of blood have been spilled in
revolutions to establish free governments. But melancholy to relate, the history of all ages
proves that they have been but of short duration in comparison with arbitrary ones. It is but
about twenty years since our revolution in America, when we established governments so free
and rational that they commanded not only the wonder and admiration of America but almost all
over Europe. Yet we now see a majority of our leading men not only sickening at republican
principles but also using their strongest influence to bring us under an arbitrary government.
And this too at a time when they are under the greatest struggles to establish free government
similar to our own almost all over Europe. At such an important crisis as this, I conceive it to be
not only the right but the duty of everyone to search diligently for the causes of this change, and,
if possible, to find out a remedy for so great an evil. Under this conviction, I undertake to give
you my sentiments on them.
I am not a man of learning, for I never had the advantage of six months schooling in my life. I
am no traveler, for I never was fifty miles from where I was born. I am no great reader, for
though I have a small landed interest, I always followed labor for a living.
But I always thought it my duty to search into and see for myself in all matters that concerned
me as a member of society. And when the revolution began in America I was in the prime of life,
and highly taken up with the ideas of liberty and a free government. I was in the Concord fight
and saw almost the first blood shed in the cause. I thought then and still think that it is a good
cause, which we ought to fight for and maintain. I have also been a constant reader of public
newspapers and have closely attended to men and measures ever since -- though the war, through
the operation of paper money, framing constitutions, and making and construing laws. Seeing

what little selfish and contracted ideas of interest would twist and turn the best picked men and
bodies of men, I have often almost despaired of ever supporting a free government. But firmly
believing it to be the best sort, and the only one approved of by heaven, it has been my
unwearied study to find out the real cause of the ruin of republics and a remedy....
A General Description of the Causes that Ruin Republics....
1. A Description of Mankind and the Necessity of Government....
Men are born and grow up in this world with a vast variety of capacities, strengths, and abilities
both of body and mind, and have strongly implanted in them numerous passions and lusts
continually urging them to acts of fraud, violence, and injustice towards each other. Although
they have implanted in them a sense of right and wrong (so that if they would always follow the
dictates of their consciences and do as they would be done by, they would need no other law or
government), yet as they are sentenced by the just decrees of heaven to hard labor for a living in
this world, and have so strongly implanted in them a desire of self-support, self-defense, selflove, self-conceit, and self-aggrandizement that it engrosses all their care and attention -- so that
they can see nothing beyond self. For self (as once described by a divine) is like an object placed
before the eye that hinders the sight of every thing beyond.
This selfishness may be discerned in every person, let their conditions in life be what they will;
and it operates so powerfully as to disqualify them from judging right in their own cause. There
is no station in this life that a man can be raised to that clears him from this selfishness. On the
contrary, it is a solemn truth that the higher a person is raised in stations of honor, power, and
trust[,] the greater are his temptations to do wrong and gratify those selfish principles. Give a
man honor and he wants more. Give a man power and he wants more. Give him money and he
wants more. In short, he is never easy: but the more he has[,] the more he wants....
From these natural dispositions of mankind arise not only the advantages but the absolute
necessity of civil government. Without it, mankind would be continually at war on their own
species, stealing and robbing, fighting with, and killing one another. This all nations on earth
have been convinced of and have established it in some form or other; and their sole aim in doing
it is their safety and happiness. But for want of wisdom or some plan to curb the ambition and
govern those to whom they gave power, they have often been brought to suffer as much under
their government as they would without any; and it still remains uncertain whether such a plan
can be found or not....
3. To Show How the Few and Many Differ in their Ideas of Interest....
Here lies the great scuffle between the Few and the Many.
As the interests of the Few -- and their incomes -- lie chiefly in money at interests, rents, salaries,
and fees that are fixed on the nominal value of money, they are interested to have the money
scarce and the prices of labor and produce as low as possible. For instance, if the price of labor

and produce should fall one-half, it would be just the same to them as if their rents, fees, and
salaries were doubled -- all of which increase [what] they get of the Many. Besides, the fall of
the price of labor and produce, and the scarcity of money, always bring the Many into distress
and compel them into a state of dependence on the Few for favors and assistances in a thousand
On the other hand, if the Many could raise the price of labor and produce, and have money
circulate freely, they would pay their debts and enjoy the good of their labors without being
dependent on the Few for assistance. Also, when prices are high, a prudent and industrious
person may presciently lay up something against a time of need. But the person that doth not
work and lives high when the prices are up will soon spend all his property.
The greatest danger is from the judicial and executive departments of governments, especially
from lawyers. These officers, all depending upon their fees and salaries for a living, are always
interested in having money scarce and the people in their distress. The scarcer the money, the
lower the price of labor and produce; the greater the distress of the Many, the better for them. It
not only doubles the nominal value of their fees and salaries but doubles and triples their
business, and the people are obliged to come to them cap in hand and beg for mercy, patience,
and forbearance. This gratifies both their pride and covetousness. But when money is plenty
and circulates freely, they have little or nothing to do.
This is the greatest reason why judicial and executive officers ought to be kept entirely from the
legislative body. And unless there can be wisdom enough in the people to keep the three
departments of government entirely separate from each other, a free government cannot be
supported. For in all these disputes of jarring interests, it is the business and duty of the
legislature to determine what is right and what is wrong. And it is the duty of all in the nation to
regulate their conduct according to the laws the legislators make. To such laws the Many would
be ever willing to submit -- provided that the three departments were kept separate, and that they
were fully and fairly represented in the legislature; and the Many would be always willing and
zealous to support that government.
But the Few cannot bear to be on a level with their fellow creatures, or submit to the
determination of a legislature where (as they say) the swinish multitude are fairly represented.
They sicken at the idea, and are ever hankering and striving after monarchy or aristocracy, where
the people have nothing to do in matters of government but to support the Few in luxury and
idleness. For these and many other reasons, a large majority of those that live without labor are
ever opposed to a free government. And though the whole of them do not amount to one-eighth
part of the people, and not one-half of them are needed in their professions, yet by their arts,
combinations, and schemes they have always made out to destroy free government sooner or
Which I shall endeavor to make appear by pointing out --

4. The Means by which the Few Destroy Free Government

The sole foundation on which the Few build all their schemes to destroy free government is the
ignorance and superstition of, or the want of knowledge among, the Many. Solomon said, Train
up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it. And it is as
true that if a child is trained up in the way he should not go, when he is old, he will keep to it. It
is the universal custom and practice of monarchical and arbitrary governments to train up their
subjects as much in ignorance as they can as to matters of government and policy, and to teach
them to reverence and worship great men in office and to take for truth whatever they say
without examining or trying to see for themselves. And they often make an engine of religion,
mixing it with their politics....
These are the principal grounds on which the Few work to destroy free governments. But there
always are many among the orders of the Few who are true friends of liberty; and many of the
laborers who understand their true interests, who warmly oppose the measures of the Few -- so
that it requires the utmost precautions and cunning of them to attain their ends. Finding their
schemes and views of interest borne down by the Many, to gain the power they cannot
constitutionally obtain, the Few endeavor to get it by cunning and corruption....
Consequently, the Few have to muster all their craft and force in elections. They will all unite in
extolling the greatness, goodness, and abilities of their candidate and in running down and
blackening the characters and abilities of the candidates on the other side....
Also, they will hinder votes from being counted....