ADAMS, John. Autograph letter signed ("John Adams"), as President, to Tristram Dalton, Philadelphia, 30 March 1798. 2 pages, 4to, closed tears at horizontal creases, discoloration along bottom edge, paper strip along left edge of verso, annotations in ink by a later owner beneath signature, and a few words transcribed in pencil throughout the letter.
"THE DIFFICULTY OF LEADING OR GUIDING MILLIONS, BY ANY MEANS BUT POWER AND ESTABLISHMENTS CAN BE KNOWN ONLY TO THOSE WHO HAVE TRIED EXPERIMENTS OF IT"
A wistful letter to an old school friend of "half a hundred years," in which Adams laments the "popular Passions of the times," the neglect of his political writings, and mentions some slippery political colleagues. "I am as much in Debts in the literary and epistolary way, as our princes of modern Speculation are in their pursuits: and I suppose for Similar Reasons viz want of Method in accuracy of accounts, no Oeconomy and undertaking more than I am capable of managing. To you I am indebted for three late letters at least. The Character drawn in the first and alluded to in the Second, has always been civil to me, personally; and especially in his last visit to this Place. But I have heard frequently of his Conversation and Behavior. I am out of all danger from his designs. The Plan, in your last Letter, that I mean of the 26th of this month, shall have all the attention it deserves from me. There are few Men if any to whom my Inclinations and feelings are better disposed, than to the C. in question. In one of your Letters you recall the memory of forgotten Lucubrations. Alas! Experience, History and Prophecy foundered on both are lost to Mankind. They oppose in vain their feeble Resistance to the popular Passions of the times. It may in some future time be remarked that those Papers were written in 1786 & 1787, and the Events of the subsequent ten or eleven years may be compared with them: but this will be done by a very few in their Closets and will influence Nations very little. The Difficulty of leading or guiding Millions, by any means but Power and Establishments can be known only to those who have tried Experiments of it..."
The "forgotten Lucubrations" are Adams's Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America, against the Attack of M. Turgot . . . (1787). Dalton was among those who received presentation copies if the first volume, along with Jefferson, Lafayette, Samuel Adams and a few other close friends. Abigail Adams described the work as "an investigation into the different forms of government, both ancient and modern . . . with the purpose of demonstrating the superiority of mixed forms over simple ones," such as the more democratic oriented, unicameral legislature advocated by Baron Anne Robert Jacques Turgot. A Harvard classmate of Adams, later Speaker of the Massachusetts House of Representatives and then a Federalist Senator for the state, Dalton frequently wrote to Adams to commiserate about what they both deemed the reckless upsurge of democracy in the new nation. The reference to the duplicitous friend Adams mentions--affable in person but designing behind his back--is left tantalizingly unidentified, but could possibly be Hamilton or even Jefferson, two former allies whom Adams grew to greatly distrust over the course of his Presidency.