ADAMS, JOHN, President. Autograph letter signed to W[illiam] S[tephens] Smith, his son-in-law, Quincy, [Massachusetts], 23 October 1815. One page, 4to, lightly browned.
COBBETT, BURKE, SAMUEL JOHNSON AND THE "ETERNAL AND INTERMINABLE" CONTROVERSIES OF THE "PRIESTHOOD"
A very good letter in which the aging President encapsulates his opinions of religion, Church and State and the nature of clergymen. His remarks were evidently elicited by various writings of William Cobbett sent to him by Smith. "Cobbetts Letter to Niles, inclosed in yours of the 17th, with some of his usual fooleries, contains many important facts and ingenious reflections. I love Clergymen because they are often sociable and sensible Men, and sometimes learned: but the Priesthood seems to have something militant and belligerant in its nature. The High ones are always Gladiators. Their Controversies are eternal and interminable as the divisibility of Matter. They have ended either in Infidelity or in a conviction of the necissity of a sovereign judge of the Faith. The Church has Authority in matters of Faith, says England. His Holiness has unlimited Jurisdiction and absolute Power in all Controversies, says Rome: and the Peace and Order of Church and State cannot be preserved without it. Indeed the two late British Oracles [Edmund] Burke and [Samuel] Johnson seemed to think an infallible Head, necessary. Whether the wrangles and squabbles of our American Theologians will most promote Popery or Infidelity is left to your future Experience..."
Cobbett (1762-1835), soldier, journalist and bookseller, emigrated to Philadelphia in 1792, started a journal, and plunged into political contoversy. He quickly made enemies of Thomas McKean, Edward Shippen, and Benjamin Rush (who sued him for libel); President John Adams seriously contemplated having him deported. Cobbett went back to England in 1800, but returned to America again in 1817. Smith, to who the letter is addressed, had served as a aide to George Washington in 1781, and later as Adams's secretary in London; he married Abigail Adams II.