CHAPTER 7 | Document 25

John Quincy Adams to William Plumer

16 Aug. 1809Writings 3:339--42

The spirit of party has become so inveterate and so virulent in our country, it has so totally absorbed the understanding and the heart of almost all the distinguished men among us, that I, who cannot cease to consider all the individuals of both parties as my countrymen, who can neither approve nor disapprove in a lump either of the men or the measures of either party, who see both sides claiming an exclusive privilege of patriotism, and using against each other weapons of political warfare which I never can handle, cannot but cherish that congenial spirit, which has always preserved itself pure from the infectious vapors of faction, which considers temperance as one of the first political duties, and which can perceive a very distinct shade of difference between political candor and political hypocrisy.

It affords me constant pleasure to recollect that the history of our country has fallen into the hands of such a man. For as impartiality lies at the bottom of all historical truth, I have often been not without my apprehensions, that no true history of our times would appear at least in the course of our age; that we should have nothing but federal histories, or republican histories, New England histories, or Virginia histories. We are indeed not overstocked with men capable even of this, who have acted a part in the public affairs of our nation. But of men who unite both qualifications, that of having had a practical knowledge of our affairs, and that of possessing a mind capable of impartiality in summing up the merits of our government, administrations, oppositions and people, I know not another man with whom I have ever had the opportunity of forming an acquaintance, on the correctness of whose narrative I should so implicitly rely.

Such a historian, and I take delight in the belief, will be a legislator without reading constituents. You have so long meditated on your plan, and so much longer upon the duties of man in society, as they apply to the transactions of your own life, that I am well assured your work will carry a profound political moral with it. And I hope, though upon this subject I have had no hint from you, which can ascertain that your view of the subject is the same as mine, but I hope, that the moral of your history will be the indissoluble union of the North American continent. The plan of a New England combination more closely cemented than by the general ties of the federal government, a combination first to rule the whole, and if that should prove impracticable, to separate from the rest, has been so far matured, and has engaged the studies, the intrigues and the ambitions of so many leading men in our part of the country, that I think it will eventually produce mischievous consequences, unless seasonably and effectually discountenanced, by men of more influence and of more comprehensive views. To rise upon a division system is, unfortunately, one of the most obvious and apparently easy courses, which plays before the eyes of individual ambition in every section of the Union. It is the natural resource of all the small statesmen who, feeling like Caesar, and finding that Rome is too large an object for their grasp, would strike off a village where they might aspire to the first station, without exposing themselves to derision. This has been the most powerful operative impulse upon all the divisionists, from the first Kentucky conspiracy, down to the negotiations between Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New Hampshire, of the last winter and spring. Considered merely as a purpose of ambition, the great objection against this scheme is its littleness. Instead of adding all the tribes of Israel to Judah and Benjamin, like David, it is walking in the ways of Jeroboam, the son of Nabat, who made Israel to sin by breaking off Samaria from Jerusalem. Looking at it in reference to moral considerations, it is detestable, as it certainly cannot be accomplished by open and honorable means. The abettors are obliged to discover their real designs, to affect others, to practice continual deception, and to work upon the basest materials the selfish and dissocial passions of their instruments. Politically speaking, it is as injudicious, as it is contracted and dishonorable. The American people are not prepared for disunion, far less so than these people imagine. They will continue to resist and defeat every attempt of that character, as they uniformly have done, and such projects will still terminate in the ruin of their projectors. But the ill consequences of this turbulent spirit will be to keep the country in a state of constant agitation, to embitter the local prejudices of fellow-citizens against each other, and to diminish the influence which we ought to have, and might have, in the general councils of the Union.

To counteract the tendency of these partial and foolish combinations, I know nothing so likely to have a decisive influence as historical works, honestly and judiciously executed. For if the doctrine of union were a new one, now first to be inculcated, our history would furnish the most decisive arguments in its favor. It is no longer the great lesson to be learnt, but the fundamental maxim to be confirmed, and every species of influence should be exerted by all genuine American patriots, to make its importance more highly estimated and more unquestionably established. I should have been glad to see a little more of this tendency in Marshall's Life of Washington, than I did find. For Washington was emphatically the man of the whole Union, and I see a little too much of the Virginian in Marshall. Perhaps it was unavoidable, and perhaps you will find it equally impossible to avoid disclosing the New England man. I have enough of that feeling myself most ardently to wish, that the brightest examples of a truly liberal and comprehensive American political system may be exhibited by New England men.

The Founders' Constitution
Volume 1, Chapter 7, Document 25
The University of Chicago Press

Writings of John Quincy Adams. Edited by Worthington Chauncey Ford. 7 vols. New York: Macmillan Co., 1913--17.

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