January 16 1815: John Adams on Aristocracy

“Alienation” you Say, “is the Remedy for an Aristocracy, founded on landed Wealth.” But Alienation only transfers the Aristocracy from one hand to another. The Aristocracy remains the Same. If Brutus transfer to Cassius, a Villa, or a Principality purchased by the unrighteous profits of Usury, Cassius becomes as influential an Aristocrat as Brutus was before. If John Randolph should manumit, one of his Negroes and alienate to him, his Plantation, that Negro would become as great an Aristocrat as John Randolph. And The Negro, John Randolph, Brutus and Cassius, were and are, and would be Aristocrats of a scarlet colour and a crimson die, if they could. Alienation therefore is no Remedy, against an Aristocracy founded on landed Wealth.

You Say, Sir, that “Inhibitions upon Monopoly, and Incorporation, are Remedies for Aristocracy founded on paper Wealth.” Here, Sir, once for all, let me Say, that you can write nothing too Severe for me, against “Paper Wealth. You may Say, if you please As Swift Says of Party, that it is the Madness of the Many for the Profit of the Few. You may call it a Swindler, a Pick pocked, a Pirate, a Thief, or a Robber, and I will not contradict you, nor dispute with you. But, Sir, how will you obtain your “Inhibitions upon Monopoly and Incorporation” when The Few are craving and the many mad for the same thing? When Democrats and Aristocrats all Unite, with perhaps only two or three exceptions, in urging these Monopolies and Incorporations to the last Extremity, and when every Man who opposes them is Sure to be ruined? Paper Wealth has been a Source of Aristocracy in this Country, as well as landed Wealth with a Vengeance. Witness the immense Fortunes, made per Saltum by Aristocratical speculations both in Land and Paper. In human affairs, Sir, We must consider, what is practicable as well as what is theoretical.

But, Sir, Land and Paper are not the only sources of Aristocracy. There are Master Shipwrights, Housewrights, Masons, &c &c &c who have each of them from twenty to an hundred Families in their employment and can carry a Posse to the Polls, when they will. These are not only Aristocrats, but a Species of Feudal Barons. What are Demagues and popular orators, but Aristocrats, Jack Cade and Wat Tyler were Aristorcrats, Calender and Paine were Aristocrats. Shaise and Fries were Aristocrats. Mobs never follow any but Aristocrats.

—  John Adams writes John Taylor, January 16 1815.

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