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John Adams to Charles Adams

10 Feb. 1796

Dear Son Philadelphia Feb. 10. 1796

I think to write you a Letter on the French Constitution. I believe I have not done it.—I dont mean to examine the 377 Articles and write you comments or criticisms on each. That tho a Useful and an agreable Occupation, would take up too much time. I intend only to propose an Objection to the Institution of the Executive. The Idea of a plural Executive is borrowed from a posthumous Publication of the Abby De Mably in the form of a Dialogue between himself and Lord Stanhope, written in 1757, an ignorant and inconsiderate Suggestion, like many of his and Rousseaus which the French Revolutionists and Republicans have most Seriously copied at the Same time that they vainly boasted of their original and inventive Genius.

The Inutility, the Inefficacy, the destructive Tendency of a plural Executive, I prove from the Emulation of the human heart. This great Spring of human Action, the Source of almost all the good and almost all the Evil in human Life and human Society, should be considered in every Constitution of a free Government and while the fullest Scope is given to it to produce Virtues Talents Industry and every other good, the Strictest Restraint should be laid upon it, in order to prevent it from \producing/ Envy Hatred Malice, Party Spirit Discord, sedition Civil War and every other Evil.

Envy to which th’ ignoble Mind’s a Slave

Is Emulation in the Learn’d or brave.

It is the common Place of Writers to trace Mischiefs to Ambition & Love of Power—But I consider Ambition and the Love of Power to be branches or Effects of Emulation, which is universal in every human Creature of whatever Age Sex Rank or Condition.

Tacitus in his Annals Book 2. ss. 38. Says "The Love of Power and Domination Seems to be an instinct of the human heart implanted by the hand of Nature." I Use Murphys translation for Want of the original at hand. it is worth your while to read the whole section which is very fine. Sallust De Bell, Jugurth, S. 6. Says "Natura Mortalium avida imperii, et praeceps ad explandam amimi cupidinem. I contradict not these Observations of two great Judges of Men: but I think, the Avidity of Empire and the Love of Power and the Passion for Domination, are no more than Parcels or Consequences of a more general Passion, Affection, Disposition or Quality call it which you will, for which I know of no distinct and adequate name but Emulation.

This Emulation being in the heart of every one of the five Directors, in the French Constitution, will be felt, will Spring, Start and exert itself at the first Meeting and at every other Meeting of the Board. Say not they are Old Men and therefore will not feel this Passion \for/ of Distinction—I who am an old Man too and have had more Experience in Government than all their Councils Say that old Men feel as quick and are less patient than young ones in this respect. I Say they will all feel this Emulation and each one will desire to be the most respected the most esteemed the most beloved of the five. But as all of them cannot obtain this Distinction and Pre eminence, two of them will Soon be seen to be the foremost competitors—One of these will probably be followed by two of his Colleagues and the other by one,—This will form the first Division of the Directory into two Parties of Three against two.—The Three being the Majority will have all the Power. They will consequently be responsible—They will be for vigorous Measures, quick, prompt, decided,—The two will oppose—this measure is to energetic, it is too strong, it is too bold, it is arbitrary, inconsistent with Liberty, Antirepublican, contre revolutionary &c These two therefore to strengthen themselves and draw away from the three the Admiration Confidence & Affections of the Public, will form Connections in the two Councils and in the City and in the Departments with all the Low Church Church Politicians and all the Ennemies of the five—Clamours will be raised, Publications will groan, Chansons, Vaudevilles & Epigrams will be played off an Artillery more dreadful in France than Dumouriers or Pichegrus, till the three become unpopular and perhaps are voted Tyrants and pursued to Death.

Take into your Consideration next the Emulations Jealousies Rivalries between Leading Members of both Houses and the Leading Members of the Directory and say whether the French Constitution can last one Year or two one Month or two.

Tell me what you think of this—Remember me to my Daughter and believe me your affectionate

John Adams

(MHi: Adams Papers, Seymour Collection).
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