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Thomas Jefferson and John Adams on Aristocracy (1813) PowerPoint Presentation
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Thomas Jefferson and John Adams on Aristocracy (1813)

Thomas Jefferson and John Adams on Aristocracy (1813)

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Thomas Jefferson and John Adams on Aristocracy (1813)

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  1. Thomas Jefferson and John Adams on Aristocracy (1813)

  2. Some Main Points • Adams: Aristocracy and democracy are always at odds. …whig and Tory belong to natural history.” • Adams: “…there is a natural aristocracy among men, the grounds of which are virtue and talents.” Jefferson: “…there is a natural aristocracy among men. The grounds of this are virtue and talents.” • Jefferson: We should have faith in democracy and in the people’s ability to elect the natural aristocracy to positions of power. “I think the best remedy is exactly that provided by all our constitutions, to leave to the citizens the free election and separation of the [aristocrats] from the pseudo-[aristocrats], of the wheat from the chaff. In general they will elect the real good and wise: in some instances, wealth may corrupt, and birth blind them; but not in sufficient degree to endanger the society….” • Adams: Aristocracy has its pitfalls, but entrusting power to the people may be worse. “When I consider the weakness, the folly, the pride, the vanity, the selfishness, the artifice, the low craft and mean cunning, the want of principle, the avarice, the unbounded ambition, the unfair cruelty of the majority of those (in all nations) who are allowed an aristocratical influence, and, on the other hand the stupidity with which the more numerous multitude not only become their dupes, but even love to be taken by their tricks, I feel a stronger disposition to weep at their destiny, than to laugh at their folly.” • Adams: “Your distinction between natural and artificial aristocracy, does not appear to me founded.”

  3. Jefferson and Adams on Aristocracy • Adams: “…parties and factions will not suffer improvements to be made. As soon as one man hints at an improvement, his rival opposes it. No sooner has one party discovered or invented any amelioration of the condition of man, or the order of society than the opposite party belies it, misconstrues it, misrepresents it, ridicules it, insults it, and persecutes it. Records are destroyed. Histories are annihilated or interpolated or prohibited; sometimes by Popes, sometimes by Emperors, sometimes by aristocratical, and sometimes by democratical assemblies, and sometimes by mobs….” What is Adam’s view of humankind and its ability to govern itself? Why might he caution against democratic government? • What is natural and artificial aristocracy, according to Jefferson? • How does Jefferson hope to avoid unenlightened mob rule in a democratic society? • Jefferson: “Every one, by his property, or by his satisfactory situation, is interested in the support of law and order.” • Jefferson on Europe: “Science had liberated the ideas of those who read and reflect, and the American example had kindled feelings of right in the people. An insurrection has consequently begun, of science, talents and courage against rank and birth, which have fallen into contempt.” • Jefferson: “Every folly must run its round; and so, I suppose, must that of self-learning, and self sufficiency; of rejecting the knowledge acquired in past ages, and starting on the new ground of intuition. When sobered by experience I hope our successors will turn their attention to the advantages of education.”