In 1819 John Adams replies to Isaac Hall Tiffany—a student of Aaron Burr—residing at Schoharie Bridge.
“The word Republic, as it is used, may signify anything, everything, or nothing.” For this escape I have been pelted tor the last twenty or thirty years with as many stones as ever were thrown at St. Stephen when St. Paul held the clothes of the stoners; but the aphorism is literal, strict, solemn truth, to speak technically, or scientifically, if you will.
To Isaac Hall Tiffany.
QUINCY, April 30th, 1819.
OF Republics the varieties are infinite, or at least as numerous as the tunes and changes that can be rung upon a complete set of bells. Of all the varieties, a Democracy is the most national, the most ancient, and the most fundamental and essential of all others. In some writing or other of mine I happened, “ventecalome,” to drop the phrase. “The word Republic, as it is used, may signify anything, everything, or nothing.” For this escape I have been pelted tor the last twenty or thirty years with as many stones as ever were thrown at St. Stephen when St. Paul held the clothes of the stoners; but the aphorism is literal, strict, solemn truth, to speak technically, or scientifically, if you will.
There are Monarchical, Aristocratical, and Democratical Republics. The Government of Great Britain and that of Poland are as strictly Republics as that of Rhode Island, or Connecticut, under their old Charters. If mankind have a right to the voice of experience, they ought to furnish that experience with pen, ink, and paper to write it, and an amanuensis to copy it.
I should have been extremely obliged to you if you had favored me with Mr. Jefferson’s sentiments upon the subject. As I see you have an inquiring mind, I sincerely wish you much pleasure, profit, and success in your investigations. I have had some pleasure in them; but no profit, and very little, if any, success.
In some of your letters you say that my Defence has become rare. This is strange. Mr. Dilly published an edition of it in London; an edition of it was published in Boston; another in New York; another in Philadelphia, before the adoption of the present Constitution of the National Government, and before one line of the Federalist was printed. Since that, Mr. Cobbet, alias Porcupine, printed a large edition of the whole work in Philadelphia, and Mr. Stackdale of Piccadilly, has published another large edition in London. It has been translated into the French and German languages; and what has become of all these copies?
I am, Sir, with much esteem, your humble servant,
—Henry B. Dawson (ed.), The Historical Magazine (Vol. II, No. 4, October, 1867).