RE: John Adams on the Danger of Simple, Unchecked Democracy.

"My opinion is, and always has been, that absolute power intoxicates alike despots, mon- archs, aristocrats, and democrats, and Jacobins, and sans culottes. I cannot say that de- mocracy has been more pernicious, on the whole, than any of the others [monarchy and aristocracy]. Its atrocities have been more transcient; those of the others have been more permanent. The history of all ages shows that the caprice, cruelties, and horrors of democ- racy have soon disgusted, alarmed, and terrified themselves. They soon cry, 'this will not do; we have gone too far! We are all in the wrong! We are none of us safe! We must unite in some clever fellow, who can protect us all--Caesar, Bonaparte, who you will! Though we distrust, hate, and abhor them all; yet we must submit to one or another of them, stand by him, cry him up to the skies, and swear that he is the greatest, best, and finest man that ever lived!'

"... democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide. It is in vain to say that democracy is less vain, less proud, less selfish, less ambitious, or less avaricious than aristocracy or monarchy. It is not true, in fact, and nowhere appears in history. Those passions are the same in all men, under all forms of simple government, and when unchecked, produce the same effects of fraud, violence, and cruelty. When clear prospects are opened before vanity, pride, avarice, or ambition, for their easy gratification, it is hard for the most considerate philosophers and the most conscientious moralists to resist the temptation. Individuals have conquered themselves [i.e., developed self-control, learned how to control their own passions]. Nations and large bodies of men never [have and never will]...."

      John Adams, Letter to John Taylor (1814).

Return to Previous Page