Tuesday, May 10, 2016
The political life the Pilgrims had established in Massachusetts was based on eternal truths. And yet the form it took was adapted to real human nature. Adams observed that the Plymouth Compact had envisioned the collective ownership of property but that the settlers had tried the experiment and then wisely abandoned it. Forbidding the private ownership of property "discourages all energy, by destroying its rewards." Adams rebuked Jean-Jacques Rousseau for his naivete: "To form principles of government upon too advantageous an estimate of the human character is an error of inexperience." The French Revolution had furnished abundant evidence of this mistake. Adams was continuing the argument he had begun with his Publicola letters, defending the Burkean wisdom drawn from tradition and lived experience as against the a priori principles Rousseau and Thomas Paine had derived from an alleged state of nature.
-James Traub, John Quincy Adams: Militant Spirit