John Quincy Adams: His Theory and Ideas

By George A. Lipsky | Go to book overview

6
The Political and Economic Hierarchy

"But no popularity lives long in a democracy." -- MEMOIRS, May 12, 1820

It is impossible to discover in Adams's writings a clear-cut statement or development of his view of the social order or hierarchy. The whole temper of the man, which sought unity and coordination in society and a united approach to the solution of social problems, was one that, at least in explicit doctrine, would deny rather than affirm the existence of class differences.1 It is true that as the slavery crisis deepened he often saw the slaveholding planter class as a separate class threatening to dominate the nation in the interest of selfish ambition and avarice based upon cruel exploitation. However, classes were dealt with only in the most indirect fashion in his writings. His view of the social structure, even in broad outline, may only be inferred from those indirect references. And much of this endeavor must be devoted to the inspection of Adams's references to the broad mass of the people in general in order to determine the relative degrees of aristocratic and democratic emphases his thinking contained, and consequently his consciousness of classes.

There was a degree of aristocratic disdain in his refusal to recognize political reality and campaign for public office, in his assump

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1
To John Adams, Boston, October 19, 1790, Writings, I, 63: "The farmer, the tradesman, the mechanic and the merchant, are all mutually so dependent upon another for their prosperity, that I really know not whether most to pity the ignorance or to lament the absurdity of the partial politicians [who saw matters in terms of party or faction rather than principle], who are constantly erecting an imaginary wall of separation between them."

-104-

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