Papers of John Adams, volume 17

From Thomas Jefferson

To John Jebb

To John Jebb, 25 September 1785 Adams, John Jebb, John
To John Jebb
Dear Sir Grosvenor Square Septr. 25th 1785

I have read with pleasure your Letter of the 13th and although I cannot entirely agree with you, I find the difference between us is very Small in comparison with that between me and some other of my friends, in Mr Humes perfect commonwealth “no representative Magistrate or Senator as such has any salary. The Protector Secretaries, Councils and Ambassadors have salaries”1 your opinion Coincides with his excepting that you think the higher Magistrates as the Judges for example Should have salaries

I Carry the point so far as to desire that all representatives, Magistrates and Senators as well as Judges and Executive Officers Should have salaries; not merely upon the Principle of Justice that every Man has a right to compensation for his Time and Labour, but to maintain the responsibility of the Person, and to raise and support both in the Minds of the People themselvs and of their representatives senators and Magistrates a sense of the Dignity and importance of the People. these salaries to be sure Should be in proportion to the Nature and duration of the service a project to introduce such a practise into this Country would be Chimerical: but in a Country, where it has long obtained and still exists. I wish it to continue. in some parts of the United States it has ever prevailed and it is to be hoped it may be extended to all other parts. it is thought by many to be one of the best securities of Liberty and Equality

in the 13. p of the 2 Chap of the Constitution of Massachusetts you may see their sense of the Importance of salaries to Governors and Judges.2 my friend de Mably page 87 expresses great indignation against it “Je voudrois au contraire qu’a mesure que les Dignites sont plus importantes on leur attribuat des appointmens, moins considerables; Je voudrois méme qu elles ne’neussent aucun. on aime bien peu la Patrie, qu’and on demande des salaires Pour la471 servir. Que la Republique de Mass. ait le Courage de detruire la loi dont Je me plains3 I loves the Abby and revere his memory: but I was sorry, that so crude an Idea Should be scattered in America where many will be greedy to lay hold of it: and that a Great writer who had spent fifty years in reading upon Government, and done honour to his age by his writings Should adopt with such facility so Gross a Vulgar Error and popular blunder. Flattery has done more mischeif to society when addressed to the People than when offered to Kings. there is all ways in every Popular Assembly a Party actuated by a sordid avarice one of two Candidates for an Election by offering to serve without Pay will have all the votes of this description of Electors. so will the Abbys doctrine but he had not considered that an Aristocracy would be the immediate and inevitable Consequence of it. in the Mass. there would be no choice left there are but two at most. if there is more than one who could serve as Governor. a fine bargain the People would make of it. for the sake of saving a Penny a peice, which it would cost them for a salary they must pass by a thousand Wise and virtuous Men, and give their votes only for two rich ones and that, wheather they have Wisdom and virtues or not

The People save nothing in the End. the Consequence, is there must be no Strict inquiry, no exact accounts the Governors family must be provided for by offices, and his son, fit or unfit must be put in his place. the Magistrates in France instead of having salaries buy their offices. what is the Consequences Let the Abby himself say, he would answer from Heaven that they find ways to levy partial taxes to support even their Mistresses at three times the expence of the Whole salary of a Mass. Governor


LbC in AA2’s hand (Adams Papers); internal address: “Dr Jebb—”; APM Reel 107.


JA quotes from David Hume’s essay “Idea of a Perfect Commonwealth” (David Hume, Essays and Treatises on Several Subjects, London, 1758, p. 276).


Part 2, The Frame of Government; Ch. II, Executive Power; Sect. I, Governor; Art. 13 provides that “as the public good requires that the governor should not be under the undue influence of any of the members of the general court by a dependence on them for his support, that he should in all cases, act with freedom for the benefit of the public, that he should not have his attention necessarily diverted from that object to his private concerns—and that he should maintain the dignity of the commonwealth in the character of its chief magistrate, it is necessary that he should have an honorable stated salary, of a fixed and permanent value, amply sufficient for those purposes, and established by standing laws: and it shall be among the first acts of the general court, after the 472commencement of this constitution, to establish such salary by law accordingly.

“Permanent and honorable salaries shall also be established by law for the justices of the supreme judicial court.

“And if it shall be found that any of the salaries aforesaid, so established, are insufficient, they shall, from time to time, be enlarged as the general court shall judge proper.”

The language of these provisions was identical to the language in Ch. III, Executive Power; Sect. I, Governor; Art. 15 of JA’s 1779 draft of the Massachusetts constitution (vol. 8:253–254).


JA here strings together three passages from Abbé de Mably’s Observations sur le gouvernment et les loix des États-Unis d’Amérique, Amsterdam, 1784, p. 87–88, 89, a copy of which is in JA’s library at MB ( Catalogue of JA’s Library ). As translated in Remarks Concerning the Government and the Laws of the United States of America, London, 1784, a copy of which is also in JA’s library at MB, the passages read, “I, on the contrary, could wish that, in proportion to the importance of the dignities, the salaries annexed might be the less considerable. I should even like to see the abolition of all salary whatsoever” (p. 109); “They little love their country who ask a salary for serving it” (p. 110); “But, let the republic of Massachusetts, at one bold stroke, destroy the law concerning which I am now complaining” (p. 111). For JA’s role in the publication of both French and English editions of Observations, which was in the form of four letters to JA, see vol. 16:index.