John Adams on Aristocracy, Democracy, and Tyranny

My previous posts regarding repeal of the horrid 17th Amendment were built on a simple republican foundation; members of republics are represented in the lawmaking body. The Constitution acts on the people and states, and both had their place in congress until 1913. In its wake, the 17th Amendment left behind a federal Constitution without a federal government.

Here, I take a different tack as to why the 17A must go. I will show from the standpoint of balancing society’s natural proclivities, we must reestablish a federal senate of the states.  Without a strong middle institution to repel democracy, the people grow in power. In time, they appoint a leader who uses the people to establish tyranny. My reference is John Adams’ 1787 (Vol. I) A Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America, Letters XXIV and XXV.

The first half of Volume I explored the historic battles for dominance between the one, the few, and the many in various monarchies, aristocracies, and republics since ancient times. Free government principles were known since the reign of Darius, as were the pro/con of representative vs. direct democracy since Lycurgus. Various mixtures of these simple forms were met with greater success by the Romans. Central to the lessons learned from the Roman Republic, and reflected in subsequent nations from Venice to isolated Swiss cantons, to England, was the necessity of a solid middle institution, a senate, a council, a House of Lords to balance the interests between the mass of the people and chief executive, whether he be a King, Stadholder, Burgomaster, or Doge.

From his study, Adams wrote, “Without three orders, and an effectual balance between them, in every American constitution, it must be destined to frequent unavoidable revolutions; if they are delayed a few years, they must come, in time.”

Yet, America lacked and would never accept a landed or hereditary aristocracy as a third order to balance the one and the many. America in the mid-1780s was at a tipping point. Form a proper government fit for a free and equal people, or betray its trust and suffer the indignation of history and heaven.

While equal before the law, men are naturally unequal in intelligence, virtue, and motivation. Society properly holds in high esteem, the best of the best in business, learned professions, and academe. We naturally look up to those with the greatest success in their fields. These few, this natural aristocracy, per Adams, are “the brightest ornament and glory of the nation, and may always be made the greatest blessing of society, if (they) be judiciously managed in the constitution.” In a senate, their public service ambitions find release and reward. Surrounded by other men of proven abilities, they instinctively take a long-term view of public matters, check the wild democratic proclivities of the House of Representatives, and offer sage advice to the President.

Yet, if men of ability and ambition are not properly managed, John Adams warned these natural aristocrats are the most dangerous; they will “never fail to the destruction of the commonwealth.” In government, the rich, well-born, and the able must be isolated from the people of simple honesty and plain sense in a House of Representatives. Without an institution of their own, the natural nobility finds reward for their ambitions through popularly derived bodies. Adams wrote:

It is an error to think it an uncontrollable maxim, that power is always safer lodged in many hands than one, for if these many hands be made up from one of those three divisions, it is plain, from the examples produced, that they are as capable of enslaving the nation as a single person.

A nation without a well-designed middle institution between the people and executive is certain to find itself in an oligarchy, followed shortly by tyranny.

Without a house of their own, the ablest men enter, corrupt and dominate popularly derived bodies, our House of Representatives and ignoble Senate. All balance in government is gone; aristocrats are free to feed their ambitions to the detriment of society and the nation. Government is reduced to the one and the many, with the many dominated by oligarchs. Balance can never be established between two orders of society without a third to aid the weakest.

Popularly elected bodies, including those limited by enumerated powers in written constitutions, soon recognize no limits. Their hunger is insatiable. More from Adams: “A usurping populace is its own dupe, . . . a purchaser-in-trust for single tyrants, whose state and power they advance to their own ruin. The people are more dexterous at pulling down and setting up, than at preserving what is fixed; and they are not fonder of seizing more than their own, than they are of delivering it up again to the worst bidder.”

In 2008, America put its trust in “the worst bidder.” Obama promised to fundamentally transform America. Such are the rewards of the 17th Amendment, a hundred-year oligarchy in the making, followed by a strongman, a tyrant.

Our existing form of government is not only insufficient to prevent future tyrants, their reoccurrence is practically assured. A once carefully balanced and well-mixed federal republic morphed, overnight in 1913, into democratic republic. As time proved, popularly elected senators are incapable of serving their constitutional purposes. Both houses of congress fell to designing men of ability, whose goals are reelection, power, and money. The modern term for these men is “elites.”

But, just last month, and in a last gasp, America stepped back from the precipice. Enough virtue remained among an indoctrinated society to reject continuation of Obama’s destruction. While rejected, it will be difficult to reverse Obama’s progressive devastation, and even harder to prevent a future Obama or Hillary.

At best, President Trump will arrest the rot for a few years. Beyond reversing hundreds of executive orders, nominating conservative federal judges, and ferreting out social justice warriors from executive branch agencies, his accomplishments, like those of Ronald Reagan, will certainly face another Obama or Hillary.

For the time being, we should enjoy the victory and watch with satisfaction and glee as the elites pull out their hair and screech in indignation. But we must also realize that our system of government cannot prevent a relapse. Indeed, if the lessons that John Adams plucked from history prove prescient, ever-more power to the people is certain to end in all power in one, a tyrant. We must restore the Framers’ middle institution, a senate of the states.

We are the many; our oppressors are the few. Be proactive. Be a Re-Founder. Join Convention of States. Sign our COS Petition.

Related post: The Framers’ Senate.

2 thoughts on “John Adams on Aristocracy, Democracy, and Tyranny

  1. George Dawes

    Have read only lukewarm history about the conditions that led three quarters of our States, in the early 1900s, to ratify the 17th Amendment. Where can we read a definitive compilation of the evils and corruption that convinced them to destroy our federal system, and what is our remedy today that we don’t fall into that same mire?

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