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The Jeffersonian cyclopedia;

a comprehensive collection of the views of Thomas Jefferson classified and arranged in alphabetical order under nine thousand titles relating to government, politics, law, education, political economy, finance, science, art, literature, religious freedom, morals, etc.;

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463. ARISTOCRACY, Artificial vs. Natural.—
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463. ARISTOCRACY, Artificial vs. Natural.—

There is a natural aristocracy
among men. The grounds of this are virtue
and talents. Formerly, bodily powers gave
place among the aristoi. But since the invention
of gunpowder has armed the weak as
well as the strong with missile death, bodily
strength, like beauty, good humor, politeness
and other accomplishments, has become but
an auxiliary ground of distinction. There is,
also, an artificial aristocracy, founded on
wealth and birth, without either virtue or talents:
for with these it would belong to the
first class. The natural aristocracy I consider
as the most precious gift of nature for the instruction,
the trusts, and government of society.
And indeed, it would have been inconsistent
in creation to have formed man for
the social state, and not to have provided virtue
and wisdom enough to manage the concerns
of the society. May we not even say,
that that form of government is the best,
which provides the most effectually for a pure
selection of these natural aristoi into the offices
of government? The artificial aristocracy
is a mischievous ingredient in government,
and provision should be made to prevent
its ascendency. On the question, what
is the best provision, you and I differ; but we
differ as rational friends, using the free exercise
of our own reason, and mutually indulging
its errors. You think it best to put the
pseudo-aristoi into a separate chamber of legislation,
where they may be hindered from
doing mischief by their coordinate branches
and where, also, they may be a protection to
wealth against the agrarian and plundering enterprises
of the majority of the people. I think
that to give them power in order to prevent
them from doing mischief, is arming them for
it, and increasing instead of remedying the
evil. For, if the coordinate branches can
arrest their action, so may they that of the
coordinates. Mischief may be done negatively
as well as positively. Of this, a cabal in
the Senate of the United States has furnished
many proofs. Nor do I believe them necessary
to protect the wealthy; because enough
of these will find their way into every branch
of the legislature to protect themselves. From
fifteen to twenty legislatures of our own, in
action for thirty years past, have proved that
no fears of an equalization of property are to
be apprehended from them. I think the best
remedy is exactly that provided by all our


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constitutions, to leave to the citizens the free
election and separation of the aristoi from the
pseudo-aristoi, of the wheat from the chaff.
In general they will elect the really good and
wise. In some instances, wealth may corrupt,
and birth blind them, but not in sufficient
degree to endanger the society.—
To John Adams. Washington ed. vi, 223. Ford ed., ix, 425.
(M. 1813)