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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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6620. PEOPLE, Roman.—
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6620. PEOPLE, Roman.—

The letters of
Cicero breathe the purest effusions of an exalted
patriot, while the parricide Cæsar is lost
in odious contrast. When the enthusiasm, however,
kindled by Cicero's pen and principles,
subsides into cool reflection, I ask myself, what
was that government, which the virtues of
Cicero were so zealous to restore, and the ambition
of Cæsar to subvert? And if Cæsar had
been as virtuous as he was daring and sagacious,
what could he, even in the plenitude of his
usurped power, have done to lead his fellow
citizens into good government? I do not say
to restore it, because they never had it, from the
rape of the Sabines to the ravages of the
Cæsars. If their people, indeed, had been, like
ourselves, enlightened, peaceable and really
free, the answer would be obvious. “Restore
independence to all your foreign conquests, relieve
Italy from the government of the rabble
of Rome, consult it as a nation entitled to self-government,
and do its will”. But steeped in
corruption, vice and venality, as the whole nation
was (and nobody had done more than
Cæsar to corrupt it), what could even Cicero,
Cato, Brutus have done, had it been referred
to them to establish a good government for their
country? They had no ideas of government
themselves, but of their degenerate Senate, nor
the people of liberty, but of the factious opposition
of their Tribunes. They had afterwards
their Tituses, their Trajans and Antoninuses,
who had the will to make them happy, and the
power to mould their government into a good
and permanent form. But it would seem as if
they could not see their way clearly to do it.
No government can continue good, but under
the control of the people; and their people were
so demoralized and depraved, as to be incapable
of exercising a wholesome control. Their reformation
then was to be taken up ab incunabulis.
Their minds were to be informed by
education what is right and what wrong; to be
encouraged in habits of virtue and deterred
from those of vice by the dread of punishments,
proportioned, indeed, but irremissible; in all
cases, to follow truth as the only safe guide,
and to eschew error, which bewilders us in one
false consequence after another, in endless succession.
These are the inculcations necessary
to render the people a sure basis for the structure
of order and good government. But this
would have been an operation of a generation
or two, at least, within which period would have
succeeded many Neros and Commoduses, who
would have quashed the whole process. I confess,
then, I can neither see what Cicero, Cato
and Brutus, united and uncontrolled, could have
devised to lead their people into good government,
nor how this enigma can be solved, nor
how further shown why it has been the fate of
that delightful country never to have known, to
this day, and through a course of five and
twenty hundred years, the history of which
we possess, one single day of free and rational
government. Your intimacy with their history,
ancient, middle and modern, your familiarity
with the improvements in the science of government
at this time, will enable you, if anybody,
to go back with our principles and opinions to
the times of Cicero, Cato and Brutus, and tell
us by what process these great and virtuous
men could have led so unenlightened and vitiated
a people into freedom and good government.
To John Adams. Washington ed. vii, 148. Ford ed., x, 152.
(M. 1819)


“I never could discover,” wrote Mr. Adams in
reply, “that they possessed much virtue, or real
liberty. Their Patricians were in general griping
usurers, and tyrannical creditors in all ages. Pride,
strength, and courage, were all the virtues that composed
their national characters.”—Editor.