"I am so tasteless as to prefer a Republic"
Americans contain multitudes: It’s not unusual to see commenters bemoan the pomp and circumstance of the presidency on the same day they admit to getting up at 4am to watch a British monarch’s televised milestone. Today’s coronation was no exception, and the amusing duality reminded me of a letter John Adams, a very fun epistolatory founder, sent Mercy Warren Otis, an underappreciated political player in early America.
Study Marry Kill is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
Here’s an edited, condensed version, emphasis my own:
Braintree, Jany. 8. 1776
Pray Madam, are you for an American Monarchy or Republic? Monarchy is the genteelest and most fashionable Government, and I dont know why the Ladies ought not to consult Elegance and the Fashion as well in Government as Gowns, Bureaus or Chariots.
For my own Part, I am so tasteless as to prefer a Republic, if We must erect an independent Government in America, which you know is utterly against my Inclination. But a Republic, altho it will infallibly beggar me and my Children, will produce Strength, Hardiness Activity Courage Fortitude and Enterprice.
A Monarchy would probably, somehow or other make me rich, but it would produce So much Taste and Politeness, So much Elegance in Dress, Furniture, Equipage, So much Musick and Dancing, So much Fencing and Skaiting; So much Cards and Backgammon; so much Horse Racing and Cock fighting; so many Balls and Assemblies, so many Plays and Concerts that the very Imagination of them makes me feel vain, light, frivolous and insignificant.
Under a well regulated Commonwealth, the People must be wise virtuous and cannot be otherwise. Under a Monarchy they may be as vicious and foolish as they please, nay they cannot but be vicious and foolish. As Politicks therefore is the Science of human Happiness, and human Happiness is clearly best promoted by Virtue, what thorough Politician can hesitate, who has a new Government to build whether to prefer a Commonwealth or a Monarchy? But Madam there is one Difficulty, which I know not how to get over.
Virtue and Simplicity of Manners, are indispensably necessary in a Republic, among all orders and Degrees of Men. But there is So much Rascallity, so much Venality and Corruption, so much Avarice and Ambition, such a Rage for Profit and Commerce among all Ranks and Degrees of Men even in America, that I sometimes doubt whether there is public Virtue enough to support a Republic. There are two Vices most detestably predominant in every Part of America that I have yet seen, which are as incompatible with the Spirit of a Commonwealth as Light is with Darkness, I mean Servility and Flattery. A genuine Republican can no more fawn and cringe than he can domineer. Shew me the American who can not do all. I know two or Three I think, and very few more.
Mean Time I think I shall sleep as soundly as ever. I am, Madam, your most humble servant, and sincere Friend,
Mrs. Adams desires to be remembered to Mrs. Warren.
UPCOMING PUBLIC EVENTS
May 17th: Interviewed by Christy S. Coleman. The Jamestown Settlement, Jamestown Yorktown Foundation. Williamsburg, Virginia.
June 14th: In conversation with Mattie Kahn. The Strand. New York, New York.
Everyone is screaming about the iceberg ahead but I’m still dancing on Titanic Twitter. I did deign to join Bluesky as @alexicoe (I guess I’m cool enough to get on but not cool enough to have invites yet, sorry) and I’m Substack’s notes, too.