ABSTRACT

In his famous book, Democracy in America, Alexis de Tocqueville wrote that “almost all nations that have exercised a powerful influence on the destinies of the world, by conceiving, following out, and executing vast designs, from the Romans to the English, have been governed by aristocracies.” John Adams was also aware of the need for aristocratic institutions as a bulwark against excessive democratic tyranny. And his heavily marked-up copy of Mary Wollstonecraft’s defense of the French Revolution is an excellent index of his views: Thus, where Mary wrote that “hereditary distinctions, cruelly abridging rational liberty, have prevented man from rising to his just point of elevation by his improvable faculties,” Adams scrawled in longhand as follows: “Hereditary distinctions among the Greeks and Romans, and in all Europe since their times, have been essential to the liberty that has been enjoyed.”