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Quotations about Liberty and Power

About this Quotation:

A number of European writers (Mably, Turgot, and others) were concerned that the new American Republic did not have sufficient checks and balances to prevent a new elite (commercial in Mably’s fear) from coming to power and turning the U.S. government into a new form of tyranny. John Adams replied to their criticisms in his Defence of the Constitutions (1787) which we also have online.

Other quotes about Politics & Liberty:

5 October, 2009

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The Abbé de Mably argues with John Adams about the dangers of a “commercial elite” seizing control of the new Republic and using it to their own advantage (1785)

Read the full quote in context here.

The Abbé de Mably has an interesting debate with John Adams about the dangers of a “commercial elite” seizing control of the new Republic and using it to their own advantage:

[I] shall rest satisfied with observing that our European manners which, probably, are, at this period, too common in America, will enable money (or, in other words, the rich) to usurp and to maintain an absolute dominion throughout the several states. To prevent it from striking root, some weak and feeble efforts will arise; and, perhaps, it may not prove impossible, by a multitude of precautions, to prevent this empire from becoming actually tyrannical. If feeble laws have not the power to hinder the commercial bodies from seizing upon all authority; if the public morals present no succors to the people; but, strive, in vain, to set some limits to the rage of avarice, I must tremble at the prospect of the final rupture of all the bonds of your confederation.

The full passage from which this quotation was taken can be be viewed below (front page quote in bold):

But, I expatiate too much upon the subject; and shall rest satisfied with observing that our European manners which, probably, are, at this period, too common in America, will enable money (or, in other words, the rich) to usurp and to maintain an absolute dominion throughout the several states. To prevent it from striking root, some weak and feeble efforts will arise; and, perhaps, it may not prove impossible, by a multitude of precautions, to prevent this empire from becoming actually tyrannical. If feeble laws have not the power to hinder the commercial bodies from seizing upon all authority; if the public morals present no succors to the people; but, strive, in vain, to set some limits to the rage of avarice, I must tremble at the prospect of the final rupture of all the bonds of your confederation. Trading magistrates will fix the impression of their own characters upon the republic: all the United States will follow commerce; and these occurrences will sow the seeds of your divisions and of the ruin of the continental Congress. Tainted by our vices, you, shortly, will receive a similar infection from our politics. Each of your states will imagine that every wound given to the commerce of the rest must prove the augmentation of the prosperity of its own. Thus domineering and ridiculously foolish is the passion of avarice! It will persuade you to wage hostilities in order to increase your opulence. You will become a kind of Carthage, at once warlike and commercial; and your ambition, grafted upon covetousness, will strive to play the tyrant over all the neighboring states; to treat them as subjects; perhaps, even as slaves. A rival power will start up in order to resist it. You will adopt our delusive political balance. Your treaties will sink beneath infringements; your alliances become precarious and wavering; and all your states forget their interests, to mingle in the chace of wild chimeras.

This is too much: and I should tire you by heaping proofs on proofs in favor of the justice of my fears. You know (too well for me to make the observation) that all history would come to my support. I might describe in what manner our vices are inseparably connected with each other; yet I should not submit the slightest novelty to your attention. To truths like these are you familiarised: the consequence of a profound investigation of the human heart! No person can interest himself more than I do in the prosperity of your infant freedom, and the glory of your legislators; who may defy the language of reproach, should they convince the world that they have discovered all the rocks on which republics might be dashed away, and struggled to oppose a full resistance to that fatality which seems to have drawn out the limits which the affairs of human life can never pass. I offer up to Heaven my most ardent prayers for your prosperity! And, Sir! let me intreat you never to forget the protestations which I make you of my zeal for your interests, of my respect and my attachment?

[More works by Gabriel Bonnet Abbé de Mably (1709 – 1785)]