Monday, February 19, 2007

Adams Skeptical about the French Revolution

By late 1788 and early 1789 Jefferson sees even more advances being made in the political life in France. He sees an orderly revolution in the works, perhaps similar to the events leading up to the signing of the Magna Carta in England. He observed that the third estate won the right to convene periodically, to register laws, and to propose amendments. “Thus a change in their constitution is, I think, certain: and the life of the present king or the minority of his heir will give time to confirm it” (Jefferson to Adams, December 5th 1788, 231-232). Jefferson is confident that the constitutional changes will remain firm in France. January sees more healthy changes, the power of taxing based on consent, accountability of ministers, the regular meeting of the estates, a degree of liberty to the press, and that these rights were to be fixed in a written document (Jefferson to Adams, January 14th 1789, 235-236).

Adams did not respond directly to these observations that Jefferson made. Perhaps this can be explained by what was probably his reservations or skepticism about the political movements in France coming to a happy end. This silence of Adams indicates that the disagreement about the nature and meaning of the French Revolution would be what would eventually lead to the strains in their friendship. These strains would eventually find themselves reflected in American institutions. By the late 1780s, public intellectuals, expecting a revolution to begin in France, began writing books about the American constitution and preparing to write a new Constitution for France. Turgot and Mably in France and Godwin in England wrote essays or books critiquing America for installing a constitution that allowed for three branches at the Federal level and also divided power between the federal and state level. The French critics were more enamored with the idea of a country with a single parliament and centralized federal power (Thompson, 1996, 364).

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