Crete's So-Called Democracy: Adams' Defense, No 44

Liberty Letters, John Adams, 1786

A Defense of the Constitutions of the United States, Letter 44

Ancient Democratical Republics: CRETE

My dear Sir,

THIS celebrated island, with the fantastical honor of giving birth to some of the gods of Greece, had the real merit and glory of communicating to that country many useful improvements. Their insular situation defended them from invasions by land, and their proximity to Egypt afforded them an easy intercourse of commerce by sea with the capital of that kingdom; where Rhadamanthus in his travels had collected those inventions and institutions of a civilized people, which he had the address to apply to the confirmation of his own authority.

Minos is still more distinguished: in his travels in the east, he saw certain families possessed of unrivaled honors and unlimited authority, as vicegerents of the Deity. Although the Greeks would never admit, in the fullest latitude of oriental superstition and despotism, this odious profanation, yet Minos, taking advantage of his own unbounded reputation, and that enthusiasm for his person which his skill and fortune in war, his genius for science, and talents for government, had excited among wandering credulous savages, spread a report that he was admitted to familiar conversations with Jupiter, and received from that deity his system of laws, with orders to engrave it on tables of brass.

The great principle of it was, that all freemen should be equal, and therefore that none should have any property in lands or goods; but that citizens should be served by slaves, who should cultivate the lands upon public account. The citizens should dine at public tables, and their families subsist on the public stock. The monarch’s authority was extremely limited, except in war. The magistracies were the recompense of merit and age; and superiority was allowed to nothing else. The youth were restrained to a rigid temperance, modesty, and morality, enforced by law. Their education, which was public, was directed to make them soldiers. Such regulations could not fail to secure order, and what they called freedom to the citizens; but nine-tenths of mankind were doomed to slavery to support them in total idleness, excepting those exercises proper for warriors, become more necessary to keep the slaves in subjection, than to defend the state against the pirates and robbers with whom the age abounded.

Idomeneus, grandson of Minos, and commander of the Cretan forces in the Trojan war, was among the most powerful of the Grecian chiefs, and one of the few who returned in safety from that expedition. Here was a government of all authority in one centre, and that centre the most aged and meritorious persons of the nation, with little authority in the king, and none in the rest of the people; yet it was not of sufficient strength to hold together. The venerable old men could not endure the authority, or rather the pre-eminence, of the king. Monarchy must be abolished; and every principal city became early a separate independent commonwealth; each, no doubt, under its patriarch, baron, noble, or archon, for they all signify the same thing: and continual wars ensued between the several republics within the island; and Cretan valor and martial skill were employed and exhausted in butchering one another, until they turned all the virtues they had left against mankind in general, and exerted them in piracies and robberies, to their universal infamy throughout all Greece: nor was Crete ever of any weight in Grecian politics after the Trojan war.

Table of Contents: A Defense of the Constitutions of the United States, by John Adams

Edited by Steve Farrell: In Letter 44, spelling has been modernized and paragraphs broken up for easier reading. The original copyright of John Adams’ “A Defense of the Constitutions of the United States,” is in the Public Domain. As edited in this version: Copyright © 2011 Steve Farrell and The Moral Liberal.

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