"There Is A Natural Aristocracy Among Men"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: Belonging to the famous Adams-Jefferson correspondence, this letter contains Jefferson's defense of the American congressional system. He presents his concept, "not with a view to controversy, for we are too old to change opinions which are the result of a long life of inquiry and reflection; but on the suggestions of a former letter of yours, that we ought not to die before we have explained ourselves to each other." It was Adams's contention that one legislative body should be composed of the wealthy, who "may be hindered from doing mischief by their co-ordinate branches, and . . ., also, they may be a protection to wealth against the Agrarian and plundering enterprises of the majority of the people." Jefferson, however, asserts that to "give them power in order to prevent them from doing mischief, is arming them for it." He prefers the established system, by which members of Congress will continue to be chosen from every condition and level of life. The citizens will separate "the aristoi from the pseudo-aristoi" and will usually elect "the really good and wise." Jefferson writes:

. . . For I agree with you that there is a natural aristocracy among men. The grounds of this are virtue and talents. . . . The natural aristocracy I consider as the most precious gift of nature, for the instruction, the trusts, and government of society.