Thomas Jefferson: On the breeding of kings


As the world prepares for the royal wedding between Prince William and soon-to-be Princess Kate, it's important to take a look back at our own American traditions, and what our founding fathers had to say about royalty. We are, after all, a nation born out of a revoultion against a monarchy. With that in mind, we present to you Thomas Jefferson's letter, "On the Breeding of Kings." We're guessing that Jefferson wouldn't have been enthused by the pomp and pageantry.

To Governor John Langdon
Monticello, March 5, 1810

When I observed, that the King of England was a cipher, I did not mean to confine the observation to the mere individual now on that throne. The practice of Kings marrying only in the families of Kings has been that of Europe for some centuries. Now, take any race of animals, confine them in idleness and inaction, whether in a sty, a stable, or a state-room, pamper them with high diet, gratify all  their sexual appetites, immerse them in sensualities, nourish  their passions, let everything bend before them, and banish  whatever might lead them to think, and in a few generations  they become all body and no mind ; and this, too, by a law of  nature, by that very law by which we are in the constant  practice of changing the characters and propensities of  the animals we raise for our own purposes. Such is the regimen in raising Kings, and in this way they have gone on for centuries. While in Europe, I often amused myself with contemplating the characters of the then reigning sovereigns of Europe. Louis the XVI was a fool, of my own knowledge, and in despite of the answers made for him at his trial. The King of Spain was a fool, and of Naples the same. They passed their lives in hunting, and despatched two couriers a week, one thousand miles, to let each other know what game they had killed the preceding days.  The King of Sardinia was a fool. All these were Bourbons.  The Queen of Portugal, a Braganza, was an idiot by nature.  And so was the King of Denmark. Their sons, as regents, exercised the powers of government. The King of Prussia, successor to the great Frederick, was a mere hog in body as  well as in mind. Gustavus of Sweden, and Joseph of Austria, were really crazy, and George of England, you know, was in a strait-waistcoat. There remained, then, none but old Catharine, who had been too lately picked up to have lost her common sense. In this state Bonaparte found Europe; and it was this state of its rulers which lost it with scarce a struggle. These animals had become without mind and powerless; and so will every hereditary monarch be after a few generations. Alexander, the grandson of Catharine, is as yet an exception. He is able to hold his own. But he is only of the third generation. His race is not yet worn out. And so endeth the book of Kings, from all of whom the Lord deliver us, and have you, my friend, and all such good men and true, in His holy keeping.

Image: Dome Poon // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Post your comment

Comments are moderated. See guidelines here.


  • So beautiful reading wise men from classics.

    Thank you op.

    Posted by John McTire, 02/07/2012 10:19am (3 years ago)

  • What would he write about today's presidents?

    Posted by RadicalRoyalist, 05/11/2011 6:48am (4 years ago)

  • I always kinda liked Jefferson.... compared to others of his time, he showed great promise and intellect .... witness his observations about royalty... :)

    Posted by Gabriel Falsetta, 04/29/2011 6:03pm (4 years ago)

  • very timely and useful!

    Posted by jim lane, 04/29/2011 5:01pm (4 years ago)

  • I much prefer the culture of republican France where poets, philosophers and novelists are treated like rock stars to the royal fetishism of so many Brits and, yes, Americans.

    Posted by John Whiskey, 04/28/2011 10:08pm (4 years ago)

  • Very interesting & informative. Esp. now what with the British Royal Wedding farce. Which I'll be boycotting. If I were a Brit I'd definitely be a republican. The Royals have had a free ride for much too long.

    Posted by n. greenpagan, 04/28/2011 6:27pm (4 years ago)

  • wonderful

    Posted by tom karlsont, 04/28/2011 2:11pm (4 years ago)

RSS feed for comments on this page | RSS feed for all comments