"They will not always expertly distinguish the several species of geniuses, the golden, the silver, the brazen, and the iron."

— Adams, John (1735-1826)

Place of Publication
Printed for C. Dilly, in the Poultry
"They will not always expertly distinguish the several species of geniuses, the golden, the silver, the brazen, and the iron."
Metaphor in Context
As republics are generated by the manners of the people, to which, as into a current, all other things are drawn, of necessity there must be as many species of men, as of republics. We have already, in the fourth book, gone over that which we have pronounced to be good and just. We are now to go over the contentious and ambitious man, who is formed according to the Spartan republic; and then, him resembling an oligarchy; then the democratic; and then the tyrannic man, that we may contemplate the most unjust man, and set him in opposition to the most just, that our inquiry may be completed! The ambitious republic is first to be considered: it is indeed difficult for a city in this manner constituted, i. e. like Sparta, to be changed; but as every thing which is generated is liable to corruption, even such a constitution as this will not remain for ever, but be dissolved. (I shall pass over all the astrological and mystical whimsies which we meet with so often in Plato, interspersed among the most sublime wisdom and profound knowledge, and insert only what is intelligible.) The amount of what he says in this place about numbers and music, is, that mistakes will insensibly be made in the choice of persons for guardians of the laws; and by these guardians, in the rewards and promotion of merit. They will not always expertly distinguish the several species of geniuses, the golden, the silver, the brazen, and the iron. Whilst iron shall be mixed with silver, and brass with gold, dissimilitude, and discord arise, and generate war, and enmity, and sedition. When sedition is risen, two of the species of geniuses, the iron and brazen, will be carried away after gain, and the acquisition of lands and houses, gold and silver. But the golden and silver geniuses, as they are not in want, but naturally rich, will lead the soul towards virtue and the original constitution. Thus divided, drawing contrary ways, and living in a violent manner, will not this republic be in the middle, between aristocracy and oligarchy imitating, in some things, the former republic, and in others oligarchy? They will honour their rulers, their military will abstain from agriculture and mechanic arts; they will have common meals, gymnastic exercises, and contests of war, as in the former republic; but they will be afraid to bring wise men into the magistracy, be cause they have no longer any such as are truly simple and inflexible, but such as are of a mixed kind, more forward and rough, more fitted by their natural genius for war than peace, esteeming tricks and stratagems; such as these shall desire wealth, and hoard up gold and silver, as those who live in oligarchies. While they spare their own, they will love to squander the substance of others upon their pleasures: They will fly from the law, as children from a father, who have been educated not by persuasion but by force. Such a republic, mixed of good and ill, will be most remarkable for the prevalence of the contentious and ambitious spirit.
(pp. 189-91)
7 entries in ESTC (1787, 1788, 1794, 1797).

A Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America, by John Adams, LL.D. and a Member of the Academy of Arts and Sciences at Boston. (London: Printed for C. Dilly, in the Poultry, 1787). <Link to ESTC>
Date of Entry

The Mind is a Metaphor is authored by Brad Pasanek, Assistant Professor of English, University of Virginia.