John Adams: Preliminary Observations, Letter 1


A Defense of the Constitutions of the United States, By John Adams

Preliminary Observations: Letter I

Grosvenor-Square, October 4, 1786

My dear Sir,

THREE writers in Europe, of great abilities, reputation, and learning, Mr. Turgot, the Abbé De Mably, and Dr. Price, have turned their attention to the constitutions of government in the United States of America, and have written and published their criticisms and advice. They had all the most amiable characters, and unquestionably the purest intentions. They had all experience in public affairs, and ample information in the nature of man, the necessities of society, and the science of government.

There are in the productions of all of them, among many excellent things, some sentiments, however, that it will be difficult to reconcile to reason, experience, the constitution of human nature, or to the uniform testimony of the greatest statesmen, legislators, and philosophers of all enlightened nations, ancient and modern.

Mr. Turgot, in his letter to Dr. Price, confesses, “that he is not satisfied with the constitutions which have hitherto been formed for the different states of America.” He observes, that by most of them the customs of England are imitated, without any particular motive. Instead of collecting all authority into one center, that of the nation, they have established different bodies, a body of representatives, a council, and a governor, because there is in England a house of commons, a house of lords, and a king. They endeavour to balance these different powers, as if this equilibrium, which in England may be a necessary check to the enormous influence of royalty, could be of any use in republicks founded upon the equality of all the citizens, and as if establishing different orders of men was not a source of divisions and disputes.”

There has been, from the beginning of the revolution in America, a party in every state, who have entertained sentiments similar to these of Mr. Turgot. Two or three of them have established governments upon his principle: and, by advices from Boston, certain committees of counties have been held, and other conventions proposed in the Massachusetts, with the express purpose of deposing the governor and senate, as useless and expensive branches of the constitution; and as it is probable that the publication of Mr. Turgot’s opinion has contributed to excite such discontents among the people, it becomes necessary to examine it, and, if it can be shown to be an error, whatever veneration the Americans very justly entertain for his memory, it is to be hoped they will not be misled by his authority.

Table of Contents: A Defense of the Constitutions of the United States

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