Adams's political ponderings in print. Adams forwards his own annotated copy of his Discourses on Davila, the final installment of his Defence of the Constitutions of the Government of the United States of America to J. H. Tiffany. In March and April of that year, in response to Tiffany's inquiries, Adams delineated his views on the differences between a democracy and a republic. For this reason he doubtlessly lent the first volume of his Defence to Tiffany, which he has just received back. "I received the first Volume of the Defence in perfect order, several mails before your polite letter, which was intended to accompany it arrived. — I now send you the fourth volume of the Defence; under the Title Discourses on Davila. as this Volume is out of print; and I have no other copy—and as in this, are contained many manuscript notes in the margin, of my own; I pray you to return it to me as faithfully as you have done the first Volume, after you have perused it. If indeed you think it worth while to peruse it at all."
His three-volume Defence of the Constitutions, published between 1787 and 1788, contains Adams's distinctive insights as a political thinker. To a great extent (in spite of its sprawling style which Adams himself admitted making it a "strange book"), the work was an erudite argument for the necessity of checks and balances in government. In order to achieve balance, he stressed that there needed to be three parts—a strong executive, a bicameral legislature, and an independent judiciary—with the legislative power being "naturally and necessarily sovereign and supreme" over the executive.
In reaction to the French Revolution, Adams began to publish a series of articles in the Gazette of the United States over the course of 1790. They were titled "Discourses on Davila," and were published in book form in 1805. The essays were largely translations of a once popular history of the French civil wars in the sixteenth century, Historia delle guerre civili di Francia, by Enrico Caterino Davila. More than he had done in Defence of the Constitutions, Adams amplified his concern that an unbridled and unbalanced democracy would of necessity have disastrous consequences. He also provided keen psychological insight into human nature, drawing substantially on the works of Adam Smith, Samuel Johnson, Shakespeare and Voltaire, and on Pope's Essay on Man (McCullough, John Adams, p. 421). He observed that: "Reason holds the helm, but passions are the gales."
Adams concludes in his letter, "I thought it would be a gratification to you—and possibly some benefit hereafter to the Public, to give you an opportunity to read the Volume I have sent you.— They are all now Ancient things and almost forgotten, and very little esteemed in this Country—you may possibly think them, not absolutely useless to Posterity." Tiffany did not, and duly returned the book, which now is part of the John Adams Library in the Boston Public Library.
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