Lot 1
  • 1

Adams, John

2,500 - 3,500 USD
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  • paper and ink
A Defence of the Constitution of Government of the United States of America. London, Printed, Boston: Re-Printed and Sold by Edmund Freeman, 1788

12mo (6 1/4 x 3 1/2 in.; 160 x 90 mm). Browned and stained throughout, [A]3 of Subscriber's List printed on creased and flawed paper,affecting names, fore-margins of L2 and DD5 cropped touching and costing a few letters. Modern brown calf, spine in 6 compartments, black lettering piece. Brown morocco folding-case, spine lettered gilt.



Timothy Fuller (presentation inscription by Rev. Jonathan Burr, one of the subscribers). Acquisition: Bauman Rare Books


Evans 20910; Howes A60

Catalogue Note

One of three American editions, the first edition having been published in London in 1787 while Adams was serving as Minister Plenipotentiary to Great Britain. The book was written to a considerable extent in reaction to  the radical theories of French minister Baron Anne Robert Turgot, who espoused absolute authority for a single legislature. Adams drew on history and literature to examine various republics (modern democratic, modern aristocratic, monarchical, etc.), astutely arguing the case for checks and balances in government that he had previously championed in his Thoughts on Government (1776).

In February 1787, Adams received warm praise from Thomas Jefferson. Writing from Paris, Jefferson remarked: "I have read your book with infinite satisfaction ... It will do great good in America. It's learning and it's good sense will I hope make it an institute for our politicians, old as well as young" (Papers of Thomas Jefferson, ed. Boyd, 11:177). To which Adams pessimistically replied: "The approbation you express in general of my poor Volume, is a vast consolation to me. It is an hazardous Enterprize, and will be an unpopular Work in America for a long time. ... But as I have made it early in life and all along a Rule to Conceal nothing from the People which appeared to me material for their Happiness and Prosperity. However unpopular it might be at the time ..." (Papers 11: 189–190). But praise and approval eventually came from Philadelphia, where the Constitutional Convention had assembled. In June 1787  Benjamin Rush declared to Richard Price that Defence had "diffused such excellent principles among us, that there is little doubt of our adopting a vigorous and compound federal legislature.Our illustrious minister in this gift to his country has done us more service than if he had obtained alliances for us with all the nations of Europe" (Farrand, Records of the Federal Convention of 1787 3:33)