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Adams, John (1735-1826) to Richard Henry Lee

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Gilder Lehrman Collection #: GLC03864 Author/Creator: Adams, John (1735-1826) Place Written: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania Type: Autograph letter signed Date: 15 November 1775 Pagination: 3 p. : address : docket ; 25 x 20 cm.

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Summary of Content: Adams outlines the government that he envisions for America, that it should have executive, legislative and judicial branches, similar to the colonial government of Massachusetts. He also argues for a bicameral legislature and insists that judges not have overlapping offices in the other branches. Adams draws to an end with comments about human nature and tyranny. He concludes "if such a Trifle will be of any service to you or any gratification of Curiousity, here you have it...." On the evening of 14 November 1775, Lee, a delegate to the Continental Congress from Virginia, visited Adams at his Philadelphia residence. In the wake of Lexington and Concord, the two men discussed which form of government might be easily adopted by the colonies. Lee requested that Adams write down his plan and then circulated both manuscript and printed copies of the letter to convince colonists that independence would not be as difficult as they feared.

Background Information: By the end of 1775, compromise between Britain and its colonies was becoming a less viable option. Richard Henry Lee (1732-1794), a delegate to the Second Continental Congress from Virginia, asked ...John Adams to help him convince his home state of the need for independence. In response, Adams proposed a plan for a new state government with three branches. This letter offers one example of the way that patriots experimented with new systems of government based on reason and their analysis of human nature as being inevitably inclined toward corruption and the abuse of power unless checked and balanced by competing power. After his return to Congress and with the Massachusetts delegation's agreement, Lee proposed a congressional resolution for independence.See More

Full Transcript: John Adams
Philadelphia Novr 15th.1775
Dear Sir
The Course of Events, naturally turns the Thoughts of Gentlemen to the Subjects of Legislation and Jurisprudence, and it is a curious Problem ...what Form of Government, is most readily & easily adopted by a Colony, upon a Sudden Emergency. Nature and Experience have already pointed out the Solution of this Problem, in the Choice of Conventions and Committees of Safety. Nothing is wanting in Addition to these to make a compleat Government, but the Appointment of Magistrates for the due Administration of Justice.

taking Nature and Experience for my Guide I have made the following Sketch, which may be varied in any one particular an infinite Number of Ways, So as to accommodate it to the different Genius, Temper, Principles and even Prejudices of different People.

A Legislative, an Executive and a judicial Power, comprehend the whole of what is meant and understood by Government. It is by ballancing [struck: one] [inserted: each] of these Powers against the other two, that the Effort in human nature towards Tyranny can alone be checked and restrained and any degree of Freedom preserved in the Constitution.

Let a full and free Representation of the People be chosen for an House of Commons.

Let the House choose by Ballott twelve, Sixteen, Twenty four or Twenty Eight Persons, either Members of the House or from the People at large as the Electors please, for a Council.

[2] Let the House and Council by joint Ballott choose a Governor, annually triennially or Septennially as you will.
Let the Governor, Council, and the House be each a distinct and independent Branch of the Legislature, and have a Negative on all Laws.

Let the Lt. Governor, Secretary, Treasurer, Commissary Attorney General, and Solicitor General, be chosen annually, by joint Ballott of both Houses.

Let the Governor with Seven Councillors be a Quorum.

Let all officers and Magistrates civil and military, be nominated and appointed by the Governor, by and with the Advice and Consent of his Council

Let no officer be appointed but at a General Council, and let Notice be given to all the Councillors, Seven days at least before a General Council.

Let the Judges, at least of the Supreme Court, be incapacitated by Law from holding any Share of the Legislative or Executive Power, Let their Commissions be during good Behaviour, and their Salaries ascertained and established by Law.

Let the Governor have the Command of the Army, the Militia, Forts &c

Let the Colony have a Seal and affix it to all Commissions.

In this way a Single Mouth is Sufficient without the least Convulsion or even Animosity to accomplish a total Revolution in the Government of a Colony. -

If it is thought more beneficial, a Law may be made by this new Legislature [struck: giving] [inserted: leaving] to the People at large the Priviledge of choosing their Governor, [3] and Councillors annually, as Soon as affairs get into a more quiet Course

In Adopting a Plan, in Some Respects Similar to this human Nature would appear in its proper Glory asserting its own [re]al Dignity, pulling down Tyrannies, at a Single Exertion and erecting Such new Fabricks, as it thinks best calculated to promote its Happiness.

As you was the last Evening polite enough to ask me for this Model, if such a Trifle will be of any Service to you, or any gratification of Curiosity, here you have it, from, Sir your Friend
and
humble Servant
John Adams -
Richard Henry Lee Esqr.

[address leaf]
Richard Henry Lee Esqr
Present

[docket]
Mr. Adams
plan of
Government



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People: Adams, John, 1735-1826
Lee, Richard Henry, 1732-1794

Historical Era: American Revolution, 1763-1783

Subjects: PresidentRevolutionary WarGovernment and CivicsJudiciaryFreedom and IndependenceCongress

Sub Era: The War for Independence

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