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Adams, John (1735-1826) to Rev. Dr. Walter re: Europe's political strife, system of checks and balances

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Gilder Lehrman Collection #: GLC06666 Author/Creator: Adams, John (1735-1826) Place Written: East Chester, New York Type: Autograph letter signed Date: 24 October 1797 Pagination: 2 p. 25 x 20 cm

Summary of Content: Some edge losses at top right, affecting a few letters. A rare letter, written as president, commenting on his writings on government, and their influence on the Federal constitution and his depair over Europe's political and military strife. He thanks Dr. Walter for sending two volumes of essays from Count Rumford and then elaborates of his system (in his book Defense of the Constitutions of the United States) of checks and balances between an executive and legislative branch. He writes in part that the three volumes of the Defense "were written with a view of not only compassing the ferment in America which produced Shay's [sic] Rebellion, but with a hope of laying before the French Nation, and all Europe, some Considerations, which had not been much attended to for a century past...." Discussing the system of checks and balances he writes "[i]t is an Attempt to place Government upon the only Philosophy which can ever Support, the Constitution of human Nature.... The Emulations of the Legislative and Executive Authorities are made to check each other.... And by no other means were ever human Passions restrained...." Adams appeals to history and then adds "Had I possessed the Leisure of a Man of Letters, I might have made it shorter...."

Background Information:

Full Transcript: East Chester. 20 miles from New York
Oct. 24. 1797
Dear Sir
I received, yesterday your favour of the 14th with two Volumes of Essays from the beneficent Genius of Count Rumford.
If ...you have laboured through the three Volumes of my Defence of the Constitutions, you have done them an honour that very few other Men of Letters have taken the trouble to bestow on them.
They were written with a View of not only compossing the ferment in america which produced Shaye's Rebellion, but with a hope of laying before the French Nation, and all Europe some Considerations, which had not been much attended to for a Century past, the want of which I then feared and foresaw would produce Such horrors [struck: and] [inserted: as] have Since terrified the World. My Labour however has been lost, as much as Platos in his Republic Sir Thomas More's in his Eutopia or Harringtons in his Oceana. If I had not some little consolation in thinking that it had Some Effect in Producing our federal Constitution I should almost repent of having wasted my time in writing it. [2] It is an Attempt to place Government upon the only Philosophy which can ever Support it, the real Constitution of human Nature: not upon any wild Visions of its perfectibility.
That Emulation of the human heart, which produces Rivalries of Men Cities, and Nations and consequent Injustice and Disorder is applied as a Remedy to its own Excesses. The Emulation of the Legislative and Executive authorities are made to check each other and the Emulation between the poor and the rich, in their respective representative assemblies, are employed in the same way. And by no other means were ever human Passions restrained, and compelled to respect the Laws. The whole history of Nations is brought to support the Theory. But all the Ages of the world have not afforded stronger Proofs of its Infallibility, than the last ten years of the History of France, Holland, Italy &c.
Had I possessed the Leisure of a Man of Letters I might have made it shorter: but had the Eloquence of a Burke or a Rousseau fallen to my Lot, I never could have induced Numbers to read it Sufficient to have convinced Nations and Saved their Blood. Such is the Condition of humanity.
The News you give me of Mrs Gill's Sickness is a Severe affliction to me. Though I will still hope for her Recovery, I very much fear that the next Post will bring me fatal Tidings.
I am, Sir, with great Esteem, your Friend and humble
Servant
John Adams
Revd Dr Walter
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People: Adams, John, 1735-1826

Historical Era: The New Nation, 1783-1815

Subjects: PresidentUS ConstitutionGovernment and CivicsGlobal History and CivicsForeign AffairsPoliticsLibraryRebellionShays' RebellionFranceFrench RevolutionVice President

Sub Era: The Early Republic

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