"LIBERTY AND THE LAWS DEPEND ENTIRELY ON A SEPARATION OF [POWERS]": IMPORTANT 1787 FIRST EDITION OF JOHN ADAMS' DEFENCE OF THE CONSTITUTIONS, A FOUNDATIONAL TEXT IN CONSTITUTIONAL HISTORY
ADAMS, John. A Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America. London: Printed for C. Dilly, 1787. Octavo, early 19th-century three-quarter brown calf and marbled boards, rebacked with original spine laid down, red morocco spine label, later endpapers. $12,500.
First edition of Adams' important work on a constitutional separation of powers, his reasoned yet impassioned "rendition of the case for checks and balances in government" (McCullough).
While acting as America's minister in Great Britain, John Adams "felt an urgency like that of 1776. Great events were taking place at home… A constitutional convention was in the offing, and as he had been impelled in 1776 to write his Thoughts on Government, so Adams plunged ahead now, books piled about him, his pen scratching away until all hours… By early January 1787, Adams had rushed the first installment of his effort to a London printer. Titled A Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America… copies were sent off at once to the United States and to Jefferson in Paris" (McCullough, 374). On its receipt, Jefferson replied, "I have read your book with infinite satisfaction and improvement. It will do great good in America. Its learning and its good sense will, I hope, make it an institute for our politicians, old as well as young" (Sowerby, 3004). "Adams' Defence was an expanded, more erudite rendition of the case for checks and balances in government that he had championed in his Thoughts on Government (1776)… The people of America now had 'the best opportunity and the greatest trust in their hands' that Providence ever ordained to so small a number since Adam and Eve" (McCullough, 75). First edition. American reprints appeared the same year in New York and Philadelphia (See Evans 20176, 20177). The following year Adams wrote a second and third volume, and the entire work was issued in London in 1788 under a slightly expanded title. Bound without half title. Howes A60. Sabin 233. See Harvard Law Catalogue I:13. Occasional early inked annotations.
Text generally fresh with scattered foxing, mild edge-wear, rubbing, soiling to boards. A very good copy of this core work by America's second president.