Constitution of England


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Constitution of England


DE LOLME, J. L. The Constitution of England, or An Account of the English Government. London: G. Robinson and J. Murray, 1784. Octavo, contemporary full polished brown calf gilt, red morocco spine label.

1784 edition in English of De Lolme's important constitutional work, the preferred "corrected and enlarged" edition with his final revisions, a key influence on The Federalist Papers and intensely followed by John Adams in authoring his own Defense of the Constitutions (1787)—his papers containing "closely copied verbatim notes from the 1784 edition" (Appleby)—the power of "the executive for Adams, as for De Lolme and for Lincoln, was the mainstay of the entire mechanism" (Wood), scarce in contemporary calf.

The Swiss-born De Lolme, who wrote Constitution of England while exiled in England, argued the British constitution distinctly offered "the practical means by which freedom could be reconciled with political stability" (ODNB). This is considered the first "clear, concise and accurate treatise upon the constitutional law of England," offering an emphasis on separation of powers and executive authority that was especially admired by Founding Fathers John Adams and Alexander Hamilton (Marvin, 263). "It would be difficult to overemphasize the extent to which the key ideas of The Federalist were already present in De Lolme… His most important argument is that in modern political systems it is the power of the legislature, not the executive, that is the greatest threat to the liberty and security of individuals… The states had provided plenty of evidence of the danger of over powerful legislatures in the years following the Revolution; but it was De Lolme who had first formulated a constitutional solution to the problem" (Wootton, Essential Federalist, xxxiii-iv).

"There is a unifying thought in all De Lolme's political writings, one incidentally which was to appeal strongly to John Adams. It was an intense dislike of government by oligarchy, coterie, or self-perpetuating aristocracy" (Palmer, Age, 146). This preferred 1784 edition is uniquely consequential in containing De Lolme's final revisions: "becoming the model for all subsequent English editions." The profound influence of the 1784 edition on Adams can be traced to the year and a half before he began his own magnum opus, A Defence of the Constitutions of Government (1787). "His papers contain 24 closely copied verbatim notes from the 1784 edition of De Lolme's study… Adams took notes from the 1784 edition because he included material which De Lolme had added to this edition… The notes are an accurate mirror of Adams' debt, for in them he gleaned De Lolme's central themes later developed in the Defence: the necessity of investing the executive power in one exalted office; the importance of balancing the constitution through institutions representing the one, the few and the many; and the paradox of increasing freedom by limiting the range of popular power… 'Who can think of writing upon this subject after De Lolme, whose book is the best defense of the political balance of three powers that was ever written,' he wrote in the Defence…. Pretty much an echo of De Lolme, Adams hailed the concept of balancing the power of the few against the power of the many as 'this great truth, this eternal principle, without the knowledge of which every speculation upon government must be imperfect'" (Appleby, Liberalism and Republicanism 194-7, 242). The power of the "executive for Adams, as for De Lolme and for Lincoln, was the mainstay of the entire mechanism, the indispensable balancer" (Wood, Creation, 578). Initially issued in French in a 1771 Amsterdam edition; first issued in English in 1775. Precedes the first American edition. With copper-engraved frontispiece. Harvard Law Catalogue I:540. Sweet & Maxwell I:100. ESTC T109210. Contemporary armorial bookplate of Sir John Smith (1744-1807), 1st Baronet of Sydling St Nicholas in the County of Dorset, Great Britain, with banner displaying the motto in Latin, "Humani Nihil Alienum" ("Nothing that is human is alien to me").

Text very fresh, handsome copper-engraved frontispiece with only faint marginal dampstaining not affecting image, joints and spine ends expertly restored.

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