103. John Adams: A Defence of the Constitutions, Letter LIII
American Herald, 31 December 1787



As they call themselves.

As the news-papers are filled with the most sensible, learned and unanswerable arguments in favour of the New Constitution of Government; and as every man is undoubtedly a fool or a knave, who will utter a single lisp against any part of it: I could wish some one of our most excellent writers would point out in which class we must rank John Adams, Esq; Minister Plenipotent[i]ary from the United States of America to the Court of London, who certainly is against it.—I have sent you his sentiments upon this subject, which, tho’ they have not been answered yet, I have no doubt, now, among the multitude of the Literati who dip their grey goose quil[l]s in the true streams of helicon on this occasion, that there will be not a few who will very easily do it.—However, not to make the porch larger than the house, I shall conclude my observations, and let the extract from his Excellency John Adams, Esq; speak for itself.

See Chapter on Congress, page 362, in the defence of the American Constitutions.

“My dear Sir,

“The people of America, and their delegates in congress, were of opinion, that a single assembly was every way adequate to the management of all their fœderal concerns; and with good reason, because congress is not a legislative assembly, nor a representative assembly, but only a diplomatic assembly. A single council has been found to answer the purposes of confederacies very well. But in all such cases the deputies are responsible to the states; their authority is clearly ascertained; and the states, in their separate capacities, are the checks. These are able to form an effectual balance, and at all times to controul their delegates. The security against the dangers of this kind of government will depend upon the accuracy and decision with which the governments of the separate states have their own orders arranged and balanced. The necessity we are under of submitting to a fœderal government, is an additional and a very powerful argument for three branches, and a balance, by an equal negative, in all the seperate governments. Congress will always be composed of members from the natural and artificial aristocratical body in every state, even in the northern, as well as in the middle and southern states. Their natural dispositions then in general will be (whether they shall be sensible of it or not, and whatever integrity or abilities they may be possessed of) to diminish the prerogatives of the governors, and the privileges of the people, and to augment the influence of the aristocratical party. There have been causes enough to prevent the appearance of this inclination hitherto; but a calm course of prosperity would very soon bring it fourth, if effectual provision against it be not made in season. It will be found absolutely necessary, therefore, to give negatives to the governors, to defend the executives, against the influence of this body, as well as the senates and representatives in their several states. The necessity of a negative in the house of representatives, will be called in question by nobody.

“Dr. Price and the Abbé de Mably are zealous for additional powers to congress.—Full power in all foreign affairs, and over foreign commerce, and perhaps some authority over the commerce of the states with one another, may be necessary; and it is hard to say, that more authority in other things is not wanted, yet the subject is of such extreme delicacy and difficulty, that the people, are much to be applauded for their caution.—To collect together the antient and modern leagues—the Amphyctionic, the Olynthian, the Argive, the Arcadian, and the Achæan confederacies among the Greeks—the general diet of the Swiss cantons, and the States General of the United Netherlands—the union of the hanse-towns, &c. which have been found to answer the purposes both of government and liberty—to compare them all, with the circumstances, the situation, the geography, the commerce, the population and the forms of government, as well as the climate, the soil, and manners of the people, and consider what further fœderal powers are wanted, and may be safely given, would be a useful work. If your public engagements allow you the time to undertake such an enquiry, you will find it an agreeable amusement.”