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Lot #6002
John Adams Signed Books - A Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America, Inscribed to His Cousin

The first two volumes of John Adams's influential Defence of the Constitutions of the United States America, presented to his cousin

Estimate: $40000+
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The first two volumes of John Adams's influential Defence of the Constitutions of the United States America, presented to his cousin

Extremely rare pair of signed books: A Defence of the Constitutions of the United States America, Volumes I and II [of three], by John Adams. First edition. London: Printed for C. Dilly (Vol. I) and C. Dilly and John Stockdale (Vol. II), 1787. Hardcovers bound in full brown calf, 5.5 x 8.5, 392 pages (Vol. I) and 451 pages (Vol. II). Signed and inscribed on the first free end page of both volumes in ink by John Adams to his cousin, "Miss Hannah Adams, from The Author." Subsequently inscribed by Hannah Adams to her nephew, Thomas Adams Hill. In very good to fine condition, with foxing to the signed page. Book condition: VG-/None, with professionally mended hinges and headcaps, some scratches to leather, moderate foxing throughout, and 19th-century ownership inscriptions to front pastedowns. Accompanied by custom-made clamshell cases for each volume.

Written while serving as the American ambassador in London, John Adams's A Defence of the Constitutions of the United States America—first published in three volumes in 1787-1788—offers a forcible statement of the principles on which he perceived the United States to be founded. The work describes forms of republican government across history and evokes the writings of political philosophers ancient and modern—from Plato to Benjamin Franklin. Adams argues that the American system is designed to take the best parts from each idea and structure of government, and makes the case for a comprehensive system of checks and balances. Although this work was written as a defense of the various state constitutions in place at the time, it would be consulted by the members of the Constitutional Convention as the Constitution of the United States began to be drafted in May 1787.

From David McCullough's biography of John Adams: 'From Philadelphia, where the Constitutional Convention had assembled, Benjamin Rush, a member of the Convention, wrote that the Defence had 'diffused such excellent principles among us, that there is little doubt of our adopting a vigorous and compound federal legislature'…To a considerable extent, 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), and later put into operation in his draft of the Massachusetts constitution.'

The recipient of these volumes, Hannah Adams (1755-1831), was a distant cousin of John Adams and the first woman in the United States to work professionally as a writer, authoring books on comparative religion and early United States history. Exceedingly rare in signed copies, and representing one of Adams's principal contributions to the early theory of American government, this is a remarkable and historically significant pair of books.

Auction Info

  • Auction Title: Remarkable Rarities
  • Dates: #669 - Ended September 23, 2023

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