A Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America.

“A Constitution of Government once changed from Freedom, can never be restored. Liberty, once lost, is lost forever”: First American Edition of John Adams's A Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America; from the library of American founding father Gunning Bedford, Jr.

A Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America.

ADAMS, John. [Gunning Bedford Jr.].


Item Number: 125308

Philadelphia: Printed for Hall and Sellers; J. Cruikshank; and Young and McCulloch, 1787.

First edition of John Adams’s greatest contribution to American political theory; from the library of one of the 39 signers of the United States Constitution, Founding Father Gunning Bedford, Jr. Octavo, bound in full contemporary tree calf with gilt ruling to the spine, red morocco spine label lettered in gilt, gilt turn-ins. Signed by Gunning Bedford, Jr. on the title page. Born in Philadelphia in 1747, Gunning Bedford attended the College of New Jersey, where he was a classmate of James Madison, and later served in the Continental Army as an aide to General George Washington. After the Revolutionary war, he became a prominent political figure sitting in the legislature, on the state council, and in the Continental Congress (1783–85). One of the more active members of the Constitutional Convention, on May 14, 1787 he was one of the 39 delegates that signed the Constitution of the United States. Gunning Bedford also served as Attorney General of Delaware from 1784 until he was designated by George Washington as a federal district judge for his state in 1789, a position he held for the rest of his life. In near fine condition. Housed in a custom half morocco and chemise case. An exceptional example with fine provenance.

Adams wrote this work on constitutional theory while serving as Minister to the Court of St. James as a response to liberal French statesman Turgot, who had criticized the new American state constitutions for their conservative economic framework. Adams's Defence was often cited in the debates of the Constitutional Convention. "A work marked by insight, breadth of views, conviction, courage, and—we may venture to add—much wisdom" (Larned, Literature of American History 2287). At the start of 1787, while minister to Great Britain and a year before he returned to America, John Adams "felt an urgency like that of 1776. Great events were taking place at home. Support for a stronger central government was gaining ground… 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… 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, John Adams, 374). Of the Defence, Thomas Jefferson wrote to Adams, "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). "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" (McCullough, 375). "The work did much to familiarize the European mind to the novel state of things then taking place in America" (Sabin 236). This volume was issued as a stand-alone work, and was followed by two supplemental volumes the following year (Sabin, 234).

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