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Adams, John
Défense des Constitutions américaines,

4, 500 



Adams, John, Défense des constitutions américaines, 1792.

The rare first French edition of this work by John Adams which would influence the Constitution of the United States and the outcome of the French Revolution.

A beautiful copy preserved in its contemporary binding.


Adams, John. Défense des constitutions américaines, ou De la nécessité d’une balance dans les pouvoirs d’un gouvernement libre… Avec des Notes et Observations de M. de la Croix.
Paris, Buisson, 1792.

2 parts in 2 volumes 8vo [194 X 124 mm] of: I/ (2) ll., XXIV and 547 pp. ; II/. (2) ll. and 503 pp.

Mottled calf, blind-stamped fillets around the covers, richly decorated gilt spine, red morocco lettering pieces, decorated leading edges, sprinkled edges, scattered foxing. Contemporary binding.

The rare first French edition of John Adams’ major work which would influence the Constitution of the United States and the outcome of the French Revolution.

Howes, A60 ; Sabin, 237; DAB I, p.76.

Not in Leclerc.

« A vast compilation in defense of the theory of the division of powers. » (Fay. Bibliographie des ouvrages français relatifs aux États-Unis 1770-1800. p. 29).

“… was made, printed and published in London, by an American for the Americans in the United States, during the years 1785, 1786, 1787…”. That is on the eve of the Philadelphia Convention (1787), where the first real Constitution of the United States was signed, and following dispositions largely influenced by this book. The thirteen colonies of America, who had published their own constitutions as early as 1783, were at the time only united under a simple federal league. Building on the constitutional systems of all the ancient and modern free states, the author defends the triple division of power, with a two-chamber system and warns against the aristocracy, “a scourge for all of the Earth’s people.””

This first French edition was published at a crucial moment in French history, as the Revolution was moving in a more radical direction. In 1792, the revolutionaries in the French Assembly stripped King Louis XVI of his power and declared him a prisoner of the nation. They called together the “Convention,” initially created to draft a new constitution to replace that of 1791, but eventually becoming a provisional revolutionary government. This work by Adams, explaining and defending the principles of the American Constitution, would have been a timely and popular book indeed.

At the time Adams wrote this work, he was serving as the first United States ambassador in England, an uncomfortable position for a recent rebel, but he was ever ready to argue the American point of view. Here he forcibly states the principles on which he perceived the United States to be founded. The book was popular and went through numerous editions in the United States and London. Its publication as the Federal Constitutional Convention was assembling added to its popularity and resulted in several American reprints, and according to the DAB, “its timeliness gave it vogue”.

John Adams’ work, a series of letters, was translated into French based on the first edition (London, 1787-88) with a few omits, by Leriget ; de Lacroix, a public law professor, added notes and observations to the translation.

This work contains, among other things, in the second volume, the Articles of the new Constitution as they were decided upon by the Federal Convention, on September 17th, 1787.

History has placed John Adams (1735-1826) amongst the first statesmen of his country. Early on he collaborates with the opposition movement against the British Crown. In 1774, he takes part in the formal declaration of the rights and principles calling the people to resist, and closes all American ports to British commercial ships.

He vehemently supports independence and is one of the principal instigators of the famous resolution of the 4th of July 1776, which declares the American colonies to being free, sovereign and independent states.

Being an expert on constitutional matters, he becomes one of the first to ask for a strong central government. Other men such as Washington and Hamilton join him. Changes happen, leading to the Constitution of 1788. Washington is elected president and John Adams vice-president in 1789. Second president of the United Stats from 1797 to 1804, he defended the same political ideas as Washington.

A beautiful copy preserved in its contemporary binding.

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