A Defense of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America is a three volume work by John Adams published in 1787–1788. The work was written while Adams was serving as the American ambassador in London. In Britain and in previous postings in France and the Netherlands Adams had confronted several criticisms of the government systems used by the American states. Adams started the work prior to the writing of the Constitution of the United States and the work is not a defense of that document, but rather of the various state constitutions that were in place in 1787.
Preceding The Federalist by several years, the first volume of John Adams’ A Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America is a profound work of political and governmental theory.
What prompted Adams to write such a remarkable treatise was a letter, a letter exchanged between a French statesman and a Welsh philosopher, between Anne-Robert-Jacques Turgot and Dr. Richard Price. In his letter, Turgot criticized the constitutions of government that several of the American states had adopted since their separation from Great Britain. In Turgot’s view, their governments too much resembled the British government, with its king, lords and commons. Turgot advocated a much simpler form of government, a government as democratic as possible, consisting of a single assembly of representatives.
Meanwhile, in America, the Congress established under the Articles of Confederation (a single assembly with little check or balance) was failing as the national government of the United States. And to address the institutional failures of this single-assembly “government, ” the several states had appointed delegates to meet in convention at Philadelphia, to devise “a more perfect union.”
Thus, Adams’ Defence, published in three volumes beginning in early 1787, could not have been more timely, for in addition to a vigorous defense of the several American constitutions, Adams also provided the Philadelphia delegates with a much-needed reference manual on republican governments.
Inspired by events in Europe and influencing events in America, Adams extensive work is a partial history of man’s eternal struggle to control power, and can serve for all time as a guidebook on the means to keep people free.