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John Adams, Cicero and the traditions of republicanism.


John Adams' approach to republican politics emphasizes the need to check and balance powers in a republican constitution, but also the need to check the power of the 'aristocracies' that arise in society. The need for checks on power is explained in terms of the weakness of human reason relative to the passions, and in terms of the need for harmony and justice to promote happiness in society. Adams retains a Ciceronian view of the origins of human society and of republican government, and relies on Cicero's definitions of 'people' and `republic' to help frame his Defense of the Constitutions of the United States of America. His approach is conservative in that part of his defense is to stress that the colonial governments that existed before Independence were republican, and that the institutions of the colonial governments were the primary models for the new state constitutions after Independence. The study suggests that historical interpretations of the 'republican tradition' are better understood in terms of a `traditions of republicanism.'


John Adams lived a life that was in many ways similar to that of Marcus Tullius Cicero. Like Cicero, Adams was a remarkable lawyer who became an accomplished statesman and philosopher. Adams was a central figure in the struggle for independence after the Seven Years War, defended soldiers charged with manslaughter after the Boston Massacre, was a delegate to the First and Second Continental Congresses, served as a diplomat during the War for Independence, was the primary author of the Constitution for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, was elected the first Vice-President of the United States in 1788, and was elected the second President of the United States in 1796. In addition he wrote significant treatises of political theory before, during and after the War for Independence. Like Cicero then, he combined the prudence of a statesman and the rhetorical expertise of a lawyer with the theoretical wisdom of a philosopher.

But there is more, namely Adams' pervasive use of Cicero's political arguments and rhetorical techniques in his own works. Adams' most substantial works of political philosophy, his Defense of the Constitutions of the United States (1) and the continuation of his argument in Discourses on Davila, (2) are considered to be works that, to a degree, harmed his reputation as a defender of republican liberty during the struggle for independence. They have been described as outdated works about the classical republican ideal of a mixed regime that was no longer applicable to a society based on an ethic of moral and political equality (Bailyn, 1967; Wood, 1969, Ellis, 1993). Adams' view of the mixed regime is clearly framed by his reading of Cicero, and other Romans.

The present generation of scholars has produced studies of Adams' life and works that amount to an admirable defense of his status as one of the greatest minds of the founding generation. Historian David McCullough has captured the heroic story of Adams' personal sacrifices and statesmanship in his biography (McCulloch, 2002). Scholars of political thought, including George Carey, Ralph Lerner, C. Bradley Thompson and John Patrick Diggins have carefully reconstructed the written evidence of Adams' commitment to republican political principles throughout his life, and drawn attention to the relevance of his understanding of human nature and the inevitability of aristocracy to contemporary politics in the United States (Diggins 2003& 1984; Carey, 2000; Thompson, 1998; Lerner, 1987).

The purpose of this study is to offer an overview of Adams' republican political teaching in his A Defense of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America, which I categorize as 'conservative' republicanism. The terminology is not ideal, since it was not used in late eighteenth and early nineteenth century, but it is useful as a description of Adams' contribution to one strand of republicanism in North America and Europe. My work breaks from certain aspects of the explanation of Adams' political teachings found in C. Bradley Thompson's study, John Adams and the Spirit of Liberty, but upholds the key finding of Thompson's study: namely that Adams was deeply committed to the structuring of a republican constitution that could balance the power of the variety of 'aristocracies' that arise in any free society. Adams denied that hereditary standing in the law was an essential condition for the existence of an aristocracy, (3) and so believed that the principles behind Cicero's mixed constitution are still applicable in what Madison called "unmixed and extended republics." (4)

In what follows I read John Adams as a statesman and political thinker motivated by a concern for the conservation of ordered liberty in the United States and its promotion around the world, but especially in revolutionary France. Adams knew of no stark opposition between the ethical principles we commonly identify as classical liberalism and the governmental systems he understood to be republican (Rahe, 2005, xix-xxx). The complexity and ambivalence of his political teaching stands in stark contrast to the optimistic liberalism of the French statesmen and philosophers like Turgot and Condorcet and Americans like Franklin who believed that freedom and equality could be spread through education and a simple, centralized government. Adams' works are a stern and prescient warning that any political system that centralizes political authority in the hands of a single institution, class or person in order to transform human society could descend into tyranny and war.

Adams' approach relies on the rhetoric of fallen nature. Regardless of Adams' unorthodox theological views, one must still account for his continued use of the concepts of the 'fall' and fallen nature that is so much a part of medieval and Reformation approaches to politics (Lerner, 1987, 4861). Part of this issue can be resolved by focusing more clearly on the Ciceronian and Augustinian aspects of Adams' political teaching. Here I hope to show that Adams not only emulated Cicero's rhetorical styles, but that he accepted important aspects of Cicero's and Augustine's accounts of human nature and the permanently problematic nature of civil government.

Before proceeding further it may be helpful to note some general observations about methods in the history of political thought. I intend to apply the approach suggested by Cary J. Nederman in his recent study of political thought, Lineages of European Political Thought: Explorations of the Modern/Medieval Divide from John of Salisbury to Hegel (Ncderman, 2009, xix-xxi). There he encourages political theorists to follow a middle path between interpretations that insist upon radical breaks in political thought (the rupture thesis) and those that insist upon direct continuity between writers living in different historical and cultural contexts (the continuity thesis). Approaches that insist upon radical breaks from the past tend to interpret historical texts through the lens of mutually exclusive categories of analysis. Approaches that insist on simple continuity or influence overlook the extent to which words and concepts take on different meanings when applied by different writers living in different historical and cultural contexts. In either case, the complexity of political concepts as used over time is obscured by the assumption that complex doctrines like republicanism have a single, coherent meaning.

This interpretative approach allows us to better comprehend the complexity of concepts like conservatism and republicanism in the history of political thought. J.G.A. Pocock has noted that "a general history of 'conservative' doctrine cannot be written; "too many minds have been trying to 'conserve' too many things for too many reasons." (5) The same may be true of republican doctrine.


One of the most striking aspects of Adams' works when compared with his contemporaries in the United States is the care he took to explain what he meant by a republic in the context of European political history and philosophy, and his unwillingness to deny the application of the term to any regimes that were then commonly known as republics. This aspect of his works is an extremely complicated issue and is easily confused by contemporary scholars of the American founding because of their almost exclusive reliance on The Federalist Papers for their understanding of the concept of republican and constitutional government in the founding era. (6) Adams' plan in his Defense was to reply to the judgment of the eminent French statesman Anne-Robert-Jacques Turgot, Baron de Laune, expressed in 1778 in an open letter to Richard Price, an English clergyman and political theorist whose sympathies were with the colonists. However the bases for his reply had been worked out in his Thoughts on Government and in the constitution he had drafted for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. The reply must have seemed necessary to Adams because the concept of a republic implicit in Turgot's letter required a repudiation of the type of constitution Adams had authored for his own state, and because he knew and respected Turgot and Price for their learning and republican sympathies. (7)

Turgot's letter judged the constitutions of the newly independent states to be insufficiently republican based on the principle of the political equality of citizens. The adoption of bicameral legislatures and separately appointed governors appeared to him to be a mere imitation of the English constitution, and an implicit adoption of the European social orders of nobility and commons. In a republic it would be better to centralize all power into the hands of a single, unicameral representative assembly. The French statesman also faulted the new Confederation for allowing the states to operate separately, like the constituent states of the Dutch republic, rather than uniting the power of the nation into one republican government to represent all the citizens. Based on this view, Adams and some of the other founders had failed to be entirely 'republican' when framing their state constitutions.

Adams' response begins with a brief summary of the progress in knowledge that had been made from the fifteenth to the eighteenth century in various areas of science, and asks whether similar progress could and should not be made in the science of politics (Works, IV, 283-298). Following Machiavelli, Bacon and Hume, Adams had become convinced that politics should be approached as an empirical science. The body of the three volumes of the Defense has to be approached with this in mind. Turgot's letter entails an implicit acceptance of the idea that a republican constitution should gather the whole legislative authority of the nation into the hands of a unicameral assembly of representatives. Adams' approach in the first volume of the Defense is clearly empirical. He examines all the existing states that were called republics to see to what extent they approached Turgot's concept, and then examines the views of philosophers, political writers and historians on the subject. He then turns to ancient examples of republican constitutions before drawing his preliminary conclusion, that no republic had ever been so constituted.

Before undertaking this empirical analysis, Adams provides a discussion of the need for checks and balances in republican constitutions to prevent civil wars and the rise of tyranny. The language of the discussion is clearly Ciceronian, in that Adams simply asserts that a republic can have any mixture of monarchical, aristocratic and democratic elements in its constitution, but that even a simple form of constitution might be a republic if it has the rule of law. Relying in part on ancient historians and in part on Hume's Essays, he describes the depredations of ancient civil wars, caused according to Adams by unbalanced constitutions (Works, IV, 286287). One might observe that Adams, like Hume, is here taking the side of the moderns against the ancients. He makes his position even more clear when he asserts that some of the differences between the laws and constitutions of the American republics and the ancient republics are due to Enlightenment (Works, IV 292ff; Thompson, 2005; Rahe, 2005).

For one thing, the people of the United States had not deemed it necessary to invent some sort of divine source for their constitutions and laws based on the notion that the people would not obey laws without divine sanction, an ancient view given modern support by Machiavelli (Works, IV, 291-292).(8) Adams' claim that the men responsible for framing the laws of the United States based their work on "the simple principles of nature" must be understood in light of this concern about the motivations of republican citizens. In this sense, Adams, like the authors of The Federalist Papers and Europeans like Turgot and Richard Price, understands the United States itself to be a kind of grand experiment in self-government. What is more, the Americans relied heavily on the experience of their own societies and political institutions in framing their new constitutions. Later in his life, Adams prepared an unpublished manuscript, in which he expressly argues that it was the colonial governments in North America, and not the British constitution, that provided the immediate models for the institution of the new state governments and the Constitution of 1787. (9)

After these observations about the past and present of republican government, Adams turns to two classical Roman sources, Tacitus and Cicero, to produce an assessment of the practicality and duration of a republic that includes a governor, a senate and a house of representatives. Since Cicero asserts the superiority of the mixed constitution against Tacitus' assertion of its impracticality, Adams has resort to Cicero's De Republica for definitions, and expresses his regret that the dialogue was lost. He attributes the speeches that he transcribes to Cicero himself, rather than to Scipio, the character in the dialogue who made the speeches. (10) This emphasis on Cicero's understanding of a republic is consistent with Adams' reliance on Cicero throughout his life, both in his forensic rhetoric as a practicing lawyer and in his public polemics during the struggle for independence (Farrell, 1992, 1991, & 1989). Here, however, Adams is adopting Cicero's conception of a republic, or commonwealth, as a community of interests harmonized through the human capacity for reasoned speech.

The first passage from Cicero is Adams' response to the objection that the creation of artificial orders (like the three branches of the government) in a republican constitution would lead to discord and disputes. Adams asserts a Ciceronian and Augustinian view of human society as a concord among disparate parts:
  In playing the lyre or the flute, and of course in choral singing,
  a degree of harmony must be maintained among the different sounds,
  and if it is altered or discordant a trained ear cannot endure it,
  and the harmony, through regulation of different voices, is made
  pleasing and
  concordant. So too the state, through the reasoned balance of the
  highest the lowest and the intervening orders, is harmonious in the
  concord of very different people. What musicians call harmony with
  regard to song is concord in the state, the tightest and best bond of
  safety in every republic, and that concord can never exist without
  justice. (11)

Between this passage and the second transcription from Cicero, Adams gives the following commentary:
  As all the ages of the world have not produced a greater statesman and
  philosopher than Cicero, his authority should he given great weight.
  His decided opinion in favor three branches is founded on a reason
  that is unchangeable; the laws, which are the only possible rule,
  measure, and security of justice, can he sure of protection, for any
  course of time, in no other form of government; and the very name of a
  republic implies that the property of the people should he represented
  in the legislature, and decide the rule of justice (Works, IV, 295).

Adams' argument in favor of a mixed and balanced constitution is focused on the concept of justice, and the belief that justice requires a rule of law that inspires respect for the right of property. Long before Locke penned his Second Treatise, Cicero had placed an emphasis on the protection of property ownership as one of the primary purposes of government (See De Officiis, 2.73; Wood, 1988; Radford, 1994).

Our author then transcribes the famous passage from Cicero that includes the definition of a people and a republic:
  The commonwealth is the property of a people, but a people is not any
  group of men assembled in any way, hut an assemblage of some size
  associated through an agreement on law and community of interest. (12)
  A republic is 'the people's property' only when it is well and justly
  governed, whether by a single king, or by a few nobles, or by the
  whole people. But when there is an unjust king, one whom I call,
  in the Greek manner, a tyrant; or unjust aristocrats, whose
  agreement is a faction; or the people themselves are unjust,
  a matter for which I find no word in common use, unless I should
  call them 'tyrant' too; then there is not a defective republic,
  but no republic at all. Since it is not 'the people's thing'
  when a tyrant or a faction takes control, nor is the
  people still a people if it is unjust, since it is not an assemblage
  associated by a common acknowledgement of law, and by a community
  of interests. Where there is no true justice there can be no right.
  For that which is done by right is justly done, and what is unjustly
  done cannot be done by right. For the unjust establishments of humans
  should neither be thought of nor spoken of as rights, since even they
  themselves say that right is that which flows from the fountain of
  justice, denying the definition commonly given by those who
  misconceive the matter, that right is what is useful to the stronger.

The point of Adams' argument is to distinguish the democratic branch in a republican constitution from the constitution as a whole. Any constitution of government that rests all power in a single institution, even in a body of the people's representatives, would end in civil disorder and tyranny. As Adams would argue later in his work, all constitutions that were called republics in early modern Europe had mixtures of aristocratic and monarchical elements in their constitutions. So that the term could be applied to any government with a rule of law to preserve justice; even a limited monarchy like England could be called a republic.

Malcolm Schofield has focused attention on the extent to which Cicero's defining activity in De Republica is an early attempt to provide a criterion of legitimacy to distinguish republican government from non-republican government (Schofield, 1999, 178-194). Before a republic could come into existence, a society must become a 'people.' A people is an association based on justice with a shared and reciprocal sense of justice that must be reflected in the governmental constitution of the society. Like Cicero, Adams doubted that a constitution based on simple popular rule could maintain the shared sense of justice necessary to a republic. His focus on the human capacity for self-delusion, and his experiences before, during and after the War for Independence, convinced him that the variety of interests in society, the wealthy and the poor, the landowners and the landless, all had to be represented and checked through a properly republican constitution with a strong executive. (14)

Before closing his preface, Adams engages in a rhetorical flourish he borrows from David Hume, who imagined what Tacitus and Cicero would think if they returned to earth in the eighteenth century and could see the plan of a mixed constitution perfected in the English constitution in his essay entitltled The Independence of Parliemaent" (Hume, 1985, 43). However he goes beyond Hume asking whether the Americans would not be an object of reprehension if they took the word of sages and philosophers who advised them to abandon this approach to republican government. It is easy to see why the Adams' work was received with ambivalence in North America. As Tocqueville points out, the English colonies of North America, from their very earliest settlements, were characterized by the 'equality of condition'. The movement for independence had produced the stirring declaration that "all men are created equal." Any political work as preoccupied with aristocracy as was Adams Defense surely would have caused confusion in the democratic republic the United States was coming to be, but a careful reading of Adams reveals that the author never abandoned his commitment to the principles of natural equality and natural rights.


Scholars like Neal Wood, Marcia Colish, Quentin Skinner and Cary Nederman have come to recognize that Cicero's works were widespread and often confusing sources of late antique, medieval and early modern European moral and political ideas (Skinner, 1978; Wood, 1988; Colish, 1997; Nederman, 1988 & 2000). Cicero's understanding of natural sociability is somewhat different from Aristotle's view that the human being is according to nature a political animal. For the purposes of this argument, I will refer to a relevant passage in Cicero's De oficiis, and compare it to Adams' texts in Davila and the Defense. There Cicero observes that human beings, like all animals, have a natural inclination to self-preservation that causes them to live together. However, human beings are also united because reason empowers human beings with speech:
  Nature likewise by the power of reason associates man with man in the
  common bonds of speech and life; she implants in him above all, I may
  say, a strangely tender love for his offspring. She also prompts
  men to meet in companies, to form public assemblies and to take
  part in them themselves; and she further dictates as a consequence
  of this, the effort on man's part to provide a store of things that
  minister to his comfort and wants and not for himself alone, hut for
  his wife and children and the others whom he holds dear and for whom
  he ought to provide, and this responsibility also stimulates his
  courage and makes it stronger for the active duties of life (De
  Officiis I, iv,12). (15)

Here, and in many medieval texts, the idea that human beings are moved by a natural instinct, or inclination to self-preservation is combined with a conviction that human beings are social animals. Discussion of the idea of natural law entails a concern for natural necessity and self-preservation, and the idea that there are particular laws of nature that deal with the problem of self-preservation, and that human beings may have a natural right of self-preservation were scattered throughout European legal and political discourse for centuries before Hobbes and Locke constructed their states of nature (Tierney, 1997; Tuck, 1982 & 2001).

If Adams expresses less faith in reason and human benevolence than did Cicero, he was still in fundamental agreement with him that human beings were social animals because of natural necessity, and that they have a natural inclination to benevolence. He seems to break with Cicero over the idea that reason can be the supreme cause of human action to the exclusion of appetites, passion, desires and affections. In a response to Marchamont Needham's claim that the government of a republic should be vested in a single assembly because this form was the only form of constitution "suitable to the nature and reason of mankind," Adams explains that anarchism is the logical conclusion of Needham's reasoning:
  If Socrates and Plato, Cicero and Seneca, Hutcheson and Butler are to
  be credited, reason is rightfully supreme in man, and therefore, it
  would be most suitable to the reason of mankind to have no civil or
  political government at all. The moral government of God, and his
  viceregent, Conscience, ought to be sufficient to restrain men to
  obedience, to justice, and benevolence, at all times and in all
  places, we must therefore descend from the dignity of our nature,
  when we think of civil government at all. But the nature of
  mankind is one thing, the reason of mankind is another; and the
  first has the same relation to the last as the whole to a part.
  The passions and appetites are parts of human nature, as well as
  reason and the moral sense. In the institution of government, it
  must be remembered that, although reason ought to govern
  individuals, it certainly never did since the Fall, and never
  will, till the Milleniurn; and human nature as it is, as it has
  been, and will be (Works, VI, 114--115).

I say that Adams seems to break with Cicero because it is arguable that Cicero's view of these issues was actually very close to Adams' concern about the weakness of human reason as a cause of human acts (Nicgorski, 1991). We may at least say that both authors acknowledge that human beings have unequal capacities for rationally determined action.

Adams' discussion of human nature and sociability is also quite similar to David Hume's. In Hume's essay, "On the Origin of Government," he grants that all men are sensible of the necessity of justice, but that human nature is not strong enough always to be moved by this 'moral sense'. Hume notes, "Yet, notwithstanding this strong and obvious necessity, such is the frailty or perverseness of our nature! it is impossible to keep men, faithfully and unerringly, in the paths of justice (Hume, 1985, 38)." Neither author imagines a solitary 'state of nature' as a way of understanding human motivation or explaining the rise of civil government. Instead both authors make observations about human nature based on their experience and on the observations of other philosophers and historians. Both authors were also well disposed to the Whig principles of the Glorious Revolution of 1688, and consequently support a Lockean version of constitutional government.

One of the key disputes in contemporary scholarship concerns Adams' understanding of human nature, and whether or not he should be viewed as a Puritan. The theological doctrine of original sin is of Pauline and Augustinian origins, but the rhetoric of 'fallen nature' is far more widespread in ancient political thought. Neal Wood found consistent applications of categories of fallen nature in an important study of the rhetoric of Cicero and St. Augustine (Wood, 1986). Both authors, living during a period of social upheaval, described their violent contemporaries as "mentally deranged, morally lost and insolently reckless criminals." (16) Both men were concerned about the potential destruction of the social harmony that makes civilized living possible.

One sees a very similar language about fallen humanity and the danger of civil strife in Adams' defense speeches at the Boston Massacre trials. Adams was the primary defense counsel for the officers and soldiers who were tried for manslaughter after the massacre. His argument for the British Captain, Thomas Preston, has not survived, but his closing argument on behalf of the eight British soldiers is available (in Legal Papers of John Adams, VOl. 3, 242270). (17) Arguing independently of Wood, rhetorician James M. Farrell has shown that Adams' argument that the soldiers acted in self-defense against an unruly mob is closely modeled on Cicero's argument in Pro Milone, his defense of his friend Titus Annuis Milo in the murder of his Roman political enemy Publius Clodius (Farrell, 1991). In that speech Adams uses explicitly racial and elitist language in his attempt to establish that the soldiers were accosted by a 'mob', and that the mob was made up of "a motley rabble of saucy boys." (18) He clearly considered the participants in the riots that provoked the shootings to be insolent and recklessly violent, and argued that the British soldiers had acted in self-defense. The case made Adams famous for his defense of fundamental rights and justice.

Later in his life, Adams remained consistent in his emphasis on the idea that human appetites and passions were as important as reason in the science of human actions. He was skeptical of Jefferson's argument that an enlightened system of public education, like the one Jefferson had designed for Virginia, would overcome the ignorance and tyranny of pseudo-aristocracy and lead to government by a true, natural aristocracy (Jefferson to Adams, Oct. 28, 1813, in Cappon, 387ff). The aging patriots agreed that the 18th century had seen remarkable progress in the sciences and arts and in manners and morals, but Adams did not experience Jefferson's disappointment over the bloody conduct of the French Revolution and the rise of the Napoleonic dictatorship. Rather, Adams saw these events as a necessary outcome of an unbalanced constitution that concentrated the legislative and executive power into a single institution. The aging statesman responded to Jefferson's wonder about how the principle that "Power was Right" became accepted in Europe with a remarkable explanation of his views on the limits of human reason, especially his own:
  You ask, how it happened that all Europe, has acted on the Principle
  "that Power is Right." I know not what Answer to give you, but this,
  that Power always sincerely, conscientiously, de tres bon Foi,
  believes itself Right. Power always thinks it has a great Soul,
  and vast Views, beyond the Comprehension of the Weak; and that
  it is doing God Service, when it is violating his Laws. Our
  Passions, Ambitions, Avarice, Love, Resentment etc possess so much
  metaphysical Subtlety and so much overpowering Eloquence, that
  they insinuate themselves into the Understanding and the Conscience
  and convert both to their Party. And I may he deceived as much as
  any of them, when I say, that Power must never be trusted without
  a Check (Adams to Jefferson, Feb. 2, 1816, in Cappon, 462-462).

It is remarkable how Augustinian the aging Unitarian statesman sounds in this passage. However, that is because both Augustine and Adams had studied rhetoric and political philosophy under Cicero. They did not hold the same theological doctrine of original sin, but they shared a Ciceronian and Christian vision of 'fallen nature,' and believed that their vision had been confirmed by their own experiences and in the observations of the wisest statesman about the problematic nature of politics.


If it is difficult to imagine a general history of conservative doctrine, it is equally difficult to imagine a general history of republican doctrine. When we consider the use of the term 'republic' and 'republican' in the late eighteenth century we find that the language of republicanism was widespread and complex. It is common now to assume that the term 'republic' was used consistently as an antonym of monarchy, but nothing could be further from the truth. Adams in the section of Volume II of his Defence on "Monarchical Republics, Rousseau, and other scholars of the era expended significant amounts of ink discussing and criticizing the monarchical republic of Poland (Works, IV 357-382; Rousseau, 1985). In English language discourse the complexity of the issue is multiplied by the common translation of res publica as 'commonwealth'. Adams was quite certain that the limited monarchy of England deserved the label of 'commonwealth,' since it established a rule of law that made it possible for the people to be happy in the enjoyment of their property, thus applying Cicero's definition of a people.

This complex variety of connotations is precisely why Quentin Skinner applied the awkward phrase "Neo-Roman theory of a free state" as an alternative to the term 'republic' in his study of Liberty before Liberalism (Skinner, 1998). The term 'classical republicanism' is equivocal. It has been used to refer to Aristotle's understanding of citizens ruling and being ruled in turn in a polis, the expulsion of the Etruscan monarchy from Rome, the mixed regime of the later Roman republic, the republics and republican publicists of medieval and renaissance Italy, seventeenth century English revolutionaries and the philosophy of Rousseau. The modifier 'classical' seems to lose its utility under these circumstances. The republican tradition is really better understood in terms of traditions of republicanism.

Adams' version of republicanism is particularly interesting for a number of reasons. He upholds a natural rights ethic while insisting that human beings are naturally social animals. He insists that republican government does not require an exceptionally virtuous citizenry. He combines an appreciation for the scientific advances of the Enlightenment with an Augustinian vision of the permanent weakness of human reason and the imperfectability of human nature. The phrase conservative republican captures the central focus of Adams' political teaching. He had a deep appreciation for the Whig view that government is instituted to secure the rights and happiness of the governed. He saw the way that the ordered liberty provided by Whig constitutions had led to extensive happiness in the English colonies in North America, and he wanted to conserve it. Thus, he may be called a conservative republican.


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(1) Adams, John. A Defense of the Constitutions of the Governments of the United States of America in The Works of John Adams. Charles Francis Adams, editor (Boston: Little and Brown 1850-1856) in Volumes IV, V and VI.

(2) Adams, John Discourses on Davila. Works, Vol. VI.

(3) Thompson (1998), 175-185. It should be noted that Thompson's interpretation of Adams' view of aristocracy is very similar to that of Russell Kirk. See Kirk, The Conservative Mind (La Vergne, TN: BN Publishing, 2008) 82-86.

(4) See Madison's argument in Federalist #14

(5) See note 1 to the "Editor's Introduction," Edmund Burke Reflections on the Revolution in France edited by J.G.A. Pocock, (Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Publishing Company, 1987) 219.

(6) As Pocock has pointed out, Madison's identification of republican government with the principle of representation, and of democracy with direct popular government in Federalist #10 is an inversion of the common meaning of those concepts as they were used in the 17th and 18th centuries. See Pocock's "Afterward" to the 2003 edition of The Machiavellian Moment, 581-582. In essence, Madison redefined 'republic' to mean a representative democracy.

(7) An excerpt from the Letter was published in Volume I of The Defense and can be found in Adams, Works, IV, 278-281.

(8) See Machiavelli, Discourses on Livy, I.11.

(9) Adams makes this point most directly in his Review of the Hillhouse Proposals, in Works, VI, 525-550, though it may be inferred from his argument in the Preface. In 1808, Hillhouse had proposed a radical amending of the Constitution of the United States that would have made it similar to the plan suggested by Turgot.

(10) It is worth noting that most of the transcribed passages are lost but were preserved or paraphrased in Book II of Saint Augustine's De civitate Dei, and that the passages are presented there in the order Adams transcribes them in his work.

(11) Cicero, On the Commonwealth, 2.xlii.69a if, the translation is taken from Cicero, On the Commonwealth and On the Laws, edited by James Zetzel (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999) 56-57.

(12) De Republica, 1 .xxv.39

(13) These passages from Cicero's dialogue are paraphrased in Augustine's De civitate Dei, II, 21 and XIX, 21. The translations are taken from The Political Writings of John Adams. Edited by George Carey (Washington: Regnery Publishing, Inc., 2000) 121122.

(14) See Adams, "On Self-Delusion," in The Portable John Adams edited by J.P. Diggins (New York: Penguin Books, 2004) 194-200.

(15) Schofield (1999) points out there are similar passages in De Inventione (I, 2-3), Pro Sexto (91-92), De Republica (1.39) and De Legibus (1.35), at 184.

(16) Wood (1986) 34, Marcus Tullius Cicero (106-43 BCE) lived through the descent of the later Roman Republic into civil war after the assassination of Julius Caesar, and the rise of the Augustan Empire under Octavian, who ordered Cicero's execution. St. Augustine (354-430 CE) lived during a period when the Western Roman Empire was subject foreign migrations and invasions. His masterpiece The City of God was written in response to the sack of Rome by the Visigoths under the leadership of Alaric (410), and he died as the Bishop of Hippo when that city was under siege by Vandals (430).

(17) Adams, "Adams' Argument for the Defense, 3-4 December, 1770," Rex v. Wemms, in Legal Papers of John Adams, L.K. Wroth and H.B. Zobel (eds) Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1965, Volume 3,242-270.

(18) See the account and excerpt published in McCullough's biography, John Adams, 64-68. Adams' rhetoric is similar to David Hume's contemporaneous concern about the excesses of liberty in England; see Pocock, J.G.A. "Hume and the American Revolution: The dying thoughts of a North Briton," in Virtue, Commerce, and History (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985) 125-141.

PAUL JOSEPH CORNISH Grand Valley State University
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