Founding Fathers Blog

John Adams: “That Book Hasn’t Yet Been Printed!”

January 30th, 2012

The family of one of my clients who has passed away, are in the process of settling the estate and distributing personal items including jewelry, paintings, objects d’art, furniture and books. This is an interesting process and in many families can lead to disputes and disagreements. It can even divide a family if they let it.

I counsel my clients to remember these are only “things.” And Things should never be as important as good family relationships. That’s what the parents would have wanted.

As I thought about books being divided and distributed among several of the children, I reflected on one of my favorite books. It’s an old book–not really very elegant. It had been one of my grandfather’s favorite books. When “Granddaddy” passed away each of his grandchildren got to choose a bok from his magnificent library.

The book I chose had made an impact on me. I have read it several times. Each time I read it–or even notice it on my bookshelf, I think pleasant thoughts about my Granddaddy, even though he’s been gone for nearly 50 years.

Also when I think of books, I recall a statement made by Abigail Adams to John Adams when they were moving into a new residence in Boston. John suggested that one of the rooms in the house on Battle Street (which incidentally was referred to as the “White House”) would serve adequatelly as his study. He agreed he wouldn’t attempt to cart in his whole library, only the books he should need. Abigail responded that the books he didn’t need had yet to be printed !

John Adams not only loved to need new books and read books, he also wrote a very important set of books.

John was the minister to England, instructed to negotiate a treaty of commerce with Great Britain after the close of the Revolutionary War. Congress was scheduled to meet to amend the Article of Confederation, which had proven to be inadequate. Since John was in London on assignment, he couldn’t attend the Constitutional Convention. He was experienced in drafting such documents and was even the author of the Massachussetts State Constitution soon after the Declaration of Indepencence was adopted. John had even been instrumental in the adoption of that Declaration.

John Adams wanted to take part in this Constitutional Convention. Feeling desparate to accomplish something useful, even though he couldn’t be there, John Adams made a monumental decision. He would write a book!  A book about the need for a strong independent executive, two separate legislative bodies, and an independent judiciary.

John wanted to have his book ready in time for sonsultation by the delegates to the Convention. Miraculously Adams’ book about government principles was available in the United States by spring of 1787.

It proved to be a valuable asset when the Constitutional Convention first met on May 25, 1787. This two volume set was titled “A Defence of the Constitutions of the Government of the United States of America.” One historical scholar noted: “Even a glance at the records of the Federal Convention will show that Adams’ book was used as a repertory by many speakers, who found in it a confirmation of their views [with] historical illustrations and precedents.”

Adams thought of his country, the United States of America, as a city on a hill, as described in the Book of Matthew, in the Holy Bible. It was to be an example, a light, to the whole world. He loved the nation he had been heavily involved in creating. He loved its governing fundamentals. He understood that there is only one way for a nation to live under the principles of the Declaration of Independence and the institutions of the U.S. Constitution. That is it’s people must love them. To love them we must know them.

The principles of our country are capable of reaching and protecting every human being–and ennabling them because they participate in the rules. Then to know and understand about these principles is to love them. To learn about them you must be brought there. That’s what Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, and James Madison did with their essays: The Federalist Papers. That’s what John Adams did with his “A Defence of the Constitutions of the Government of the United States of America.

Books can still bring us there. Learn to know them. Learn to love them. God Bless America.

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