Adams Papers

To John Adams from Thomas Brand Hollis, 15 May 1787

Chesterfield Street May 15 1787

Dear Sir

It has been long matter of surprise to me that the states of America when investigating the various forms of republicks should never have thought of the mode of government practised in the city of London.

it is an epitome of the constitution of England, that constitution which is so beautifull in theory & of which you are so fond, tho the balance no longer exists, and perhaps in some respects superior, as it is well guarded against the usurpation of power by frequent rotation and preserves the ballance by gradual election to offices even the highest, from the people.

uncorrupted independent conduct only intitle to honors as their elections depend on the suffrages of their fellow citizens who have the power of rejection. The Surpreme Magistrate, called in the time of the Saxons Portgerefa, that is custos or guardian now mayor, is elected annually by 26 aldermen. His state is magnificent and great priviledges and he bears the title of Lord.

The 26 Aldermen who are for life preside over as many wards of the city. when any of these die the wardmate returns two and the Lord Mayor & Aldermen choose two out of the most substantial men of the city. if any one refuse he is fined 500£. “Here then is the different orders of men with various & opposite powers prerogatives & priviledges to watch over one another and to balance each other and to compel each other at time to be real guardians of the laws.”

all the Aldermen who have been Lord Mayors & the three eldest aldermen are justices of the peace of the city. The traders of London are divided into twelve companies & are so many bodies politick and He that is chosen Lord Mayor must be free of one of these companies.

thus you observe a gradual rise to distinction and power & only obtained by the free suffrages of fellow citizens.

The election of members of parliament is also conducted with great decency and propriety. a week being the time fixed for taking the poll & then finished, a security may be demanded and often is. The police is also admirable. an Alderman always setting to render justice & punish criminals. that most of the outrages are committed out of the city, villains dreading expeditious justice. Was this pursued in westminister & elsewhere there would be no occasion for military power or pensioned trading justices depending on the crown!

That the frame of government of the city of London should have escaped your diligent & able researches astonishes me, as it certainly has many preventives of the abuse of power—office being temporary and in the hands of the members of the community to bestow or refuse for these.

"Domnion does not lurk from hand to hand

Undignified by public choice.

and each man guides the sword he wears"

will you permit me to suspect that the Republick of London is too democratical? yet surely when the balance is secured the nearer to a well regulated democracy the farther from Tyranny? I have often wished some new state in America had taken up this idea of the commonwealth of London and put it in execution in a larger plan, that is the larger object of which it is capable to any extent; having no doubts of its success and had my powers been equal to my inclination I had long since sent an Idea of this sort for their consideration; but from an anonymous no attention would have been paid and I could not have appeared in publick, tho with the best intentions, in so arduous a task.

Having reminded you of the state of London possibly by means of your writing & representation some new rising republick may act upon this plan—"and form to this system of their state" which would be another experiment for publick good & probably an addition to the happiness of mankind, beyond which in this world I have not a wish.

excuse Dear Sir the liberty I take in writing thus freely on a subject which you have so much attended too & your labors have been crowned with that success which astonishes the old world. it is incumbent on the rising generations to answer fully to the expectations of their fathers who have showed them the way to honor truth and liberty. Vanity does not prompt me to imagine I can suggest any thing new to you on these matters but to gain information & to correct my own ideas where wrong I should esteem of the consequence.

I am, Dear Sir, / with the greatest regard / your sincere & faithful friend.

T Brand Hollis.

MHi: Adams Papers.

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