Adams Papers

From John Adams to Louis Alexandre, Duc de La Rochefoucauld d’Anville, 1788


My Lord Duke

As The “Letters from a Citizen of New-Heaven, to a Citizen of Virginia, concerning the Inutility of any Partition of the Legislative Power, into Several Assemblies,” are become a Part of the French and American Literature; they will descend to Posterity as one monument of the Principles and Opinions of this important Period. Posterity therefore, <both in France and America> will, <be interested,> as the present Race, both in France & America <undoubtedly> ought to, be, undoubtedly deeply interested, in a candid <Inquiry> Investigation of the Truths or Errors they contain: and especially as the Author of them is announced, I Suppose without flattery, <[. . .]> to be one of the greatest Men of this <present> Century.

“There are,” says our Author, “in all Legislation, two distinct Parts—1. to decide what are the objects, concerning which, Laws may be made. 2. To decide, what the Laws ought to be.”—and “a Law,” according to his definition, is properly a declaration, which the general Assembly of the Citizens, or a representative assembly authorized delegated by them to exercise that function in their name has decided, by a Plurality of Voices, that Reason requires that <this> a such or such a Rule should be established. thus the Proposition, Such a Thing ought to be regulated by a Law; and the Proposition Such a Law concerning that Thing is conformable to Reason and Right may be regarded as two Propositions, which may be true or false: and it is the general Interest, to make Such arrangements that it may be very probable that they will be almost always true.”

In order to prepare Arrangements against false decisions, the Inquiry is very natural, what are the Causes of them: and these are reduced to four, “Interest, Corruption, Passion and Error.”—Interest may be either personal or that of a Profession, or that of a public <office> function, of a Place that one holds, or finally that of the Legislative Body itself. Passions may be private or public. Error may arise from Ignorance, or Prejudice, or finally from the difficulty of forming the decision. The most of these Causes may Act, either immediately upon each individual, or, by influencing at first certain Chiefs who, by some means or other have acquired a Preponderance and the Power of disposing of the Voices of a certain number of Members.

The Object of the following letters is to Shew, how a nation may with a Single Legislative assembly, avoid all these Causes of Error, as Surely as the Lights, or Knowledge of the Country where this Constitution shall be established, will permit.—and to Shew that the addition of one or more other Bodies or assemblies cannot fulfil the Same Intention, in a manner more simple or more Sure. To this end it is necessary to delineate the form which it will be convenient to give this Legislative Body, and their Decisions. This is the Design of the Second Letter. The third is employed in Shewing how this Constitution would be proper, to destroy, as far as possible, the Causes of Error. in the third letter Says our Author, “I will prove the Inutility of dividing the Legislative Body into two or a greater number of distinct Parts.”

MHi: Adams Papers.

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