<br /> Lee Letter: n243

Washington and Lee University

Sender: John Adams
Recipient: Richard Henry Lee

Dear Sir

The Course of Events, naturally turns the Thoughts of Gentlemen to the
Subjects of Legislation and Jurisprudence, and it is a curious Problem
what Form of Government, is most readily & easily adopted by a
Colony upon a Sudden Emergency. Nature and Experience have already
pointed out the Solution of this Problem, in the Choice of Conventions
and Committees of Safety. Nothing is wanting in Addition to these to
make a compleat Government, but the Appointment of Magistrates for the
due Administration of Justice.

Taking Nature and Experience for my Guide I have made the following Sketch,
1 which may be varied in any one particular
an infinite Number of Ways, So as to accommodate it to the different
Genius, Temper, Principles and even Prejudices of different People.

A Legislative, an Executive and a judicial Power, comprehend the whole of
what is meant and understood by Government. It is by ballancing each
one of these Powers against the other two, that the Effort in human
Nature towards Tyranny can alone be checked and restrained and any
degree of Freedom preserved in the Constitution.

Let a full and free Representation of the People be chosen for an House of

Let the House choose by Ballott twelve, Sixteen, Twenty four or Twenty
Eight Persons, either Members of the House, or from the People at large
as the Elections please, for a Council.

Let the House and Council by joint Ballott choose a Governor, annually,
triennially or Septennially as you will.

Let the Governor, Council, and House be each a distinct and independant
Branch of the Legislature, and have a Negative on all Laws.

Let the Lt. Governor, Secretary, Treasurer, Commissary, Attorney General
and Solicitor General, be chosen annually, by joint Ballott of both

Let the Governor with Seven Councillors be a Quorum.

Let all officers and Magistrates, civil and military, be nominated and
appointed by the Governor, by and with the Advice and Consent of his

Let no officer be appointed but at a General Council, and let Notice be
given to all the Councillors, Seven days at least before a General

Let the Judges, at least of the Supreme Court, be incapacitated by Law from
holding any share of the Legislative or Executive Power, Let their
Commissions be during good Behaviour, and their Salaries ascertained
and established by Law.

Let the Governor have the Command of the Army, the Militia Forts &c.

Let the Colony have a Seal and affix it to all Commissions.

In this Way a Single Month is Sufficient without the least Convulsion or
even Animosity to accomplish a total Revolution in the Government of a

If it is thought more beneficial a Law may be made by this new Legislature
leaving to the People at large the Priviledge of choosing their
Governor, and Councillors annually, as soon as affairs get into a more
quiet Course.

In Adopting a Plan, in some Respects Similar to this, human Nature would
appear in its proper Glory asserting its own moral Dignity, pulling
down Tyrannies, at a single Exertion and erecting Such new Fabricks, as
it thinks best calculated to promote its Happiness.

As you was the last Evening polite enough to ask me for this Model, if such
a Trifle will be of any service to you, or any gratification of
Curiosity, here you have it, from,

sir your Friend and humble servant
John Adams


Receiver’s copy, University of Virginia Library.

1 This “Sketch” may have been the origin of Adams’ later pamphlet, apparently
published at Lee’s request, Thoughts on Government: Applicable to the
Present State of the American Colonies
(Philadelphia: John Dunlap,
1776), which was originally drafted in the form of letters to William
Hooper, John Penn, Jonathan D. Sergeant, and George Wythe. See Adams,
Diary (Butterfield), 3:331 – 32n; Adams, Works (Adams), 4:185 – 93; John
Adams to John Penn, March 19 – 27? 1776; and John Adams to James
Warren, April 20, 1776.