The Two Scales and the Hand that Holds it

Benjamin Lincoln. By: John Singer Sargent.

Benjamin Lincoln wrote a series of articles in the Boston Magazine and Independent Chronicle that would touch on many of the same subjects as John Adams in his Defence of the ConstitutionSee Gordon Wood, The Creation of the American Republic: 1776-1787, 576.

Lincoln wrote in 1785 that the balance of government “supposes three things, the two scales, and the hand that holds it.” Boston Independent Chronicle, Dec. 8, 1785. Adams wrote that only “orders of men, watching and balancing each other” could save the Constitution and the country itself. Adams, Defence of the Constitutions, Adams, ed., Works of John Adams, IV, 557, VI, 128.

Further, Adams wrote, the legislature must be divided into two separate chambers, one for the top of society and one for the bottom. See id. For Adams, the perfect Constitution was “the tripartite balance, the political trinity in unity, trinity of legislative, and unity of executive power, which in politics is no mystery.” Id.

Adams believed that there must be some balance between the people and the aristocratic elements of society, but it would not be a perpetual balance as much as it would be a “perpetually swinging pendulum.” Id. at IV, 285, 290. However, to Adams, one thing was clear: “that the people’s rights and liberties, and the democratical mixture in a constitution, can never be preserved without a strong executive.” Id.

Adams felt that order could only be preserved where there was one system that incorporated a mixture of monarchic, aristocratic, and democratic elements. See id. If a country’s constitution did not incorporate these three elements, then it was to be a country that was “imperfect, unstable, and soon enslaved.” Id. at V, 108, VI, 108.

John Adams shaped his legacy through his writings in Defence of the Constitutions and his political theories propounded elsewhere. As much as Adams had become disconnected from Americans later in life, as explained further in The One, the Few, and the Many, Adams had a significant impact on political theory in the Early Republic.

The Federalists embraced many of Adams’ views, particularly the importance of having a powerful executive. On one level, Adams’ principled beliefs best articulated the Federalist beliefs that were pervasive at the time but also hotly contested. Many times, it is more important to have the more articulate argument rather than the right argument. Whether one agrees or disagrees with Adams’ beliefs, few could question that he will always have a place in Americans’ hearts.

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