London. 1787-1788. Volumes two and three only (of three). ,451; ,528,pp. Contemporary calf, gilt morocco labels. All boards present, but front board detached from second volume and rear board detached from third volume. Lightly age-toned. Good. Lacks the first volume. In a half morocco and cloth clamshell case, spine gilt. Item #WRCAM45083
This set bears the ownership signature of Charles Adams (1770-1800), second son of President John Adams, the author of this work. The second volume bears a presentation inscription from Charles Adams on the front pastedown. There is also an inscription on a front fly leaf of the third volume reading "Uranian Society from Charles Adams," likely in the hand of another person. Although we cannot be certain, it is quite possible that President Adams himself gave these volumes to his son, Charles.
At the age of nine Charles Adams travelled with his father and his older brother, John Quincy, to Europe, returning to America two years later. He graduated from Harvard in 1789 and moved to New York, where his father had assumed the position of George Washington's vice president. Charles lived with his parents for a time when he initially moved to New York, studied law for three years (for a brief period in the office of Alexander Hamilton), established a practice in New York in 1792, and married in 1795. Ultimately, Charles was a disappointment to his father, living a dissolute life and dying of complications of alcoholism at the age of thirty. The Uranian Society, to which these volumes were at some point given by Charles Adams, was a debating society under the auspices of Columbia College, and existed in New York from circa 1788 to circa 1794. Records show that Charles Adams was a member, and he likely donated these volumes to the Society in an effort to develop their collection of useful books. Both volumes also have the ownership signature of William Stuart, also a member of the Uranian Society, who likely acquired them when the Society disbanded.
This set lacks the first volume, and it is unlikely that we will ever know for certain whether John Adams personally presented these volumes to his young son, Charles. It is known that John Adams provided financial support to his sons, John Quincy, Charles, and Thomas, especially when they were struggling early in their professional lives. Further, biographer Joseph Ellis notes that John Adams "sold his own horses in order to purchase the most up-to-date law books for Charles." When the transfer of the seat of government caused John Adams to move to Philadelphia, he carried on a lengthy correspondence with Charles, asking his opinion on legal issues and recommending readings to further and broaden his education. It is not a wild conjecture to suppose that, having likely given Charles a copy of the book when it was initially published in a one-volume edition in London in 1787, John Adams supplied his son with these two volumes when they were published.
The second and third volumes of the complete first edition of one of the most important and widely read of the many writings of the important Revolutionary figure and second president. These second and third volumes, issued later, contain descriptions of the Italian republics of the Middle Ages as well as a lengthy analysis of "the Right Constitution of a Commonwealth." At the time Adams wrote this work he was serving as the first United States Ambassador in England, an uncomfortable position for a recent rebel, but he was ever ready to argue the American point of view. The book was popular and went through numerous editions. Its issuance as the Federal Constitutional Convention was assembling added to its popularity and resulted in several American reprintings; according to the DAB, "its timeliness gave it vogue." Later, Adams' detractors sought to find in it a hidden desire for a monarchy. HOWES A60, "aa." SABIN 233. DAB I, p.76. REESE, FEDERAL HUNDRED 11.