John Adams on the need for a bicameral Congress (1776)

In John Adams’ 1776 essay Thoughts on Government, he made the case for a bicameral Congress – that is, a Congress made up of two separate houses:

“As good government is an empire of laws, how shall your laws be made? In a large society, inhabiting an extensive country, it is impossible that the whole [population] should assemble to make laws. The first necessary step, then, is to depute [delegate] power from the many to a few of the most wise and good. But by what rules shall you choose your representatives?…

A representation of the people in one assembly being obtained, a question arises: whether all the powers of government, legislative, executive, and judicial shall be left in this body. I think a people cannot be long free, nor ever happy [if their] government is in one assembly. My reasons for this opinion are as follow:

1. A single assembly is liable to all the vices, follies, and frailties of an individual; subject to fits of humour,starts of passion, flights of enthusiasm, partialities, or prejudice, and consequently productive of hasty results and absurd judgments. And all these errors ought to be corrected… by some controlling power.

2. A single assembly is apt to be avaricious [greedy] and in time will not scruple to exempt itself from burdens, which it will lay, without compunction, on its constituents.

3. A single assembly is apt to grow ambitious, and after a time will not hesitate to vote itself perpetual [continuing indefinitely]…

4. A representative assembly, although extremely well qualified and absolutely necessary as a branch of the legislative, is unfit to exercise the executive power, for want of two essential properties: secrecy and despatch.

5. A representative assembly is still less qualified for the judicial power, because it is too numerous, too slow and too little skilled in the laws.

6. Because a single assembly, possessed of all the powers of government, would make arbitrary laws for their own interest, execute all laws arbitrarily for their own interest, and adjudge all controversies in their own favour.

Let the representative assembly elect by ballot, from among themselves or their constituents, or both, a distinct [separate] assembly which, for the sake of perspicuity we will call a council. It may consist of any number you please, say twenty or thirty, and should have a free and independent exercise of its judgment – and a negative voice in the legislature. These two bodies [should be] made integral parts of the legislature.”