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At the outset of the French Revolution John Adams penned a series of Discourses of Davila, philosophical ruminations on the sixteenth-century French Wars of Religion. Recent historians have read these Discourses in terms of Adams’s Machiavellianism—his conviction that men’s passions lead to violence, if unrestrained. But this reading overlooks the extent to which Adams intended his Discourses as a particular investigation into the French nation’s character, and into whether the revolutionaries could lay claim to a native, French tradition of mixed constitutional government. Situating the Discourses vis-à-vis Adams’s contemporaneous reading of Montesquieu, this article argues for an underappreciated historicist dimension to his thought.