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Respectfully Quoted: A Dictionary of Quotations. 1989.

AUTHOR: John Adams (1735–1826)
QUOTATION: A government of laws and not of men.
ATTRIBUTION: JOHN ADAMS, “Novanglus Papers,” no. 7.—The Works of John Adams, ed. Charles Francis Adams, vol. 4, p. 106 (1851).

Adams published articles in 1774 in the Boston, Massachusetts, Gazette using the pseudonym “Novanglus.” In this paper he credited James Harrington with expressing the idea this way. Harrington described government as “the empire of laws and not of men” in his 1656 work, The Commonwealth of Oceana, p. 35 (1771). The phrase gained wider currency when Adams used it in the Massachusetts Constitution, Bill of Rights, article 30 (1780).—Works, vol. 4, p. 230.