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"Told with authority and style. . . Crisply summarizing the Adamses' legacy, the authors stress principle over partisanship."--The Wall Street Journal
How the father and son presidents foresaw the rise of the cult of personality and fought those who sought to abuse the weaknesses inherent in our democracy, from the New York Times bestselling author of White Trash.
John and John Quincy Adams: rogue intellectuals, unsparing truth-tellers, too uncensored for their own political good. They held that political participation demanded moral courage. They did not seek popularity (it showed). They lamented the fact that hero worship in America substituted idolatry for results; and they made it clear that they were talking about Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Andrew Jackson.
When John Adams succeeded George Washington as President, his son had already followed him into public service and was stationed in Europe as a diplomat. Though they spent many years apart--and as their careers spanned Europe, Washington DC, and their family home south of Boston--they maintained a close bond through extensive letter writing, debating history, political philosophy, and partisan maneuvering.
The problem of democracy is an urgent problem; the father-and-son presidents grasped the perilous psychology of politics and forecast what future generations would have to contend with: citizens wanting heroes to worship and covetous elites more than willing to mislead. Rejection at the polls, each after one term, does not prove that the presidents Adams had erroneous ideas. Intellectually, they were what we today call "independents," reluctant to commit blindly to an organized political party. No historian has attempted to dissect their intertwined lives as Nancy Isenberg and Andrew Burstein do in these pages, and there is no better time than the present to learn from the American nation's most insightful malcontents.
Historians Isenberg and Burstein (Madison and Jefferson) reteam to provide a densely packed double-decker reassessment of the lives and political foresight of father-and-son presidents John Adams and John Quincy Adams. The time period ranges from John's pre-Revolutionary life as a farmer and lawyer to John Quincy's postpresidential stint as a House representative from Massachusetts starting in 1830; in between, the authors revisit key episodes from both lives that highlight the Adamses' nonconformist ways as a staunch warning against the ills of the partisanship, corruption, and personality politics that are rampant today. The authors point out parallels between the lives of their subjects, ranging from their long, successful marriages to the fact that a Hamilton played an instrumental role in both Adamses' losses of their reelection bids. Isenberg and Burstein provide an acute evaluation of the Adamses' intellectual development, and they have a knack for making prescient observations, such as John Adams's warning that candidates with "the deepest purse, or the fewest scruples will generally prevail." Analysis occasionally supersedes narrative, which can make this weighty analysis heavy lifting even for an interested reader. Readers fond of more traditional biographical treatments may want to pass on this one.