"Your father's zeal for books will be one of the last desires which will quit him," Abigail observed to [son] John Quincy in the spring of 1816, as Adams eagerly embarked on a sixteen volume French history.
It is most fitting, then, that this founder, who has no monument in Washington, DC to mark his place in the pantheon of patriots, is memorialized in McCullough's Pulitzer Prize-winning biography. Lest you think perhaps that Adams' forgotten status is overstated you need only do two things to correct your view:
1. Quick list the Founding Fathers in the order you recall them! Franklin, Jefferson, Washington . . . . Adams--and even then you might ask John, or Sam (John has no microbrew named for him, either). John seemed fated to be overlooked by his
And in McCullough's model narrative style, you will not only learn to overlook Adams at your peril, you will also meet an amazing man of humor, learning, curiosity, science, law, and passion. His letter exchanges with Abigail hint at their marital passion and love for their children, grandchildren, and wide and expanding extended family. Surely he was a rock-ribbed New Englander, but he was also a great friend, traveler, and ultimately joyful and optimistic observer of the fallen world he inhabited with grace--a grace perhaps most visibly displayed in the powerful correspondence he picked up with his fellow founder Jefferson in the last 15 years of their lives. Despite their geographic and political differences Jefferson had been a one-time friend in Continental Congress in Philadelphia and in the diplomatic courts of Paris, but became a bitter political enemy of President Adams, attacking him viciously through direct and indirect channels of party and journalistic communication, stooping to the level of paying for false witness against Adams' presidential policies, actions, and character. While open to the charge of petulant self-defensiveness, few then or now would have shown the forbearance of Adams. Then, with both men in retirement, Franklin began, through mutual friend and founder Benjamin Rush, the great letter-writing campaign that left an irreplaceable record of the conception of the American experiment, and its tenuous survival in those founding years. When both great men died within hours on July 4, 1826 at the 50th anniversary of this birth, they were forever linked as comrades in liberty.
So spend a few precious hours with this great man (who of all the fathers seems likely to have been the best friend we all would want) in this deserving monument to his greatness.
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Overshadowed by the lustrous presidents Washington and Jefferson, who bracketed his tenure in office, Adams emerges from McCullough's brilliant biography as a truly heroic figure--not only for his significant role in the American Revolution but also for maintaining his personal integrity in its strife-filled aftermath. McCullough spends much of his narrative examining the troubled friendship between Adams and Jefferson, who had in common a love for books and ideas but differed on almost every other imaginable point. Reading his pages, it is easy to imagine the two as alter ...