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.
Hardcover, 576 pages.
About the authors
Nancy Isenberg is the T. Harry Williams Professor of American History at Louisiana State University, and the author of the New York Times bestseller White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America, and two award-winning books, Fallen Founder: The Life of Aaron Burr and Sex and Citizenship in Antebellum America. She is the coauthor, with Andrew Burstein, of Madison and Jefferson.
Andrew Burstein is the author of numerous books on American political culture, including two, Madison and Jefferson (2010) and The Problem of Democracy (2019), with coauthor Nancy Isenberg. He is the Charles P. Manship Professor of History at LSU, and lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and Charlottesville, Virginia.