The Corner

Those Irresistable Adamses

From a reader:

In the course of searching for the quote, I read [John Quincy Adams’s] inaugural address, four state of the union speeches, his defense in the Amistad case, a couple of other speeches and poems…all to no avail.

EXCEPT: I came away with a real sense of wonder and admiration for him.

Thank you for setting the game.

I set the game inadvertently, but here’s a completely intentional suggestion: Pick up Rick Brookhiser’s wonderful book, America’s First Dynasty: The Adamses, 1735-1918. Exquisite portraiture, sound judgements, deft handling of the historical context (that I failed to remember the treatment of the “we go not in search of monsters” quotation in Chapt. Six is the fault of my own porous memory), and (although this goes without saying about Rick’s work) gorgeous prose. (And I typed this posting before noticing that Rick himself mentions his book, below, I promise.)

After that introduction, take a look at the Adams-Jefferson letters, the correspondence between our second and third presidents in their declining years, John Adams composing his letters at his farmhouse in Braintree, Jefferson replying from Monticello. Adams is no doubt a prickly character, but I’ve loved him since I read this collection in college. His intellect is alive and probing–even in his old age Adams remains full of questions about political theory, theology, and natural history. And whereas Jefferson remains cool and aloof, Adams is entirely human–bristling at his enemies, doubting his own judgements, displaying earthy good humor. Read this collection and you’ll feel that you know John Quincy Adams’s father as well as you know any of your friends.