A Companion to John Adams and John Quincy Adams.

Author:Edel, Charles N.
Position:Book review

A Companion to John Adams and John Quincy Adams. Edited by David Wald streicher. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2013. 584 pp.

When Arthur Schlesinger Jr. wrote The Cycles of American History (Houghton Mifflin, 1986), he noted that there was an ebb and flow to American history, characterized by "cyclical rhythms that characterize American politics." This is as true for presidential legacies as it is for contemporary politics. In Wiley-Blackwell's A Companion to John Adams and John Quincy Adams, David Waldstreicher, who serves as both editor of, and essayist in, this extremely useful volume, notes that "we may be seeing the emergence of a cycle of American memory: when Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson are down, the Adamses are up" (p. 1). Ever since David McCullough published his best-selling and Pulitzer Prize-winning biography John Adams (Simon and Schuster, 2001) and HBO produced a popular series based on McCullough's biography in 2008, both Adamses have been on something of a hot streak.

Yet, as Waldstriecher points out, that hot streak will eventually fade. The dichotomy between Jefferson/Jackson and John Adams is often used as a proxy for opposite and conflicting American proclivities. Americans are alternatively advocates and opponents of a strong central government. At times, they are attracted to foreign revolutions and, at times, they are repulsed. They like to both celebrate the common man's wisdom and praise the talents of what Jefferson and Adams referred to as the "natural Aristocracy." These alternating instincts are also true of American historians. Depending on which political impulse is in favor, either the Jefferson/Jackson side or the Adams side is held in higher esteem. Then, when one set of cultural assumptions gives way to the other, the opposite figure becomes more popular and relevant.

There is another reason that helps explain why Americans and American historians have been alternatively admiring of and repulsed by the Adamses. Both John and John Quincy were highly intelligent; knew this; wanted their colleagues and posterity to know; and, as might be expected, were somewhat obnoxious about it. So, it comes as no great surprise that the Adamses have been praised and maligned and seen as out of touch with American democracy while being deemed essential to it.

John Adams drove the move for independence at the second Continental Congress, secured the American Revolution by guaranteeing its financial underwriting...

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