The Unfashionable Adams Legacy

The Education of John Adams; by R. B. Bernstein; Oxford University Press; 368 pp., $24.95

It is not fashionable these days to admire the Founding Fathers, and yet the flood of books, articles, and even Broadway musicals devoted to them has not ceased. Attention is usually focused on George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jeff erson, Alexander Hamilton, and James Madison, but, lately, the stock of the somehow more obscure John Adams—signer of the Declaration of Independence, our fi rst vice president and second president, and the first incumbent to lose a presidential election—has been rising.

Adams was the most intellectual of the founding generation, and wrote now unreadable multi-volume treatises on subjects such as comparative constitutional law. His correspondence with his wife, Abigail, to whom he was married for more than five decades, is one of the great sources of insight into early republican love, domestic life, and even feminism.

Adams is also intriguing because he was always his own worst enemy—envious of those who succeeded in society with apparently less eff ort than himself, such as Franklin, or those, like Washington, whose natural charisma, grandeur, and military...

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