Gordon Wood on John Adams

AdamsOver at the website of The Library of America (the real LOA, not the Randall Stephens version), historian Gordon Wood discusses the life of John Adams.  Wood is the editor of John Adams: Writings from the New Nation, 1784-1826.

In this part of the interview, Wood discusses Adams’s view of “American exceptionalism.”

LOA: It has become a commonplace in American politics today to call the United States an exceptional nation. Would Adams have agreed?

Wood: Jefferson believed that the United States was a chosen nation with a special responsibility to spread democracy around the world. More than any other figure in our history Jefferson is responsible for the idea of American exceptionalism. Adams could not have disagreed more. Deeply versed in history, he said over and over that America had no special providence, no special role in history, that Americans were no different from other peoples, that the United States was just as susceptible to viciousness and corruption as any other nation. In this regard, at least, Jefferson’s vision has clearly won the day.

Read the entire interview here.

Chief Supreme Court Justice John Marshall Was a Lame-Duck Appointment

MarshallOver at the blog of Oxford University Press, historian R.B. Bernstein reminds us that John Marshall, the man who many consider to be the most influential Supreme Court Justice in American history, was a so-called “lame-duck” appointment.

Here is a taste:

Those who argue that lame-duck presidents should not nominate justices to the Supreme Court have forgotten or ignored the most consequential appointment in the Court’s — and the nation’s — history: President John Adams’s 1801 appointment of John Marshall as the nation’s fourth Chief Justice.

The vacancy in the Chief Justiceship did not arise until after the 1800 presidential election, in which Adams lost his bid for a second term, and the disputed tie between Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr persisted into 1801. Chief Justice Oliver Ellsworth, whom Adams had sent to France to negotiate a treaty to bring an end to the 1798-1800 “quasi-war” between France and the United States, sent the treaty that he had negotiated to President Adams – accompanied by his letter of resignation from the Court….

The Ellsworth resignation complicated President Adams’s life far beyond what he could have foreseen. Adams faced a multi-level crisis in American politics — how to respond to the seeming failure of all efforts to break the deadlock in the House of Representatives between Jefferson and Burr for the presidency; how to deal with the Federalist-dominated Congress’s efforts to reform the federal judiciary, both to make it more efficient and effective and to create many new judicial posts for Federalists; and whom to choose to replace Ellsworth.

Many Federalists called on Adams to name a die-hard High Federalist, in particular advocating the nomination of Justice William Paterson, a man whom Adams distrusted as an ally of such High Federalists as Alexander Hamilton and not a friend or supporter of the President. Adams also faced suggestions that he promote another Associate Justice, William Cushing, to the chief justiceship – even though Cushing had turned down such a promotion back in 1795, after the resignation of the first Chief Justice, John Jay, to become governor of New York. Some Senators even proposed that Adams name himself the new Chief Justice, an idea that the president rejected with scorn. Adams instead chose to name Jay to his old job, and the Senate confirmed the appointment. Though Jay seemed an ideal choice, liked by both factions of Federalists and a holder of the position from 1789 to 1795, nobody had asked Jay whether he wanted to return to the Court. On receipt of the news of his nomination by the president and confirmation by the Senate, Jay wrote to Adams thanking him for the honor but frostily rejected his reappointment, on the grounds that the federal judiciary was neglected, undervalued, and frustrating for those serving on it, and declaring his absolute refusal of reappointment.

In turn vexed by the choices before him, Adams turned to Marshall, his Secretary of State. Marshall was a loyal supporter of President Adams, a Virginia Federalist, an excellent attorney, and a widely-praised diplomat; in addition, Marshall had served Adams well as Secretary of State for a year when Adams decided to nominate him for the Chief Justiceship. Adams nominated Marshall with only weeks remaining in his presidency. Though the Federalist Senate at first was reluctant to agree, preferring a High Federalist like Justice Paterson, they knew that Adams would not nominate him (something that Adams had already told Marshall with considerable heat). The Senators realized that rejecting Marshall would create a deadlock that would leave the vacancy on the Court to be filled by Thomas Jefferson or Aaron Burr. Such a prospect was too dangerous for them to accept, and they confirmed Marshall.

John Marshall served 34 years as Chief Justice and left an extraordinary mark on the nation’s history and on American constitutional development. His judicial opinions on such matters as judicial review, federalism, national supremacy, and interstate commerce form the spine of American constitutional law. Nearly two centuries later, we live in the constitutional world that John Adams and John Marshall helped to create, a world that is now the nation’s heritage. And the Marshall precedent cuts against claims by leading figures in today’s Republican Party that no lame-duck President should make an appointment to the nation’s highest court.

Read the entire post here.

If Bernie Gets the Nomination We Could Have the Election of 1800 All Over Again

BernieAs we enter the final weekend before the Iowa caucuses and with the February 9th New Hampshire primary fast approaching, Bernie Sanders has given himself a legitimate shot at the Democratic nomination for President of the United States.  He is running neck and neck with Hillary Clinton in the Hawkeye state and enjoys a comfortable lead in New Hampshire.

Meanwhile, over on the GOP side, two strong evangelical candidates—Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio—are doing battle with a New York businessman who has won the endorsement of several leading evangelicals and claims that he will keep Christianity in this country “safe” from the intrusion of Muslims and secularists.

If Sanders wins the nomination, the general election could become a political war pitting belief against unbelief.

Bernie Sanders has never been hostile to Christianity.  When he spoke last year at Liberty University he tried to find common ground with the conservative evangelical student body.  But he has also been open about the fact that he is not “actively involved with organized religion.”

When asked by the Washington Post if he believes in God, Sanders answered: “I think everyone believes in God in their own ways.  To me, it means that all of us are connected, all of life is connected, and that we are all tied together.” Hardly a ringing endorsement of organized religion.

If Sanders faces Cruz, Rubio, or Donald Trump in the general election, it is likely that Sanders’s faith, or lack thereof, will become a major issue in the campaign.  Of course the GOP candidate will try to exploit the Vermont Senator’s progressive “big-government” views, but this critique will become even more powerful when the Republican nominee starts calling Sanders a godless socialist.

If the religious culture wars spill into presidential politics in this way, it would not be the first time such a thing has happened in American history.  In the election of 1800 the nation saw similar attacks made against a skeptical presidential candidate.  His name was Thomas Jefferson.

In 1800 the incumbent president, John Adams, represented the Federalists, a political faction with particular strength in New England.  Federalist strongholds such as Connecticut and Massachusetts had a long tradition of government-sponsored Christianity. The Federalists in New England worked closely with the Congregationalist clergy in order to ensure that the region would remain Christian in character and be governed by Christian political leaders.

Jefferson was the Vice-President of the United States.  Adams defeated him in the presidential election of 1796, but the margin of victory was slim.  As the population of the United States began to spread out beyond the Appalachian Mountains, and the religious sentiments of the country turned against state-sponsored churches, Jefferson would attract more and more Americans.

But Jefferson’s religious beliefs would present a problem for him in the Federalist-dominated northeast.  Jefferson was not a Christian.  He was skeptical about doctrines such as the Trinity, the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and the divine inspiration of the Bible.  He was not the kind of godly president that many New England Federalists thought should be leading a Christian nation.

The attacks on Jefferson’s supposed godlessness were fierce.  William Linn, a Dutch Reformed minister from New York, was representative of these attacks.  He wrote that he was forced to oppose Jefferson’s candidacy because of the Vice-President’s “disbelief of the Holy Scriptures…his rejection of the Christian Religion and open profession of Deism.”

Linn feared that the United States, under Jefferson’s rule, would become a “nation of Atheists.”  He made clear that “no professed deists, be his talents and acquirements what they may, ought to be promoted to this place [the presidency] by the suffrages of a Christian nation.”  He went so far as to argue that the act of “calling a deist to the first office must be construed into no less than rebellion against God.”

Linn was fully aware that there was “nothing in the constitution to restrict our choice” of a president with religious beliefs akin to Jefferson’s, but he warned his readers that if they elected “a manifest enemy to the religion of Christ, in a Christian nation,” it would be “an awful symptom of the degeneracy of that nation.”

Jefferson, of course, won the presidential election of 1800 and the republic survived.  But if Sanders squares off against today’s defenders of a Christian America it is quite likely that history may just repeat itself.

Abigail Adams and Alexander Hamilton

Abigail_Adams_by_Gilbert_StuartUnlike many Americans who visit to Broadway today, John and Abigail Adams were not fans of Alexander Hamilton.  In 1806 John called Hamilton the “bastard brat of a Scotch Pedler.”  Abigail also had some choice words for the Secretary of the Treasury.

Here is a taste of Amanda Norton’s post at the blog of the Massachusetts Historical Society:

…The next few years did nothing to improve Abigail’s opinion. Hamilton was widely believed to have unsuccessfully meddled in the 1796 Election, attempting to keep Thomas Jefferson out of the vice presidency, even, or perhaps, especially, if it meant sacrificing John Adams’ candidacy. Hearing of Hamilton’s interference in December 1796, Abigail wrote, “I have often said to you, H——n is a Man ambitious as Julius Ceasar, a subtle intriguer. his abilities would make him Dangerous if he was to espouse a wrong side. his thirst for Fame is insatiable. I have ever kept My Eye upon him.”

The revelation of Hamilton’s affair with Maria Reynolds in 1797 was a breaking point for Abigail, leading to some of her most vitriolic comments. As the Quasi-War with France was building and the United States formed a new army, Abigail could not understand those who wanted Hamilton to be commander-in-chief. “That man would in my mind become a second Buonaparty if he was possessd of equal power,” she wrote to her cousin in July 1798. By January 1799, Abigail was increasingly heated. Learning that her son Thomas Boylston Adams who had been in Europe was to return to the United States on board the ship Alexander Hamilton, Abigail sneered, “I dont like even the Name of the ship in which he is to embark” and in letters written to John on 12 and 13 January, she railed against Hamilton. Abigail firmly believed that Hamilton’s failure to uphold his private marriage vow inevitably made any public vow he made suspect. In a Biblical allusion to King David, she warned that with Hamilton in charge of the army, “Every Uriah must tremble for his Bathsheba.”

Read the entire post here.

 

David Barton: The Founding Fathers Were Not Anti-Catholic

Here is David Barton’s thoughts on this topic at today’s Wallbuilders Live radio show:

This is one of the things that people don’t get…they say that the founding fathers were anti-Catholic. No they weren’t, they were pro-republican form of government.  Until American Catholics were able to prove that they were republican in their thinking–and that’s what Charles Carroll did, that’s what Thomas Fitzsimmons did, Daniel Carroll, several signers, they were the Catholics who came along and said ‘look, where not like the Catholics in Europe, we really like people-centered government, we like republican forms of government….”

The founding fathers weren’t anti-Catholic in that sense, they were pro-republican form of government until Catholics could show that they supported that form of government over monarchy, then that was a problem.

Barton is right.  Many of the founding fathers did not trust Catholics because they did not believe that Catholics could be good republican citizens.  I would call this anti-Catholicism.

But I see what Barton is doing here.  He is suggesting that the founders’ opposition to Catholicism was political, not religious.  (As if the founders believed that these could be separated).

Really?

Tell that to John Adams:  in 1765 he wrote:

..the most refined, sublime, extensive, and astonishing constitution of policy, that ever was conceived by the mind of man,w as framed by the Romish clergy for the aggrandisement of their own order.  All the epithets I have here given to the Romish policy are just: and will be allowed to be so, when it is considered, that they even persuaded mankind to believe, faithfully and undoubtedly, that GOD almighty had instrusted them with the keys of heaven; whose gates they might open and close a pleasure–with a power of dispensation over all the rules and obligations of morality–with authority to license all sorts of sins and crimes–with a power of deposing princes, and absolving subjects from allegiance–with a power of procuring or witholding the rain of heaven and the beams of the sun–with the management of earthquakes, pestilence and famine.  Nay with the mysterious, awful, incomprehensible power of creating out of bread and wine, the flesh and blood of God himself.  All these opinions, they were enabled to spread and rivet among the people, by reducing their minds to a state of sordid ignorance and staring timidity; and by infusing into them a religious horror of letters and knowledge.  –Adams, “A Dissertation on the Canon and Feudal Law,” August 12, 1765.

I could keep quoting.  See my discussion in Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?: A Historical Introduction.

The Pope is Catholic

This morning Fox News is running my piece “Pope Francis is Neither Liberal Nor Conservative, A Democract or a Republican.  He is a Catholic.” 

Those of you who read The Way of Improvement Leads Home closely have read many of the ideas in this piece in various posts and tweets throughout the past week.

Here is a taste:

It was all so surreal.
Thursday a Catholic Pope entered the chamber of the House of Representatives and gave a speech to a joint meeting of Congress urging those in attendance to apply Catholic social teaching to the affairs of the nation.
For most 18th and 19th century Americans the prospect of a person landing on the moon would have been more believable.
And not only did the pope speak, but he was flanked by a Vice-President and Speaker of the House who shared his faith. The presence of Joe Biden and John Boehner proves that the United States has come a long way in accepting Catholics.
The historical irony cannot be overlooked.  Think, for example, about the first Vice-President to occupy Biden’s chair in the House.  John Adams, the son of New England Puritans, was no fan of Catholics, especially Jesuits, the order of Pope Francis.  In 1814, in a letter to Thomas Jefferson, Adams wrote, “If ever any Congregation of Men could merit, eternal Perdition on Earth and Hell…it is the company of Loyola.”
Read the rest here.

Are You Doing Research on John and Abigail Adams?

J.L. Bell at Boston 1775 just brought my attention to a conference called “Abigail and John: 250 Years Together”  The conference will take place on October 25 to mark the 250th wedding anniversary of this revolutionary-era couple.  Here is the call for papers:

The conference organizers have issued a invitation to scholars to propose individual papers or complete panels. Those can cover “all aspects of the life and union of these two extraordinary individuals and their world,” though organizers ask for proposals to be keyed to one of these general topics:

  • Adams Family Lives
  • Courtship and Commitments in Colonial Massachusetts
  • Home and Hearth in Colonial Massachusetts

If you wish to propose a paper or session, e-mail a 300-500-word abstract to Michelle Marchetti Coughlin by 16 May. Presenters will be notified in June. Papers will have to be completed in time to be circulated to attendees before the conference, which will take place at or near the Abigail Adams Birthplace in Weymouth.

John Adams on George Washington’s "Talents"

The ever-cranky John Adams describes the so-called “talents” of George Washington in this 1807 letter to Benjamin Rush.  According to Adams, Washington’s success was based on his:

“An handsome Face”

a “tall Stature”

“an Elegant Form”

“graceful Attitudes and Movement”

“a large imposing Fortune”

Eventually Adams admitted that Washington had “the Gift of Silence” and “great Self-Command.”

Read more about this letter at The Vault.

John Adams Took The Case

Heather Cox Richardson reminds us, in a post titled “John Adams and the Rule of Law in Boston,” that Adams defended the British soldiers who fired into a crowd on March 5, 1770, killing five people.  Of course we know this event as the Boston Massacre.

Richardson draws some parallels between Adams’s insistence that the British soldiers get a fair trial and the case of Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.  Here is a taste:

Message boards and blogs are full of angry people calling for Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev to be tortured or killed. Or both. Immediately. After all, it’s pretty clear he’s guilty, right? Why waste tax dollars on this guy with a long, expensive trial? 
 
And anyway, who ever said a terrorist who murders Americans should get a fair trial? 
 
Well, Founding Father John Adams, for one. Right here in Boston…
 
But by insisting on a fair trial for his country’s enemies, Adams served his cause far better than if he had bowed tothe popular desire to mete out mob justice. Adams and his team established that Massachusetts—and by extension, the new nation Massachusetts men wanted to create—would put no man, even a killer, beneath the law, and no man above it. Theirs would be a nation based not on popular sentiment, but on law. “Facts are stubborn things,” Adams said in defense of the soldiers, “and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates or our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.” He went on: “The law no passion can disturb. ‘Tis void of desire and fear, lust and anger. ‘Tis . . . written reason, retaining some measure of the divine perfection. It does not enjoin that which pleases a weak, frail man, but, without any regard to persons, commands that which is good and punishes evil in all, whether rich or poor, high or low.”
 
What do you think of this comparison?

Why John Adams Took the Case

With the March 5th anniversary of the Boston Massacre behind us, Amanda Matthews of the John Adams Papers at the Massachusetts Historical Society, reflects on why John Adams, a Boston attorney, agreed to be the defense lawyer for the British soldiers charged with instigating the riot that led to five civilian deaths.

Matthews rightly reminds us that we should be careful about giving too much historical authority to Adams’s post-election of 1800 recollection of his role in the affair.  She writes: “Adams’s own recollection (he kept no diary at the time), is tainted by a long and often torturous public service that left him feeling unappreciated for his many sacrifices to his country….”

John Adams

So why did he take the case? Here is Matthews’s argument:

As are human motives generally, his reasons were complex. It is important to remember that these cases were just two out of hundreds in his career and when put in that larger context, they appear less extraordinary. He mistrusted mob action as a rule and he defended patriots against the crown, and Tories against patriot wrongs. No doubt the knowledge that these cases would be well recorded encouraged him and his ego as well. Finally, the balance of power between the Crown and the colonies was still in flux. Adams was determined to appear neutral until the winds were evident. In 1768, he had been offered the position of the Crown’s advocate general in Massachusetts. He declined. On the other hand, Adams wanted it known that he was not controlled by the Boston patriot leadership. He would be an independent man at all times. It was a theme and standard he maintained throughout his life and one quite evident throughout the Massacre trials.

Jeffrey Pasley Announces New Book

I am glad to see that Jeffrey Pasley, professor of history at the University Missouri, has a new book coming out soon.  Today on his Twitter feed he announced that his First Presidential Contest: 1796 and the Founding of American Democracy will be released in May with the University Press of Kansas.

I have never met Jeffrey, but we recently had a good twitter conversation about my post calling for the AHA membership to elect a president who is not employed by a research university. 

I learned a lot from Pasley’s The Tyranny of the Printers: Newspaper Politics in the Early American Republic and I am sure I will learn much from The First Presidential Contest as well.

Congrats!

Quote of the Day

“Good God! The People of Pennsylvania in seven years will be glad to petition the Crown of Britain for reconciliation in order to be delivered from the tyranny of their new Constitution.”

–John Adams on the democratic, unicameral 1776 Pennsylvania Constitution that gave all male taxpayers the right to vote.  (Adams to Benjamin Rush, 12 October 1776).

John Adams: Study Politics and War So Your Grandchildren Can Study the Humanities and Arts

John Adams once said:

I must study Politicks and War that my sons may have liberty to study Mathematicks and Philosophy.  My sons ought to study mathematics and Philosophy, Geography, natural History, naval Architecture, navigation, Commerce and Agriculature, in order to give their Children a right to study Painting, Poetry, Musick, Architecture, Statuary, Tapestry and Porcelaine.

In a post on Geoffrey Gait Harpham’s Humanities and the Dream of America, Peter Powers calls attention to Harpham’s analysis of this John Adams quote.  Here is what Harpham says:

It is worth recalling that once upon a time the ruling class–which had also been the revolutionary class–imagined that they were risking their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor in behalf of a futurity where what would come to be called the humanities would dominate the concerns of the citizenry.  The humanities, they felt, would represent the crowning achievement of a nation that, having prevailed in war, would build its new society on a foundation of such economic, political, military, and social security that citizens could enrich their lives by turning their attention to the study and appreciation of material and textual artifacts…Adams, Jefferson, and others believed that a general concern for the humanities represented not only the best possible future for the new nation but also the natural progression of mankind, if freed from fear and want. 

What happened?

Powers reflects on the meaning of this Adams quote and Harpham’s interpretation of it.  He concludes: “In the world we have created we will never be secure enough for the poetry and philosophy that Adams at least desired for his progeny.”  Read the whole post here.

John Adams Joins the Library of America

The Library of America has published a two-volume edition of some of the papers of John Adams, edited by Gordon Wood.  Here is a snippet from an interview with Wood from “Reader’s Almanac,” the blog of the Library of America:

LOA: Adams had occasion to work closely with Franklin, Jefferson, and Washington in the Continental Congress—and even more closely with Franklin and Jefferson on his diplomatic missions abroad. What portraits of the other Founders emerge from Adams’s writings? How accurate or skewed do you think they are?

Wood: Actually I think his descriptions of the personalities of Franklin and Jefferson and others were pretty accurate. It is only when he felt he was wronged by them that he lets loose his anger and resentment. He is impressed with Jefferson’s learning, but noted his silence during the debates in the Congress: “I never heard him utter three Sentences together.” His description of Franklin in a letter to Abigail in 1775 is laudatory. Only when he experiences all the adulation paid to Franklin in Paris does he begin to change his tune. Franklin may be a great philosopher, he told his diary in 1779, but “as a Legislator in America he has done very little.” By 1782 he had come to feel for Franklin “no other sentiments than Contempt or Abhorrence.”

LOA: Benjamin Franklin once described Adams as a man who “means well for his Country, is always an honest Man, often a Wise One, but sometimes and in some things, absolutely out of his senses.” Does this description tell us more about Adams—or Franklin?

Wood: Adams never hid his jealousy and resentment of the other Founders, especially Benjamin Franklin. In 1782 he wrote to an English friend about Franklin, who, he said, “must make himself a Man of Consequence by piddling with Men who had no title. . . . But thus it is, that Men of great Reputations may do as many Weak Things as they please, and to remark their Mistakes is to envy them. . . . His base jealousy of me and Sordid Envy of my commission for making Peace . . . have Stimulated him to attempt an assassination upon my character.” Franklin no doubt knew of Adams’s opinion of him, but what probably led to Franklin’s remark was Adams’s letters to the chief French minister, the Comte de Vergennes, in which he repeatedly lectured him on how he ought to treat the United States.

Read the entire interview here.

Who Gets Credit for Sparking the American Revolution: John Adams or Patrick Henry?

Boston 1775 is running some interesting posts about how John Adams did not like the fact that William Wirt’s 1817 biography of Patrick Henry gave the Virginian credit for triggering the Revolution.

Here is a taste:

As I described yesterday, John Adams didn’t like how William Wirt’s 1817 biography of Patrick Henry gave the Virginian credit for sparking the American Revolution. Adams wanted Massachusetts to get the credit for being first.

The only problem was that Henry really did deliver incendiary remarks against the Stamp Act in the Virginia House of Burgesses on 29 May 1765. Wirt’s version of that speech ended, “If this be treason, make the most of it!” That may not be accurate, but there was no doubt that Henry attacked the Stamp Act months before Boston’s big public protests in August.

So the only way for Adams to win back Massachusetts’s primary role was to argue that the Revolutionary conflict had begun even earlier than that—with the writs of assistance case in 1761…


Perhaps this is something that Thomas Kidd takes up in his forthcoming biography, Patrick Henry: First Among Patriots.

Rakove Rips Ellis’s "First Family"

“Founders Lite” is the title of Jack Rakove’s review, published at The New Republic, of Joseph Ellis’s First Family: Abigail and John.

Rakove praises Ellis for publishing so many books on the founding fathers in such a short period of time, but he also notes that the book is filled with factual errors that Rakove seems to imply (although he never says it specifically) are the products of Ellis rushing so many books into print.

Here is a taste:

Having read most of what Ellis has written over this past decade, I am troubled to see how many simple points he casually gets wrong. All of us err occasionally, but Ellis’s mistakes make me wonder whether he really does suffer from a slovenly attitude toward the duty to get things right. In previous books, little matters of fact seem to stump him, such as not knowing the capital of the United States after 1783 (not Philadelphia), or the river that Jefferson and Madison would have taken between New York City and Albany (not the Connecticut), or the officers who fought the most famous military duel of 1778 (it was John Cadwalader, not John Laurens, who put a ball through the face of Washington’s military critic, Thomas Conway). Picking up an essay on the Constitutional Convention that Ellis wrote for American Heritage this summer, I note that he thinks the Constitution was written in 1789, not 1787, and cannot correctly date Benjamin Franklin’s famous plea for the delegates to open their daily sessions with a prayer…

Such errors may seem trivial when taken individually, but their recurrence is disturbing. In First Family, Ellis tells us that he has “this stubborn conviction that reading the sources with my own eyes is the only way” to work. I wholly agree in principle, but reading Ellis I begin to doubt whether his eyes can do the job. No one who takes his sources seriously could report that the First Continental Congress adjourned in January 1775, for John Adams’s diary—every working historian’s favorite source for that meeting—describes the Massachusetts delegation’s rainy-day departure for Boston on October 28, 1774, with Adams rashly predicting he would never see Philadelphia again. A source-based historian would know better than to say that the delegate who presided over the bitter congressional debates of 1779 was not Henry Laurens of South Carolina (who resigned in a huff in December 1778) but John Jay of New York, who became Adams’s chief rival for the appointment of peace commissioner. He would not report that Jefferson went to Europe in 1784 to replace Franklin as minister to France. And he would not hold that the Constitution requires the vice president “to remain silent during debates,” which it does not. Even the year of John Quincy Adams’s appointment as secretary of state comes out wrong.

But Rakove does not stop there.  He also chides Ellis for errors of interpretation, for failing to offer anything close to a sophisticated analysis of the John and Abigail, and for liking Adams too much. If readers really want to know more about this famous revolutionary-era couple, Rakove suggests that they should go to Woody Holton’s Abigail Adams or Edith Gelles’s Abigail and John: Portrait of a Marriage.

One of the Greatest Coincidences in American History

July 4, 1826. Some say it was coincidence. Others say it was a work of divine providence. However it is explained I still find it absolutely fascinating that John Adams and Thomas Jefferson died on the same day–fifty years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence.

Randall Stephens has a short piece on it all at the blog of The Historical Society.

Here is a snippet:

Plenty of Americans in 1826 had something to say about the death of two lions of the Revolution…The New York Commercial Advertiser rhapsodized: “it seems as though Divine Providence had determined that the spirits of these great men, which were kindled at the same altar, and glowed with the same patriotic fervor . . . should be united in death, and travel into the unknown regions of eternity together!”

Jefferson and Adams on Religion

Yesterday I caught some of an excellent C-SPAN panel on the religious views of Thomas Jefferson and John Adams. You can watch the session on C-SPAN. (Sorry, C-SPAN will not allow me to embed the video on this blog).

The session was part of a larger conference, held this past summer at Monticello, on the libraries, leadership, and legacy of these two men.

Here is the full panel:

Jefferson, Adams, and Religion (Monticello)

Constance B. Schulz, University of South Carolina, “Train up a Child in the Way He Should Go”: Books and the Earliest Religious Training of John Adams and Thomas Jefferson
Philip Goff, Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, Balancing Mobs and Aristocrats: Religion, Politics, and Society in the Career of John Adams
Frank Lambert, Purdue University, A FREE INQUIRY under the authority of the People: John Adams and Thomas Jefferson on Religion
John Ragosta, University of Virginia, Jefferson’s Statute for Establishing Religious Freedom: How We Got It, What We Did with It
Commentator: Conrad Edick Wright, Massachusetts Historical Society

If you go to the website you can also read and download the papers. Enjoy!