Recently I read David McCullough’s John Adams in order to attend as a guest a meeting of my wife’s book discussion group, and it reminded me of the qualities of this most under-appreciated of our founders. McCullough’s treatment has been criticized as overly admiring of Adams, overly contemptuous of Thomas Jefferson, and, as popularly written history often is, lacking in academic depth. Possibly it is some of all of these, but it was still a great character study of both John and his brilliant and devoted Abigail. As the American counterpart to the British founder of conservatism, Edmund Burke, Adams probably left more written conservative political philosophy than any American founder, and his dogged pursuit of federalism and classical republican virtue set an example that lives today. For an excellent review of his political thought in more depth, I recommend Russell Kirk’s The Conservative Mind. I have long believed that it is a great disservice that there is not even a small monument or memorial in the nation’s capital honoring the man, but Adams himself anticipated as much, writing to Jefferson some years into their retirement, “My [conservative political treatises] were the cause of that immense unpopularity which fell like the tower of Siloam upon me. Your steady defense of democratical principles and your invariable favorable opinion of the French Revolution laid the foundation for your unbounded popularity”. A major disservice indeed!
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