The Problem of Democracy : The Presidents Adams Confront the Cult of Personality
by Nancy Isenberg and Andrew Burstein


Overview - "Told with authority and style. . . Crisply summarizing the Adamses' legacy, the authors stress principle over partisanship."--The Wall Street Journal

How the father and son presidents foresaw the rise of the cult of personality and fought those who sought to abuse the weaknesses inherent in our democracy, from the New York Times bestselling author of White Trash.

John and John Quincy Adams: rogue intellectuals, unsparing truth-tellers, too uncensored for their own political good. They held that political participation demanded moral courage. They did not seek popularity (it showed). They lamented the fact that hero worship in America substituted idolatry for results; and they made it clear that they were talking about Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Andrew Jackson.

When John Adams succeeded George Washington as President, his son had already followed him into public service and was stationed in Europe as a diplomat. Though they spent many years apart--and as their careers spanned Europe, Washington DC, and their family home south of Boston--they maintained a close bond through extensive letter writing, debating history, political philosophy, and partisan maneuvering.

The problem of democracy is an urgent problem; the father-and-son presidents grasped the perilous psychology of politics and forecast what future generations would have to contend with: citizens wanting heroes to worship and covetous elites more than willing to mislead. Rejection at the polls, each after one term, does not prove that the presidents Adams had erroneous ideas. Intellectually, they were what we today call "independents," reluctant to commit blindly to an organized political party. No historian has attempted to dissect their intertwined lives as Nancy Isenberg and Andrew Burstein do in these pages, and there is no better time than the present to learn from the American nation's most insightful malcontents.

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More About The Problem of Democracy by Nancy Isenberg; Andrew Burstein
 
 
 
Overview
"Told with authority and style. . . Crisply summarizing the Adamses' legacy, the authors stress principle over partisanship."--The Wall Street Journal

How the father and son presidents foresaw the rise of the cult of personality and fought those who sought to abuse the weaknesses inherent in our democracy, from the New York Times bestselling author of White Trash.

John and John Quincy Adams: rogue intellectuals, unsparing truth-tellers, too uncensored for their own political good. They held that political participation demanded moral courage. They did not seek popularity (it showed). They lamented the fact that hero worship in America substituted idolatry for results; and they made it clear that they were talking about Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Andrew Jackson.

When John Adams succeeded George Washington as President, his son had already followed him into public service and was stationed in Europe as a diplomat. Though they spent many years apart--and as their careers spanned Europe, Washington DC, and their family home south of Boston--they maintained a close bond through extensive letter writing, debating history, political philosophy, and partisan maneuvering.

The problem of democracy is an urgent problem; the father-and-son presidents grasped the perilous psychology of politics and forecast what future generations would have to contend with: citizens wanting heroes to worship and covetous elites more than willing to mislead. Rejection at the polls, each after one term, does not prove that the presidents Adams had erroneous ideas. Intellectually, they were what we today call "independents," reluctant to commit blindly to an organized political party. No historian has attempted to dissect their intertwined lives as Nancy Isenberg and Andrew Burstein do in these pages, and there is no better time than the present to learn from the American nation's most insightful malcontents.

 
Details
  • ISBN-13: 9780525557500
  • ISBN-10: 0525557504
  • Publisher: Viking
  • Publish Date: April 2019
  • Page Count: 576
  • Dimensions: 9.1 x 6.4 x 1.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.7 pounds


Related Categories

Books > History > United States - Revolutionary Period (1775-1800)
Books > Biography & Autobiography > Presidents & Heads of State
Books > History > United States - 19th Century

 
BookPage Reviews

The Problem of Democracy

Both John Adams and John Quincy Adams disdained a two-party political system. They believed that competence, rational judgment, independence and a commitment to public service should guide our presidents rather than force of personality. Political courage, rather than consensus-building with other politicians, was a core value. That proved to be a shared, serious misstep that helped each to serve only one term as president. In the ambitious and beautifully written The Problem of Democracy: The Presidents Adams Confront the Cult of Personality, historians Nancy Isenberg and Andrew Burstein show us how the presidents Adams’ healthy skepticism about human nature and the fragility of government have caused them to be misunderstood and underappreciated.

This book offers an abundance of riches. It is both biography and family history of two brilliant men who were deeply concerned about the long-range prospects of their country. They were avid readers, letter writers and diarists, as well as experienced diplomats and keen observers of their own and other cultures. They could be stubborn at times, but to see their lives in tandem makes for absorbing reading. 

Isenberg and Burstein push back on a number of accepted tenets of early American history. They believe Benjamin Franklin received too much credit for negotiations ending the American Revolution in 1783, while John Adams and John Jay did more; that Thomas Paine’s Common Sense was overrated and did not have as much influence on the Continental Congress as many historians think; and that Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson were Southern politicians whose public images “praised the little man, while acting solely in the interest of the plantation economy and the southern elites.”

The presidents Adams wrote much about political parties, demonstrating how the prejudices of the party system allowed men of wealth or with recognizable family names to be turned into idols. Accused of being elitist and anti--democratic, the Adams “did not sell dreams, let alone democratic dreams. They fought a losing battle with historical memory, which made them virtual exiles from their own historical moment and damaged their combined legacy.”

 
BAM Customer Reviews