Saturday, December 27, 2008

Profiles in Courage or John Adams

Profiles in Courage

Author: John Fitzgerald Kennedy

"This is a book about that most admirable of human virtues-- courage. 'Grace under pressure,' Ernest Hemingway defined it. And these are the stories of the pressures experienced by eight United States Senators and the grace with which they endured them."

-- John F. Kennedy

During 1954-1955, John F. Kennedy, then a U.S. Senator, chose eight of his historical colleagues to profile for their acts of astounding integrity in the face of overwhelming opposition. These heroes include John Quincy Adams, Daniel Webster, Thomas Hart Benton, and Robert A. Taft.

Awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1957, Profiles in Courage -- now reissued in this handsome hardcover edition, featuring a new introduction by Caroline Kennedy, as well as Robert Kennedy's foreword written for the memorial edition of the volume in 1964 -- resounds with timeless lessons on the most cherished of virtues and is a powerful reminder of the strength of the human spirit. It is as Robert Kennedy states in the foreword, "not just stories of the past but a hook of hope and confidence for the future. What happens to the country, to the world, depends on what we do with what others have left us."

New York Times

It is refreshing and enlightening to have a first-rate politician write a thoughtful and persuasive book about political integrity.

Springfield Republican

A book that deserves reading by every American.

Table of Contents:
ICourage and politics1
Pt. 1The time and the place23
IIJohn Quincy Adams29
Pt. 2The time and the place51
IIIDaniel Webster57
IVThomas Hart Benton75
VSam Houston93
Pt. 3The time and the place111
VIEdmund G. Ross115
VIILucius Quintus Cincinnatus Lamar139
Pt. 4The time and the place165
VIIIGeorge Norris170
IXRobert A. Taft193
XOther men of political courage206
XIThe meaning of courage217

Book review: Icon of Evil or A Crime So Monstrous

John Adams

Author: David McCullough

In this powerful, epic biography, David McCullough unfolds the adventurous life-journey of John Adams, the brilliant, fiercely independent, often irascible, always honest Yankee patriot -- "the colossus of independence," as Thomas Jefferson called him -- who spared nothing in his zeal for the American Revolution; who rose to become the second President of the United States and saved the country from blundering into an unnecessary war; who was learned beyond all but a few and regarded by some as "out of his senses"; and whose marriage to the wise and valiant Abigail Adams is one of the moving love stories in American history.

Like his masterly, Pulitzer Prize-winning biography Truman, David McCullough's John Adams has the sweep and vitality of a great novel. It is both a riveting portrait of an abundantly human man and a vivid evocation of his time, much of it drawn from an outstanding collection of Adams family letters and diaries. In particular, the more than one thousand surviving letters between John and Abigail Adams, nearly half of which have never been published, provide extraordinary access to their private lives and make it possible to know John Adams as no other major American of his founding era.

As he has with stunning effect in his previous books, McCullough tells the story from within -- from the point of view of the amazing eighteenth century and of those who, caught up in events, had no sure way of knowing how things would turn out. George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, John Jay, the British spy Edward Bancroft, Madame Lafayette and Jefferson's Paris "interest" Maria Cosway, Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, the scandalmonger James Callender, Sally Hemings, John Marshall, Talleyrand, and Aaron Burr all figure in this panoramic chronicle, as does, importantly, John Quincy Adams, the adored son whom Adams would live to see become President.

Crucial to the story, as it was to history, is the relationship between Adams and Jefferson, born opposites -- one a Massachusetts farmer's son, the other a Virginia aristocrat and slaveholder, one short and stout, the other tall and spare. Adams embraced conflict; Jefferson avoided it. Adams had great humor; Jefferson, very little. But they were alike in their devotion to their country. At first they were ardent co-revolutionaries, then fellow diplomats and close friends. With the advent of the two political parties, they became archrivals, even enemies, in the intense struggle for the presidency in 1800, perhaps the most vicious election in history. Then, amazingly, they became friends again, and ultimately, incredibly, they died on the same day -- their day of days -- July 4, in the year 1826.

Much about John Adams's life will come as a surprise to many readers. His courageous voyage on the frigate Boston in the winter of 1778 and his later trek over the Pyrenees are exploits that few would have dared and that few readers will ever forget.

It is a life encompassing a huge arc -- Adams lived longer than any president. The story ranges from the Boston Massacre to Philadelphia in 1776 to the Versailles of Louis XVI, from Spain to Amsterdam, from the Court of St. James's, where Adams was the first American to stand before King George III as a representative of the new nation, to the raw, half-finished Capital by the Potomac, where Adams was the first President to occupy the White House. This is history on a grand scale -- a book about politics and war and social issues, but also about human nature, love, religious faith, virtue, ambition, friendship and betrayal, and the far-reaching consequences of noble ideas.

Above all, John Adams is an enthralling, often surprising story of one of the most important and fascinating Americans who ever lived.

Washington Post Book World - Edwin M. Yoder

The authentic John Adams has been concealed too long in the glamorous shadows of Jefferson and Washington, and some rectification is past due. McCullough's biography will go far to provide it, for none before it -- not even Gilbert Chinard's classic of a generation or more ago -- has attained its height of narrative art. But that is only to be expected of the writer who is our historian laureate in waiting.

Caspar Weinberger - Forbes


Our response to the Sept. 11 horror is exactly right. The only opposition seems to be coming from academic left-wingers who fancy themselves fashionable in their constant and now-frantic efforts to blame America, even for Sept. 11.

Had we failed to launch the continual, strong attacks that we have, we would have told terrorists around the world that it is safe to attack America with impunity. The road we have chosen is the right one. It will be long, and not without risk. If the patience and strength of our country matches those of our leadership, we will win.


This annual review of books read during the summer in Maine is appearing now because far more important events intervened. These books, however, are worth reading anytime.

John Adams (Simon & Schuster, $35) is David McCullough's magisterial and altogether wonderful bi-ography. Joseph Ellis' 1993 biography of Adams began the process of demonstrating how much we owe to this most extraordinary of our founding fathers. McCullough completes the rescue of our second President from the comparative obscurity to which the far better known lives of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin had seemingly condemned him.

Adams, a Massachusetts farmer and lawyer, was a proud descendant of the Puritans and outdid some of them in his rigid rectitude. He had a towering intellect, refined and toned by his Harvard education. He scorned those of lesser intellect and some who simply disagreed with his firmly held opinions. Anyone subjected to his disdain was not likely to forget it.

Adams worked endlessly for causes he believed in, especially personal liberty and freedom fromoppression. He was unwilling to compromise in the least on anything remotely resembling a matter of principle. But these character-istics enabled him and his sometimes irritated colleagues (no mean intellects themselves) to work together to produce our democracy. We probably would never have taken the extreme step of severing relations with Great Britain without Adams' relentless pursuit of what he saw as necessary to secure our freedom and our future.

Some of the finest chapters are those involving Adams' responsibilities representing the Colonies' interests in France, which led to France's committing troops to our Revolution. In all this Adams was far more than aided by his extraordinary wife, Abigail. Almost a dual biography, this book includes perhaps the first full appreciation of how much Abigail contributed to the Revolution and our nation's birth.

The summer was also enlivened by a controversial little book, The Jefferson-Hemings Myth: An American Travesty (Thomas Jefferson Heritage Society, $11.95). Ten contributors, including editor Eyler Robert Coates Sr. and Bahman Batmanghelidj, offer virtually irrefutable proof that Jefferson did not father a child by Sally Hemings, a myth that many have come to accept.

Three novels, brilliantly written, with fascinating narratives, completed this summer's fare. Readers may recall my unbounded admiration for James Webb, one of our finest war novelists since Stephen Crane. It is a pleasure to re-port that Webb's Lost Soldiers (Bantam Books, $25) is fully up to his high standards--taut with skillfully nar-rated realism. It is a tale of the search for two American traitors who caused the death of Marines in a remote outpost in Vietnam. No one else has ever conveyed better the dangers, risks and horrors of our war in Vietnam. Once again we see and live through the misery, terror and hardship of infantry fighting in that strange land--a land that Webb has clearly come to love.

Death in Holy Orders, by P.D. James (Knopf, $25), is the latest of the Adam Dalgliesh mysteries. An ordinand's death at a small theological college leads into a tale of multiple murders and horribly sacrilegious acts, along with the familiar descriptions and character studies that distinguish all of Baroness James' works. This is a most reward-ing and skillfully constructedexample of the classic mystery as told by a master of the art.

One of the nicest short books I've read in a long time is Girl With a Pearl Earring, by Tracy Chevalier (Plume, $12). This is the tale of painter Johannes Vermeer and his tumultuous household in 1660s Holland. But it is also the story of his 16-year-old housemaid and model, Griet, who sat for the glorious portrait "Girl With a Pearl Ear-ring." This is a most delightful lesson in art history, as well as a study in vivid contrasts between Vermeer's life and that of his most famous model.

Book Magazine

William Shakespeare could have found plenty of dramatic inspiration in the American Revolution. George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin and Alexander Hamilton were all larger-than-life figures with all-too-human complexities, engaged in an era of upheaval and conspiratorial intrigue. As for John Adams, Shakespeare had him nailed centuries before the fact: Adams is Polonius, a loquacious foil to the tragic Hamlet, an object of derision to others but never to himself. He is a conventionally minded man who speaks in platitudes, lacks the dimensions of greatness and can't comprehend how fatuous he sometimes seems to those who ridicule him. "Adams often felt ill at ease," writes David McCullough, whose biography combines scholarly research with the readability of historical fiction. "He sensed people were laughing at him, as sometimes they were, and this was especially hurtful." His ambition, his ego, his squat corpulence and ruddy complexion all made him subject to caricature.

The man who was so ordinary when compared to the revolution's extraordinary figures showed a profound commitment to the country he served in so many pivotal ways. As both ambassador and president, Adams accepted responsibilities for which he'd had little experience, recognizing that few people in this young country were any better prepared for the challenges inherent in this experiment in democracy.

McCullough makes it easy to understand why Adams would be both an attractive and sympathetic figure to the historian who won the Pulitzer Prize for his similarly expansive study of Harry Truman. Like Truman, Adams was a good-humored, sharp-tempered, fiercely independent man; he wasdevoid of aristocratic pretense and incapable of political artifice. "I am an ordinary man," he wrote in his diary. "The times alone have destined me to fame."

Adams certainly rose to the challenges of his turbulent times. As a fledgling lawyer from a humble Massachusetts farm family, he seemed to follow an unerring moral compass, from his defense of British soldiers in the Boston Massacre on legal grounds, to his aggressive arguments for independence, well ahead of the curve of public sentiment. One of the most vocal advocates of the Declaration of Independence, he was the overseas ambassador charged with rallying foreign support to the fledgling nation. (France would have preferred his more revered cousin Samuel Adams, while Britain disparaged him as a nobody.)

Rewarded upon his return home with his country's first vice presidency, Adams discovered that the office was no reward at all, "the most insignificant office that ever the invention of man contrived." He then had the unenviable task of succeeding the beloved Washington, becoming both the first president to occupy the White House and the first to be booted from it by the electorate, as partisanship turned increasingly acrimonious. He was also the first (until recently, the only) president to raise a son who would also be president.

One of the more influential delegates to the Continental Congress, Adams established a mentor-protege friendship with the younger Thomas Jefferson, a relationship that would shape the lives of each to the end. "With Adams there was seldom a doubt about what he said," writes McCullough. "With Jefferson there was always a slight air of ambiguity." Eventually, Jefferson would both betray and defeat his former mentor—whom he considered a monarchist reactionary, at odds with Jefferson's beloved French Revolution—though they somehow resumed cordial correspondence once both had retired from politics. McCullough's account leaves little doubt that, while Jefferson had the more brilliant mind, Adams was the better friend. "He wished to be President of the United States, and I stood in his way," Adams remarked of Jefferson, after wounds had healed. "But if I should quarrel with him for that, I might quarrel with every man I have ever had anything to do with in life. This is human nature."

According to McCullough, the best of human nature is exemplified through his subject's marriage to Abigail Adams—"the most important decision of John Adams' life." It is a love that further humanizes this biography (while contrasting sharply with the Clintonian hedonism of Jefferson). Esteemed throughout colonial society for her essential goodness and lively mind, without the reservations so often attached to her husband, Abigail served as his ideal. "Where others might see a stout, bluff little man," writes the biographer, "she saw a giant of great heart."

McCullough writes of his subject with warmth and respect but not reverence, and the truth about Adams falls somewhere between his wife's assessment of his character and Benjamin Franklin's famous description of him as "always an honest man, often a wise one, but sometimes and in some things, absolutely out of his senses." After a presidency troubled by a holdover cabinet that remained loyal to Washington, dissension over relations with both Great Britain and France and acceptance of the Sedition Act (which threatened anyone criticizing the president with imprisonment), Adams enjoyed his happiest decades once he retired to his farm, his library and his voluminous correspondence.

John Adams lived to be ninety-one years old, long enough to see his son John Quincy elected to the presidency. He died on the same day as Thomas Jefferson—July 4, 1826, as the country was celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. Shakespeare couldn't have scripted it more poetically.
—Don McLeese

Publishers Weekly

Here a preeminent master of narrative history takes on the most fascinating of our founders to create a benchmark for all Adams biographers. With a keen eye for telling detail and a master storyteller's instinct for human interest, McCullough (Truman; Mornings on Horseback) resurrects the great Federalist (1735-1826), revealing in particular his restrained, sometimes off-putting disposition, as well as his political guile. The events McCullough recounts are well-known, but with his astute marshaling of facts, the author surpasses previous biographers in depicting Adams's years at Harvard, his early public life in Boston and his role in the first Continental Congress, where he helped shape the philosophical basis for the Revolution. McCullough also makes vivid Adams's actions in the second Congress, during which he was the first to propose George Washington to command the new Continental Army. Later on, we see Adams bickering with Tom Paine's plan for government as suggested in Common Sense, helping push through the draft for the Declaration of Independence penned by his longtime friend and frequent rival, Thomas Jefferson, and serving as commissioner to France and envoy to the Court of St. James's. The author is likewise brilliant in portraying Adams's complex relationship with Jefferson, who ousted him from the White House in 1800 and with whom he would share a remarkable death date 26 years later: July 4, 1826, 50 years to the day after the signing of the Declaration. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.

Library Journal

This life of Adams is an extraordinary portrait of an extraordinary man who has not received his due in America's early political history but whose life work significantly affected his country's future. McCullough is here following his Pulitzer Prize-winning biography, Truman, and his subjects have much in common as leaders who struggled to establish their own presidential identities as they emerged from the shadows of their revered predecessors. The author paints a portrait of Adams, the patriot, in the fullest sense of the word. The reader is treated to engaging descriptions and accounts of Washington, Jefferson, and Franklin, among others, as well as the significant figures in the Adams family: Abigail, John's love and full partner, and son John Quincy. In tracing Adams's life from childhood through his many critical, heroic, and selfless acts during the Revolution, his vice presidency under Washington, and his own term as president, the full measure of Adams a man widely regarded in his time as the equal of Jefferson, Hamilton, and all of the other Founding Fathers is revealed. This excellent biography deserves a wide audience. Thomas J. Baldino, Wilkes Univ., Wilkes-Barre, PA Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.

Kirkus Reviews

A great, troubled, and, it seems, overlooked president receives his due from the Pulitzer-winning historian/biographer McCullough (Truman). John Adams, to gauge by the letters and diaries from which McCullough liberally quotes, did not exactly go out of his way to assume a leadership role in the tumultuous years of the American Revolution, though he was always "ambitious to excel." Neither, however, did he shy from what he perceived to be a divinely inspired historical necessity; he took considerable personal risks in spreading the American colonists' rebellion across his native Massachusetts. Adams gained an admirable reputation for fearlessness and for devotion not only to his cause but also to his beloved wife Abigail. After the Revolution, though he was quick to yield to the rebellion's military leader, George Washington, part of the reason that the New England states enjoyed influence in a government dominated by Virginians was the force of Adams's character. His lifelong nemesis, who tested that character in many ways, was also one of his greatest friends: Thomas Jefferson, who differed from Adams in almost every important respect. McCullough depicts Jefferson as lazy, a spendthrift, always in debt and always in trouble, whereas Adams never rested and never spent a penny without good reason, a holdover from the comparative poverty of his youth. Despite their sometimes vicious political battles (in a bafflingly complex environment that McCullough carefully deconstructs), the two shared a love of books, learning, and revolutionary idealism, and it is one of those wonderful symmetries of history that both died on the same day, the 50th anniversary of the signing ofthe Declaration of Independence. While McCullough never misses an episode in Adams's long and often troubled life, he includes enough biographical material on Jefferson that this can be considered two biographies for the price of one—which explains some of its portliness. Despite the whopping length, there's not a wasted word in this superb, swiftly moving narrative, which brings new and overdue honor to a Founding Father.

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