I am a bit of a founding fathers history nut, I really enjoy reading about that period of our history because there is such drama and personalities all battling it out to figure out where this new country will go. And my favorite founding father by far is John Adams, one of the reasons for this is because he married an equally interesting woman who we know so much about because they wrote to each constantly.
I just finished reading David McCullough’s biography of John Adams an easy read, more like a novel than a history book. Using all the letters they wrote to all the various people in their lives, McCullough helped me see into their lives in a new way. This was my second book on the Adams, having read First Family by Joseph Ellis, but it was more indepth about their whole lives, although if you are into it, I recommend both books.
The bigggest thing I took away from this book is that our government, the fighting in congress, it hasn’t changed all that much. It has always occurred. What has changed is how much we, the common citizens, hear about the squabbles and how quickly we hear about them. McCullough even talks of a fist fight breaking out on the floor of Congress. My only highlight is how Adams saw this as problematic, which is interesting to read with the way our government and parties function, or really don’t function, today.
Like Washington and many others, Adamas had become increasingly distraught over the rise of political divisiveness, the forming of parties or factions. That political parties were an evil that could bring the ruination of republican government was doctrine he, with others, had long accepted and espoused. “There is nothing I dread so much as a division of the Repulic into two great parties, each arranged under its leader and converting measures in opposition to each other,” Adams had observed to a correspondent while at Amsterdam, before the Revolution ended. Yet this was exactly what had happened. The “turbulent maneuvers” of factions, he now wrote privately, could “tie the hands and destroy the influence” of every honest man with a desire to serve the public good. There was “division of sentiments over everything,” he told his son-in-law William Smith. “How few aim at the good of the whole, without aiming too much at the prosperity of the parts!” (p 422)