From Publishers Weekly
Diggins pays tribute to David McCullough's reestablishment of John Adams's reputation, but he has his own take in this entry in the American Presidents series, edited by Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. He seeks to rebut the conventional wisdom that the country's second president was a "loser," a view based on the fact after losing the election of 1800, Adams's party, the Federalists, disappeared from the scene. The 1800 election was, in fact, a triumph for Adams and the ideas the Federalists espoused, says CUNY historian Diggins (On Hallowed Ground), as an opposition party came to power "without America shedding a single drop of blood." Furthermore, Diggins asserts, "American political history begins with the rift between Adams and Jefferson," and though Adams has been disparaged by historians, he played a central role in the development of American democracy. More than just a miniature of our second president, Diggins's slim volume offers a reconsideration of Adams, a thoughtful study of American politics of the period and Adams's legacy for today.
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Repudiated by the electorate in 1800 and denigrated by historians ever since, the second president rose from the dead in David McCullough's blockbuster John Adams
(2001). In this study, part of the publisher's accessible series on each of the country's chief executives, historian Diggins' academic specialty, intellectual history, influences his appraisal of Adams. The president wrote copiously about political philosophy, and in one chapter, Diggins closely evaluates the material. This is a wise confinement, for, except for his correspondence, Adams is a chore to read. The pace quickens in the balance of Diggins' narrative as he integrates Adams' fundamental ideas about politics into the hurly-burly story of the 1790s. Adams' presidency was, of course, vexed by the quasiwar with revolutionary France and associated turbulence in domestic politics. As much as recounting events, Diggins engages historians of this much-written-about decade, detecting pro-Jefferson bias in some, as he argues for Adams' significance as a political moralist. This examination will be of special interest to history readers with an analytical bent. Gilbert TaylorCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved