on January 2, 2001
What a joy it is to read the correspondence between two of America's greatest founding fathers. Through this collection of letters we begin to get into the minds of men who created and shaped this nation. We read of their dreams, expectations and fears for this new nation as well as typical correspondence between friends. That is when they were talking to each other. When the two men weren't, Abigail continued to write Jefferson to try and heal the breach. My favorite letter is from John Adams to Jefferson to tell him to stop writing his wife. This is a book for anyone who loves the human side of history and enjoys getting to know the real people behind the legends. I first read it in college, and then spent ten years trying to find it again. Now that I have, it will never leave my bookshelf.
When Jefferson and the Adamses retired from public life, the result was the basis for this wonderful little book. Lester Cappon has produced one of the gems of scholarship on the autumn relationship of Adams and Jefferson. Perhaps the greatest testament to the scholarship and skill of the editor is the fact that this book has remained in print continuously since 1959. Though unlikely ever to score the impressive sales record of the recent biography of John Adams, this work is for those interested readers who want to learn more about the early days of the republic. One warning, the participants were all products of the 18th century. One should not be misled by the formality of the prose (any more than one should be misled by the gushy emotionalism of the victorian era). Adams reveals himself (this was his justification for his life and beliefs) in a straight forward manner. Jefferson, tells us more about himself by his personality by his lack of candor.
Have you ever wanted to be a fly on the wall and to be able to share in the thoughts and happenings of important places and people? Well, if your desires in that regard include the office of the Presidency of the United States and the early days following the American Revolution, that is exactly what this book provides.
As was typical of statesmen of that day, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams maintained a lengthy personal and professional correspondance the subjects of which were both mundane and highly intellectual. This book takes that correspondance, chronologically arranges it and then groups it according the characteristics of the time and the themes of their correspondance. As an additional bonus, John's wife Abigail Adams is included as well.
My attraction to this volume was to seek clarity and focus on several questions that are quite relevant to today. What was meant and intended by the concept of Separation of Church and State and what was the philisophic and religious thinking of there two important figures? There's no shortage of resources out there to tell you what these men thought, the context of their society and usually as an added bonus how these matters in one way or another support the agenda or perspective of the one putting the source together.
At some point however, if you really want to grapple with these issues or just understand the times and importance of these two men, there is no substitute for simply reading and allowing them to speak for themselves.
The added benefit of reading it through in its entirity is that you are not subjected to the judgement of another as to what is significant, what isn't and you aren't relying upon snippets and quotes that may or may not be in context and may or may not be representative of all that either man had to say upon a certain matter.
Certainly, this is just a small cross-section of all that these two men wrote and by itself there is much more that should be added. However, more than any other correspondance preserved from that day that these men engaged in, this was an exchange between men who considered the other his equal and for whom, with exceptions in time periods that are noted, mutual respect and a desire to explain themselves to one another motivated a candor and depth of intimacy that is difficult to find in other sectors.
Certainly, any student of American History needs this resource as a reference and as such it affords a ready means to add information and topically flip through the pages to see what each man had to say on a particular subject.
Every such student though, in my opinion, owes it to themselves, at least once, to just sit down and read the entire volume. Do this, and you'll have a handle upon the style of communication of the day, a feeling for many of the issues of the day and how they were viewed by the participants who did not have the advantage of knowing at the time how something would resolve. Idiosyncrasies in language and social custom will become more self-evident and the chances of being mislead by a quote isolated from its context will diminish considerably.
In short, for anyone who loves History, this is an experience not to be missed.
The footnotes and introductory passages to the different sections in my opinion do a remarkably good job of providing the reader with just enough context and outside information so that the letters themselves make sense and are not misunderstood. The reader is not told what to think about the letters per se, but rather equipped to make a better informed evaluation and come to their own conclusions. Those elements make the book valuable as well.
5 stars if ever there was a book worthy of 5 stars; again, this IS history.
on January 8, 2002
The Adams-Jefferson Letters could be our modern Plutarch. Thomas Jefferson carried on a lifelong correspondence with John and Abigail Adams, and the collected letters show three brilliant but unlike minds shooting sparks of wit, philosophy, politics and friendship. They join forces in a great cause, they bicker and fall out, they make up, and at the end they look back on their remarkable generation from the grave's edge. What more could you want? This book ought to be in every public library in America, and if an American owns three books, this should be one of them.
on August 10, 2002
This is an absolutely invaluable volume; the complete correspondence of two of our most important and able minds whose untiring efforts did much to shape our new nation and its form of government.
The fact that our current government has departed so far from their vision is the fault of lesser men who followed these early men of genius, who were so devoted to the ideal of a workable constitutional republic. Indeed, for the last several generations of politicians it sometimes seems that principle has been replaced by expediency in our public servants.
John Adams and Thomas Jefferson were, without any doubt at all, true geniuses who mastered a large variety of disciplines, from literature to philosophy, theology, governmental design, the mastery of several languages, engineering, astronomy, navigation (see their remarks concerning Nathanael Bowditch, pp. 534,536,540), and especially diplomacy and political intrigue.
Jefferson's remarks about the pronunciation of the ancient Greek language (pp. 536-539) shows a deep and penetrating interest in a subject that today is of interest only to advanced scholars. Indeed, most of their correspondence in their later years demonstrates an interest and, indeed, vast knowledge on a wide variety of subjects. Theirs was an age of generalists -- men who were conversant on a broad range of subjects -- as opposed to today, when we tend to specialization.
Much of their early correspondence included references to Dr. Benjamin Franklin, with whom they were associated while the three of them represented the United States in Europe and England, in creating trade treaties and diplomatic ventures, including relations with the Barbary states (pirates). Abigail Adams also engaged in correspondence with Thomas Jefferson, and many of her letters are included.
We are in debt to several scholars who compiled the materials in this book from the libraries and writings of Jefferson and Adams, of whom Lester Cappon, the editor of this volume, has given much credit.
This book is a gold mine for anyone interested in either of these great men, or in the early history of the United States, or for that matter, the world during that epoch.
on January 17, 2001
In our e-mailing, voice messaging society, there is something enjoyable about reading letters written by hand, without benefit of spell-checkers or editing software. When these letters deal with the personal, intellectual and political thoughts of three important figures in American history, all the better.
In this book, skillfully edited by Lestor J. Cappon, we see the inner workings of the minds of Thomas Jefferson and John Adams. The letters of Abigail Adams add so much to this dialogue, since she was her husband's confidante, sounding board and best advisor during a time when women were usually kept in the background.
These two men, while disagreeing about some of the issues of the day, saw the value in a friendship where "iron sharpens iron." Both were intellectuals who loved the exchange of ideas and the growth that comes from open debate. They also shared a profound respect and a deep friendship for many years, a friendship that clearly shines through their letters.
You will gain great insight into the politics of early America, as well as the friendship shared between these three founders of our country.
Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, friends-foes and back to being friends in the later part of their interesting lives wrote a series of letters to each other from Monticello, VA to Quincy, MA and vice versa during the later years of their lives. These two outstanding and influential men of history were so instrumental in the founding of the United States that their thoughts, beliefs and insights are invaluable to historians.
These two men started off as friends during the climatic years of the Declaration of Independence and the American Revolution, that unfortunately later on during the infant years of the United States they found themselves at odds with each other due to political beliefs and ideas that turned into personal attacks. Adams was more of a politcal conservative who believed in the gentry and status quo of the class system, while Jefferson was more liberal in his beliefs of personal freedom and thought. This lead to many years of "back-stabbing", quarrels over issues great and small, and bitter feelings.
Thank goodness, these two men put aside their differences of their younger years, and developed their friendship annew, with wisdom and gentility. Their insights on how the younger generation of Americans is interesting, their continued hope for the future of the United States is promising, even today, and their genuine affection for each other is heart warming. Adams and Jefferson even realized that they shared alot of the same ideas and beliefs in their later years, and it is good to hear this. John Adams last words before he died on July 4th, 1826 (the same day that Jefferson died) was "Jefferson Lives"! Well Thomas Jefferson certainly does live as well as John Adams, in their beliefs and hopes for the great country of the United States, and their inspiration and intelligence is what every American young and old, great and small should strive for. Highly Recommended!
on November 3, 2006
This collection of historic dialogue is just what I was looking for. The simply and powerfully reprints the letters between Adams, the older more conservative thought leader for a nation, and Jefferson, the quiet country Gentleman who gave voice to that nation. This chronilogical collection of letters bring to life the common bond that brought together and then sustained these two giants; the love of well formed thoughts and learning. The addition of the Abigal to Jefferson letters adds a deeply spiritual and personal tough. A great tool for understanding the thoughts and arguments behind the norming and forming of the United States.
on November 10, 2006
Throw Away the texbooks. As others have said this is our Real History and Heritage. There is more to be found here on Ethics and Intergrity than in any of the pogressively vaporous decriptions of these men and their times. Imagine the chief architects of the Great Experiment in Representstve Democracy. Adversaries at the Constitutional Congress; ememies over the the transition from Adam's Presidency to Jefferson's. And then THESE! Conciliation and repect and eventually true affection - The founding fathers in thier own words - asessing what they had wrought - the good, the bad, the ugly - all passsed through that wondeful 18-19th Century Prose. Throw away the text books. Integrity was the founding principle of Taoism; Ethics the founding princple of Socratic/Platonic discouse. Adams and Jefferson knew this. Many Americans are waking up astounded by the lack of these two foundational elements in our modern system of governance. There is more to be learn of governance,literature and critical thinking on any page than there is in an entire high-school(and most college) curricula. Jefferson and Adams are stirring, stirring - and this can only be a Good Thing.
on January 31, 2006
I have a hard time reading straightforward history. Usually, I would rather read fictionalized or storified versions of history. This is my first effort at reading original sources like letters of historical figures. So it was with real trepidation that I started reading.
It has been so worth it! The words and ideas of these two great men (and one great woman) are really interesting. The ideas that they discussed and fought over resonate into today's political discussions. What makes it all so much more interesting is the falling out that they had and the eventual reconcilliation.
Still, if you are like me, there are times when you may want to skim just a little. There is only so much reading about the commerce of the New England Whale Oil that I can take. Ride through it though...the good sections are very good and sometimes mixed into the dull sections.