Ryerson, “John Adams’s Republic”

I wonder it it’s fair any longer to refer to John Adams as a forgotten founder. His stock has risen among American historians in the past 20 years or so. He even got an HBO mini-series–though, so far, no Broadway musical. In law and religion circles, Adams most famous for his observation that the US Constitution “was made only for a moral and religious people” and “is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” Whether or not one agrees with Adams on that, his contributions to American constitutional theory are increasingly acknowledged.

This past year, the Johns Hopkins University Press published a new study of Adams’s political thought, John Adams’s Republic: The One, the Few and the Many, by historian Richard Alan Ryerson. The publisher’s description follows:

9781421419220Scholars have examined John Adams’s writings and beliefs for generations, but no one has brought such impressive credentials to the task as Richard Alan Ryerson in John Adams’s Republic. The editor-in-chief of the Massachusetts Historical Society’s Adams Papers project for nearly two decades, Ryerson offers readers of this magisterial book a fresh, firmly grounded account of Adams’s political thought and its development.

Of all the founding fathers, Ryerson argues, John Adams may have worried the most about the problem of social jealousy and political conflict in the new republic. Ryerson explains how these concerns, coupled with Adams’s concept of executive authority and his fear of aristocracy, deeply influenced his political mindset. He weaves together a close analysis of Adams’s public writings, a comprehensive chronological narrative beginning in the 1760s, and an exploration of the second president’s private diary, manuscript autobiography, and personal and family letters, revealing Adams’s most intimate political thoughts across six decades.

How, Adams asked, could a self-governing country counter the natural power and influence of wealthy elites and their friends in government? Ryerson argues that he came to believe a strong executive could hold at bay the aristocratic forces that posed the most serious dangers to a republican society. The first study ever published to closely examine all of Adams’s political writings, from his youth to his long retirement,John Adams’s Republic should appeal to everyone who seeks to know more about America’s first major political theorist.

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