Books: America’s First Dynasty

Free Press, 2002 | ISBN 0-684-86881-4

In four generations the House of Adams produced two presidents (John, John Quincy), a diplomat (Charles Francis) and a great historian (Henry)—and enough crotchets and ill-temper to have sunk any family even slightly less gifted.

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John Quincy [Adams]’s postpresidential career would last more than nineteen years, almost as long as his father’s. Unlike his father, John Quincy could not redeem any of that time by corresponding with a once-loved and worthy rival, because he did not believe any of his rivals were worthy, nor had he ever loved them. They were scoundrels, every one. He collected Washington gossip about their pratfalls with a miser’s avidity, and his diary glitters with malicious pen portraits and Homeric catalogues of enemies. In one entry he reckoned up thirteen public figures who “from the day that I quitted the walls of Harvard…used up their faculties in base and dirty tricks to thwart my progress in life and destroy my character.”

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