THE PROBLEM OF DEMOCRACY: THE PRESIDENTS ADAMS CONFRONT THE CULT OF PERSONALITY
Available now (VIKING, APRIL 2019)
They held that political participation demanded moral courage. They did not seek popularity (it showed). They lamented the fact that hero worship in America substituted idolatry for results, and they made it clear they were talking about Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Andrew Jackson.
Until now, no historical investigator has dissected the intertwined lives of the second and sixth U.S. presidents, father and son, John and John Quincy Adams. Beyond the intimate, inherently fascinating story of their accomplished, if oft-disparaged careers, The Problem of Democracy tells how the two statesmen scoured the globe for political intelligence, represented their country in foreign courts, and took extraordinary risks wherever they traveled.
If they lacked the storied charisma of celebrated contemporaries, their losses at the polls do not automatically reflect the failure of their ideas. Intellectually, they were what we today call “independents,” reluctant to commit blindly to an organized political party. But as the title suggests, this book does considerably more than encompass two essential political lives: it takes the temperature of American democracy, from its heated origins through multiple storm events, and with major lessons about the excesses of campaign rhetoric that apply all too obviously to our century. It is a fact of history that the United States, as constituted, was not (nor was it meant to be) a democracy. How we got from there to current perceptions is properly explained by way of the Adamses' purposeful critique.
This is the second dual biography from historians Andrew Burstein and Nancy Isenberg. Their bestselling Madison and Jefferson engaged two of the biggest names in American history, encountering the real world they inhabited and the gritty conduct of politics they took part in.