The Wisdom of John and Abigail Adams

Edited by R.B. Bernstein

Constitutional historian and lecturer in political science and law, R.B. Bernstein delivers a concise and meaty overview of John and Abigail Adams. In Bernstein's own words:

This book offer an introduction to the wisdom of John and Abigail Adams. Drawing on the millions of words penned by these two articulate and energetic people, it seeks to give a sense of the ideas and values that mattered to them, the ways in which they confronted their turbulent and exciting era and sought to make sense of it.

The book is divided topically, Bernstein treating us to nuggets of gold from the pens of these two Revolutionary heroes. 

Topics include: American Revolution, Constitutions and Constitution-Making, Education, Human Nature, John Adams and Abigail Adams on themselves, Liberty and Right, Love and Marriage, Politics, Religion, War and Peace, and Women.

Neither history or treatise, it is a collection, a deep well of wisdom from which one may return again and again. Bernstein cites the day and source of each snippet, making his tight little volume truly power packed. Here are a few of my favorite passages:

1. The Chief End Of Man: "What is the chief end of man? is a subject well worth the investigation of every rational being. What, indeed, is life, or its enjoyments, without settleed principle, laudable purpose, mental exertions, and internal comfort, that sunshine of the soul, and how are those to be acquired in a hurry and tumult of the world?" Abigail to Mary Cranch, 1/20/1787

2. Love Of Spouse: ". . . Here I say I have amused myself in reading and thinking of my absent Friend, sometimes with a mixture of paine, sometimes with pleasure, sometimes anticipating a joyful and happy meeting, whilst my Heart would bound and palpitate with the pleasing Idea, and with the purest affection I have held you to my Bosom till my whole Soul had dissolved in Tenderness and my pen fallen from my Hand." Abigail to John, 8/29/1776

3. Impossibility: "How many things have the Idea of impossible been annexed to, that have become easy to those who knew how to take advantage of Time, opportunity, lucky Moments, the Faults of others, different dispositions and an Infinite number of other circumstances." Abigail to John, 5/27/1776

4. Children and Virtue: "Great Learning and superior abilities, should you ever posses them, will be of little value and small Estimation, unless Virtue, Honour, Truth, and integrity are added to them. Adhere to those religious Sentiment and principals which are easily instilled into your mind and remember that you are accountable to your Maker for all your words and actions. . . . I had much rather you should have found your Grave in the ocean you have crossd or any untimely death crop you in your Infant years, rather than see you an immoral profligate or Graceless child." Abigail to John Quincy, June 1778.

5. Inconvenience: "There is no avoiding all inconveniences in human affairs." John Adams, Novanglus, 1774-1775

This has been for me a delightful and profitable read.