First Family : Abigail and John / Joseph J. Ellis

While John Adams played a key role in the American Revolution and the republic’s tumultuous early years, until recently historians often underrated his contribution among the Founding Fathers. This, despite the fact that he was a leading figure in the creation of the Declaration of Independence, single-handedly wrote the Constitution of Massachusetts, served as a minister to the court of France during the war, and became the nation’s first vice-president and its second president. While well-known during his lifetime, after his death Washington and Jefferson overshadowed him in the history books. What has helped bring John Adams back to prominence in recent times are the letters his wife Abigail and he exchanged over the many decades of their marriage. Both were prolific writers and they left behind a treasure trove of more than twelve hundred letters. In First Family, Joseph Ellis uses this correspondence to create an intimate account of their relationship and strong partnership. Abigail was an intelligent individual and a vocal advocate for women’s rights. She was also a key sounding board for John in the creation of his numerous essays and political activity. Her counsel proved to be a valuable asset to her husband. Here, their lifelong relationship is masterfully woven together with the story of the creation of a nation. The author has produced a highly readable and illuminating narrative. It is part biography, part political history, but more importantly, a love story between equals. While Ellis’ portrayal does not attempt to hide the faults of these two fascinating figures, the reader cannot help but come away with admiration for the both of them. We are fortunate that, realizing the important times they were living through, John and Abigail went to great pains early on to preserve their correspondence with each other.

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