Book Review: First Family by Joseph Ellis


Author: Joseph J. Ellis
Title:  First Family
Narrator: Kimberly Farr
Publication Info: Random House Audio (2010), Edition: Unabridged
Previously Read by Same Author: American Sphinx: The Character of Thomas Jefferson, Passionate Sage: The Character and Legacy of John Adams, and Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation
Summary/Review:

Historian Joseph Ellis explores the relationship of Abigail and John Adams, and how it was effected by the Revolutionary Era, not to mention the effect they had on fomenting revolution.  The main source for this history is their voluminous correspondence which shows that they saw one another as intellectual equals discussing the issues of the day, but also demonstrated a romantic attachment.  While Abigail is the more grounded of the two balancing John’s fiery personality, there are instances where Abigail seems more extreme, such as her support of going to war with France during John’s presidency or her approval of the Alien & Sedition Acts.  Since the book relies so heavily on correspondence, there is more material for the times that they were apart than when they were together and obviously not writing one another.  For the later years after John’s presidency, Ellis relies on the pair’s correspondence with other individuals (including the famed letters to and from Thomas Jefferson), but it loses the intimacy of the earlier parts of the book.  Ellis may have done better to pare the book down just to the years where correspondence between Abigail and John exists rather than attempt the story of their entire lives, but that’s a minor quibble.  This book paints a human portrait of the “venerable” couple from the time of the nation’s birth.
Recommended books: John Adams by David McCullough and Revolutionaries by Jack Rakove.
Rating: ***1/2

Happy Independence Day


On July 2, 1776 the Second Continental Congress in Philadelphia voted for independence thus birthing a new nation, the United States of America.  As John Adams wrote,

“The Second Day of July 1776, will be the most memorable Epocha, in the History of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance by solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.”

So how are you celebrating Independence Day today?

Wait? You’re not celebrating until July 4th, a date on which nothing of great significance.   Sure, the document known as the Declaration of Independence was approved on that day, but the momentous event of actually declaring independence already happened on July 2nd.  The idea of the Declaration being written, presented to Congress, and signed on July 4th as depicted in art never happened that way.  The Declaration was written over the course of June, presented on June 28th,  and signed on August 2nd (with other delegates adding names through the autumn).

So we celebrate our nation’s independence on the wrong day.  Still we can make it work.  We love our country and we love to celebrate, so why not have two days?  We can celebrate the real Independence Day or Adams’ Independence Day on July 2nd and the conventional wisdom Independence Day or Declaration of Independence Day on July 4th.

Having two Independence Days solves the “July 4th falls on a Wednesday problem.” When July 4 falls on Monday or Friday we celebrate on July 4th. When July 2nd falls on a Monday or Friday we celebrate on July 2nd. When July 2nd is Sunday and July 4th is Tuesday we split the difference and observe Independence Day on July 3rd. Same thing when July 2nd is on Thursday and July 4th on Saturday. And when July 2nd is Tuesday and July 4th is Thursday it’s a Jubilee Year and we all take the entire week off!

EDIT ON JULY 3:  I didn’t see it until today but Mallard Fillmore’s Birthday wrote a much better July 2nd Independence Day blog post than mine.  Read it now!

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