The Education of John Adams
I am not about to write lamentations or jeremiades
over my fate nor panegyricks upon my life and conduct. You may
think me disappointed [in losing the presidency]. I am not. All my
life I expected it....
—Adams to William Tudor, January 20, 1801
If Virtue was to be rewarded with Wealth, it would
not be Virtue. If Virtue was to be rewarded with Fame, it would
not be Virtue of the sublimest Kind.
—Adams to Abigail Adams, December 2, 1778
THE EDUCATION of John Adams was effectively complete by the time he reached the presidency, but his conduct during his four-year term served to exhibit the dominant features of the Adams personality in all their full-blown splendor. It was quite likely, in short, that he would succeed in the area of policy but fail politically. Which is to say that he could do what was right for his country, but arrange events so that his personal fate suffered as a consequence. This was the established Adams pattern: to sense where history was headed, make decisions that positioned America to be carried forward on those currents, but to do so in a way that assured his own alienation from success. 1
Although there were, as we shall see, elements of deep-rooted perversity that dictated this pattern, events conspired to place Adams in a historical situation that virtually assured personal and political failure regardless of his affinity for psychological mischief. First and foremost was the elemental fact that he succeeded George Washing