History and Heroes
Mausoleums, statues, monuments will never be erected
to me. wish them not. Panegyrical romances will never be writ-
ten, nor flattering orations spoken, to transmit me to posterity in
brilliant colors. No, nor in true colors. All but the last I loathe.
—Adams to Benjamin Rush, March 23, 1809
When I was running the gauntlet [as a public figure]
I refused to suffer in silence. I signed, sobbed, & groaned, and
sometimes screeched and screamed. And I must confess to my shame
and sorrow, that I sometimes swore.
—Adams to Harrison Gray Otis, March 29,1823
FOR THE FIRST TWELVE YEARS of his long retirement, Adams twitched in and out of his preferred posture of pastoral serenity. But when he allowed the old urges to escape, they took the form of an outright obsession with the vicissitudes of recent American history and a private crusade over his proper place in it. "How is it," he asked Benjamin Rush, now his closest confidant outside the family, "that I, poor, ignorant I, must stand before Posterity as differing from all the other great Men of the Age?" He then went on to list his gallery of "greats"—Joseph Priestley, Benjamin Franklin, Edmund Burke, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison—and concluded that, even when his own name was admitted onto the list, it was often accompanied by the judgment that Adams was "the most vain, conceited, impudent, arrogant Creature in the World." 1
In Virginia, where, as Adams observed, "all Geese are Swans," the great heroes of the Revolution all had magnificent estates. Jefferson