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John Adams's Republic: The One, the Few, and the Many, Richard Alan Ryerson

Reviewed by Ralph A. Rossum

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In his Thoughts on Government, John Adams remarked that “poets read history to collect flowers, not fruits—they attend to fanciful images, not the effects of social institutions” (pp. 175–176). Richard Alan Ryerson, the editor in chief of the Massachusetts Historical Society's Adams Papers project from 1983 to 2001 and the former academic director and historian of the David Library of the American Revolution, is no poet; rather, he is a gifted historian who has carefully read and closely analyzed all of the second president's extensive public writings, letters, and private papers to produce a magisterial account of Adams's political thought and its development over six decades. There is nothing flowery about Ryerson's work; it is a dense, extraordinarily well-researched book that, nevertheless, is clearly written and capable of bearing great fruit for the attentive reader. And, it very much attends to the effects of the social institutions that mattered most for Adams—aristocracy, in particular.

Ryerson begins John Adams's Republic by describing that republic. It was a republic, as Ryerson's subtitle makes clear, in which sovereignty was to be divided among three “elements”: the “one,” consisting of a strong executive with an absolute veto over the acts of the legisl

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