A New York Times Book Review Notable Book of 2017
From the great historian of the American Revolution, New York Times-bestselling and Pulitzer-winning Gordon Wood, comes a majestic dual biography of two of America's most enduringly fascinating figures, whose partnership helped birth a nation, and whose subsequent falling out did much to fix its course.
Thomas Jefferson and John Adams could scarcely have come from more different worlds, or been more different in temperament. Jefferson, the optimist with enough faith in the innate goodness of his fellow man to be democracy's champion, was an aristocratic Southern slaveowner, while Adams, the overachiever from New England's rising middling classes, painfully aware he was no aristocrat, was a skeptic about popular rule and a defender of a more elitist view of government. They worked closely in the crucible of revolution, crafting the Declaration of Independence and leading, with Franklin, the diplomatic effort that brought France into the fight. But ultimately, their profound differences would lead to a fundamental crisis, in their friendship and in the nation writ large, as they became the figureheads of two entirely new forces, the first American political parties. It was a bitter breach, lasting through the presidential administrations of both men, and beyond.
But late in life, something remarkable happened: these two men were nudged into reconciliation. What started as a grudging trickle of correspondence became a great flood, and a friendship was rekindled, over the course of hundreds of letters. In their final years they were the last surviving founding fathers and cherished their role in this mighty young republic as it approached the half century mark in 1826. At last, on the afternoon of July 4th, 50 years to the day after the signing of the Declaration, Adams let out a sigh and said, "At least Jefferson still lives." He died soon thereafter. In fact, a few hours earlier on that same day, far to the south in his home in Monticello, Jefferson died as well.
Arguably no relationship in this country's history carries as much freight as that of John Adams of Massachusetts and Thomas Jefferson of Virginia. Gordon Wood has more than done justice to these entwined lives and their meaning; he has written a magnificent new addition to America's collective story.
Prologue: The Eulogies 1
1 Contrasts 7
2 Careers, Wives, and Other Women 38
3 The Imperial Crisis 69
4 Independence 103
5 Missions Abroad 137
6 Constitutions 167
7 The French Revolution 204
8 Federalists and Republicans 240
9 The President vs. the Vice President 279
10 The Jeffersonian Revolution of 1800 320
11 Reconciliation 356
12 The Great Reversal 389
Epilogue The National Jubilee 426
Whenever I read Gordon Wood, the dean of eighteenth century American historians, I feel as if I am absorbing wisdom at the feet of the master. Friends Divided is teeming with exceptionally acute and unvarnished insights into Thomas Jefferson and John Adams as they do battle for the nation's soul. Jefferson's sunny, almost Panglossian, optimism, juxtaposed with the dark, dyspeptic musings of Adams, presents readers with nothing less than a vivid composite portrait of the American mind.
As the dean of American historians, Gordon Wood had long shaped the nation's thinking about the true nature of the Founding. Now he turns his intellectual honesty and clear-eyed prose to the lives of Jefferson and of Adams, giving us a brilliant portrait of their complicated relationship. This is an indispensable account of two men, of the country they built, and of why their legacies matter even now. Bravo!
Jon Meacham, author of American Lion and of Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power
America's dialogue with its competing impulses had its origins in the fractured friendship of John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. Gordon Wood brings his unmatched knowledge of the scholarly literature to the task of recovering both sides of what is still America's longstanding argument with itself.
Joseph J. Ellis, author of the forthcoming Then and Now: The Founders and US
This is an engrossing story, which Wood tells with a mastery of detail and a modern plainness of expression that makes a refreshing contrast with the 18th-century locutions of his subjects.The New York Times Book Review - Richard Brookhiser
Wood (The Idea of America), a Pulitzer and Bancroft prize–winning professor of history at Brown, harnesses a career’s worth of historical knowledge to produce an artful tale of two of the most accomplished founding fathers. “The ironies and paradoxes expressed in the lives of these two Founders epitomize the strange and wondrous experience of the nation itself,” Wood explains. Though the U.S. emerged as a sovereign nation, its people remained divided by conflicting political philosophies. Adams and Jefferson often ended up on opposite sides, with political differences driving an almost irrevocable wedge between them. Tracing the trajectory of this fragile friendship, Wood reveals how and why Jefferson rather than Adams has endured as the embodiment of the nation’s heritage. Through the first two chapters, Wood introduces Adams and Jefferson by comparing and contrasting their backgrounds and characters. The two men became acquainted during meetings of the Second Continental Congress, where they agreed on the divisive question of independence. Later, political differences surfaced over the new U.S. Constitution, the French Revolution, and American party politics, all of which strained their friendship. Wood glides through the political intricacies and intrigues of the times, offering incisive analyses, especially of the ongoing debate over slavery, finely illuminating the minds of Adams and Jefferson. (Oct.)
★ 10/01/2017Library Journal
Both John Adams (1735-1826) and Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) died on the golden jubilee of America's founding, within hours of each other. This well-known story opens Wood's (history, Brown Univ.; The Idea of America) biography of an unlikely friendship that had the power to bring the nation together; yet, one also fraught with an ideological divide that threatened the strength of their relationship. Adams, a middle-class pessimist, was known for telling hard truths that he believed the American people needed to hear. Jefferson, in contrast, was a slave-holding aristocrat who espoused the exceptional nature of Americans and told people what they wanted to hear. Wood's outstanding scholarship and beautiful, masterly prose tells each man's experience, and he's unafraid to discuss hard facts, such as Jefferson's blind spot on slavery or Adams's reverence for the British monarchy. More importantly, their friendship reveals why Americans remember the words of Jefferson over those of Adams. Jefferson's charm and optimistic view of the American experiment better fit Abraham Lincoln's unification narrative as the Union started to crumble. VERDICT Essential reading from a Pulitzer Prize-winning giant of early American history for both casual history readers and historians.—Jessica Holland, Univ. of Kentucky, Lexington
★ 2017-07-12Kirkus Reviews
The acclaimed historian engages in a compelling examination of the complex relationship of the Founding Fathers who eventually served as the second and third presidents of the United States.It is well-known that John Adams and Thomas Jefferson lived long lives and famously died on the same day, July 4, 1826. But what might be lesser known is that these two men of vastly different personalities and political views went from close allies to enemies to late-in-life friends. Adams was a self-made man who could seem abrupt and did not win admirers easily. Jefferson, on the other hand, was born to a life of privilege and honor, and he acted diplomatically almost without fail. Northerner Adams felt certain that humans could never achieve full equality, but he opposed slavery. Southerner Jefferson seemed to believe in the possibility of equality yet owned slaves. A leading historian of the Revolution and winner of both the Pulitzer and Bancroft prizes, Wood (History/Brown Univ.; The Idea of America: Reflections on the Birth of the United States, 2011, etc.) traces how these two remarkable yet flawed men viewed each other through the decades and how the changing nature of their relationship influenced the public policy of their fledgling nation, at home and overseas. The author is especially adroit at explaining how Adams' ambassadorship to England and Jefferson's ambassadorship to France altered their views of the world and to some extent accelerated the conflicts between them. Wood also clearly explains Jefferson's popularity among nonhistorians, while Adams often seems overlooked in lay discussions of early American history. Among the other well-known personages in the narrative are Abigail Adams, Alexander Hamilton, and Benjamin Rush, all portrayed vividly by the author, whose approachable writing style is equal to his impressive archival research. An illuminating history of early Americans that is especially timely in the ugly, partisan-filled age of Trump.
This is an engrossing story, which Wood tells with a mastery of detail and a modern plainness of expression that makes a refreshing contrast with the 18th century locutions of his subjects.” —The New York Times Book Review
“Lucid and learned… Wood has become the leading historian of the ‘Founding Fathers’… Never has John Adams been more relevant than today.” —The Wall Street Journal
"Whenever I read Gordon Wood, the dean of eighteenth century American historians, I feel as if I am absorbing wisdom at the feet of the master. Friends Divided is teeming with exceptionally acute and unvarnished insights into Thomas Jefferson and John Adams as they do battle for the nation's soul. Jefferson's sunny, almost Panglossian, optimism, juxtaposed with the dark, dyspeptic musings of Adams, presents readers with nothing less than a vivid composite portrait of the American mind." —Ron Chernow, author of Grant and Alexander Hamilton
“This magisterial double biography recounts not only the lives of these two greatest founders but also the creation of the republic. It describes the world’s first successful democratic revolution and the founding of the first non-monarchical republic. . . it is a book about ideas as represented by two philosophical statesmen, and it makes political history and philosophy exciting. . . In Wood’s hands, Adams and Jefferson become Shakespearean in stature.” —Edith B. Gelles, The Washington Post
“Excellent . . . Friends Divided is an engaging book that's sure to appeal to anyone with an abiding interest in Revolution-era America and the leaders who shaped the country. Beautifully written and with real insight into Jefferson and Adams, it's a worthy addition to the canon, and yet another compelling book from Wood.” —NPR
“For decades now Gordon S. Wood, the Alva O. Way university professor of history at Brown and winner of the Pulitzer Prize, has been the go-to authority on everything related to the American Revolution. That Wood has written “Friends Divided’’ — a finely-crafted dual biography of Adams and Jefferson — is therefore a hearty cause for celebration. Every page sparkles with literary eloquence, flawless analysis, and dramatically plotted history that contains a lesson for a riven time.” — Douglas Brinkley, Boston Globe
“Gordon Wood is one of America’s premier historians and a national treasure. Winner of the Pulitzer as well as the Bancroft Prize, he is a rare scholar who writes with a combination of insight, academic depth, and accessible prose. In his latest book, penned at the summit of his career, Wood now sets his sights on the relationship of two of America’s most remarkable and fascinating statesmen, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams. The story is enthralling…In this magnificent book, Gordon Wood has continued his invaluable work.” — Jay Winik, National Review
“In Friends Divided, Gordon S. Wood, a professor at Brown University and our finest historian of 18th-century America, provides a splendid account of the improbable friendship, estrangement and reconciliation between Adams, an irascible, ironic, hypersensitive middle-class New England lawyer, and Jefferson, a self-contained, diplomatic, slaveholding Virginia aristocrat.” —Minneapolis Star Tribune
“The acclaimed historian engages in a compelling examination of the complex relationship of the Founding Fathers…Among the other well-known personages in the narrative are Abigail Adams, Alexander Hamilton, and Benjamin Rush, all portrayed vividly by the author, whose approachable writing style is equal to his impressive archival research…An illuminating history of early Americans that is especially timely in the ugly, partisan-filled age of Trump.” —Kirkus Reviews, starred reviewFrom the Publisher
"As the dean of American historians, Gordon Wood had long shaped the nation's thinking about the true nature of the Founding. Now he turns his intellectual honesty and clear-eyed prose to the lives of Jefferson and of Adams, giving us a brilliant portrait of their complicated relationship. This is an indispensable account of two men, of the country they built, and of why their legacies matter even now. Bravo!" —Jon Meacham, author of American Lion and of Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power
“America's dialogue with its competing impulses had its origins in the fractured friendship of John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. Gordon Wood brings his unmatched knowledge of the scholarly literature to the task of recovering both sides of what is still America's longstanding argument with itself.” —Joseph J. Ellis, author of the forthcoming Then and Now: The Founders and US