The FHght of KiwisnPaul C. Nagel: Descent from Glory:nFour Generations oftijejohn AdamsnFamily; Oxford University Press;nNew York.nby Clyde WilsonnJohn Adams was descended from anlong line of Puritan yeomanry who werenamong the earliest settlers of Massachusetts.nThough his father never achievednanything more than a modest local distinction,nJohn Adams became a key figurenin the revolution in New England, leadingnmember of the First and Second ContinentalnCongresses, political philosopher,ndiplomat, Vice-President, and President.nBut his greatest accomplishmentnwas his marriage to Abigail Smith, thenmost remarkable woman in Americannhistory, who added Anglican gentry, includingnthe distinguished Quincy hne,nto the family stock. Of the four childrennof this remarkable couple who reachednmaturity, only one achieved distinction.nJohn Quincy Adams recapitulated hisnfather’s success as a scholar, legislator,ndiplomat. Secretary of State, and President.nBut John Quincy’s two brothers,nCharles and Thomas Boylston, diednyoung from alcoholism. His sister, Abigail,nmarried William Stephens Smith,none of the most frresponsible and unscrupulousnpromoters of the day. Smithnhad aU of Aaron Burr’s profligacy andnambition, without Burr’s charm andncourage. He died owing vast sums andnleft his family destitute.nJohn Quincy Adams repeated the familynpattern in more than his successes.nHis marriage was the luckiest aspect ofnhis career. His wife was Louisa Johnson,ndaughter of a Southern family and thenmost attractive of aU the Adamses. Louisanshrunk under the puritanical conceitnand censoriousness of her husband—nDr. Wilson is editor of The Papers ofnJohn C. Calhoun.nwhich was dfrected equally at himself,nhis family, and the world—but she neverncompletely withered away. Though shenwasn’t to achieve the exemplary republicannmatronliness of Abigail, her kindnessnand liveliness were responsible fornwhatever was attractive in the later generationsnof Adamses. As is usually thencase, the women made up the better partnof the family.nOf the three sons of John Quincy andnLouisa, John, Jr. died young after feiilingnmiserably in business and George Washingtonnwas a suicide before age 30, afternwhat was referred to in the 19th centurynas a career of debauchery. Again, onenson redeemed the line. Charles Francisnvindicated the high opinion the Adamsesnheld of themselves by his achievementsnas a congressman and scholar and as thenchief architect of Northern diplomaticnsuccess in Europe during the Civil War.nOf his seven children, four sons are noteworthy:nthe historians Henry and Brooks;nJohn Quincy, a gentleman farmer whonfelt only weakly and intermittently thenimpulse to thrust himself before thenpublic; and Charles Francis, Jr., the onlynone of the family who saw military servicenin the Civil War or who took any activenpart in the postwar building of thenAmerican economy.nJraul C. Nagel, m Descent from Glory,npresents the sad story of the Adams familynas a family, from the inside. He narratesnwith clarity and shows a deft masterynof the immense Adams documentation,ncertainly the largest of any Americannfamily (though, despite the vastness ofnthe record, there are strategic lacunae innregard to each of the black sheep). Henapproaches the subject in a spirit of sympatheticncandor rather than of muckraking,nand he significantly adds to ournawareness of the 19th-century Americanthat lay beneath political rhetoric.nWhat strikes us most deeply in thisnsad account is the old, old lesson of thennnvanity of human ambition and the inevitablendoom of all dreams of dynastybuildingnin a republic. What a price thenAdamses paid for the ambition thatnflowed only too naturally from their talentsnand for those secularized remnantsnof thefr Calvinist conscience which leftnthem, in the final analysis, unable to loventhemselves and even unable to love Creationnexcept on their own unattainablenterms! How much happier they wouldnhave been had they been able to confinenthemselves to the family cfrcle and devotentheir talents to practical, localnbeneficence or to the vindication ofnAmerican intellect!nIn this admirable study, Nagel doesnnot seek to draw sweeping lessons. He isncontent to show how the warring devilsnof ambition and conscience wreakednhavoc time and again on those membersnof the femily who were unable or unwillingnto adapt to so relentless a view of life.nA Puritan conscience can only avoid disasternif it is chastened by practical applicationnor when it is balanced, as it was innthe Founders and in the best of Englishnstatesmen, by a Cavalier magnanimitynand sense of proportion.nTaking the Adamses as exemplary ofnthe New England “aristocracy,” historynaffords few examples of so swift and uncontestedna decline. For the first half ofnthe 19th century the heirs of New Englandnand Southern Founders engaged in mortalncombat to control the destiny of America.nNew Englanders devoted themselvesnwith Puritan zeal to the destruction ofnthe Cavalier side of the English inheritance,nthe Southern gentry, the armihilationnof whom was to them the sine quannon of national progress. When the contestnwas over. New England had an immensenshare of the political and economicnpower of America and a near-totalnmonopoly of the cultural power. Yet thenfourth generation of Adamses, despitenall their advantages and responsibilities.n^ ^ H 1 9nMay 1984n