John and Abigail Adams founded a famous political family, but they would not witness its calamitous fall from grace. When John Quincy Adams died in 1848, so began the slow decline of the family’s political legacy. In Heirs of an Honored Name: The Decline of the Adams Family and the Rise of Modern America
(Basic Books, 2019), Douglas R. Egerton
, Professor of History at Le Moyne College, depicts a family grown famous, wealthy — and aimless. After the Civil War, Republicans looked to the Adamses to steer their party back to its radical 1850s roots. Instead, Charles Francis Sr. and his children — Charles Francis Jr., John Quincy II, Henry and Clover Adams, and Louisa Adams Kuhn — largely quit the political arena and found refuge in an imagined past of aristocratic preeminence. An absorbing story of brilliant siblings and family strain, Heirs of an Honored Name
shows how the burden of impossible expectations shaped the Adamses and, through them, American history.
Ryan Tripp is part-time and full-time adjunct history faculty for Los Medanos Community College as well as the College of Online and Continuing Education at Southern New Hampshire University.