Agony and Eloquence: John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and a World of Revolution

Written by Daniel L. Mallock
Review by Tom Vallar

Of all the signers of the Declaration of Independence, no two were closer friends than the eventual second and third US Presidents, Federalist John Adams and Democratic-Republican Thomas Jefferson. Their relationship came to a head in 1793, when the French Revolution went from being a for-the-people movement both could support to a bloody revolt that only Jefferson saw as a logical consequence of rebellion. When Adams narrowly defeated Jefferson in 1796, they had to serve as President and Vice President (because the Constitution did not envision the rise of political parties); those four years were a misery to both.

This book purports to be the story of how their correspondence reflects their friendship, conflict, and how mutual friends and the healing of time allowed them to end their lives five hours apart reunited as friends. However, Mallock presumes far too much prior knowledge of the French Revolution from an audience hoping for more insights on Adams and/or Jefferson. Editing might have spared us from his repetition of facts and improved his sense of chronology within chapters. Readers of historical fiction can find better nonfiction sources for further reading on these founding fathers.