Henry Adams (1838–1918), a lineal descendant of presidents John Adams and John Quincy Adams, grew up in Massachusetts, graduated from Harvard College, and served during the Civil War as secretary to his father, Charles Francis Adams, who was the US ambassador to Great Britain at the time. Returning to Washington from England 1868, Adams was deeply dismayed by the politics of the Reconstruction Era and renounced any political ambitions of his own, dedicating himself instead to a career of writing and teaching. From 1870 to 1877, Adams lectured on history at Harvard while editing The North American Review. He then moved back to Washington, his primary residence for the rest of his life. In 1880 Adams published Democracy, an anonymous novel about American politics, and in 1884 Esther, a New York story which appeared under the pseudonym of Frances Snow Compton. Biographies of Albert Gallatin (1879) and John Randolph (1889) reflected a profound knowledge of the early history of the American Republic that culminated in the nine volumes of the History of the United States of America Under the Administrations of Jefferson and Madison, which came out between 1889 and 1891. Adams’s marriage to Marian Hooper in 1872 ended with her suicide in 1888, an event which left him distraught. In later years Adams advocated a deterministic theory of history, which he sought to establish as a hard science on the model of physics. This view finds remarkable expression in the two eccentric masterpieces of Adams’s old age, Mont Saint-Michel and Chartres and the autobiographical Education of Henry Adams, privately printed in 1907 and only released to the public following Adams’s death in 1918.
The ideal introduction and companion to Adams’s “massive and magisterial” history of the administrations of Jefferson and Madison, presenting an indelible picture of America’s startling rise to world power.