Joseph J. Ellis is the Ford Foundation Professor of History at Mount Holyoke. His most recent book, First Family: Abigail and John Adams, was published in October. (December 2010)

Our Flawed Founders

Abigail and John Adams; portraits by Gilbert Stuart, 1800/1815 and circa 1821
In 1818, while he was still mourning the death of his wife Abigail, John Adams received an unexpected announcement from his son, John Quincy, that he intended to write a biography of his famous father. “Tell Mr. A,” Adams wrote John Quincy’s wife, “that I am assiduously and sedulously employed …