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The Libraries, Leadership & Legacy of
Thomas Jefferson and John Adams

A collection of twelve of the essays presented at the conference that celebrate these two founding fathers and the importance of books and libraries in America.

6x9, 320 pages, hardback, $35

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In retirement, with the antagonisms of the political battlefield largely behind them, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson engaged in a prolonged correspondence. After an early friendship which influenced, among other things, the writing of the Declaration of Independence, Adams and Jefferson had become political rivals by the 1790s. Hurt feelings following the contentious presidential election of 1800 kept their interactions to a minimum for more than a decade. In January 1812, however, they resumed their relationship. Between then and April 1826, less than three months before their deaths on July 4, they engaged in one of the most distinguished correspondences in American history or letters. Introspective, reflective, and remarkably informed, these men tested the other′s understanding of the previous half century of the nation′s political, economic, and social development at the same time they shared credit as Founding Fathers for much of what America had become.

The epistolary friendship of John Adams and Thomas Jefferson revealed the two former presidents to be among the most learned men of their day. Avid readers both, each man built an impressive library containing thousands of volumes. As Jefferson wrote to Adams in 1815, “I cannot live without books.” In fact, over time Jefferson built three libraries, the second of which served in 1815 as the basis for the Library of Congress, reconstructed after the burning of Washington during the War of 1812. Their reading permeated their thought and their actions, providing an important foundation for their contributions to American governance.

“John Adams and Thomas Jefferson: Libraries, Leadership, and Legacy,” will explore the presidents′ reading and books as a means of understanding the intellectual roots of the American polity. Presentations will consider how each man developed his library, discuss how reading significantly shaped the political, philosophical, and religious identities and actions of these two Founding Fathers and their contemporaries, and address the enduring legacy of Adams′s and Jefferson′s intellectual heritage today.