Given my study of the presidents, I'm often asked who the best president is. I find this question impossible to answer. There are presidents I find endlessly fascinating (LBJ and Nixon) or particularly effective (Lincoln.) But that doesn't mean they are my personal favorite.
Oddly enough, the president I come back to, again and again, is John Adams, who was far from a great president.
What I love about Adams is his open and endless self-doubt. This makes him deeply familiar as I, too, experience these feelings more often than I care to admit.
But when I read selections from Adams's diary, I find it staggering that a man who was so brilliant and accomplished and capable, was also so often questioning his own abilities, his own self-worth.
These two selections from Page Smith's wonderful biography are perfect examples of this quality:
"'To what object are my views directed?' he asked himself. 'What is the end and purpose of my studies, journeys, labors of all kinds of body and mind, of tongue and pen?'"
"The day-to-day demands of life were so insistent that, as he wrote, 'I have not leisure and tranquility enough to consider distinctly my own views, objects, and feelings.'"
Who among us hasn't felt as Adams does in these moments?