By the standards that historians usually use to judge presidents, John Quincy Adams was a failure. Although better qualified for the office than any American of his generation, he served for only one term and was unable to accomplish any of the most cherished goals set forth so boldly at the beginning of his presidency. His election to the presidency in 1824 was itself fraught with controversy and charges of political corruption and he was soundly defeated in his bid for re-election by Andrew Jackson. To many contemporaries and even some historians, Adams has appeared completely out of touch with the democratic revolution that was transforming American life at the time. He seemed a relic of a discredited, eighteenth-century political world. Yet John Quincy Adams has not shared the fate of other presidential "failures" who have faded almost entirely from the national memory. Indeed, a steady stream of excellent biographies has issued forth from historians who continue to find his life and presidency illustrative of important themes in nineteenth-century American political and cultural history. Adams has gained significant ground on earlier critics and has re-emerged as a first-rate diplomat and as a principled leader. The intention of this book is to provide a concise, synthetic biography of Adams that seeks to integrate the themes of his life into an understandable whole that explains both the successes and failures of his extraordinary career. Using his published journals and writings as basic sources, the book seeks to present a succinct narrative of Adams' career that draws upon the best scholarship on his life and times.
In the final years of his political career, President John Quincy Adams was well known for his objections to slavery, with rival Henry Wise going so far as to label him "the acutest, the astutest, the archest enemy of southern slavery that ever existed." As a young statesman, however, he supported slavery. How did the man who in 1795 told a British cabinet officer not to speak to him of "the Virginians, the Southern people, the democrats," whom he considered "in no other light than as Americans," come to foretell "a grand struggle between slavery and freedom"? How could a committed expansionist, who would rather abandon his party and lose his U.S. Senate seat than attack Jeffersonian slave power, later come to declare the Mexican War the "apoplexy of the Constitution," a hijacking of the republic by slaveholders? What changed? Entries from Adams's personal diary, more extensive than that of any American statesman, reveal a highly dynamic and accomplished politician in engagement with one of his generation's most challenging national dilemmas. Expertly edited by David Waldstreicher and Matthew Mason, John Quincy Adams and the Politics of Slavery offers an unusual perspective on the dramatic and shifting politics of slavery in the early republic, as it moved from the margins to the center of public life and from the shadows to the substance of Adams's politics. The editors provide a lucid introduction to the collection as a whole and frame the individual documents with brief and engaging insights, rendering both Adams's life and the controversies over slavery into a mutually illuminating narrative. By juxtaposing Adams's personal reflections on slavery with what he said-and did not say-publicly on the issue, the editors offer a nuanced portrait of how he interacted with prevailing ideologies during his consequential career and life. John Quincy Adams and the Politics of Slavery is an invaluable contribution to our understanding of the complicated politics of slavery that set the groundwork for the Civil War.
February 21, 1848, the House of Representatives, Washington D.C.: Congressman John Quincy Adams, rising to speak, suddenly collapses at his desk; two days later, he dies in the Speaker’s chamber. The public mourning that followed, writes Paul C. Nagel, “exceeded anything previously seen in America. Forgotten was his failed presidency and his often cold demeanor. It was the memory of an extraordinary human being—one who in his last years had fought heroically for the right of petition and against a war to expand slavery—that drew a grateful people to salute his coffin in the Capitol and to stand by the railroad tracks as his bier was transported from Washington to Boston.” Nagel probes deeply into the psyche of this cantankerous, misanthropic, erudite, hardworking son of a former president whose remarkable career spanned many offices: minister to Holland, Russia, and England, U.S. senator, secretary of state, president of the United States (1825-1829), and, finally, U.S. representative (the only ex-president to serve in the House). On the basis of a thorough study of Adams’ seventy-year diary, among a host of other documents, the author gives us a richer account than we have yet had of JQA’s life—his passionate marriage to Louisa Johnson, his personal tragedies (two sons lost to alcoholism), his brilliant diplomacy, his recurring depression, his exasperating behavior—and shows us why, in the end, only Abraham Lincoln’s death evoked a great out-pouring of national sorrow in nineteenth-century America. We come to see how much Adams disliked politics and hoped for more from life than high office; how he sought distinction in literacy and scientific endeavors, and drew his greatest pleasure from being a poet, critic, translator, essayist, botanist, and professor of oratory at Harvard; how tension between the public and private Adams vexed his life; and how his frustration kept his masked and aloof (and unpopular). Nagel’s great achievement, in this first biography of America’s sixth president in a quarter century, is finally to portray Adams in all his talent and complexity.
For the 250th anniversary of John Quincy Adams's birth, a landmark new selected edition of an American masterpiece: the incomparable self-portrait of a man and his times from the Revolution to the coming of the Civil War. The diary of John Quincy Adams is one of the most extraordinary works in American literature. Begun in 1779 at the age of twelve and kept more or less faithfully until his death almost 70 years later, it is both an unrivaled record of historical events and personalities from the nation's founding to the antebellum era and a masterpiece of American self-portraiture, tracing the spiritual, literary, and scientific interests of an exceptionally lively mind. Now, for the 250th anniversary of Adams's birth, Library of America and historian David Waldstreicher present a two-volume reader's edition presenting selections based for the first time on the original manuscript diaries, restoring personal and revealing passages suppressed in earlier editions. Volume I begins during the American Revolution, with Adams's first entry, as he prepares to embark on a perilous wartime voyage to Europe with his father, diplomat John Adams, and records his early impressions of Franklin and Jefferson and of Paris on the eve of revolution; it details his abbreviated but eventful years of study at Harvard and his emergence into the world of politics in his own right, as American minister to the Netherlands and to Prussia, and then as a U. S. senator from Massachusetts; and it reveals a young man at war with his passions, before finding love with the remarkable Louisa Catherine Johnson. In passages that form a kind of real-world War and Peace, the diary follows the young married couple to St. Petersburg, where as U.S. minister Adams is a witness to Napoleon's invasion of Russia. Its account of the negotiations at Ghent to end the War of 1812, where Adams leads the American delegation, is the perhaps the most detailed and dramatic picture of a diplomatic confrontation ever recorded. Volume 1 concludes with his elevation as Secretary of State under James Monroe, as he takes the fore in a fractious cabinet and emerges as the principal architect of what will become known as the Monroe Doctrine. Volume 2 opens with the political maneuverings within and outside Monroe's cabinet to become his successor, a process that culminates in Adams's election to the presidency by the House of Representatives after the deadlocked four-way contest of 1824. Even as Adams takes the oath of office, rivals Henry Clay, his Secretary of State, John C. Calhoun, his vice president, and an embittered Andrew Jackson, eye the election of 1828. The diary records in candid detail his frustration as his far-sighted agenda for national improvement founders on the rocks of internecine political factionalism, conflict that results in his becoming only the second president, with his father, to fail to secure reelection. After a short-lived retirement, Adams returns to public service as a Congressman from Massachusetts, and for the last seventeen years of his life he leads efforts to resist the extension of slavery and to end the notorious "gag rule" that stifles debate on the issue in Congress. In 1841 he further burnishes his reputation as a scourge of the Slave Power by successfully defending African mutineers of the slave ship Amistad before the Supreme Court. The diary achieves perhaps its greatest force in its prescient anticipation of the Civil War and Emancipation, an "object," as Adams described it during the Missouri Crisis, "vast in its compass, awful in its prospects, sublime and beautiful in its issue."
One of the most complete biographies ever written about an American president, this is a remarkable effort examining the life and career of the great Revolutionary leader and the second man to take the oath of office, John Adams. Volume 1 of this two-volume work covers Adams's school days as well as his study and practice of law in pre-Revolutionary America. The Boston Massacre is discussed in great depth, along with Adams's entrance into public life and his landmark term in the Congress of 1774 straight through to the advent of the Declaration of Independence.