Oct. 31, 2014 by Darius
I recently read John Quincy Adams: American Visionary by Fred Kaplan. Kaplan’s work is an exhaustive, but interesting, biography of America’s sixth president.
John Quincy Adams was truly the last member of America’s founding generation. He served at his father’s side from boyhood, spending years of his youth traveling Europe on various diplomatic missions. In his own right, he was later appointed US ambassador to Great Britain and Russia (at a time when ambassadors were largely empowered to negotiate for the US on their own judgment). Adams became Secretary of State under James Monroe, in which capacity he negotiated a number of important treaties with foreign powers and wrote what became known as the Monroe Doctrine. In 1824, he was elected president in the first election to be resolved in the House of Representatives. He was defeated in his re-election bid in 1828, the victim of the first truly “modern” campaign that featured protracted attack ads, political falsehoods, and blatant vote-buying by the henchmen of Andrew Jackson. After his presidency, though, John Quincy Adams became the first and only former president to return to public service, serving in the House of Representatives until his death in 1848. In the House, he emerged as the leading Congressional opponent of the expansion and protection of slavery. He was truly a giant of his time, and his commitment to his conscience and his principles set him apart from his less illustrious colleagues. Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson, and others do not come off looking good in Kaplan’s book (which reconfirmed my own opinion of Jefferson and Jackson).
John Quincy Adams makes heavy use of primary sources, most notably JQA’s personal diary, in which he recorded his life from his youth until his death. As a book, John Quincy Adams is very long (close to 600 pages) and has its dull sections. Nevertheless, the reader comes away with a great deal of respect for John Quincy Adams, and the book provides incomparable insight into Adams and his time.
John Quincy Adams: American Visionary would appeal to those with an interest in statecraft or American history.