Read John Quincy Adams: American Visionary by Fred Kaplan Online


Fred Kaplan, the acclaimed, award-winning author of Lincoln, returns with John Quincy Adams, an illuminating biography of one of the most overlooked presidents in American history—a leader of sweeping perspective whose progressive values helped shape the course of the nation.In this fresh and lively biography rich in literary analysis and new historical detail, Fred KaplanFred Kaplan, the acclaimed, award-winning author of Lincoln, returns with John Quincy Adams, an illuminating biography of one of the most overlooked presidents in American history—a leader of sweeping perspective whose progressive values helped shape the course of the nation.In this fresh and lively biography rich in literary analysis and new historical detail, Fred Kaplan brings into focus the dramatic life of John Quincy Adams—the little known and much misunderstood sixth president of the United States and the first son of John and Abigail Adams—and persuasively demonstrates how Adams's inspiring, progressive vision guided his life and helped shape the course of America.Kaplan draws on a trove of unpublished archival material to trace Adams's evolution from his childhood during the Revolutionary War to his brilliant years as Secretary of State to his time in the White House and beyond. He examines Adams's myriad sides: the public and private man, the statesman and writer, the wise thinker and passionate advocate, the leading abolitionist and fervent federalist who believed strongly in both individual liberty and the government's role as an engine of progress and prosperity. In these ways—and in his energy, empathy, sharp intellect, and powerful gift with words both spoken and written—he was a predecessor of Lincoln and, later, FDR and Obama. Indeed, this sweeping biography makes clear how Adams's forward-thinking values, his definition of leadership, and his vision for the nation's future is as much about twenty-first century America as it is about Adams's own time.Meticulously researched and masterfully written, John Quincy Adams paints a rich portrait of this brilliant leader and his significance to the nation and our own lives....

Title : John Quincy Adams: American Visionary
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ISBN : 9780062199324
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Number of Pages : 672 Pages
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John Quincy Adams: American Visionary Reviews

  • Jeffrey Keeten
    2019-05-04 03:09

    ”If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.”John Quincy AdamsJohn Quincy Adams at age 29 by John Singleton Copley. JOHN HAD HAIR!I don’t know if there has ever been a better son in the history of sons of famous people. His mother Abigail was always worried about his immortal soul. He knew exactly the right things to say to reassure her, especially when he was in that den of iniquity (Europe). His father John Adams, second President of the United States, was a man of passions, often feeling untolerated and intolerable. He made enemies easier than friends and would never toe the party line. To be his son, his eldest son especially, it must have been like being born in a tea kettle on full burn. JQA spent long hours every day working at his studies because his father wanted him to. He was supplied with tutors and never did attend regular public school.Somehow he handled his father when others found him impossible.When John Adams is dispatched to Europe to help negotiate treaties and try to convince foreign powers to lend the burgeoning United States money, 11 year old JQA accompanied him. JQA went to France, Netherlands, Russia, Finland, Sweden, and Denmark. He spent very few of his formative years in America. It was funny, but he made a note of the pretty girls of Sweden who made his heart go pitter patter. When I say he made a note, what I really mean is he made a journal entry. In 1779, he started keeping a journal and kept adding his daily observations until right up just before he died in 1843. This journal is 50 volumes of pure gold to researchers not only about his life, but also about the times he lived in. He picked up languages very quickly and became a scholar of Latin and Greek. He translated Juvenal for fun, even though it was a bit racy for him. He also later read Les Liaisons Dangereuses, which made me laugh out loud because I’m sure there was plenty of squirming in his seat and tsk tsks muttering from his moralistically bent mind. I have to believe the way that he sought works like this out over the space of his life that he may doth protest their inappropriateness a bit too much. JQA was a poet. ”A man who writes so well in prose perhaps should have no need to be a poet. But Adams did.” Here is an example of him having fun when a servant girl is found to be with child...well after she has the baby.Poor Betsey was a maiden pureDeclined in years, but so demure That Man was her aversion;And night by night her door she barredWith treble bolts, her fame to guard From Slander’s foul aspersion.When lo! all in the dead of NightCame Mary, breathless with a affright Wringing her hands and crying“Oh! Mistress! Mistress! Rouse! Awake!To Betsey come, for Heaven’s sweet sake! Poor Betsey!--She’s a dying!”The Lady, tender and humane,Starts from her bed, and flies amain, The wonder to unravel.--Flies to where Betsey lays and moansAnd straight perceives what caused her groans --Poor Betsey!--was--in travel!!JQA had the soul of a poet, and if he had been a different man’s son, he may have been a poet, but if there was ever a man born and bred to be a politician, it was John Quincy Adams. Here is his version of a European tour.He is nominated to go to the Netherlands as a diplomat by George Washington from 1794-1797.He married Louisa Johnson in 1797. She is the daughter of an American merchant with dubious financial difficulties. She will later become the only foreign born first lady of the United States.He is nominated to go to Prussia by his father and then president John Adams from 1797-1801. They accused the Adam’s family of nepotism, of course, but frankly there wasn’t a better qualified person in America than JQA to represent us overseas.He is nominated to go to Russia by James Madison from 1809-1814, then to London from 1814-1817.He was a man that desperately wanted to come home. John Quincy Adams looking a bit more portly and bookish.From 1817-1825, he was Secretary of State for Monroe. He is considered by most historians as the greatest Secretary of State in the history of that office. In what will be only one of a long list of important documents that he will be entrusted to compose in his lifetime, his most long reaching one was when he wrote the Monroe Doctrine.“It became a defining moment in the foreign policy of the United States and one of its longest-standing tenets, and would be invoked by many U.S. statesmen and several U.S. presidents, including Theodore Roosevelt, Calvin Coolidge, Herbert Hoover, John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan and others.”John Quincy Adams White House Portrait by GPA Healy.It is a good thing that the 1824 Presidential election was not decided in the boxing ring, or by pistols at dawn, or by the flashing of clashing sabers for John Quincy Adams was pitted against the fiery, strong willed, strong armed, hero of New Orleans, made of Old Hickory, the one and only Andrew Jackson. Jackson won the popular vote and the electoral vote helped by the three-fifths compromise which boosted Southern seats in Congress by counting each slave as three-fifths of a man. Jackson was measuring the oval office for drapes and rugs and looking for the best place to keep his drubbing cane near to hand. He did not win the majority of electoral votes so the decision is passed to the House of Representatives. They were to choose between the top three candidates Adams, Jackson, and Crawford. Now Henry Clay came in fourth and was not allowed to be on the ballot, but as speaker of the house, he was “clothed in immense power.” (Okay I stole that from the Lincoln movie, but man I love that line.) Clay swung the vote to Adams, and Adams promptly nominated him for Secretary of State which in those days was saying this is the next President of the United States. Jacksonites went berserk. Jackson probably spent more than a few nights howling at the moon between furious bouts of scribbling out his enemies list in blood. It was in many ways a stolen election, and even though I like Jackson, despite my disagreements with many of his policies, I couldn’t help but feel vindication for the 5’7” scholar from Massachusetts. Maybe good, old dad said: “Son, I’m so proud that you finally made something of yourself.” *Sigh*. One point I really want to make about this situation: Jackson was wildly popular and certainly could have initiated a coup, justifiable in his mind by thinking it is really just a coup for a coup. It didn’t happen. When things were hinky with the Rutherford B. Hayes coup attempt. Al Gore won the popular vote in 2000 and was, in my opinion, denied his rights to a recount in Florida. He conceded (best speech of your life Al) with grace and dignity. New Hampshire, don’t think I’m not still casting a disappointed look at you over those 2000 election results. There were angry people over the results, but no armed insurrection (and believe me, here in the states we are armed to the teeth). Somehow, even when we know things aren’t right with our political system, we still trust that it will all work out eventually. Well, JQA, being the practical man he is, decided to stop the practice of patronage with government positions. He wanted people judged by their ability not their political affiliation. Both he and his father were becoming less than enamoured with political parties. ”There is not a party in this country with which an honest man can act without blushing, and I feel myself rather more strongly attached to my principles than to the ambition of any place or power in the gift of this Country.”That was senior saying that, but for reelection in 1828 JQA would need all the help he could get. He certainly would have increased his chances if he had packed all the government jobs with his own loyal following, but more than likely, Jackson would have still won. Speaking of political affiliations, JQA did struggle mightily with party politics. He started out life as a Federalist, like his father, until 1808. From 1808-1830, he was a Democratic-Republican. From 1830-1834, he was a National Republican. From 1834-1838, he was Anti-Masonic. He ended his career a Whig. Talk about a guy finding it hard to find a political home. I really identified with this part of his nature because I have always found it hard to join any organization. A couple of comments on his presidency. He is ranked anywhere from 11th to 25th (really WSJ?) on presidential rankings, and with averaging out all the 18 polls he came out 17th. He cut the national debt from $16 million down to $5 million which allowed his successor Jackson to completely eliminate the National Debt. He was a proponent of government led research and education that would benefit all. He also passed the 1828 Tariff Bill which almost started the Civil War early. There was this problematic state...hmmm...let me remember which one...oh yes...SOUTH CAROLINA who passed a bill choosing to ignore the Federal Tariff law and decided to negotiate their own terms with foreign nations. They also arrested black sailors from British ships because they didn’t want any free black people walking around their state. We always talk about the great work that Jimmy Carter has done after his presidency, but few people know that JQA did something no other president has done. He continued to serve in public office. He served a stint as a Senator, but then found a better place for himself in the raucous halls of the House of Representatives. His remaining son Charles was mortified. It was unseemly. It was frustrating for JQA, but also invigorating. He was a great writer and orator. He gave all party affiliates, including his own of the moment, more trouble than they wanted. He also famously took on the Amistad case after several high profile lawyers found themselves too busy to participate. JQA had become a more and more outspoken abolitionist as he aged. Even though he felt he was a little past his prime in 1841, he spoke for four hours in the defense of the free blacks and won the case. As if I didn’t like him enough, JQA also was a tree guy. He would extort every ambassador going abroad to bring him back seeds of local trees. He planted over two hundred trees at the White House and devoted hundreds of his acres in Quincy to hardwoods. I have had to settle with more modest goals. I do have a corner lot and have managed to sandwich 15 trees onto my property. JQA was a reader, not a socializer. He continued to devote large amounts of time to learning throughout his lifetime. He was too practical and too much his own man to ever be a great politician. JQA in 1843.He suffered substantial tragedy with two younger brothers consumed by alcohol, debt, and shortened lives. He and Louisa had numerous miscarriages and two dear sons, George and John, perish as young men. He had several genetic eye complaints which were excruciating for him because they took him away from his books and writing. He hurt his hand in a pistol accident and couldn’t use it to write until it healed. Louisa had to, during his recovery, record his journal entries and wrote down his latest thoughts of the current political situation. His work ethic was remarkable, even putting my own to shame. He served his country to the end, dying on the job at the House of Representatives at the age of 80.If you wish to see more of my most recent book and movie reviews, visit http://www.jeffreykeeten.comI also have a Facebook blogger page at:

  • Tony
    2019-04-26 00:01

    So, what was John Quincy Adams like?Well, he was a reader. His favorites were Cicero (in Latin), Shakespeare and Laurence Sterne. Would it be so bad to have a Shandian as President? He grew to love gardening. He grafted a pear branch to an apple tree. While President, he planted over two hundred trees of more than twenty varieties at the White House. He wrote to one of his sons, "Dendrology has become to me precisely what Uncle Toby's fortifications were to him." (If you haven't read The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy Gentleman then you can't appreciate just how wonderful that thought is.)He was a writer. He wrote every day. He obsessively kept a journal from his adolescence to his last days. He wrote letters, essays, arguments. He wrote poetry, a lot of poetry, in his journal but also to people as a thank you or a condolence. Of one such effort, his biographer here offers the critique: Whatever good it did the grieving mother, as poetry it had to make do with the merit of sincerity and good intentions. Yet he never stopped, his last journal entry a four line poem in a trembling hand. His prose read like poetry though, and our author speaks to the reader by taking one such entry and formatting it as an italicized poem, with wonderful results.And when he read, and when he wrote, he thought about how the language of ideas shed a light on the issues of the day. There was no greater issue than Slavery. So Adams became obsessed with Othello. He was not alone. South Carolina's John Henry Hammond wrote, "Slavery can never be abolished. . . .I believe it to be the greatest of all the great blessings which Providence has bestowed upon our glorious region." Why, if abolitionists had their way, Hammond imagined, "some Othello . . . gifted with genius and inspired by ambition" might someday "wield the destinies of this great republic." How prescient.Speaking of Providence, Adams was a Congregationalist, but would accept the fellowship of any Christian service. He was not, though, our biographer tells us, a literalist reader: (view spoiler)["All the facts related to the life and death of Jesus may be disbelieved, and his precepts as a teacher of morals and religion be adopted. . . .The narrative part of the Bible, Old Testament and New, according to all the rules of human evidence, is more fabulous than the metamorphoses of Ovid." He admired people of faith, but he gave his fullest allegiance to reason. After all, how could one have faith in absurdities? "The idea that the execution as a malefactor of one human being should redeem the whole human race from a curse entailed upon them by a single act of disobedience by the first created man is a compound of absurdities, which sets at once all wisdom, all the reasoning faculties at defiance."(hide spoiler)]He was once asked if Scripture was inspired. "Yes, I believe the scripture was inspired," Adams replied, "and also the Iliad of Homer."Oh, you know the Wiki-story: Adams traveled extensively in Europe as a child; he was a U.S. Senator and a Minister to Russia and England. As Secretary of State, his ideas became the Monroe Doctrine, the boss then as now being the one to get the credit. He was President, of course, like his father before him serving a single term. But, carefully and meticulously examining the treasure trove of the writings of Adams and others, Fred Kaplan gives us much more than a curriculum vitae. Like this: Adams, like all poets, fell in love as a young man. Hard. Her name was Mary Frazier. He wanted to marry her, but his parents said No, that he had too much work to do. He obeyed. Fifty years later he still wrote about Mary in his journal. Walking though a graveyard he sees a stone. Mary's daughter has died at age 31. His tears flowed. Later that night he wrote of "the most beautiful and beloved" of women. And, "I imagined to myself what would have been her fate and mine, had our union been accomplished." As I said, he fell hard.Which is not to say he didn't love his Louisa. Their marriage would last fifty years. She was sickly and often pregnant. Only three sons would be born though - she miscarried often - and only one of them would outlive John Quincy and Louisa. Louisa's story, embedded in this one, is itself a passion play.Adams was issue-driven, not Party-driven. He and Andrew Jackson would be natural enemies. And Adams was prone to stubbornness; his writing prone to satire (read sarcasm). So he garnered more enemies than just Jackson. He hated the party system. "Whatever vices there are, Federalism and Republicanism will cover them all." Some things don't change.He was a lawyer - once again his parents made him - but he hated the practice of law. Still, late in life, he agreed to argue the Armistad case (view spoiler)[ Slaves, being transported from slave pens in Havana to another coastal Cuban port for resale, mutinied, killing the captain and cook. Two Spanish slave traders were kept alive to navigate the ship. A U.S. military vessel took possession of the Armistad and just about everyone wanted to take possession of the slaves, for profit. A quirk in Spanish law would have made the slaves free if they were brought to Cuba after 1820. Documents were forged. What a mess. (hide spoiler)] before a U.S. Supreme Court dominated by pro-slavery associates and Chief Justice Roger Taney. Arguing a single evidentiary point with eloquence, he won. So then, what to do upon retirement (or being un-elected)? What to do when writing poetry, planting trees and vegetables, delivering orations, being a grandfather and securing the release of 53 slaves isn't enough? This is the best part, for me, maybe of all American biography. John Quincy Adams became a stinker. He was elected to the House of Representatives, a mere congressman. In what is the greatest civics lesson, John Quincy Adams got up every Monday and offered petitions from his constituents. Many of these dealt with Slavery issues. It drove the Southern congressmen nuts. They sought to administratively gag him. With parlimentary savvy he befuddled his opponents. (On this segment of Adams' life, I heartily recommend Arguing About Slavery by William Miller which does the seeming impossible in making a staid 19th Century American Whig hilarious.)John Quincy Adams died at his House desk. Working. Building fortifications, Uncle Toby, until the end.

  • Greg Brozeit
    2019-04-25 01:25

    Kaplan answers the question of why he wrote a biography of John Quincy Adams in the last sentence of his bibliographical essay: “The opposition that he met, his successes, and his failures are part of the torn fabric of public discourse in early-twenty-first-century America.” In this excellent account of Adams’s life, one can’t help but be constantly reminded of today’s pressing American political issues.From gag rules preventing public officials from mentioning climate change and the medical effects of gun violence to bank bailouts that leave the perpetrators untouched and in power; from the inordinate power and influence the reactionary South has on national politics to the division of power between the states and the federal government; all of these issues were similar to those confronted by Adams. His responses to them would serve as timely suggestions for today's politicians.Born into a prominent political family, Adams spent much of his early life in Europe, first as the son of an ambassador to France and England, which also took him on travels through the continent as far as St. Petersburg. After studying at Harvard and beginning a legal career, he spent the entirety of his father’s presidency in Europe as a diplomat. After serving one term as a U.S. senator (when he learned “To do a thing, by assuming the appearance of preventing it. To prevent a thing by assuming that of doing it”), Adams returned to Europe for eight years as one of the chief diplomats of the Madison administration. This period was highlighted by his strong influence in negotiating the Treaty of Ghent to end the War of 1812.He returned to America to become President Monroe’s secretary of state. That term was marked by his negotiation of the Adams-Onis Treaty, which gave shape to much of the American West, and his influence on what later became known as The Monroe Doctrine (much as Truman’s vision became The Marshall Plan). As a successful president, he promoted infrastructure improvements like the Erie and Chesapeake & Ohio Canals. But his conviction that “sense of duty shall never yield to the pleasure of a party” opened the door for the partisan populism of Andrew Jackson and denied him a second term. It was the birth of a politicization of the White House that, by the end of Jackson’s term, Kaplan concludes “It now seemed inevitable that every president’s last two years would be dominated by a race to succeed him.”Two years after leaving the presidency, he was elected to the House of Representatives, where he served until his death 16 years later. It was as congressman that Adams could freely voice his core beliefs and convictions. As Kaplan writes, Adams believed “the point of government” was that “It existed for ‘the improvement of the condition of those who are parties to the social compact.’” This “meant not only material improvement but ‘moral, political, and intellectual improvement.’” And it meant that a strong central government was needed to overcome the narrow, self-interested priorities of the states.Adams opposed slavery with the principle that “A dedication to justice and human rights was ‘the only legitimate foundation of civil government.’” While he knew that he was in the minority and that the Constitution gave the South the mechanisms to prevail legislatively, “…Adams predicted…a war between the North and South. There would be, he believed, no other way to end slavery.” But that did not prevent him from forcefully opposing nullification, which he felt “substitute[d] physical force in the place of deliberate legislation” and the actions of the House leadership to enforce a gag rule which “would accept nothing short of prohibiting the mention of slavery” in legislative proceedings.Kaplan, in describing a “Southern propaganda machine, built on an edifice of widely propagated lies” extensively quotes a late speech by Adams that is worth repeating: “Falsified logic—falsified history—falsified constitutional law, falsified morality, falsified statistics, and falsified and slanderous imputations upon the majorities of both Houses of Congress for a long series of years. All—all is false and hollow. And for what is this enormous edifice of fraud and falsehood directed?” His efforts, though mostly on the losing side, did earn him begrudging praise. As one of his political enemies observed, Adams was “the acutest, the astutest, the archest enemy of Southern slavery that ever existed.”Kaplan's strongest contribution to understanding Adams is the examination of his many writings, most importantly a diary that he kept from childhood through the end of his life, and to show how relevant they are today. Adams “…consider[ed] it as the business and duty of my life to write,” believing that “Pen should never be put to paper but for the discharge of some duty to God or man.” Adams was deeply religious, but a rationalist. The bible “was, he decided, ‘philosophical Romance,’ not a history of facts, ‘full of profound and admirable instruction.’” Or, more to the point, “The resurrection of the Spirit disencumbered of the body, I can imagine; but the resurrection of the body—a body too which will no longer be flesh and blood is beyond the compass of my understanding.”Kaplan best sums up Adams' life and character in a telling anecdote: “Admiral Stephen Decatur’s widely publicized toast in 1816, ‘our country, right or wrong,’ struck Adams as not only discordant but immoral.” As Adams saw it, “My toast would be, may our country be always successful, but whether successful or otherwise always right. I disclaim as unsound all patriotism incompatible with the principles of eternal justice.” Justice, morality, and duty guided Adams throughout an intellectually consistent life. That’s a lesson that transcends American history.

  • Steven Peterson
    2019-04-29 03:18

    I have read (and reviewed) one brief biography of John Quincy Adams (JQA). While it was satisfying for what it did, this volume is much more fulfilling. It is jammed with rich details of Adams' life.We get a birth to death bio that provides ample detail of his life. Think of it: the son of a President (John Adams), a President himself, and--then--a member of the House of Representatives (something that did not occur before--or since). The volume provides a sense of who he was, from birth to death. His son, Charles Francis, had an impact, too. An ethos of public service pervaded JQA's life.The extraordinary elements in his life are well depicted: at a young age, his father, while serving as a representative of the United States on the continent, dispatched him to Russia--a lengthy trip to a place with harsh weather; his difficulties, after college, in establishing himself as a lawyer and generating enough money to get married, have a family, and settle down; his carer as a diplomat under Madison and Monroe (including a not very satisfying return to St. Petersburg in Russia), including serving as Secretary of State and working with the President to create the Monroe Doctrine.In a continuation of his extraordinary life, he was elected President. He faced enormous obstacles as his political enemies worked to thwart his vision, including development of internal improvements (such as roads). He was, like his father, a one-term president. There followed the unlikely return to politics as a member of the House of Representatives. He became known (and sometimes despised--for his challenges to the peculiar Southern institution of slavery. He represented slaves in the "Amistad" case.And the tale continues, until his death. His family had many difficulties (his brothers and a son had problems with alcohol). But in the end, the story of John Quincy Adams is an original one. And this book is remarkably good.

  • Daniel
    2019-05-06 22:59

    Adams is a legitimately impressive historical figure, far more than his current reputation would suggest. He was a mediocre president but an accomplished diplomat, a skilled congressional provocateur, and a far-sighted analyst of American politics. This was not always apparent to his contemporaries, however. After he lost to Andrew Jackson, he seemed like a relic best suited for eulogizing dead luminaries of the Founding generation. His contempt for parties and factional politics caused his defeat by the sophisticated Jacksonian machine.In fact, he was soon articulating a combination of Whiggish nationalism (including spending on infrastructure; education, including land-grant universities and national institutes of research; and a national, regulated banking system) married to explicit opposition to slavery and a critique of the Slave Power. He went on to predict that slavery would become further entrenched in the federal government until some southern outrage (prompting either secession or a slave rebellion) gave the president the power to overturn slavery through his implied wartime powers. J.Q. Adams was no relic, but a prophet that foresaw America's 19th century and who (as the leader of the anti-slavery caucus in Congress) was vital in making it happen.So that's Adams, perhaps the great visionary of his era and one of the great statesmen of America history. Kaplan, sadly, is no great biographer. His instinct is to treat all aspects of Adams' life the same, from his struggles with his family, his financial obligations, to his great diplomatic maneuvers (the Monroe Doctrine was largely his invention) and political masterstrokes. Some of these are less interesting than the others, however, and so parts of the book are too brief and others simply drag. It creates a general flatness to the tone that makes the book less compelling than it should have. (And I think if anybody's going to be compelled by a biography of John Quincy Adams, it's me.)I found American Visionary disappointing, although adequate as a basic narrative of JQA's life.

  • John
    2019-05-19 01:16

    A detailed look at the life of the 6th President and son of the 2nd. JQA was also an Ambassador to Russia and Great Britain, Secretary of State under James Monroe and in a significant act of service to his country served in Congress after his Presidency for 17 years - dying in office!The author vividly shows how the slavery issue had a major impact through the 1st half of the 19th c.and what an intractable problem it was - leading to the Civil War. He also points out that the 3/5 compromise in the Constitution impacted many national elections and thus the policies that were enacted!The Three-Fifths Compromise is found in Article 1, Section 2, Paragraph 3 of the United States Constitution which reads:Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons.This obviously favored the slave holding states at the expense of the North.Mr Kaplan's bio focuses more on the man but without minimizing the national issues involved during his life. And wasn't the country well served by this intelligent and thoughtful public servant!

  • Colleen Browne
    2019-04-24 22:07

    This is a very deeply researched book with much information that I had previously not known. It is also well written. Covering John Quincy Adams life, it also summarizes that of his father who had an enormous impact upon his oldest son. Traveling to Europe with his father at a very young age and tutored by his father as well as other teachers, he exhibited not only a desire to please his father but also a keen interest in learning and discipline that would stay with him for his entire life. The book gives a detailed account of his wife Louisa's struggles with illness as well as her steady stream of miscarriages and still-born babies that would teach John Quincy that life can be difficult but that we must struggle through and make the best of it. Where I felt the book let the reader down was in Kaplan's description of JQ's presidency. The book seemed to change tone, moving from what felt like almost a day to day narrative of the events of his life, to a brief summary of his presidency. Thereafter, it picked up again when recounting Adam's years in Congress. I would recommend the book because there is more information contained in it than in the other biographys I have read. However, the author did seem at times to lose all objectivity. Out of the blue, when describing the last two years of John Adams Vice Presidency, he proclaimed that Jefferson would plan to stage a coup de'tat for 6 years. Hyperbole like this might be acceptable in a casual conversation but it is not acceptable in a history book. Jefferson staged no coup and to even suggest it disrespects the historical record and one of the Founders. There were a few other instances in the book where a similar thing is done though I cannot recall them at the moment. Moreover, it seemed that Adam's enemies became the author's enemies. His hatred of Jefferson was only equaled by his hatred of Jackson, Van Buren and Polk. While the behavior of these presidents certainly deserve to be very critically examined, it felt like Kaplan took it a bit too personally.

  • Mark
    2019-04-21 23:10

    Santayana’s aphorism, “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” is more a cultural observation than words to live by. But while reading Kaplan’s thoroughly enjoyable biography of John Quincy Adams it is hard not to notice similarities between the political climate and sectional issues that propelled non-politician candidates Jackson and Trump to the presidency. In 1828, presidential nominees didn’t personally enter the fray. They left character assassination, misinformation sharing and outright lies to their seconds. American politics has evolved somewhat – presidential candidates now do the heavy mudslinging themselves. Many of the issues that Adams supported – federally-funded infrastructure building, a national bank, petitioning the government, acquiring land by treaty or purchase rather than by conquest – are repugnant when others are trying to sustain a socioeconomic institution like slavery. The Federalist platform, and to a lesser extent that of the Whigs, was dismissed as elitist, non-agrarian and New England-centric; incompatible with the “right” to free land, free labor, Indian removal and Texas annexation. Best to keep troublemakers like former president turned Congressman Adams relatively quiet through a series of gag orders. Adams the “American Visionary” was incompatible with “Manifest Destiny.” In our own time when rhetoric flies expounding the nullification of federal law, disunion or the selective abridgement of civil rights, we remember the past when such talk became catastrophic.

  • Ai Miller
    2019-05-04 04:24

    So this book was not as much of a slog as I feared it was going to be! Kaplan claims his major intervention is the focus on Adams as a writer, which I guess I'll grant him--I'm not familiar enough with Adams historiography to argue otherwise, though I think Kaplan kind of over-stretches it with "writer"--like yes, he's an able and determined diarist, but only a few of his public speeches are excerpted at any real length? (I may also find this argument less moving since we've done this 'x person the WRITER' theme practically to death in Lincoln studies, and there are also so many others who have had this treatment; if these authors are to be believed, the US was a nation founded and led by a bunch of writers.) But the biography itself isn't terrible, and Kaplan is Adams-friendly enough that it's obvious and sort of adorable? It's sort of standard--not bad, but nothing amazing in it, honestly. Just very middle-of-the-road.

  • Tim Weed
    2019-05-02 00:17

    It’s been some time since I’ve read a biography, although when I was younger I occasionally used to binge on them. Reading this magisterial, well written, and deeply immersive life of John Quincy Adams was a great reminder of the pleasures and rewards of the genre. I would particularly recommend it for anyone fascinated, as I am, by the early history of the American republic. This book is of special interest because it spans a period – from after the Revolutionary War to the 1840s – of which most Americans (my previous self included) possess only a relatively basic and foggy understanding. Kaplan is clearly passionate about his subject, and for good reason: John Quincy Adams is a wonderful specimen for a biographer: a prolific diarist; an eloquent, thoughtful, skilled, and admirably consistent writer; a man who knew most of the great figures of the age, traveled extensively in the highest social and political circles of 18th and 19th century Europe, and held positions of political responsibility during the formative decades of the young American republic. Adams’ own somewhat disappointing one-term presidency is ironically only a minor episode in this fascinating life, which constituted a unique bridge between two of America’s most important leaders: George Washington, for whom he was a young aide, and Abraham Lincoln, with whom he served in the US House of Representatives. Adams was indeed a visionary, a highly principled and morally impeccable leader, but Kaplan doesn’t shy away from presenting the man’s blind spots. After all, few historical figures can be ahead of their time in every respect: Adams’ views on Indian removal, for example, or on the whitewashed history of the relations between New England Puritans and the Eastern Woodland Indians, are disappointingly typical of his historical milieu. Overall, however, the John Quincy Adams we come to know in these pages is a highly admirable and endlessly fascinating man. One of the most important aspects of Kaplan’s biography is how well it makes the case for slavery as the definitive political issue of Adams’ time; another is how faithfully and hauntingly it captures, in tracing the gridlock and ideological hooliganism of Andrew Jackson and the other inheritors of Jeffersonian America, the unmistakable echoes of our own time. Kaplan’s precise, detailed, and sympathetic portrait is of a figure whose sustained contributions – particularly in thinking and writing – did a great deal to shape the moral and political foundations of this country. As a nation, we’re luckier than most people realize to have benefited from his dedication to public life for so a long period, and during such crucial years. For me, and I suspect for most of Kaplan’s readers, Adams stands as a shining example of what’s best about America.

  • Bob H
    2019-05-04 03:59

    If anything, John Quincy Adams deserved to be remembered for a full lifetime of public service, rather than a one-term presidency stymied by his political and personal opponents. This book fills out that telling, drawing, among many things, on his personal diaries, begun at age 11 and maintained until his final weeks. The reader can appreciate his gifts of writing, speech and languages.He was to witness considerable history from a young age. Accompanying his father to Europe at 10, he would be with John Adams as the father represented the new United States in Paris and St. Petersburg, experience the hardships of travel in Europe of that time, and return to Harvard after an early life of study and adventure. We see him follow his father into diplomatic service as minister to St. Petersburg, befriending much of the diplomatic community and the court of Tsar Alexander I, and, later, as minister to Britain. He would play a key role in negotiating the Peace of Ghent, which ended the War of 1812, and, as Secretary of State, drafting the Monroe Doctrine.We learn about his ill-starred presidency, coming into office with no popular or electoral majority, and trying to do business at a time when political parties were re-forming and his own political base disorganized. We see just how political obstruction and personal rivalries among bigger-than-life personalities of the day -- Henry Clay, John Calhoun, Andrew Jackson -- would drive events and guarantee little progress (the start of the Chesapeake & Ohio canal was one of the few bright spots in this administration).And we see how the remainder of his public career, in the House of Representatives, would redeem him. He would be an early opponent of slavery at a time when, thanks to the "3/5 rule", slaveholding states had the ability to stifle debate on the subject in Congress. His role at the time was to push the debate, bring more visibility to something he knew would eventually bring disunion and civil war, something he knew he wouldn't live to see. We see the eloquence and skill he exerted when he argued the Amistad slave-ship case to the U.S. Supreme Court.The book ends with his death, by stroke, in the US House. Of the extended Adams family he would leave behind, especially Charles Francis Adams, who would go on to fame in his own right, it has no more to say -- and perhaps a biography of Charles Francis would deserve a sequel of this depth. Indeed, this book's prose is such that it reads like much less than its 570 pages or so, and the Biographical Essay that follows is a masterly review of the available sources on John Quincy's life and times.Highest recommendation.

  • Joe
    2019-05-08 01:02

    At the risk of stating the obvious, John Quincy Adams should be remembered for more than being the son of a Founding Father and a one-term President. So a new biography to bring him out of the historical fog is a welcome and well worthy endeavor. Unfortunately – at least for this reader - this book isn’t it.First, this cradle to the grave biography is a very concerted effort to humanize JQA; a very admirable task, for much like his father, John Quincy took his public service and sense of duty very seriously; and therefore also much like his father, he was not the easiest to person to “like”. The reader is presented with JQA’s extensive reading list, his writings/ opinions and prose/poetry – much of this quoted directly from his letters, speeches and his lifelong journal. So there are a lot of quotes – too many for this reader – this over-reliance resulting in the narrative both losing its flow and poignancy.Don’t get me wrong, there is much I learned here – particularly how much JQA traveled during his lifetime – this when 50 miles was a “journey” – how hard he worked - and another for instance – Mrs. JQA’s health issues. Poor Louisa Adams seemingly never feeling well for any extended period of time causing much concern and never permitting the marriage to blossom into the partnership the senior Adams and Abigail had. One other quirk of the narrative worth mentioning here. Events in JQA’s life are stated – his marriage, appointments, elections - with the circumstances leading to them subsequently covered. Not necessarily a bad technique in and of itself, but here the transitions aren’t smooth and at times, aren’t coherent – which became confusing.Lastly the closer the JQA came to center stage in his life – meaning Washington, DC – the less detailed this narrative becomes – his presidency and time served in Congress – almost 25 years - covered superficially in the last 140 pages of this almost 600 page book.John Quincy’s was an accomplished life – many of his achievements outside of the public/historical spotlight, i.e. the Monroe Doctrine, the Treaty of Ghent. He was much more than simply his father’s son and much like David McCullough’s bio did for his father, deserves to come out of the historical shadows. This book makes a valiant effort, but alas, results only a step in the right direction.

  • Robert Sparrenberger
    2019-05-17 22:03

    I'm trying to read all of the president's biographies and of course JQA does not rate high on my list as important presidents as the author notes at the beginning. That being said this was an excellent book. I didn't know how long JQA served his country and in so many capacities. Several thoughts on the book:1. His presidency didn't have much happen in it. A few reviews were upset about the lack of coverage of his time in the White House. My thought would be that after reading the whole book, his time in the House of Representatives and serving in various capacities in the state department were more important. 2. His personal sorrow and grief were incredible. So many children died either at birth or later on. Wow. 3. The book is organized chronologically but at times stories and other tidbits pop up in the wrong spots and that created a timeline that is not as tight as it should be. Minor issue but it did get worse as the book progressed. 4. Several reviews were concerned about the lack of background information concerning several topics throughout the book. My thought would be that if you are reading a bio about JQA, then you should already know the other details. Also, the book already is 650 pages. It doesn't need anymore. Overall, an excellent book on the sixth president. More should be known about him because if was a tireless patriot to his country.

  • K Walker
    2019-05-04 05:59

    There is so much to learn about America in this book, not just Adams but the two are so intrinsically tied together, they can't be separated. The author used Adams's personal diary, which he started around age 12, to take you through his life from the time he went to Europe with his father to his death to weave together a cast of characters we all know. In reading it, you learn that the problems we are facing now are really not that different than the ones Adams encountered. You see the same political maneuvering then as now, personalities and characters that are as human and interesting, and how we got to the Civil War. I thoroughly enjoyed this book even though I knew virtually nothing about the second John Adams before I started. So glad I read this book!

  • Brian
    2019-05-21 22:07

    John Quincy Adams (JQA) had a remarkable life, how could he not with John & Abigail Adams as his parents?This is a really good bio of not only a great political thinker but also a man that loved words, reading and writing them.True, JQA one term as President wasn't all that great, but his overall career (starting when he was barely a teenager) and lasted well after he left the White House.The parts that I enjoyed the most were the ones that focused on JQA's diary, which he did for most of his life. He comes across as a man that did love his wife and family, although he did not show his emotions often, but he was open in his writings.Just go and read it for yourself~!

  • Donna Jo Atwood
    2019-05-05 22:19

    I have become more and more fascinated by the Adams family. John and Abigail were so intelligent and so driven by duty. Their son, John Quincy had the pressure of their regard. (I cannot imagine many contemporary teens being sent off at age fourteen to act as private secretary for a diplomat--and then being sent back home alone through such primitive traveling conditions.)While often portrayed as cantankerous, in this book John Quincy comes across as very human. His love of family, strength of intellect and superb writing skills are especially highlighted.

  • Ted Hunt
    2019-04-20 23:04

    I have been a fan of John Quincy Adams since I first read about him as a teenager in John F. Kennedy's (ghostwritten) "Profiles in Courage." In teaching about his presidency, I always presented him as a man ahead of his time, someone who foresaw national transportation networks, federally funded scientific study, and federal aid to higher education, among other things. The subtitle of Kaplan's book "American Visionary" is completely appropriate, as he really had an impressive ability to see into the future. (Unfortunately, he also predicted the American Civil War, as well as the constitutional rationalization for a measure that was a model for Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation.) But Adams was, unfortunately, out of step with his times, as the democratizing trends were resulting in people like Andrew Jackson being elected to office. I was thus really looking forward to reading about the details of this underrated figure from early American history. The absence of a fifth star in my rating is primarily due to the fact that it takes about 200 pages to get to Adams' political life, which I suppose is appropriate, but for me the details of his childhood and teenage years made the first part of the book drag a little. (There was also the matter, in an early chapter, of the author jumping back and forth between the years 1785 and 1795 as he described some events, with the latter date being very inaccurate. What was the editor doing when he/she read over this chapter?) Nevertheless, once the book reached Adams' political life, the book became very interesting for me. His diary entries provided the author with a wealth of insights concerning the trials and tribulations of this man's time as a diplomat, Secretary of State, president, and then as a revered elder statesman of the House of Representatives. The unforeseen pleasure of reading this book, however, was seeing the modern political world of the United States reflected in the events of the 1820's and 1830's. Donald Trump has made no attempt to hide his admiration of Andrew Jackson. But it is very interesting to see how Adams comes across as an early 19th century Obama, a thoughtful, educated, farsighted, diplomatic politician fighting against the ignorant passions of a man whom many considered not only unfit for office, but dangerous to the institutions of the nation. Another reason for my own admiration of J.Q. Adams is that a couple of years after leaving the White House he returned to Washington as a member of the House of Representatives, where he served the remainder of his life (he literally died in the House in 1848). In sum, this is a very fine book about a great American.

  • Robin Friedman
    2019-04-25 22:15

    "John Quincy Adams: American Visionary" by Fred Kaplan is an important new biography of the personal and public life of John Quincy Adams (1767 -- 1848) together with a study of American history during John Quincy Adams' long life. Kaplan is distinguished professor emeritus of English at Queens College and the Graduate Center of the City of New York. He has written biographies of Lincoln, Thomas Carlyle, Henry James, and Dickens, among other books. Lengthy and detailed, his biography of John Quincy Adams (JQA) makes for slow, difficult reading. The book amply rewards the effort and the time it requires.Kaplan's biography shows the great influence of Daniel Walker Howe's recent history of the United States from 1815 -- 1848 included in the Oxford History of the United States, "What Hath God Wrought". Howe takes issue with the view that sees Jacksonian Democracy as central to the transformation of American life during this time. He praises instead Jackson's opponents for their insistence on the qualitative rather than the quantitative change of American life, including their emphasis on nationalism, internal improvements, education, and moral uplift. John Quincy Adams emerges as the representative figure of American life in Howe's book. He dedicates his history to JQA's memory. Kaplan expands many of the themes of Howe's history in his biography of JQA.In many ways, JQA's values and character were throw-backs to an earlier time. Yet, these values with their sources in the past helped create a forward-looking leader. Thus, "American Visionary" offers a portrayal of a great American life devoted to the development of American nationalism and unity. The book portrays a leader who, with his faults, tried to put the good of the nation above short-term, partisan politics. JQA tried to live morally and struggled with his conscience in both his public and private life. JQA was many years ahead of his time in advocating national programs of public works, improvements, and education. JQA brought broadly idealistic qualities to American life, tempered by realism. In developing JQAs' goals, accomplishments, and character, Kaplan's book shows why JQA deserves to be considered an "American Visionary".From 1825 --- 1829, JQA served a single term as the sixth president. Historians have generally not been kind to JQA's presidency. JQA also had an extraordinary career as a diplomat, Senator, Secretary of State and Congressman from Massachusetts. JQA was born before the American Revolution and he lived through the War with Mexico. Kaplan works hard to trace the continuity in JQA's thought and actions during this extended and varied period of American history.Earlier studies of JQA tended to concentrate either on his personal or on his public life while Kaplan offers full discussion of both. The book has a cluttered feel at times and it tends to underplay JQA's flaws. Kaplan emphasizes the close relationship between JQA and his famous father, John Adams, the second president, and his almost equally well-known mother, Abigail, while resisting the temptation of psychological reductionism. He discusses an early unhappy love affair of JQA followed by a lengthy marriage to Louise Johnson which brought love together with many personal tragedies. Kaplan lays great emphasis on JQA's literary activites. For virtually his entire life, JQA kept a diary which presents a detailed reflective account of his thoughts, actions, and history. Kaplan quotes extensively from the diary and from JQA's essays, speeches, and other prose writings, many of which were published during his lifetime but are not readily accessible today. Most intruigingly, Kaplan devotes much attention to JQA's poetry which he wrote throughout his life. His poetry was heavily influenced by classical and by 18th Century styles rather than by 19th Century romanticism. A volume of JQA's poems was published in a commemorative edition after his death. The poems offer insight into his most personal religious and social visions. Kaplan stresses throughout JQA's' religious beliefs and religious growth, centering upon an ethical Christianity, his passion for reading and study, and his lifelong interest in the arts, sciences, and developing technology.Kaplan shows JQA's achievements as a diplomat. He held ministerial appointments to Russia, the Netherlands, and Britain, at different times and spent much of his early life outside the boundaries of the United States. JQA had the led in the negotiating team which secured peace on favorable terms from Britain at the Treaty of Ghent, ending the War of 1812. For eight years, JQA served as Secretary of State under President James Monroe. His tenure is universally regarded as one of the best in this position. Among many other accomplishments, JQA formulated and persuaded Monroe to accept the foreign affairs policy known as the Monroe doctrine.Kaplan tries to be positive about Adams' term as president. The election was hotly contested and decided by a vote in the House after JQA received a minority of the popular vote. JQA's intentions were of the highest. He worked towards national unity against partisanship, for a strong system of internal improvements, for public education, and financial soundness. He tended to be stubborn. His status as a minority president, and the allegations of a "corrupt bargain" under which Henry Clay, an unsuccessful presidential candidate in the election, became Secretary of State, doomed JQA's presidency from the outset. The chapter on JQA's presidency is among the shortest in Kaplan's book.Late in his life, JQA served for 17 years as Congressman from Massachusetts, the only president to serve in Congress following his tenure as chief executive. He became increasingly concerned with slavery and with what he foretold as its divisive effect on Union. He became the chief opponent of the so-called "gag rule" in the House and on two occasions narrowly escaped censure. During this time JQA also served as counsel in what became a famous Supreme Court case involving escaped slaves on a Spanish ship known as the Amistad, the subject of a movie some years ago. In his final years, JQA spoke out vigorously against what he saw as the illegal and unjust War with Mexico.Of the wealth of information in this book, I most enjoyed the many discussions of JQAs' political and religious thinking and of his writings. Early in the book, Kaplan quotes JQA: "Literature has been the charm of my life and could I have carved out my own fortunes, to literature would my whole life have been devoted. I have been a lawyer for bread, and a Statesman at the call of my Country." Kaplan tells an inspiring story of an American who deserves to be better known both for his reverence for the past and for what Kaplan describes as JQAs' "visionary" look towards the future. In difficult times, the book may help readers rethink America and its promise.Robin Friedman

  • James Spurgeon
    2019-04-23 05:15

    Where does one start with John Quincy Adams? He was an ambassador, Secretary of State, President, congressman... and all around statesman. He negotiated treaties that settled borders and ended wars. He was anti-slavery and knew that the nation could not survive the widening divide between slavery and the ideals of the Declaration of Independence. He was a man dedicated to public service and would do whatever he could when he was called upon. Only once did he turn down an assignment when asked and that was when President Madison asked him to serve on the Supreme Court.Adams believed in the law and the Constitution. When serving in Congress he often openly challenged his colleagues when he thought they were trying to circumvent the law of the land. It's no shock that when Adams drew his last breath he was in the Capitol after having collapsed in the chamber.By the time he died, he had known great happiness and heartache... success and failure. In time he would be largely forgotten coming after the founding generation of leaders. He had grown up knowing those men and working with them. It was President Washington, after all, who first appointed him to be an ambassador. But being of that second generation he was no less important and pivotal to the early days of our republic.And one last little tidbit to add. Adams was a firm believer in education and it being the foundation of any good society. It should be no surprise that when the United States was given the money to found the Smithsonian Institution, Adams was appointed to head the committee to decide what to do with the money. Every politician wanted the money for themselves, but Adams stayed true. Though he didn't get everything he wanted with it, he still managed to found what we know as the Smithsonian Institute and was present for the laying of the first stone.

  • Mike Stacey
    2019-04-25 05:56

    "Wherever the standard of freedom and Independence has been or shall be unfurled, there will her heart, her benedictions and her prayers be. But she goes not abroad, in search of monsters to destroy. She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all. She is the champion and vindicator only of her own. She will commend the general cause by the countenance of her voice, and the benignant sympathy of her example. She well knows that by once enlisting under other banners than her own, were they even the banners of foreign independence, she would involve herself beyond the power of extrication, in all the wars of interest and intrigue, of individual avarice, envy, and ambition, which assume the colors and usurp the standard of freedom. The fundamental maxims of her policy would insensibly change from liberty to force.... She might become the dictatress of the world. She would be no longer the ruler of her own spirit...."One of the most enlightened figures of our early history, on par with Hamilton, Franklin, Madison, Kaplan's biography of JQA does a great job of showing why he was the glue that held us together through the tumultuous years of the gag rule and protecting the legislative body from the power and influence of the executive. It would be pretty interesting to see presidents in modern times take seats in government, but JQA was a special case. Immune to corruption and corporatist buyouts, our politicians today wouldn't be the same.

  • David
    2019-04-22 02:23

    Great book! I had no idea the influence and depth of experience and service of this president. He knew the first 10 presidents (11 including himself)! He spent much of his early years in Europe and Russia either with his father (John Adams) or as an American minister/ambassador. He is a very interesting man. He consistently kept a diary from his early years which is probably one of the reasons we know so much about him. When asked to serve he rarely if ever said no. After serving as president he became a US congressman and continued to have a tremendous influence on American politics. He predicted the only way America was going to deal with the slavery issue was through a civil war and only then could the President use his powers as commander-in-chief to emancipate the slaves. This is exactly what Lincoln did! An interesting bit of trivia is John Quincy served in congress alongside Abraham Lincoln.

  • Andrew Canfield
    2019-05-17 01:58

    This is a spectacular biography of the sixth president. Kaplan delves into the life of the second president's son with an impressive eye to detail, leaving readers with an in-depth understanding of his life of public service. No part of his life is neglected. The book spends plenty of time on JQA's diplomatic posts in the Netherlands and Russia, posts following on the heels of the time he spent in Europe as a child while traveling overseas with his father. JQA would go on to serve in the legislative branches of both the Massachusetts and federal government before becoming president. The alleged "Corrupt Bargain" of the 1824 presidential election is mentioned but not delved into with much emphasis. This was a little surprising, but very few criticisms can be made regarding this deeply researched and incredibly enlightening biography. JQA would later become the only president to serve in the U.S. Congress during his post-presidential career after losing his 1828 bid for re-election as Commander-in-Chief, representing the Plymouth area of Massachusetts for over a decade.Kaplan also looks at JQA's private life; the miscarriages his wife Maria experienced as well as the infant baby girl the couple lost while in Russia are saddening components of this portion. JQA's marriage of fifty plus years to Maria is examined, and JQA's literary abilities are highlighted on numerous occasions. The reader will be able to pick up on Kaplan's role as professor of English; he discusses JQA's above average poetry-writing ability in addition to his love of knowledge acquisition and penchant for learning foreign languages. This is a well-rounded, deservedly five star book that anyone who wants to build their knowledge of John Quincy Adams will love reading.-Andrew Canfield Shreveport, La.

  • Adam Yoshida
    2019-04-26 03:09

    An Excellent and Illuminating Work on an Underrated HeroAristotle once defined happiness as "the exercise of vital powers along lines of excellence in a life affording them scope." The story of John Quincy Adams is a grand American epic. He was born before the Revolution and he lived, and remained in the arena, until the eve of the Civil War. Kaplan's book ably tells the story of a man whose long and full life, often treated as a footnote, is almost unbelievable in its scope. Here is the story of a public servant, whose service began when he was merely a child and continued through his dying day. This work casts in a sympathetic light a man who was often difficult and inflexible, but who was always principled and forthright. I highly recommend this book.

  • Lorenz
    2019-05-02 22:22

    The book is a well-written biography of the man. It contains unique insights sourced directly from JQA's enormous diary collection. The book is a pleasure to read as the author's writing style ensures that you won't be overwhelmed with too much details crammed in one paragraph. The only reason i didn't give this a 5 star is because i feel that the discussion when it comes to the political context and especially to foreign relations (JQA' specialty) seems to be lacking. I wish there were more background discussion behind the domestic and foreign policy decisions undertaken by JQA.

  • Jeff
    2019-05-01 01:04

    What makes a biography worthy of a five star review. To me it is one that, in the case of it being about a subject you feel you have a basic handle on, turns your thoughts in a different direction. Fred Kaplan has written a spirited, thought provoking biography of our sixth President.I often find in reading a biography that, if the character can in anyway be sympathetic, it is natural to become so. My, and I would venture to say most people's understanding of John Quincy Adams, would be that he was a President's Son, a diplomat at a young age, and then a one term President. The truth is that he was much, much, more.While bringing Adams into light the book also casts a shadow on his successor Andrew Jackson. I had earlier read a biography of Jackson from Jon Meacham, another esteemed historian. Yet I do not recall having the truth of Jackson's states rights, Indian genocide, bank hating, policies not quite so brought to light in a Jackson biography for what they were. There is little question that Adams had a failed Presidency. He would have said so himself and often did. He, however, because the process by which he was elected was per the Constitution, felt that his election by Congress was the most important accomplishment. Realizing that an election without a true winner offered a real danger to the county's fragile Democracy itself, Adams, while knowing he was destined for four years of gridlock, felt the most important thing he could do was respect the process which put him in that untenable position. So if his Presidency was a failure, and by all accounts it was, why was he so important. One of his early accomplishments in a bright and varied diplomatic career was as the lead negotiator with England at the end of the War of 1812. Much like the war itself one forgets that the country was in grave danger from both Britain and France for much of the first two decades of the nineteenth century. The constant and varied diplomatic efforts of JQA were of singular importance in our country navigating those trials, first and often as a specially appointed negotiator and later as James Monroe's Secretary of State. More important, and even less well known perhaps, was his long tenure in the House of Representatives after he left the Presidency. As a strict believer in the rule of law he became a thorn in the side of Democrats Jackson, Van Buren, and Polk. An anti slavery advocate he forewarned of a coming bloody battle, knowing that the South would never give up its institution of slavery and that the North would not abide it forever. His battles for the right of petition, which had been abolished by the Southern led house, was one he endured through years and years until he finally convinced others of the folly of the gag rule. Adams also fought tooth and nail against America's becoming an empire. While favoring expansion from Florida to the Pacific he felt that those citizens of the areas to be taken, if the United States was not an empire, should vote and agree to be governed. Needless to say in the headlong rush for land and expansion these niceties were not observed. Adams also attempted to check some of the most egregious actions against Native Americans such as what the State of Georgia did to the Cherokee Indians. There is much more, he was a family man who lost an infant daughter to death, and later tow of his three sons died in early adulthood, both unsuccessful. He argued the Amistad case, some may have seen the movie about the mutinous slave ship, and won the freedom of the mutineers. He was a poet and a lifelong diarist, an amateur scientist, in short he had too many passions and too little time. Here are just a few items of note that I learned in this biography. In the writing of the Constitution the Northern delegates had agreed to the three-fifths rule as it relates to counting slaves toward population for delegating Congressional seating. The North agreed to this because the South was to then for that extra representation agree to pay taxes to the Union on that select property. However with the extra representation the Southern dominated Congress would never agree to any direct federal taxation. Jefferson, whom JQA if not hated, very much disliked was as President strictly states rights. He wanted no powers to Federal government not explicitly given. He was against federal improvements such as roads, bridges, and canals for this reason. ( Actually the real reason all the Southern shares were against internal improvements, direct taxation, and anything else that gave power to the central government was that they feared that once held that particular power might come after slavery.) Still, and in this case thankfully, Jefferson was quick to use extra Constitutional powers to execute the Louisiana purchase. It was in the ascendency of Andrew Jackson and the Democrats that this country's strong vein of anti-intellectualism became established. Strange that in almost 200 years the same geographical division as relates to most and many issues still exists. Adams argued before the Supreme Court, led at the time by John Marshall, in Bank of United States vs Devaux. This case, which he lost, was one on which the Marshall court ruled that a corporation was not a citizen. A ruling recently reversed by the Roberts court. In short this is a first rate, top of the line biography.

  • Elaine
    2019-05-11 06:09

    JQA inherited the mantle of protecting the Constitution as the Founding Fathers passed on. He was raised with the Puritan work ethic to serve his country, which he did, until his final breath. No matter the task he was assigned, he tried to accomplish it with great integrity and at the expense of the suffering of his own family. I was touched by his great words, thorough thinking and commitment to the freedom of all. We would all do well to emulate him.

  • Judy
    2019-05-17 01:22

    3.5 stars because it included politics. Of course it did, since it was about JQA! Nevertheless, I still don't enjoy reading about politics. I did enjoy reading about his personal life, though, and about Louisa. I'll be reading separate books about 175: "The conduct of men," John Adams noted, "is much more governed by their passions than by their interests; the whole history of mankind is one continued demonstration of this axiom."Page 175: "Those absurd principles of unlimited democracy," John Quincy wrote to Thomas, "which the people of our Southern states, by the most extraordinary of all infatuations have so much countenanced and encouraged, are producing their natural fruits, and if the planters have not discovered the inconsistency of holding in one hand the rights on man, and in the other a scourge for the backs of slaves, their negroes have proved themselves better logicians than their masters."page 497: "Adams had reasons to think well of Madison, especially in contrast to Jefferson, whose newly published letters, he noted in his diary as he began to write the eulogy, revealed 'his craft and duplicity in very glaring colors. I incline to the opinion that he was not altogether conscious of his own insincerity, and deceived himself as well as others. His success...seems to my imperfect vision, a slur upon the moral government of the world.' It was Madison who had 'moderated some of [Jefferson's] excesses; and was 'in truth a greater and a far more estimable man.'"page 515: I love JQA's poems! Here is the final stanza of one:"These are the Wants of mortal Man,--I cannot want them long,For life itself is but a span,And earthly bliss--a song.My last great Want--absorbing all--Is, when beneath the sod,And summoned to my final call,The Mercy of my God."Heck, here's the rest of the poem ("The Wants of Man") (at least what was recorded in this book; the poem is 25 stanzas):"Man wants but little here below,Nor wants that little long."'Tis not with me exactly so;But 'tis so in the song.My wants are many and, if I toldWould muster many a score;And were each wish a mint of gold,I still should long for more.What first I want is daily bread--And canvas-backs,--and wine--And all the realms of nature spreadBefore me, when I dine.Four courses scarcely can provideMy appetite to quell;With four choice cooks from France beside,To dress my dinner well...I want (who does not want?) a wife,--Affectionate and fair;To solace all the woes of life,And all its joys to share.Of temper sweet, or yielding will, Of firm, yet placid mind,--With all my faults to love me stillWith sentiment refined...I want a warm and faithful friend,To cheer the adverse hour,Who ne'er to flatter will descend,Nor bend the knee to power,--A friend to chide me when I'm wrong,My inmost soul to see;And that my friendship prove as strongFor him as his for me...I want the seals of power and place,The ensigns of command;Charged by the People's unbought graceTo rule my native land.Nor crown nor sceptre would I askBut from my country's will,By day, by night, to ply the taskHer cup of bliss to 515-516: Charmingly autobiographical, the poem asks the same questions Adams had asked many times before. Even when he had not asked them directly, her had provided the answers in the ongoing text of his diary, which had taught him that his mission was self-improvement, the welfare of his fellow human beings, and the development of a moral compass flexible enough to provide for human frailty and strong enough to affirm his commitment to a moral order; and that he should aim for a satisfying continuum between the attractions of a material life--wine and food, wife and family, exercise and friendship, art and literature--and the moral life. From the start, he had believed in the value of knowledge for itself and as a tool for virtuous action. He had learned that they both required hard work, as if work combined both prayer and advancement. Some of his questions were about religious belief. As a rationalist, he worked his way through or around theological disputes to the ethical core that he believed sustained religious values and transcended sectarian commitments, though he could not imagine a moral order not based on "a responsible hereafter." Without that, "right and wrong have no meaning." By temperament and, he would argue, by experience, his life consisted mostly of disappointments, the existence of "another world" " reprieve the injustice of this." For "how little is the fruit of upright intentions and unremitting toil?" Believing that he had been more sinned against than sinning, he needed to believe in a justice that transcended the limitations of this world. It was, he generalized, one of the wants of man. It sustained his own belief "in the existence of a Supreme Creator...of an immortal principle within myself, responsible to that Creator for my conduct upon earth, and of the divine mission of the crucified Savior, proclaiming immortal life and preaching peace on earth, good will to men, the natural equality of all mankind, and the law to love thy neighbor as oneself." But he also had moments of "involuntary and agonizing doubts," which he could "neither silence nor expel."

  • Mindy
    2019-04-27 23:08

    Very good biography of an often overlooked President. Gives a good understanding of JQA's moral compass and many years of public service in several different offices. You also get a sense of his feelings about the passing of his Father's generation and the urgency he feels about union of the country

  • John Kennedy
    2019-04-26 23:18

    There is too little about his presidency — only 37 of the 570 pages are devoted to his four years in the White House. The narrative bogs down in focusing on details in trifling matters when a summary would be better.

  • Jeffrey Brooks
    2019-05-20 00:08

    A wonderful biography of a sadly unappreciated American statesman.