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John Quincy Adams

af Harlow Giles Unger

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2691478,136 (4.04)18
He fought for Washington, served with Lincoln, witnessed Bunker Hill, and sounded the clarion against slavery on the eve of the Civil War. He negotiated an end to the War of 1812, engineered the annexation of Florida, and won the Supreme Court decision that freed the African captives of The Amistad. He served his nation as minister to six countries, secretary of state, senator, congressman, and president. John Quincy Adams was all of these things and more. In this biography, the author reveals Quincy Adams as a towering figure in the nation's formative years and one of the most courageous figures in American history, which is why he ranked first in John F. Kennedy's Pulitzer Prize winning book Profiles in Courage. This biography and sweeping panorama of American history from the Washington to Lincoln eras, follows one of America's most important yet least-known figures.… (mere)
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John Quincy Adams was one of America's most remarkable Statesman. As an individual, he appeared to be more interested in doing the right thing for the Country rather than being held hostage to the dictates of his Party, and thus ended up being adopted by the Republicans after being shunned by his Federalist Party. Few politicians of today seem so principled, or to be able to advance far in their careers without full support of their political party. As a politician, Adams was one of the most gifted orators of his day, one of the fledgling United States' foremost foreign Ambassadors, a Secretary of State, an anti-slavery leader, a negotiator to the Treaty of Ghent ending the War of 1812, a nominee to the Supreme Court, a Congressman, Senator, and President. He stands alone in terms of his extensive political resume.

Also interesting in the book was Harlow Unger's description of political conduct during the early 1800's. People who think the Democrats and Republicans of today are too divided, and whose political campaigns consist of lies, distortions of policies, and slander will find a lot of commonality with the description of political campaigning back in the John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson years.

Adams became embroiled in political squabbles with political opponents as President, ultimately leading to the formation of a new opposition political party, the Democrats. That description of the John Quincy Adams Presidency reminded me to some extent to the Obama Presidency, with widespread opposition to his initiatives, and the formation of a new political party, the Tea Party.

Andrew Jackson, as loser to Adams as sixth President of the United States, led the opposition to Adams, and most of Adams' initiatives were obstructed. So one gets the impression that the disruptive politics of today is more the norm in history, and the comparative relatively good working relationship between the parties of forty or fifty years ago was more the exception to the rule.

Adams supported improvements in agriculture, education, in quality of life for all, and called on Congress to make improvements in commerce, manufacturing, and to foster advances in literature and sciences, including federal construction of astronomical observatories, or "lighthouses in the sky" as they became known. However, his opponents criticized the words in his speeches, characterizing his message as one that claims that all power resides in the Federal Government. Jackson offered a counter position favoring the "common man" against the elitist and Federally focused Adams. Jackson and his followers proposed that rather than establishing "lighthouses in the sky", undertaking exploration, establishing universities, expanding canals (the infrastructure of his day), they wanted to pay off the National Debt, and then distribute any proceeds among the various States. Again, I see parallels between those times and the present. The Adams story brought to meind the old expression: "The more things change, the more they stay the same".

After what would be considered a lackluster presidency, Adams agreed to continue to serve the Country, becoming a Congressman from Massachusetts. He became a vocal opponent of slavery in the House, and became the bane of the slaveholding southern states. He was nearly expelled from Congress for his vocal anti-slavery speeches, but remained steadfast in his opposition and true to his convictions. Adams ultimately died on the floor of the House, and his is quite a story of dedication to the Country.
( )
  rsutto22 | Jul 15, 2021 |
I picked up the biography of John Quincy Adams by Harlow Giles Unger to learn more about a man who has fascinated me for a long time. Can one book tell the full story of a man who served his country for over sixty years. The answer is no, but overall this book does a good job of giving the reader the highlights. As a child he observed the beginning of the revolution and worked as a secretary under his father at the very founding of our nation. He would serve as Minister to Netherlands, Prussia, and envoy to Great Britain. He then served as Secretary of State. After one tumultuous term as President he would serve ten years in the House of Representatives were his reputation and popularity would grow in the north as he fought for the right to even talk about the issue of slavery in the House of Representative and the rights of people and their representatives to petition the government. The strength of this book was the overall story it was telling about a man. I did enjoy the book and would recommend it to those who are interested in our countries political history ( )
  klrabbit58 | May 3, 2021 |
Head and shoulders better than the one he wrote on James Monroe, but Unger still takes unpardonable liberties with objective facts. ( )
  ErinCSmith | Jul 24, 2020 |
JQA was a much more interesting member of Congress than he was a president of the United States. This bio isn't the most in-depth examination of a president I've read in recent years, but for a relatively unknown president, it's a good introduction. ( )
  publiusdb | Sep 21, 2018 |
John Quincy Adams began his diplomatic service very early. He was educated in Europe and at Harvard. He was an accomplished diplomat and ambassador, moving comfortably among royalty at court in Prussia, Russia, France, Holland, and England. He was highly intelligent, idealistic, and patriotic, and refused to campaign for public office. He believed that representatives, particularly the President, should be chosen on merit and not because of their popularity alone. He was elected president in a contentious election during which he was the only candidate who did not campaign. His opponent was Andrew Jackson, who won the popular vote, but John Quincy Adams got the electoral votes. His presidency was a disaster. He was blocked in every direction by Jackson supporters in Congress. He also struggled to relate to the average American and his speeches were too intellectual.

The next part of his story was my absolute favorite. John Quincy Adams was asked by the people of Massachusetts to return to public service as a member of the House of Representatives. He served there from 1831 to 1848. He was a vocal opponent to slavery. In fact, the "Gag Rule" originated when he began reading petitions from abolitionists and slaves on the floor of the House and his irritated Southern colleagues were desperate to shut him up. This time of his life is very illustrative of his courage and personal integrity. He was very unpopular in Washington, but because of his tireless efforts to force discussion of the abolition of slavery in the House, he became more popular with the public than he ever was as President. A few other highlights of his time in the House: he argued successfully before the Supreme Court for the freedom of the African slaves who revolted and seized the Amistad, he was the force behind the eventual creation of the Smithsonian Institute, and he crossed party lines on a regular basis, sticking tightly to his understanding of the Constitution and what it did and did not allow. He suffered a cerebral hemorrhage on the floor of the House and died a few days later.

The discussion of this Missouri question has betrayed the secret of their souls. In the abstract they admit that slavery is an evil, they disclaim it, and cast it all upon the shoulder of…Great Britain. But when probed to the quick upon it, they show at the bottom of their souls pride and vainglory in their condition of masterdom. They look down upon the simplicity of a Yankee's manners, because he has no habits of overbearing like theirs and cannot treat Negroes like dogs. It is among the evils of slavery that it taints the very sources of moral principle. It establishes false estimates of virtue and vice: for what can be more false and heartless than this doctrine which makes the first and holiest rights of humanity to depend upon the color of the skin? ( )
  nittnut | Sep 5, 2018 |
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Who but shall learn that freedom is the prize
That nature's God commands the slave to rise,
Roll, years of promise, rapidly roll round,
Till not a slave shall on this earth be found.
-John Quincy Adams, 1827
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He fought for Washington, served with Lincoln, witnessed Bunker Hill, and sounded the clarion against slavery on the eve of the Civil War. He negotiated an end to the War of 1812, engineered the annexation of Florida, and won the Supreme Court decision that freed the African captives of The Amistad. He served his nation as minister to six countries, secretary of state, senator, congressman, and president. John Quincy Adams was all of these things and more. In this biography, the author reveals Quincy Adams as a towering figure in the nation's formative years and one of the most courageous figures in American history, which is why he ranked first in John F. Kennedy's Pulitzer Prize winning book Profiles in Courage. This biography and sweeping panorama of American history from the Washington to Lincoln eras, follows one of America's most important yet least-known figures.

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