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John Quincy Adams: A Public Life, a Private Life Paperback – March 5, 1999
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Who is the real John Quincy Adams? The brilliant secretary of state, prime mover behind the Monroe Doctrine, and principled opponent of slavery, defender of the Africans shanghaied aboard the Amistad? Or the ineffectual president stymied by a hostile Congress and his own self-righteousness, the vindictive political foe famed for his cold, disagreeable character? Paul C. Nagel, author of two previous books about the Adams family, seeks to give readers a more human Adams (1767-1848) whose complex nature contained many contradictions. John Quincy Adams is a valuable revisionist biography of a misunderstood figure at the crossroads of American history. --This text refers to the CD-ROM edition.
From Library Journal
Of all American public figures, none led a more remarkable life than John Quincy Adams. The son of a president, Adams was an elected congressman, an accomplished diplomat, a president himself, and, after vacating the White House in virtual disgrace, a congressman once again from 1831 until his death in 1848. He was a man of letters, had a passion for science and technology, and, more important for the historian, kept a diary for nearly 70 years. With this excellent biography, Nagel continues a string of successful books on America's first families?the Adamses and the Lees (e.g., Descent from Glory, LJ 12/1/82, and The Lees of Virginia, LJ 6/15/90). Nagel focuses more on the private Adams, utilizing diary entries to provide keen insight into this extraordinary man, who often suffered from severe depression. The result is a fascinating psychobiography. Highly recommended for all libraries.?Boyd Childress, Auburn Univ. Lib., Ala.
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the CD-ROM edition.
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I could not have believed that I would find a bio of John Quincy Adams to be a page-turner, but this one was for me. I'm sure that is because, as I read, I thoroughly changed my mind about, and my attitude toward, this imposing but previously unapproachable figure. Yes, he was highly opinionated, rigid, self-righteous, and often dour ... but he reached his opinions through an exquisite intelligence, was a truly devoted patriot, was a significant figure in American letters, and could be personally charming. Behind all that, Nagel shows us a man daily struggling to meet an impossible standard of performance that his heritage (essentially his mother) had stamped on his consciousness, always groping to overcome an attention deficit disorder and organize his actions ...yet nonetheless achieving greatness. I had long admired JQA's role as Secretary of State under Monroe (he being the true author of the Monroe Doctrine), deprecated his Presidency (almost nothing to admire there, and Nagel blessedly spends little time on it), and appreciated his serving in the House for nearly two decades after his Presidency. What Nagel's presentation did for me was to give me a personal empathy for what JQA suffered throughout his life while making his contributions.
I also came to understand the roles played by the two most significant persons in JQA's life: his mother and his wife. I confess that my admiration for his mother, Abigail, was much diminished by this bio; her domineering guidance was the principal source of JQA's self-doubt. But I had not really known before, and came to admire greatly, JQA's wife, Louisa Johnson Adams, who was clearly the great good fortune of his life.
It's almost hard to fathom all the public positions held by JQA in his life. From a legislator in Massachusetts, to a long and distinguished career as a diplomat in Europe - most notably Russia where he was a close confidant of the Tzar Alexander - to Secretary of State, sixth President of the United States, and U.S. Congressman. He even turned down an appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Relying heavily on a very personal diary JQA kept nearly his entire adult life, this biography delves deeply into the psyche and private life of JQA, giving us an intimate portrait of his personality, family life, religious beliefs, and even some of the things that shaped his thoughts and personality. We literally follow JQA in his day to day life. The biography, as it stands, is extremely interesting.
The downfall of the book is that it does not deal enough with JQA's politics. We end up knowing far more about JQA's religious beliefs at the end of the biography than we do about his political thought. A perfect example is that JQA, as Secretary of State, was the primary influence behind the Monroe Doctrine dictating that European powers could no longer attempt to influence politics or colonize countries in the Western Hemisphere. Other than crediting JQA for this, the author does nothing to explore the details of how this extremely important political stance came about.
Further, while JQA's presidency may have been somewhat of a failure - mostly because he was a president elected not only by a minority of voters but a minority of the electoral college as well - it certainly deserved more than one chapter of the book. And that chapter is almost devoid of political analysis. (Note the House of Representatives ended up choosing the president since none of the candidates had a majority of electoral college votes, therefore JQA's power was significantly weakened and his presidency was one where the legislative branch was dominant). This biography begs for second volume just about JQA's public or political life.
Despite that flaw I did find the biography fascinating. It certainly did give one an appreciation for JQA's pragmatism and irascibility, which are clear in his political stances and behavior.
Two pieces of trivia that many readers probably know. John Adams and John Quincy Adams were the only father and son to both be President of the United States until George Bush and George W. Bush. Secondly, JQA is the only ex-President to subsequently become a member of Congress (in this case the House of Representatives).