Harlow Giles Unger gives us another enjoyable presidential biography. This time it is on the underrated John Quincy Adams. Perhaps JQA gets overshadowed by his famous father, or perhaps it is because his actual term in office was a dud, but his long public career is in some ways unparalleled in our nation’s history. His life, without question, makes for sterling biography. He met George Washington and Abraham Lincoln!
Unger wells presents his early days and educational opportunities as well as getting to go on diplomatic missions with his father. His experiences were incredible and before long he was on his own diplomatic missions.
His family life was interesting. He had a close relationship with his parents. He married a British lady and though he seemed fond of her, their marriage suffered deeply on several occasions. His leaving her at times while on political conquests surely contributed greatly to his problems. As a parent, he suffered both the deaths of some of his children, he watched others turn out as alcoholics. He knew something of suffering. Ha was, without a doubt, a believing Christian.
After a successful time as Monroe’s Secretary of State, he finally ran for President. He actually lost the popular vote to Andrew Jackson and was voted in finally by the House of Representatives. He took on several enemies at that time and he was never able to do anything as President. He was quite a discouraged man in those days and was an unpleasant and grumpy man.
Then he hit his stride. For years he became a Representative from Massachusetts where he saw himself representing the whole country. And represent he did! Many Southerners hated him but his skill in legislative procedure and constitutional law made him THE force to be reckoned with. He was the greatest champion of abolition from the founding of the nation till the eve of the Civil War. He knew before he died that the Civil War would come and, to his mind it was probably needed.
Unger draws a fine portrait of this man who lived his life on principle. How refreshing to read in these days. I learned that JQA was one of the really great ones in our nation’s history even if his term as President was largely forgettable.
Presidential biographies in the series.
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