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 La 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 masterful biography, award-winning author Harlow Giles Unger reveals 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 Profiles in Courage.
A magisterial biography and a sweeping panorama of American history from the Washington to Lincoln eras, Unger’s John Quincy Adams follows one of America’s most important yet least known figures.
Harlow Giles Unger, a former distinguished visiting fellow in American history at George Washington’s Mount Vernon, is a veteran journalist, broadcaster, educator, and historian. He is the author of 20 books, including several biographies of America’s Founding Fathers. He has also authored histories of the early Republic as well as numerous books on American education. He lives in New York.
©2012 Harlow Giles Unger (P)2012 Blackstone Audio, Inc.
"[Unger] eloquently details the diplomatic headaches caused by both the infamous XYZ Affair and ever-changing Gallic governments. Spare prose clarifies the overview of political complications and intricate family dynamics, revealing Adams as a historically overlooked yet key transitional figure who witnessed the birth of the nation and endured its nearly irreparable geographic squabbles of the 1840s." (Publishers Weekly)
"A neglected president receives his due as a statesman and practical politician.… A fine examination of a life, well deserving a place alongside David McCullough’s study of Adams père." (Kirkus Reviews)
Yes, to further absorb the facts of Adams' life.
I found it fascinating that JQA's main public contributions came after his presidency, during his long years in Congress. It was also interesting to learn how much he contributed to foreign diplomacy during his youth. JQA was an under-appreciated guiding light during the early decades of our country.
Can't choose. Too many stellar moments in that man's life.
No. There's a lot of info in this book, an abundance that requires time to absorb.
One of my favorite biographies of all time is David McCullough's "John Adams." It is a perfect work on the life of one of our most important founding fathers. I am proud to say that I own that book in print and as an audio book. Both versions are keepers. Unger's bio of JQA is nearly as good. Beyond the excellent writing, the best part is that Adams the younger is just as fascinating as his father, though entirely unique as a person--definitely no clone of his famous dad. I will listen to this audio book again, and with pleasure. The narration by Johnny Heller is very well done.
Did I like it? I was so impressed & inspired that I bought a copy of "John Quincy Adams" for my husband, both our sons and my 88 yr old father. This amazing American's life story reads like an exciting adventure novel - he was, as someone noted, a perfect blend of classic virtues, all at work for the good of his country. He had such courage & determination, that even when a mere child of 12, served as secretary for the American diplomat to Russia!! Always striving to learn more in an effort to better serve, promote & protect the America he loved! Great book! Incredible story!!
John Quincy Adams was one of the most fascinating men in the history of the United States. Born the son of John and Abigail Adams he served his nation over a longer period and in more positions that probably anyone else in history. As a young man he watched from a distance as the British and Americans fought around Boston in the opened fights of the War of Independence. He traveled with his father to France as his father worked with Benjamin Franklin at the court of Versailles. At the age of fourteen he traveled as secretary and interpreter to Frances Dana, the first American ambassador to Russia. After returning to France he became a sort of adopted nephew to his father's close friend Thomas Jefferson.
After graduating from Harvard at the age of 20 he studied law. At the age of 26 George Washington appointed him ambassador to the Netherlands. Three years later at Washington's insistence he was appointed the first Ambassador to Prussia. After Jefferson beat his father in a contentious election Adams resigned and returned him. He served as a Senator from Massachusetts, then as the Ambassador to Russia, then as Ambassador to England. During this time he helped to negotiate the Treaty of Ghent that ended the War of 1812. He serves as James Monroe's Secretary of State and was elected to the Presidency. After losing the next election, Adams quite naturally thought he career over. Two year later he was elected to the US House of Representatives and served as a Congressman for the next fifteen years.
During his time in the House he fought hard to bring down the gag rule that prevented discussion of the slavery issue. He represented the Amistad prisoners. He also fought hard for internal improvements. Adams was an amazing man and has been largely neglected by history. He deserves to be studied. This accessible biography from Harlow Giles Unger is a great place to start learning about this truly great American.
I am an avid eclectic reader.
Harlow Giles Unger’s new biography of John Quincy Adams is well-written and superbly researched. The book is fast paced and supremely readable while not missing any aspect of JQA’s life. Unger seamlessly weaves the words of Adams into his narrative and Unger’s always solid research augments the story that it seems like JQA helps tell. John Quincy Adams wrote in a diary daily from age 10 to death, this along with the massive correspondence between JQA and his parents John and Abigail Adams, together with the massive amount of reports JQA submitted during his career, Unger put it all together into a fascinating biography. There is so much information in this book it is hard to even highlight the information.
John and Abigail Adams saw to the education of their first born son and by the time he was ten years old he was fluent in Latin and Greek. He was already well read in Shakespeare and other leading literature of his day. He accompanied his father to Europe when he was 12 years old and spent his teenage years in Europe meeting all the key political, military, authors, philosophers’ people of the day. He became fluent in Greek, Latin, English, French, Dutch, Russian, German, Spanish, and Italian and learned some Swedish. JQA attended Leiden University in the Netherlands and when he returned to Boston he went to Harvard. He “read the law” with a prominent Boston attorney and was admitted to the Bar. JQA was American Ambassador to six European countries, negotiated the peace treaty that ended the War of 1812. Served eight years as Secretary of State, engineered the annexation of Florida, and wrote the core provision of the Monroe Doctrine warning European’s never again to try to colonize the Western World. He also wrote the Constitution of Massachusetts. John Quincy Adams is considered by scholars to be the best diplomat this country has had to date.
As an attorney JQA defended the African prisoners of the Spanish slave ship Amistad. JQA argued they had been kidnapped and had a legal right to defend themselves and attempt to escape from their kidnappers. Adams successfully defended the case before the Supreme Court. The only unsuccessful period in the long history of JAQ was his presidency. I had learned in school it was because he was unable to relate to the people because he was too educated. Unger points out that JQA angered Andrew Jackson because he though Adams cheated him out of the presidency. Jackson created a new political party called Democrats or Jacksonian Democrats. Unger shows how they deliberately shut the government down so Adams was unable to have bills passed or appointments made. The only major accomplishment was he almost cleared the federal debt.
JQA is the only former President that went on to serve in Congress. JQA belonged to no political party. He served 16 years as the representative from Massachusetts. When in Congress JQA defended Supreme Court Justice Samuel Chase in his impeachment trial. Chase was accused of sedition and treason (high crimes and misdemeanors). Adams argued that the charges brought against Chase were indictable criminal acts—not political statements. He said “This is a party prosecution”. Adams defense of Chase proved the earliest significant defense of the first amendment. John Quincy obtained an acquittal of Chase and prevented an American President (Jefferson) from criminalizing political dissent. JQA ensured the founding of the Smithsonian Institution, from an endowment from a British Lord. He protected the principal and the institution can use the interest. He spurred the construction of a net work of astronomical observatories across the nation. Adams risked death by championing abolition and emancipation as a congressman.
John Quince Adams married Louisa Catherine Johnson, the daughter of an American diplomat/merchant and an English mother. She was born in London. They were married at the church of “All Hallows by the tower” in London. Louisa is the only first lady not to be born in the United States. In 1878 John Quincy Adam’s youngest son, Charles Frances Adams built the first memorial presidential library in the U.S. to honor his father. The library is located in Quincy Ma.
On the personal side I noted JQA suffered from bouts of depression throughout his life. Louisa had many miscarriages and suffered from migraine headaches. I noted she had bouts of depression starting when they lived in the White House. Apparently alcoholism ran in the family from Abigail’s side of the family. JQA brother’s died of it as did one of his sons. One son “read the law” with Daniel Webster. One of the things I observed in the book was both John Q and Louisa were prodigious readers and preferred to stay home and read. I noticed Unger pointed out that reading was considered a method of education in those days. I found this to be a most enjoyable book I learned so much from it about Adams, his family and general history of the time. Unger is a noted historian and an excellent writer. Johnny Heller did a good job narrating the book.
John Q Adams was the last of a generation. I know he wasn't part of the founding generation but with the impact his parents and family friends like Jefferson left on him he may as well have been . He fought as a senator, diplomat, secretary of state, president, and member of the house of representatives for what he felt were the best national interest, largely regardless of party.
As for the book itself it was very uneven the author spent what seemed like large amounts of time describing how Adams would get somewhere and then just give very basic overview of what he did when there. The book seems to lack balance, the author seems to brush of criticism of Adams by simply saying but Adams did what he felt was right. this gives one a good look at one point of view but left me wondering what the other side thought, simply because they were dismissed in about one line. All in all the book is good but I take what was said with a large grain of salt.
The Narration of the book is okay, nothing to write home about. One thing that got to me was the pronunciation of some French words was awful. I realize being able to speak French my ear can pick these things up more easily but one would think given the role French played in the subject's life that more of an effort might have been made
I decided to use my time being laid up to get smarter! In 18 months I've listened to over 200 books, mostly history, literature & biography.
Biography is almost a religious experience for me. This one blew me away because John Quincy usually basks in his father's reflected glory. I started keeping track of his achievements and here are a few:
* Bunker Hill witness at age 7
* Multilingual diplomat
* Czar Alexander's favorite
* Secretary of State during War of 1812, Florida Annexation, Monroe Doctrine, and he preserved our border with Canada
* Resisted a political party affiliation
* 1st President to be photographed, to cut his hair short, and to wear his pants long
* Became Abolitionist as he matured, beginning with the Missouri Compromise
* Opposed Texas Annexation because of its slave status
* Lincoln used his words as the basis for the Emancipation Proclamation
* Amistad defense lawyer
* Predicted the Civil War
* Died on the floor of Congress
His "Lighthouses in the sky" interest lead to his endowment of astronomy
Helped protect the funds endowed for the Smithsonian
His massive diary, kept from age 11 on, is used as a first hand source for historians.
Some U.S. Presidents make much, much, better former presidents. Jimmy Carter, for one. I remember him being president, but all I remember about that was horrible inflation and boycotting the 1980 Olympics. As a former president, he is an adept and respected international negotiator who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. There's the 10th Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, William Howard Taft, who was instrumental in shaping the modern Court. He was also, against his desire, the 27th President. Add another to that list: John Quincy Adams, who was so politically ineffective in office that he spent hours every day horseback riding, just to kill time. Out of office, the 6th President changed history.
John Quincy was the oldest son of Founding Father and 2nd President, John Adams and his strong willed wife, Abigail Smith. As a teenager and young adult, John Quincy traveled extensively with his father, eventually speaking half a dozen languages fluently. He attended Harvard - after nearly being derailed by a petty administer who disliked the Adams family - and became a mediocre lawyer. He was rescued from an ignominious life negotiating contacts and litigating property lines by his father, followed by his mentor and friend, Thomas Jefferson. John Quincy, as Secretary of State to James Monroe, was the architect of the Monroe Doctrine.
After his ineffective presidency from 1825 to 1829, he brilliantly defended the 35 slaves of the Amistad who revolted. John Quincy's friends and neighbors elected him to Congress where he served successfully for 18 years. He was ardently and eloquently anti-slavery and helped lay the foundation for what became the Emancipation Proclamation.
Harlow Unger's "John Quincy Adams" (2012) is a nice follow up to to David McCullough's 2002 "John Adams." McCullough's book won the Pulitzer, but to be fair to Unger, John and Abigail Adams were prolific writers. John Quincy kept a journal for 68 tumultuous years, but his wife, Louisa Catherine Johnson Adams, was not the prolific correspondent Abigail was. I do plan to listen to more of Unger's books - he's written dozens of books and they look intriguing.
Johnny Heller narrates, and he is - as always - a kick. He did two recent non-fiction narrations I really enjoyed - Bill Wasik and Monica Murphy's "Rabid: A Cultural History of the World's Most Diabolical Virus" (2012); and the amusing "You Might be a Zombie and Other Bad News" (2011), which was written by an author that Audible has asked me not to disclose in this review.
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Book blogger at Bookwi.se
John Quincy Adams may have been one of the most prepared presidents in history, but he was not one of the great presidents in history.
Starting at 10 by accompanying his father on the initial diplomatic missions at the start of the Revolutionary war and then by fifteen being a full member of a diplomatic team apart from his father. Then later serving multiple terms as ambassador to a variety of European countries, and then a term as senator. After arguing before the Supreme Court on many influential cases he was nominated to the Supreme Court (he turned it down) and then served eight years as Secretary of State. By the time he was elected to be the sixth president of the US, there was no one that was more qualified.
Being qualified does not mean that the times will cooperate. John Quincy Adams did not get the most votes, Andrew Jackson did. But the vote was split between four candidates no one had a majority and the decision went to the House of Representatives. Henry Clay, with the lowest number of votes was not eligible to be considered. Clay strongly opposed Jackson and threw his votes behind Adams, giving him enough votes to win the presidency.
From the start there were complaints about how Adams won the presidency, although it was fully within the rules of the time. Adams, despite being a skilled foreign diplomat, seemed unable to be diplomatic within the US. He was marginalized by Congress and from the very beginning was unable to accomplish any of his priorities (infrastructure and educational development primarily). After four years (1824 to 1828) he was frustrated, his marriage was a mess, two of his sons, a brother and uncle were all alcoholics (and was carrying the slack) and he seems to have been depressed.
Still refusing to play the political game, he was elected to the House of Representatives after refusing to run. In spite of eschewing any political party, Adams was an influential, maybe one of the most influential members of the House at the time.
This was not an era of history that I am well versed on. Although this is a short biography, I learned a lot about both the era and the man. I had no idea that Texas left Mexico initially because of international agreements to ban slavery. The Texas residents from the United States were heavily bias toward slave ownership and broke away from Mexico over slavery. Both France and England initially pledged to help Spain fight Texas in order to end slavery, but other political consideration came into play.
Adams was also the preeminent opponent of slavery in the House during his term there (1830 to 1848). Adams repeatedly fought to bring slavery to the forefront of the political discussion, which brought about the Gag Rule which literally was created to keep anyone from mentioning slavery in the House. Adams was brought up for impeachment for repeatedly violating the Gag Rule but survived because of Freedom of Speech considerations.
Despite being the gadfly, he was respected for his honesty and his ability to get things done and during one particularly difficult time he was elected Speaker of the House in order to establish the rules and committees to get the House working. Once the House was working again, he resigned and returned to his role as gadfly.
Adams had a stroke in 1846, but was able to continue his congressional duties until 1848 when he had a cerebral hemorrhage while on the floor of the House and died.
For all of Adams’ political, legal and diplomatic skill he seemed unable to get past some of his notions about how politics was supposed to work (mostly held over from his father’s generation). Those old fashioned notions kept him from being able to accomplish more. That being said, what he did accomplish was incredibly impressive. Under Adams’ diplomatic work the US took its place as a full seat on the international stage. Adams was economically sophisticated and understood the role of transportation, education and commerce. Both positively and negatively Adams was able to create new understandings of the Constitution to justify the Louisiana Purchase, to excuse Andrew Jackson’s war crimes, freed the Amistad African slaves and prevented or slowed the expansion of slavery.
Historically, one of his real contributions was the more than 14,000 pages of diaries that started when he was ten years old and continued until his death.
Adams was clearly flawed but also was just plain unlucky in a number of ways. Timing seemed to always be a problem. His parents, as much as they loved him were not always helpful (as teen he was told by his father that if he did not become the President it was because he had not worked hard enough.) Adams was also repeatedly the target of charges of nepotism, even though he really was fully qualified to serve. The strain of alcoholism in the family continually plagued Adams and he ended up caring not only for the country throughout his career, but nieces, nephews, grandchildren and other relatives that were left widowed or orphaned.
It is hard not to draw parallels with both Carter and Obama. Adams was brilliant, but brilliance does not make a great president. The timing of the presidency matters and Adams was not president at a great time. The House was unmanageable because of political changes during the time of his presidency and while Adams was a member. This era was political mess. As bad as many think politics is now, it was worse prior to the Civil War.
This is not a long biography. There were several places where I wanted more detail. But on the whole the length was probably right for the subject. John Quincy Adams is interesting and you could do a long David McCullough length biography of him. But not every biography needs to be 900 pages long. In this case I really enjoyed 380 pages and probably would not have picked up a 900 page biography of John Quincy.
So maybe he was not the best of presidents. Still, his life in politics and his ethics are shinning examples of what was and should be the aspirations of anyone drawn to public life. Reading about his life gave me a new perspective and appreciation for our early American History, taught me much I had forgotten (or never learned ) in school. To those who think today's politics are a mess, this is proof that the only difference between then and now is the size of our government and effect apron the world. A fluid story, it never drags or gives too much uninteresting detail. One of the best books I've read/listened to all year!
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