In John Quincy Adams, scholar and journalist James Traub draws on Adams' diary, letters, and writings to evoke a diplomat and president whose ideas remain with us today. Adams was a fierce nationalist who, as secretary of state, championed the idea of American expansion. Yet, at the same time he warned against moralistic and militaristic policies abroad--a chastening wisdom that makes him the father of what we now call "realism" in foreign policy. As president, he was a bold proponent of the idea of activist government later brought to fruition by Abraham Lincoln and others.
Adams' numerous achievements--and equally numerous failures--stand as testaments to his unwavering moral convictions. A man who refused to take refuge in the politically prudent course of action, Adams was repudiated by his own Federalist party and, as president, by the nation that voted him out of office. And yet, in the final decade of his life, Adams regained the country's regard, and even reverence, for as a congressman he often stood alone against the forces of slavery, twice beating back motions of censure. John Quincy Adams tells the story of this brilliant, flinty, and unyielding man whose life exemplified political courage--a life against which each of us might measure our own.
- ISBN-13: 9780465028276
- ISBN-10: 0465028276
- Publisher: Basic Books
- Publish Date: March 2016
- Page Count: 640
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2016-02-01
- Reviewer: Staff
Foreign policy specialist Traub (The Freedom Agenda) synthesizes the extensive writings of John Quincy Adams (1767–1848) alongside a broad spectrum of primary and published sources in this essential biography of a complex man. “Guarded and taciturn,” Adams walked his own path, and despite his long and productive career as a statesman, he remains relatively obscure. Traub sees him as a “coherent and consistent thinker” who regarded America as the “greatest experiment in government the world had ever known.” Traub’s Adams is also “astringently realistic..., never confusing what he wished to be true with what he believed to be true.” As a problem solver, he had few equals. As a diplomat, he played a central role in negotiating the treaty that ended the War of 1812. As secretary of state, he gave the Monroe Doctrine its insistence that “American policy serve American interests.” Traub quotes British historian George Dangerfield, who noted that as president, Adams’s belief in a firm, active government made him a “great man in the wrong place, at the wrong time.” But in his 17 subsequent years in the House of Representatives, Adams became the foremost—and cleverest—Congressional opponent of the “slavocracy.” Traub shows that without imperiling national unity, Adams’s persistent, perspicacious opposition to slavery “shattered the overweening confidence of the South” and confirmed his place in America’s history. Agent: Andrew Wylie, Wylie Agency. (Apr.)