Fred Kaplan, the acclaimed, award-winning author of Lincoln, returns with John Quincy Adams, an illuminating biography of one of the most overlooked presidents in American history a leader of sweeping perspective whose progressive values helped shape the course of the nation. In this fresh and lively biography rich in literary analysis and new historical detail, Fred Kaplan brings into focus the dramatic life of John Quincy Adams the little known and much misunderstood sixth president of the United States and the first son ...
Fred Kaplan, the acclaimed, award-winning author of Lincoln, returns with John Quincy Adams, an illuminating biography of one of the most overlooked presidents in American history a leader of sweeping perspective whose progressive values helped shape the course of the nation. In this fresh and lively biography rich in literary analysis and new historical detail, Fred Kaplan brings into focus the dramatic life of John Quincy Adams the little known and much misunderstood sixth president of the United States and the first son of John and Abigail Adams and persuasively demonstrates how Adams's inspiring, progressive vision guided his life and helped shape the course of America. Kaplan draws on a trove of unpublished archival material to trace Adams's evolution from his childhood during the Revolutionary War to his brilliant years as Secretary of State to his time in the White House and beyond. He examines Adams's myriad sides: the public and private man, the statesman and writer, the wise thinker and passionate advocate, the leading abolitionist and fervent federalist who believed strongly in both individual liberty and the government's role as an engine of progress and prosperity. In these ways and in his energy, empathy, sharp intellect, and powerful gift with words both spoken and written he was a predecessor of Lincoln and, later, FDR and Obama. Indeed, this sweeping biography makes clear how Adams's forward-thinking values, his definition of leadership, and his vision for the nation's future is as much about twenty-first century America as it is about Adams's own time. Meticulously researched and masterfully written, John Quincy Adams paints a rich portrait of this brilliant leader and his significance to the nation and our own lives."
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"John Quincy Adams: American Visionary" by Fred Kaplan is an important new biography of the personal and public life of John Quincy Adams (1767 -- 1848) together with a study of American history during John Quincy Adams' long life. Kaplan is distinguished professor emeritus of English at Queens College and the Graduate Center of the City of New York. He has written biographies of Lincoln, Thomas Carlyle, Henry James, and Dickens, among other books. Lengthy and detailed, his biography of John Quincy Adams (JQA) makes for slow, difficult reading. The book amply rewards the effort and the time it requires.
Kaplan's biography shows the great influence of Daniel Walker Howe's recent history of the United States from 1815 -- 1848 included in the Oxford History of the United States: "What Hath God Wrought" What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815-1848 (Oxford History of the United States) Howe takes issue with the view that sees Jacksonian Democracy as central to the transformation of American life during this time. He praises instead Jackson's opponents for their insistence on the qualitative rather than the quantitative change of American life, including their emphasis on nationalism, internal improvements, education, and moral uplift. John Quincy Adams emerges as the representative figure of American life in Howe's book. He dedicates his history to JQA's memory. Kaplan expands many of the themes of Howe's history in his biography of JQA.
In many ways, JQA's values and character were throw-backs to an earlier time. Yet, these values with their sources in the past helped create a forward-looking leader. Thus, "American Visionary" offers a portrayal of a great American life devoted to the development of American nationalism and unity. The book portrays a leader who, with his faults, tried to put the good of the nation above short-term, partisan politics. JQA tried to live morally and struggled with his conscience in both his public and private life. JQA was many years ahead of his time in advocating national programs of public works, improvements, and education. JQA brought broadly idealistic qualities to American life, tempered by realism. In developing JQAs' goals, accomplishments, and character, Kaplan's book shows why JQA deserves to be considered an "American Visionary".
From 1825 --- 1829, JQA served a single term as the sixth president. Historians have generally not been kind to JQA's presidency. JQA also had an extraordinary career as a diplomat, Senator, Secretary of State and Congressman from Massachusetts. JQA was born before the American Revolution and he lived through the War with Mexico. Kaplan works hard to trace the continuity in JQA's thought and actions during this extended and varied period of American history.
Earlier studies of JQA tended to concentrate either on his personal or on his public life while Kaplan offers full discussion of both. The book has a cluttered feel at times and it tends to underplay JQA's flaws. Kaplan emphasizes the close relationship between JQA and his famous father, John Adams, the second president, and his almost equally well-known mother, Abigail, while resisting the temptation of psychological reductionism. He discusses an early unhappy love affair of JQA followed by a lengthy marriage to Louise Johnson which brought love together with many personal tragedies. Kaplan lays great emphasis on JQA's literary activities. For virtually his entire life, JQA kept a diary which presents a detailed reflective account of his thoughts, actions, and history. Kaplan quotes extensively from the diary and from JQA's essays, speeches, and other prose writings, many of which were published during his lifetime but are not readily accessible today. Most intruigingly, Kaplan devotes much attention to JQA's poetry which he wrote throughout his life. His poetry was heavily influenced by classical and by 18th Century styles rather than by 19th Century romanticism. A volume of JQA's poems was published in a commemorative edition after his death. The poems offer insight into his most personal religious and social visions. Kaplan stresses throughout JQA's' religious beliefs and religious growth, centering upon an ethical Christianity, his passion for reading and study, and his lifelong interest in the arts, sciences, and developing technology.
Kaplan shows JQA's achievements as a diplomat. He held ministerial appointments to Russia, the Netherlands, and Britain, at different times and spent much of his early life outside the boundaries of the United States. JQA had the led in the negotiating team which secured peace on favorable terms from Britain at the Treaty of Ghent, ending the War of 1812. For eight years, JQA served as Secretary of State under President James Monroe. His tenure is universally regarded as one of the best in this position. Among many other accomplishments, JQA formulated and persuaded Monroe to accept the foreign affairs policy known as the Monroe doctrine.
Kaplan tries to be positive about Adams' term as president. The election was hotly contested and decided by a vote in the House after JQA received a minority of the popular vote. JQA's intentions were of the highest. He worked towards national unity against partisanship, for a strong system of internal improvements, for public education, and financial soundness. He tended to be stubborn. His status as a minority president, and the allegations of a "corrupt bargain" under which Henry Clay, an unsuccessful presidential candidate in the election, became Secretary of State, doomed JQA's presidency from the outset. The chapter on JQA's presidency is among the shortest in Kaplan's book.
Late in his life, JQA served for 17 years as Congressman from Massachusetts, the only president to serve in Congress following his tenure as chief executive. He became increasingly concerned with slavery and with what he foretold as its divisive effect on Union. He became the chief opponent of the so-called "gag rule" in the House and on two occasions narrowly escaped censure. During this time JQA also served as counsel in what became a famous Supreme Court case involving escaped slaves on a Spanish ship known as the Amistad, the subject of a movie some years ago. In his final years, JQA spoke out vigorously against what he saw as the illegal and unjust War with Mexico.
Of the wealth of information in this book, I most enjoyed the many discussions of JQAs' political and religious thinking and of his writings. Early in the book, Kaplan quotes JQA: "Literature has been the charm of my life and could I have carved out my own fortunes, to literature would my whole life have been devoted. I have been a lawyer for bread, and a Statesman at the call of my Country." Kaplan tells an inspiring story of an American who deserves to be better known both for his reverence for the past and for what Kaplan describes as JQAs' "visionary" look towards the future. In difficult times, the book may help readers rethink America and its promise.
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