"Penetrating, detailed, and very readable. . . . A splendid biography." --Wall Street Journal
Few figures in American history have held as many roles in public life as John Quincy Adams. The son of John Adams, he was a brilliant ambassador and secretary of state, a frustrated president, and a dedicated congressman who staunchly opposed slavery. In John Quincy Adams, scholar and journalist James Traub draws on Adams's diaries, letters, and writings to evoke his numerous achievements-and failures-in office. A man of unwavering moral convictions, Adams is the father of foreign policy "realism" and one of the first proponents of the "activist government." But John Quincy Adams is first and foremost the story of a brilliant, flinty, and unyielding man whose life exemplified admirable political courage.
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.