A patriot by birth, John Quincy Adams's destiny was foreordained. He was not only "The Greatest Traveler of His Age," but his country's most gifted linguist and most experienced diplomat. John Quincy's world encompassed the American Revolution, the War of 1812, and the early and late Napoleonic Age. As his diplomat father's adolescent clerk and secretary, he met everyone who was anyone in Europe, including America's own luminaries and founding fathers, Franklin and Jefferson. All this made coming back to America a great challenge. But though he was determined to make his own career he was soon embarked, at Washington's appointment, on his phenomenal work abroad, as well as on a deeply troubled though loving and enduring marriage. But through all the emotional turmoil, he dedicated his life to serving his country. At 50, he returned to America to serve as Secretary of State to President Monroe. He was inaugurated President in 1824, after which he served as a stirring defender of the slaves of the Amistad rebellion and as a member of the House of Representatives from 1831 until his death in 1848. In The Remarkable Education of John Quincy Adams, Phyllis Lee Levin provides the deeply researched and beautifully written definitive biography of one of the most fascinating and towering early Americans.
Few men in the nation's history achieved as much or brought to his many offices the capacity of mind of John Quincy Adams. His life and achievements are worth revisiting, and this smoothly-written book from Levin (Abigail Adams) gets us part way. It's a half-biography that abruptly stops in 1815, though why that year or before or later isn't entirely clear. Adams's formal education ended much earlier, and one's education, we like to think, continues through life in his case until his 1848 death. Also, while wisely using the expansive Adams family papers to bring her subject to life, Levin overlooks all but a very few books in the vast, serious literature about Adams, his times, and the context of the issues he addressed. The text is also clotted with unnecessary details, such as at what hour Adams arose and the Washington address at which he lodged before being sworn in as U.S. senator. Yet aside from these significant lapses, it's also balanced, compelling, and wise. Levin brings Louisa Catherine Adams, Adams's troubled wife, into the center of the picture, where she belongs, and the author is shrewd about family dynamics. A solid if flawed work.