John Quincy Adams: American Visionary

John Quincy Adams: American Visionary

3.8 13
by Fred Kaplan

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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

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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Kaplan draws on a trove of unpublished archival material to trace Adams's evolution from his childhood during the Revolutionary War to his brilliant years as Secretary of State to his time in the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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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Kaplan (Distinguished Professor Emeritus, English, Queens Coll. & CUNY Graduate Ctr.; Lincoln: The Biography of a Writer) reconsiders John Quincy Adams (JQA), secretary of state, academic, attorney (e.g., the Amistad case), one-term president (1825–29), and later an outspoken member of Congress. Using Adams's voluminous diary, correspondence, and writings (including poetry), Kaplan contends that JQA should be remembered for the totality of his life and that he possibly influenced several succeeding presidents. According to Kaplan, JQA anticipated: the abolition of slavery; a national transportation infrastructure; government-funded science; land-grant colleges; U.S. involvement with Latin America; a Panama canal; and an active postpresidency. Multilingual and well informed, he supported both increased individual liberty and the economically stimulative role of the national government. Kaplan relays a great deal about Adams's relationships with his political opponents; his parents, Abigail and John; his wife, Louisa; and his often troubled children, although perhaps too much about their and others' illnesses. VERDICT Aiming to be comprehensive, Kaplan reveals details that scholars will appreciate but that may turn away general readers who might find the briefer, arguably sprightlier, biographies by Robert Remini or Paul Nagel more appealing. However, academics will savor Kaplan's methodical and meticulous study. [See Prepub Alert, 11/3/13.]—Frederick J. Augustyn Jr., Lib. of Congress, Washington, DC
The New York Times Book Review - Robert W. Merry
…Kaplan has produced a full-length narrative of this remarkable life, rendered in lucid and loving prose. Adams emerges from these pages as a man driven to prove his worth to the world and history, never quite sure he could measure up to his own standards but utterly confident of his values and principles…Adams's political fate suggests he was not a man of his time. But Kaplan rightly portrays him as a man ahead of his time, a statesman whose views and perceptions eventually would seep into the national consciousness and guide the nation in important ways…this is a valuable book about an important American figure whose persistent high dudgeon may have lessened his capacity to play the conventional political game of his time but ultimately rendered him a formidable personage of American political philosophy.
Publishers Weekly
Widely considered the nation’s greatest secretary of state and its most experienced diplomat, Adams was a member of the House and Senate, President for one term, and one of only two chief executives to return to Congress (the other being Andrew Johnson). Kaplan—an experienced biographer of Carlyle, Dickens, Vidal, Twain, and Lincoln—follows a long line of Adams biographers trying to capture this complex, difficult, multifaceted figure , and he does well enough: while there’s not much new here, Kaplan, unlike most previous Adams biographers, devotes much attention to the man’s private life and interests, especially to his poetry, which Adams wrote all his life and to which Kaplan brings unique attention. But what makes Adams of major historical importance remains his unprecedented experience as an American in Europe, his co-authorship of the Monroe Doctrine, and his brilliant late-life battle in the House against slavery. A full-life biography such as this should give those achievements full prominence, something that is lacking here. That said, Kaplan’s work is an estimable study of a significant American life and very much up to the level of his earlier books. (May)
Robert W. Merry
“Kaplan has produced a full-length narrative of this remarkable life, rendered in lucid and loving prose. . . . Kaplan rightly portrays Adams as a man ahead of his time. . . . A valuable book about an important American figure.”
Carol Berkin
“There is much to praise in this extensively researched book, which is certainly one of the finest biographies of a sadly underrated man. . . . These are the marks of a master historian and biographer.”
Susan Dunn
“An engaging, well-crafted, and deeply researched biography that puts particular emphasis on John Quincy’s rich life of the mind.”
The Boston Globe
“In undertaking John Quincy Adams, Fred Kaplan. . . clearly is trying to do for the son what David McCullough did for the father. . . . It was a notable life, marked now by a notable biography.”
The Christian Science Monitor
John Quincy Adams should be required reading inside the Beltway. . . . Kaplan has penned a richly detailed canticle to his subject. . . . Kaplan’s narrative is both riveting and brimming with telling details.”
The Wall Street Journal
“Well-researched and well-written. . . . An admiring and admirable account.”
Annette Gordon-Reed
“Insightful and engrossing. . . . As Kaplan makes plain in his own clear and finely chiseled prose, John Quincy Adams was, at his core, a writer. . . . A fine biography.”
Louis P. Masur
“An exemplary portrait. . . . Kaplan is accomplished at the art of biography.”
The Washingtonian
“Beautifully researched and written. . . . Biography fans, don’t miss this one.”
The Washington Times
“As well-written, comprehensive, and satisfying account of Adams’s personal life and career as we have seen in print.”
Kirkus Reviews
★ 2014-02-26
In this elegant study, Kaplan (Emeritus, English/Queens Coll.; Lincoln: The Biography of a Writer, 2008, etc.) portrays our sixth president as a deeply literary man, devout husband, orator, diplomat and teacher who had grand plans for the country's future, including the building of national infrastructure and the abolition of slavery. Indeed, John Quincy Adams (1767–1848) was concerned about America's loss of innocence in its rapid expansion and growing distance from its foundational ideals. A prodigious, gifted writer, he worried about "the internal health of the nation," with the squabbling between the Republicans and Federalists during the contested presidential elections, the addition of slave states to the union and the War of 1812, which had revealed the country's evolution into "a parcel of petty tribes at perpetual war with one another." Like his father, Quincy Adams was Harvard-educated, a lawyer and inculcated to answering the call of his country, despite his own wishes. For example, he was appointed to diplomatic posts (his first training being next to his father in Paris from the age of 10) at The Hague and St. Petersburg. Yet the wandering life suited this restless intellect, and he even rejected a Supreme Court nomination since he fashioned himself a man of action and, moreover, was the only ex-president to serve in Congress (from his home state of Massachusetts). A loyal, loving husband to foreign-born, French-speaking Louisa, he lost all but one son during his lifetime. He was also tainted by the hint of a "corrupt bargain" in trading electoral votes for elevating Henry Clay to secretary of state, and he was hounded out of the presidency by his political opponents led by Andrew Jackson. However, his argument in defense of the Amistad prisoners before the Supreme Court in 1841 was a powerful plea for the cause of justice. Kaplan ably navigates his subject's life, showing us "a president about whom most Americans know very little." A lofty work that may propel readers back to Quincy Adams' own ardent writings.

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