John Quincy Adams: A Public Life, a Private Lifeby Paul C. Nagel
Pub. Date: 04/28/1999
John Quincy Adams was raised, educated, and groomed to be President, following in the footsteps of his father, John. At fourteen he was secretary to the Minister to Russia and, later, was himself Minister to the Netherlands and Prussia. He was U.S. Senator, Secretary of State, and then President for one ill-fated term. His private life showed a parallel descent.
John Quincy Adams was raised, educated, and groomed to be President, following in the footsteps of his father, John. At fourteen he was secretary to the Minister to Russia and, later, was himself Minister to the Netherlands and Prussia. He was U.S. Senator, Secretary of State, and then President for one ill-fated term. His private life showed a parallel descent. He was a poet, writer, critic, and Professor of Oratory at Harvard. He married a talented and engaging Southerner, but two of his three sons were disappointments. This polymath and troubled man, caught up in both a democratic age not to his understanding and the furies of passion, was an American lion in winter.
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Table of Contents
BOOK ONE: FACING EXPECTATIONS, 1767-1794
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Although probably the most prepared man in history to become president, JQA's presidency is viewed by most historians as an abysmal failure. However, what does get lost in history is the success JQA found in other roles of government. He was well traveled by the time he reached his teen years. He was highly intelligent. Served admirably as diplomat and Secretary of State. Eventually returned to the House after his presidency. Using JQA's diaries as his primary source, Nagel reveals the complexity of the man. Nagel spends most of his time analyzing the psyche of JQA, painting him as a perfectionist whose constant internal warfare over every decision prevents JQA from fulfilling a destiny that seems obvious. In doing so, Nagel paints a very different picture of Abigail Adams than the one generally propagated. Nagel traces many of JQA's faults to the relationship with his mother. However, JQA is definitely his father's son. The title promises a view of the public and private life. However, I found the slant more heavily on the private life. It is often confounding to consider how Nagel determined which items to delve. For instance, Nagel spends an inordinate amount of time on JQA's report on measures and weights but only gives glancing details to his influence in the Monroe Doctrine or founding of the Smithsonian Institutes. Since the primary source was the diaries of JQA, could it be that it was dictated by the amount of time spent within those diaries on a particular subject? We don't know because Nagle uses absolutely no footnotes. Would I recommend the book? It depends. If you are much more interested in the private life and enjoy a psychological study I would. If you are trying to gain an understanding of JQA's place in histroy probably not.
I understand that John Quincy Adams was not an easy man to get along with. He apparently was a perfectionist, and was not soft when correcting others. I also understand he was a very intelligent man, with a great education. But what i like about him is that he was the right man, in the right place. He is a much overlooked Founding Father on the racial equity front. This particular biography is easy to read and well documented.
A great telling of the life of one of the great Americans. Mr. Nagel does a wonderful job of incorporating JQA's diary into the story of America in the late 18th and first half of the 19th centuries.
"John Quincy Adams: A Public Life, A Private Life" by Paul C. Nagel is a biography of the sixth president of these United States. JQA, as he referred to himself to be distinguished from his prominent father, was a melancholy politician who would have rather been a man of letters, than the lawyer / diplomat / politician he turned out to be. The book is based mostly on JQA's diary which spanned an amazing seven decades - arguably the "most valuable historical and personal journal kept by any prominent American". The book is divided into five parts which I cannot expand on due to the software character limitation: Facing Expectations (1767- 1794) Discouraging Choices (1794 -1805) Cautious Hopes (1805 - 1817) Faltering Ideals (1817-1829) Astonishing Results (1829 - 1848) Astonishing Results (1829 - 1848) A tough time for JQA who also lost his sons George and John who battled with alcoholism. At that time it was expected of JQA to support their wives and children as well as his own. However, as he is getting older, JQA becomes a hero, celebrated for the same things the politicians hated him - his individualism, independence and refusal to vote on party lines. As much as JQA is celebrated in the North, the notoriety he brings upon himself in the South for his abolitionist views and his defense of the slaves on the ship "Amistad" make him a household name until his death. As the author mentions in the preface, this book is more of a character study of a person thought to be an elitist and out of touch, than a historical biography. The four years of JQA's presidency get a mere chapter, but as noted, many of JQA's accomplishments were not done in his own presidency, but rather as an ambassador or as a high level cabinet official. Nagel's ability to understand several sides of this talented man, who is tormented by his own perfectionist demons as well as the loving grandfather and a hard headed legislature, is a masterful accomplishment for any historian. The book is written from JQA's point of view, for example the treatment of his mother, Abigail Adams, is much harsher as a domineering pushy mother, than David McCullough which treats her as a strong woman equal to her man in his excellent book "John Adams" . Peppered with humor, some supplied by JQA, some by the author but mostly by both "If the little girls had a good a time at the circus as their grandfather evidently had, the outing was a rousing success, the book lets us go inside the head of a man who rarely showed this side in public". I especially enjoyed the recipe for lemonade "add to a gallon of water a bottle of Jamaica rum, a bottle of cognac, a bottle of champagne, and a pound of sugar. As a minor detail, the recipe suggested including a pint of lemon juice." "John Quincy Adams" is an amazing book about one of American's most fascinating people. The book is full of information, told in a readable narrative, chronological style which is easy to follow but because it's so dense, a slow read but an interesting one. For more book reviews please visit ManOfLaBook dot com
I thoroughly enjoyed this book! The author gave a very detailed and masterfully written history of the life of JQA. And, although he was not one of our greatest presidents, the author did a wonderful job of making his life interesting and compelling from beginning to end.
I fould the book to be more enlightening than I thought it could be. I find JQA to be a person I would love to set with and talk for as long as our interests matched. The book seems to be well done, and gives a look at the home life of early New England. The book informs those that are curious of the inside to politics of the time.