Written with a view of highlighing his interest in and his ability as a writer of both prose and poetry and his passionate desire for a unified and thriving nation, Fred Kaplan’s newest book and newest treatment of the sixth President of the United States is, in my opinion, an honest, fair, and comprehensive treatment of John Quincy Adams.
Having read Marie Hecht’s 1972 biography, John Quincy Adams: A Personal History of An Independent Man, almost four and a half years ago, I was interested to compare, as best I could remember, her treatment with Kaplan’s treatment of JQA, John Quincy Adams:American Visionary (HarperCollins Publisher). What I find with Kaplan is a fuller and as already stated, comprehensive treatment of Adams apart from his Presidential legacy.
Of note to me is Kaplan’s ability to paint a strong emotional portrait of Adams who was in turn, a deeply grieved father-to-be whose wife Louisa had nine miscarriages and one stillborn child; a hopeful, but disappointed, and grief stricken father over two of his sons, one of whom committed suicide, who caused the family much embarrassment and pain; a devoted husband of over 50 years to Louisa whose health was chronically unstable; and an anxious man who wondered, throughout his life, if his work mattered.Yet Kaplan does a wonderful job of weaving in the constant thread of a firm believer in the Union and a passionate supporter of a strong and vital central government as a tool in developing a better educated and prosperous nation who was not above using his sharp mind and sharp tongue to advance his agenda. The result is a very human portrait of a man who served as chief US diplomat of a developing nation at an age thought unthinkable today, who served in both houses of Congress, was Secretary of State, and President.
I also found Kaplan’s study of Adams’ views of character and ethics fascinating. His detailing of his unrelenting work ethic, his catalog of Adams’ strong view of honor and teamwork that was often bruised and battered in the changing political climate of America’s first half-century, his long practice of journaling as well as reading, translating, and writing poetry, and noting his acceptance of Christianity but without the theological dogma that would place him at odds with much of at least Evangelical belief today, provided this reader with a portrait of a deeply personal, independent, well educated, and yet passionately committed public servant and person.
Another significant sketch is found in the transitional segments of life Adams experienced when he returned from his diplomatic duties and found America to have significantly changed in his absence. Of note in this regard was the change in both personal attitudes toward him, especially after his eight year absence during the first and second decades of the 1800’s, following his resignation as US Senator. Such passages creates a sketch of JQA as one who often seemed to be of both a recent past and a distant future at the same time and often at odds with the political status quo.
The result of this effort is however, a highly readable and very informative telling of Adams’ life and times. And it is this readability and informative nature which makes this book a very important addition to the every expanding bibliography of the American Presidency.
I rate this book an ‘outstanding’ read.
Note: I received an uncorrected proof of this book from the Amazon Vine review program in exchange for a review. I was not required to write a positive review.