John Quincy Adams The American Presidents Series: The 6th President, 1825-1829

The American Presidents

Robert V. Remini; Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., General Editor

Times Books




192 Pages



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Noted presidential scholar Remini offers a fascinating portrait of a brilliant and complex man, and of a truly influential American life. Heavy were the burdens of John Quincy Adams' upbringing. Son of the forbidding John Adams and the domineering Abigail, puritanical New Englanders both, he was driven from the earliest age to a life of faith, observance, and public distinction—a life that was considered to be his birthright, and his obligation. While his natural tendencies were toward a contemplative life filled with art and literature, his path was pre-destined—the law, and then public service. It is no wonder that later, as a grown man, accomplished and admired, he was spoken of as cold and austere, even misanthropic.

Adams' career suffered little from his demeanor. A learned and well-traveled intellectual as well as a shrewd negotiator, Adams rose through the diplomatic ranks, eventually serving as a dynamic and influential secretary of state under President James Monroe. In this role, he helped solidify many basic cornerstones of American foreign policy, including the Monroe Doctrine. The greatest triumph of this period was undoubtedly his negotiation of the Transcontinental Treaty, through which Spain acknowledged Florida to be a part of the United States.

Eventually, Adams arrived in the White House, chosen by the House of Representatives after an inconclusive election against Andrew Jackson. His administration, however, had less of a long-term impact than much of Adams pre- and post-presidential endeavors. He often failed to mesh with the ethos of his times, pushing unsuccessfully, for example, for a strong, consolidated national government. After leaving office, Adams served nine consecutive terms in the House, earning the nickname "Old Man Eloquent" for his passionate anti-slavery oratory.


Praise for John Quincy Adams

"A dedicated expansionist and defender of human rights, John Quincy Adams was the first President to advance a wide-ranging program of national development by which the United States could ultimately achieve world power and increase the happiness and prosperity of the American people. It is the responsibility of government, he insisted, to improve the conditions of life for those who are subject to its authority; otherwise government can never accomplish its lawful ends. This bold assertion of what the government could and should do always fascinated me, particularly when so many citizens at the time feared a strong, activist government. Although his presidency failed to fulfill his hopes and goals, he set a standard by which all succeeding administrations can be and, I think, should be judged."—Robert V. Remini on John Quincy Adams

"Capable and thoughtful . . . Does Adams justice and well serves to acquaint readers with a neglected leader."—Kirkus Reviews

"The latest gem in Holt's American Presidents series is written by a widely acclaimed specialist in early-nineteenth-century American history and the author of such well-received biographies as Henry Clay: Statesman for the Union. His judicious, eloquent survey of the sixth president's life and career intends not to proffer new and explosive ideas but to fashion recent scholarship into a highly readable overview for the general reader. John Quincy was the son, of course, of the second president, and he benefited from his father's political and diplomatic career, which exposed him to the wider world beyond his native Massachusetts. (But John Quincy could never live up to the unrealistic standards imposed by his controlling mother, Abigail.) Mature for his age, young John Quincy entered into the diplomatic corps, and eventually President Monroe appointed him secretary of state, the greatest figure to occupy that office, so Remini avers. As president, though, John Quincy was a disaster. He was unable to develop political adroitness, always 'exud[ing] the air of a scholar, not a leader.' Nonetheless, Remini concludes that despite John Quincy's lack of success as president, 'everything else in his public life added distinction to [America's] illustrious history.'"—Brad Hooper, Booklist (starred review)

"Remini, the author of many books on Andrew Jackson, Henry Clay, and the politics of the 1820s and 1830s, here offers a brief biography of the sixth president of the United States as part of the American Presidents series edited by Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. John Quincy Adams's four-year presidency was the least satisfying period in a long public career. He served as diplomat and Secretary of State prior to his election and became the only former president to sit in the House of Representatives, where he remained for 17 years during the increasingly stormy sectional debate. Remini focuses on important incidents throughout Adams's life, demonstrating that he was not the failure he would have been if judged only by his presidential years . . . Though the book is brief, in keeping with the series, Remini still manages to stay true to his scholarly credentials . . . Some endnotes are included that do not interrupt the flow of each chapter. Recommended."—Charles K. Piehl, Minnesota State University, Mankato, Library Journal

"John and Abigail Adams's son was arguably the most brilliant man ever to occupy the White House. He was also probably the least temperamentally fit to do so. Nevertheless, as this straightforward biography reminds us, John Quincy Adams (1767-1848) led one of the longest, most illustrious and most consequential public careers in the nation's history . . . In this addition to a series on the presidents edited by Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., Remini, a National Book Award winner, paints an admiring portrait of an extraordinary man. The author concentrates on Adams's 50-year public career, much of it spent abroad. Remini is surely justified in holding Adams out as the nation's greatest secretary of state, largely responsible for what we know as the Monroe Doctrine. Although Adams as president was out of touch with most of his fellow citizens, it's likely that no one could have succeeded in the White House given the political confusion of those years. Adams's post-White House years (he was one of only two ex-presidents to return to Congress) yielded some of his life's greatest triumphs. He laid the basis for the Free Soil movement that eventually helped defeat slavery, protected the bequest that gave us the Smithsonian Institution and, as many readers will know from the film, defended the Amistad slaves. No one who reads this fine, short study will fail to place Adams in the pantheon of Great Neglected Americans which is just what Remini hopes to achieve and does."—Publishers Weekly

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  • John Quincy Adams by Robert V. Remini--Audiobook Excerpt

    Listen to this audiobook excerpt from Robert V. Remini's biography John Quincy Adams, part of The American Presidents Series. Chosen by the House of Representatives after an inconclusive election against Andrew Jackson, John Quincy Adams often failed to mesh with the ethos of his era, pushing unsuccessfully for a strong, consolidated national government. Historian Robert V.



  • Robert V. Remini; Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., General Editor

  • Robert V. Remini is Professor Emeritus of History and the Humanities at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Called the foremost Jacksonian scholar of our time by The New York Times, he is the recipient of a National Book Award. His most recent book is Andrew Jackson and His Indian Wars.

    Series editor Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. is arguably the preeminent historian of our time. For more than half a century, he has been a cornerstone figure in the intellectual life of the nation and a fixture on the political scene. He served as a special assistant to John F. Kennedy; won two Pulitzer Prizes for The Age of Jackson and A Thousand Days; and in 1998 received the National Humanities Medal. He published the first volume of his autobiography, A Life in the Twentieth Century, in 2000.

  • Robert V. Remini
  • Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. Dominique Nabokov