Monday, March 22, 2010

John Quincy Adams by Robert Remini

I just finished this biography of JQA from the American Presidents' Series. Overall, I was pleased with the book. It is a good political biography of JQA and definitely reinforced what I already knew as well as added some new information (I actually hadn't know that much about JQA and Native American policy). The overall picture you get is that JQA was a brillant man with absolutely no people skills (something I knew). He really was his own worst enemy (although he'd argue that was Andrew Jackson!). The funny thing is that if you took JQA's life, without the presidency, he was an awesome statesmen. He was a fabulous Secretary of State and a great Congressman. He was a rotten president! Now, some of that was Jackson's doing, but let's face it, Adams could have done more to combat that, had he been willing to. For instance, he was totally against removing someone for political reasons. While I applaud that committment to merit first, I also realize that it hampered his political situation. He was also ahead of his time on much of the legistlation he was so keen on - universities and internal developments [He laters gets to be on the committee that first decides with to the donation of James Smithson, though!]. Remini does a good job of showing what Adams was trying to do (most of which was good), but how he was derailed and he definitely isn't shy about making it clear Adams didn't help his own situation.

Remini does a good job of talking about Adams' career before the White House as well as in the White House. He covers the well known topics as well as some of the lesser known ones. I also really enjoyed the chapter he spends on Adams' career after the White House and his continuing dedication to making a difference. It was here he finally got the respect, and even popularity, he wanted.

One thing is clear - Remini does not like Abigail Adams. He is positively vicious on the subject of her parenting. I'm not a big fan of ripping on other people's parenting style, in general, so this bothered me (I also do like Abigail Adams). He also admits that John Adams wasn't that much better, but you can tell it is Abigail he reserves most of the blame for. He does admit John Quincy Adams was also a terrible father, at least, but brings it back to the fact that he wanted his sons raised like he was (so again blaming Abigail). Now I'm not saying Abigail didn't nag (she did), but the Adams family also had problems with alcholism and she knew that - while maybe she didn't make all the right decisions (it worked for JQA in the end, but not for all the others), but she was trying to fix a problem she knew could be there. She was also parenting via distance for much of his life. So while I don't excuse all her comments (and some weren't in the best of taste), I also don't fault her for what she was trying to do. Maybe it is the parent in me, but I don't like to see someone else's parenting being taken apart.

I also wish Remini would have talked more about Louisa Adams. I realize this is a political biography, but I would have liked to see more mention of her duties in the White House and as Adams' politcal hostess throughout their life.

My one other "complaint" is more directed at the series/publisher. I WANT FULL FOOTNOTES (or endotes...I'll be reasonable)! I can't stand to have a direct quote and no specific source to go read the rest of it! I realize that often this isn't an author decision, but it is something that drives me batty on any academic work!

My overall recommendation is that this is a good book and well worth the time to read. Hopefully, you will enjoy it as well.


Paul said...

I love John Q. Adams and think he's my favorite president just for the man he was before and after the presidency.

He spoke 6 languages and wrote scholarly works on Astronomy. The guy was so politically devoted to destroying his political career (or so he'd have us believe) that he was known as Macbeth and referred to his own supporters political rallies as 'mobs', so it's no wonder he's not favored by history.

How can you not love someone like that?!

Jennie W said...

I don't know - I rather pity Louisa for having to live with him.:)

Talking about refusing to help himself - he spoke German as one of those languages, yet refused to go speak to the German farmers, in their own language, for a political speech when it was suggested! He absolutely refused to help his own career along.

Unknown said...

Perhaps no one was better trained and experienced for the presidency.

Artist and historian George Stuart has created Historical Figures of Abigail, John and John Quincy Adams and a lot of their compatriots.

Leroy Becker
Executive Director
Historical Figures Foundation