Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Presidential Biography: J.Q. Adams

Photo of John Quincy Adams

I recently finished John Quincy Adams A Public Life, A Private Live by Paul Nagel.  I don't recall enjoying a presidential biography as much as this one.  Mr. Nagel wrote a compelling account of the remarkable life of a remarkable American.

I don't want to detract from Mr. Nagel's writing, but I imagine a biography of John Quincy Adams would not be the most difficult one to write.  In the family tradition, he was a prolific writer, keeping a journal consistently from boyhood until death.  Living across the Atlantic from the ever-flowing pens of John and Abigail further contributed to the body of first-hand records of his life.  While there must be plenty of written documentation available, Mr. Nagel did a fine job of distilling the information into a highly readable, not-too-detailed account.

One thing I've enjoyed about reading these presidential biographies back-to-back is that it has allowed me to see how the lives of the founding fathers and mothers overlapped.  Each biography exposes a new facet of the lives of these men and women.  This particular biography was unique in its exploration of the conflicted relationship between JQA and his mother.  It is the first time I've read anything that put Abigail in a negative light.  I came to understand that the pressure put on JQA from an early age left him inwardly frustrated, a man of science and letters who felt compelled to make a mark on the world.   As a result, despite his every natural inclination, he entered the world of politics.  It was a world for which he was not initially well-suited despite ideal education and experience.  After his presidency, which was a failure, he finally hit his political stride as a vocal and tireless (and cantankerous) opponent of slavery in the House of Representatives.

If you are at all interested in the lives of presidents or the founding fathers, I highly recommend this book.

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