Wheelan (Invading Mexico: America’s Continental Dream and the Mexican War, 1846–1848, 2007, etc.) gently rehabilitates John Quincy Adams, who after one disastrous presidential term embarked on a long career as the conscience of Congress.
Eldest son of John and Abigail Adams, shapers of Revolutionary America, John Quincy (1767–1848) grew up under the aegis of Franklin and Jefferson, lived in Paris, attended Harvard and was appointed minister to the Netherlands at age 27 by President Washington. Yet he seemed to take pleasure in going against the grain; as his diplomatic career careened into politics, he continually alienated the parties that supported him. His rocky road to the presidency in 1824 was aided by a “corrupt bargain” struck with House Speaker Henry Clay, who threw his support to John Quincy in exchange for the post of Secretary of State. Andrew Jackson exacted his revenge in the election four years later, and Wheelan finally warms to his chilly subject once Adams lost his presidential job at age 61. Prone to depression, he took up writing poetry, until persuaded in 1831 to run for the House seat representing Plymouth, Mass. As the antislavery movement gained force in the 1830s, Congressman Adams introduced numerous petitions from citizens urging the abolition of slavery in the District of Columbia. This became his cause célèbre when Congress, hogtied by the powerful Southern states, passed a gag rule that effectively restricted debate on slavery; Adams would fight for eight years to rescind it. He helped delay the annexation of Texas; represented the Amistad mutineers in the Supreme Court; and ensured that the endowment left by James Smithson would become the nation’s Smithsonian Institution. In later years, Adams became a living symbol, the last of the Enlightenment sages and an eloquent spokesman for those denied a voice in government: abolitionists, slaves, Indians and women.
A convincing brief for reconsidering this prescient, fearless public figure.