Brief bio of one of our most capable and overlooked politicians, by the author of several well-received studies of the republic’s early history (Andrew Jackson and His Indian Wars, 2001, etc.).
Remini (History and Humanities Emeritus/Univ. of Illinois, Chicago) lays a claim for John Quincy Adams as “arguably the greatest secretary of state to serve that office”: the architect of an honorable peace in the War of 1812, the true author of what has since been known as the Monroe Doctrine, the statesman who helped formulate important international treaties and maritime laws. As president, Adams was perhaps less effective. Under his watch, federal prerogatives gave way to the demands of individual states, so that, for instance, the state of Georgia was able to take control of land owned by the Creek Indian nation and supposedly protected by treaty. This clash of state and federal power would eventually, as Adams recognized, end in civil war. In the case of the Indian nations, it opened the door to policies that successor Andrew Jackson (whom Adams detested “with a vengeance”) would vigorously pursue; a regretful Adams later concluded that in his lifetime Americans did more harm to Indians than did all the European powers combined. Though often not of his own making, Adams’s failures in office contributed to his defeat in the electoral campaign of 1828: “the filthiest in American history,” remarks Remini. Although this capable and thoughtful author has little apparent interest in psychobiography, he turns in some juicy tidbits, among them the fact that powerful mother Abigail’s opposition contributed to the end of “the only romantic and passionate love of John Quincy Adams’s entire life.”
Like his subject, Remini prefers the practical and even mundane, which makes this latest in the American Presidents series a less-than-thrilling read. Still, it does Adams justice and well serves to acquaint readers with a neglected leader.