JOHN QUINCY ADAMS by Harlow Giles Unger

He was an aristocrat of an earlier generation, raised in an age of deference, who spoke a rich language that ordinary people could seldom fathom, but in the end, they sensed that he spoke for their greater good and to protect their rights and freedoms.

I initially was hesitant about choosing Harlow Giles Unger’s biography as my source for learning about John Quincy Adams after I felt his biography of James Monroe, THE LAST FOUNDING FATHER: JAMES MONROE AND A NATION’S CALL TO GREATNESS, was overly fond of its subject, and reluctant in seeing any flaws in a president it compared glowingly to George Washington.

However, my fears that Unger might take a similar tact with John Quincy Adams were unfounded, as I discovered a book that had interesting insights into why John Quincy Adams’ presidency was such a failure, yet he was so successful as an ambassador, representative, and negotiator on behalf of the young United States at a time when most of Europe was at war, and as a congressman battling slavery during his final years.

Unger provides us interesting details regarding Adams’ childhood, particularly his relationship with his parents. Through their letters back and forth, we can see that his parents clearly care for him, but oftentimes, they show that affection by instructing him in the ways in which he can be a better man and leader, even long after he has established himself as a leader on the national stage.

I also was interested by John Quincy’s relationship with his wife. Most of the stories Unger shares regarding their relationship make it sound as though it was a challenging marriage, in contrast to that of his parents, John Adams and Abigail Adams. In fact, at one point they separate, and I would have been interested to learn more about how others perceived that, or if it was considered scandalous at the time.

All in all, this was an interesting read about a president I knew little about in advance. I recommend it for those interested in presidential biographies and in the Adams family and their role in American history.

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