"There is danger from all men. The only maxim of a free government ought to be to trust no man living with
power to endanger the public liberty." - - - - John Adams

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

John Quincy Adams

"Nip the shoots of arbitrary power in the bud, is the only maxim which can
ever preserve the liberties of any people."
John Quincy Adams

Book Review
John Quincy Adams
By Harlow Giles Unger

By Gary;

You just never know what you will run across in the new books section of Barnes and Noble.

I have been reading about John Quincy of late.  He ranks as the most ignored politician by historians, but he was perhaps the best qualified man to ever sit in the Oval Office.  While not quite a Founding Father he was right there in the thick of things from day one.  He is a Founding Son.

Author Harlow Giles Unger's relatively brief, fast paced biography of the 6th President of the US is a very worthwhile read both for its content and brisk style. The book moves through 8-decades of American history spanning the beginning of the Revolutionary War to the beginning-of-the-end of American slavery.

Senator John Quincy Adams

This book is a must read for anyone with an interest in the early American Republic.

John Quincy served George Washington as Ambassador, served with Lincoln in the House, witnessed Bunker Hill, and sounded the clarion against slavery on the eve of the Civil War.

He negotiated an end to the War of 1812, engineered the annexation of Florida, and won the Supreme Court decision that freed the African captives of The Amistad. He served his nation as minister to six countries, secretary of state, Senator, Congressman, and President.

In 1779, Adams began a diary that he kept until just before he died in 1848. The massive fifty volumes are one of the most extensive collections of first-hand information from the period of the early republic and are widely cited by modern historians.

Leaving The Federalist Party

The author details the mixed feelings John Quincy had once Thomas Jefferson's Republicans took power in the Revolution of 1800.

After serving his father as Ambassador to Prussia, John Quincy was elected as a Federalist to the US Senate from Massachusetts.

During this time the British were attacking American ships, killing and impressing our sailors.

Composite of significant people in the Amistad story:
(L to R) Margru, John Quincy Adams, Cinque and
Roger Sherman Baldwin

Rather than build up the American military in response, Jefferson kept the military weak and recommended that Congress respond with commercial warfare against the British. The Embargo Act was signed into law on December 22, 1807.

I am sure it was just an "accident" that Jefferson chose a Big Government policy that crushed the shipping businesses and voter base of his Federalist enemies in New England.  In any case, John Quincy supported Jefferson's embargo instead of military preparedness and caught bloody Hell from his constituents in Massachusetts.

John Quincy had been playing political footsie with Jefferson for some time and enjoyed dining and socializing with the President and James Madison.  It is hard to tell, but Adams may have calculated that he had more of a long term political future with the Democrat-Republicans than a weakened Federalist Party.

Adams left the Federalist Party in 1808. He was rewarded and recalled to public service when his friend James Madison was elected President.  Madison appointed Adams Minister to Russia, and then to Great Britain.  Finally President James Monroe made him Secretary of State.  A post that most considered to be next in line to the White House.

The author covers well the insanity of a four-way Presidential race in 1824 that ended up with the House of Representatives selecting Adams as President over Andrew Jackson.  But it is interesting that only one chapter is spent on the Adams Presidency.  Simply Adams' career was so long that the Presidency is almost an afterthought.

But that victory re-created the two party system.  Politicians saw that the Democratic-Republican one party state did not work.  The race for President divided the vote too much among multiple candidates.  So Jackson's supporters established the Democrat Party for the coming 1828 election.  While the Adams men created the new National Republican Party to support the Administration.

John Quincy Adams Addresses the U.S. Supreme Court
Adams won the freedom of the Amistad Africans.

Changes in Society - Adams was a victim of a massive sea change in American society. Gone were the days of the highly educated elite Founding Fathers. Politics of the 1820s on was dominated more and more by rough around the edges "men of the people" like Andrew Jackson. Educated speeches by Adams peppered with references to ancient Greece or Rome failed to connect with the modern mass of semi-literate voters.
The author relates an interesting event that illustrated this point. John Quincy was invited to shovel the first spade of earth in an internal canal project that his party favored. Try as he might he could not get the shovel to go in. So he took off his coat to get the job done. The attending crowd went wild cheering him over and over. John Quincy was amazed. He was popular!
At that moment you could say the popular appeal to the crowd political campaign was born.
The Amistad - The book moves rapidly through Adams life while not being too brief. But more time could have been spent on the Amistad African's case and Adams' endless campaign against slavery.  I have read a considerable amount on Adams' anti-slavery years in the House.  Much more could have been said.
Still, this book is a fun historical read without getting too academic.  Anyone wanting a view of early American politics should check this one out.

The Election of 1828 Re-established the Two Party System.
Adams supporters attacked Andrew Jackson, in the infamous coffin handbills, as nothing more than a military man who brutally executed Indians, duelists and even his own men. The Jackson camp countered with a campaign song, “Hunters of Kentucky,” and by accusing Adams of serving as the Czar’s pimp while minister to Russia. Jackson handily won what some consider to be the first modern presidential election, 178 votes to 83. In 1832, he completely avenged the corrupt bargain by defeating Clay 219 to 49 in the electoral college.

In the lead-up to the election between incumbent president John Quincy Adams and General Andrew Jackson, a widely circulated broadside known as the “coffin handbill” tarred Jackson for callously ordering the executions of six militiamen during the Creek War.

A supplement to the handbill, excerpted here, gives an even grislier “eye-witness” account of Old Hickory’s purported cruelty:

On the 27th march, 1814, Gen. Jackson had found, at an Indian village at the bend of the Tallapousie, about 1,000 Indians, with their squaws and children, just “running about among their huts.” It has been pretended, fellow citizens, that some of these Indians were in arms; but there is no truth in this, not an Indian in the whole country had ever shown a hostile disposition, or committed a single murder. These poor wretches were massacred in cold blood, without the least provocation…After this “sanguinary chieftain” had been guilty of these atrocious acts of barbarity, he laid down composedly, and slept upon the field, surrounded by five hundred and seventy dead human carcasses!!!…But the day after this bloody affair, “the blood thirsty” Jackson began again to show his cannibal propensities, by ordering his Bowman to dress a dozen of these Indian bodies for his breakfast, which he devoured without leaving even a fragment. Not content with committing this shocking and unnatural outrage on humanity, he attempted to compel all the officers and soldiers under his command, to make a breakfast of the same kind, alleging that it was better than camp beef; but finding that this act of tyranny would produce a general revolt, he was compelled, from necessity, to abandon the project.

…Now, my countrymen, after reading this horrid recital of bloody deeds, can you ever vote for the man to be your President, who could perpetrate them all in cold blood, and who has never done one act to recommend himself to your favor? A man whose whole life has been spent in doing as much injury as lay in his power to his country and countrymen, without ever doing for that country one single service? I am sure you cannot. Make him President, let him be invested with the power of that office for four years, and you will see the consequences when it is too late. Let a Governor of a State incur his displeasure, and he will muster an army and march to the metropolis of a State, hang up the Governor “without trial,” and should the Legislature complain, he will, in all probability, hang up every mother’s son of them by the side of their Governor, and if he should happen to have one of this anthropophagian fits on him, he and his army may devour them all before they leave the city!

Let Congress incur his displeasure, and he will march to the Capitol of the United States, take it upon his shoulders with both branches of the National Legislature in it, and hurl Capitol, Congressman, and all, into the Potomac river, for the monster who can eat a dozen men for breakfast must be amazingly strong. Weigh these things well, fellow citizens, and look nearer home. Who knows but his appetite may grow fastidious, and that he will not, after a while, take a fancy to the plump rotundities and ruddy faces of our sturdy yeoman, and if he ever should, we shall see our worthy farmers and planters trussed up, roasted and eaten, with as little ceremony as they are now in the habit of roasting and eating canvass-back ducks and wild turkeys!

As much as John Quincy Adams wanted to say he was no longer a Federalist, it was the old Federalist Northeast that gave him the support he needed in the election of 1828.  Not until the rise of Slavery as the major issue could the merchants and businessmen of the northeast expand their election base into the west under the banner of the Republican Party.

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