cover image John Quincy Adams: Militant Spirit

John Quincy Adams: Militant Spirit

James Traub. Basic, $35 (640p) ISBN 978-0-465-02827-6

Foreign policy specialist Traub (The Freedom Agenda) synthesizes the extensive writings of John Quincy Adams (1767–1848) alongside a broad spectrum of primary and published sources in this essential biography of a complex man. “Guarded and taciturn,” Adams walked his own path, and despite his long and productive career as a statesman, he remains relatively obscure. Traub sees him as a “coherent and consistent thinker” who regarded America as the “greatest experiment in government the world had ever known.” Traub’s Adams is also “astringently realistic..., never confusing what he wished to be true with what he believed to be true.” As a problem solver, he had few equals. As a diplomat, he played a central role in negotiating the treaty that ended the War of 1812. As secretary of state, he gave the Monroe Doctrine its insistence that “American policy serve American interests.” Traub quotes British historian George Dangerfield, who noted that as president, Adams’s belief in a firm, active government made him a “great man in the wrong place, at the wrong time.” But in his 17 subsequent years in the House of Representatives, Adams became the foremost—and cleverest—Congressional opponent of the “slavocracy.” Traub shows that without imperiling national unity, Adams’s persistent, perspicacious opposition to slavery “shattered the overweening confidence of the South” and confirmed his place in America’s history. Agent: Andrew Wylie, Wylie Agency. (Apr.)