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How is this for pedigree? Your parents are John (#2) and Abigail Adams (FL#2). By the time you are twenty years old, you had witnessed the Battle of Bunker Hill, resided in France with your father who successfully aided the end of the Revolutionary War, Thomas Jefferson was your BFF, you lived with Benjamin Franklin, at fourteen years of age you spoke fluent Russian and went to Russia as secretary to the American minister, and in a few years you would be a Harvard graduate. Seems like a full life, but ironically the young years of John Quincy Adams were just a precursor to the rest of his accomplished life with only one major blip: his presidency. The failure of his one term as our sixth president explains why, in "John Quincy Adams" by Harlow Giles Unger, of this 315-page book only 30 pages were dedicated to his presidency. Appropriately, the chapter is titled "The End of the Beginning". John Quincy's best achievements, remarkably, occurred prior to and after his presidency, which is why he may earn the notation as our least effective, yet most accomplished president. He also receives the honor of one of my favorite historical figures--grouchiness and all.

At the start of his presidency in 1825, JQ was a lawyer, had been U.S. minister to Holland (appointed by Washington (#1)), minister to Prussia (appointed controversially by his father (#2)), a state senator, a U.S. senator, minister to Russia (appointed by James Madison (#4)), secretary of state under James Monroe (#5), and had negotiated significant treaties and land acquisitions. He was a major contributor to negotiating the Treaty of Ghent that ended the War of 1812 and wrote a major passage to the Monroe Doctrine. Whew! 

Then why did his presidency stink? There are many reasons his presidency was such a failure, and many lessons to learn from it. To begin, many felt he gained the presidency by graft, which is probably true. Senator Henry Clay was running for president at the same time. When Clay realized he could not win, he gave his electoral votes to JQ in exchange for being named his secretary of state.  

Like his father, JQ was unable to relate to the commoner. His lack of committing to one political party made him a friend to no one. And, of course, the wrath of Andrew Jackson (#7)--who most likely would have been president #6 but for the deal made between JQ and Clay--made life very difficult for the first-born son of John and Abigail. 

JQ spent his years in the White House riding horses and swimming in the Potomac. Okay, that's a bit of an exageration. He tried to make policy but was stymied at every turn, from every side. Truly, the man was hated. Even Louisa (FL#6), his wife, couldn't stand him. 

While JQ was in office, John Adams died (on July 4, 1826, only hours after TJ (#2)). JQ lost the 1828 presidential election to Jackson and went home to Massachusetts with the proverbial tail between his legs. Depressed and despondent over his failed presidency and the death of his firstborn son, he tried to carve a new life as a gentleman farmer and as the curator of his father's letters and notes. With Louisa remaining in Washington (boy, did she hate him!), JQ continued to grapple with depression. Even reading Cicero and writing poetry, his favorite pasttimes, could not satiate him. 

As the best things in life often occur when least expected, while attending a July 4th celebration JQ agreed to accept a seat in the U.S. Congress. Throughout his political career, which spanned decades, JQ did not believe one should solicit a position in office. Rather, if it was the people's will then it would be. And so it was. In 1830, JQ won the seat heartily and, after cajoling Louisa to join him, returned to Washington on the first steam-driven train and as the first and only former president to assume a seat in the House. (Jackson would be the only former president to take a seat in the U.S. Senate).  

As a congressman, his accomplishments again piled up. He fought to abolish slavery, won the Supreme Court decision freeing black prisoners who had been aboard the ship, Amistad, gave a speech that provided the blueprint for Emancipation Proclamation, and defeated the Gag Rule that prohibited speeches in congress decrying abolition. In 1846, he suffered a stroke, recovered and returned to the House. And, like the end to every good Heroes Journey, he collapsed during a vote on the House floor and died two days later on a bed in the Speaker of the House's office. He was eighty years old. 

Like his father, JQ was not a likable man. Genetically, he was more John than Abigail. He was brilliant, bookish, privileged, unable to relate to the common person, stubborn, unwilling to play the game of politics for the greater good, socially awkward in the presence of acquaintances and strangers, and most happy when in solitude with his thoughts as his best companion. Also, like his father, he was an abolitionist and never held back in his pursuit of freedom for all. 

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