John Quincy Adams: Slavery

Early in his career and even during his presidency, John Q. Adams didn't express much of a view on the issue of slavery, other than he felt it shouldn't be allowed in the new states of the union.

This isn't surprising for a man of his times, since being in the Northeast, he probably didn't feel it had much of a direct effect on him and he wasn't a direct witness to its horrors. He, like many of his contemporaries felt that abolitionists were radical and even seditious, since they were pushing the fragile United States ever closer towards open Civil War.

However, late in his life he had a change of heart. As a lawyer, he represented the escaped slaves from a Spanish Slave ship in the Supreme Court case United States vs. The Amistad Africans and won their freedom by arguing that although the United States allowed internal slavery, it had joined other countries in preventing the international slave trade.

He also defied the infamous Congressional gag order that the Southern congressional delegation had put in place before the Civil War prohibiting the discussion or legislation regarding slavery in Congress. My favorite example of this is when he continuously would propose to introduce petitions on slavery from current and former slaves in the Southern States forcing the Speaker to shout him down and prevent the democratic process. This united Northern abolitionists and even Southern libertarians against the gag order in particular and the pro slave delegation in general.

John Quincy Adams views on slavery and race were complicated and changed over time, but he certainly was more enlightened on the subject than most of his contemporaries.


John Quincy Adams: Liberal or Conservative?

It's interesting to go back and find the 'conservative' and 'liberal' causes of early American history because we would hardly recognize them as fitting in the modern era.

John Q. Adams was pro national bank, pro tariff, pro internal improvements (think national works projects for infrastructure), anti Indian removal and late in his career as a congressman Anti Slavery.

Tariffs of course helped the domestic manufacturers, internal improvements helped the country in a general sense, the idea of being against the forced removal of 'civilized' Indians who had abandoned their nomadic ways and had taken up agriculture and railing against slavery would all seem in the modern era to be liberal ideologies, not conservative. However, Q. Adams was derided by the southern Jeffersonians as anti Democratic and monarchical for these beliefs.

In those days, the 'populist progressive' would be someone that was for a small federal government, state militias instead of standing armies and who was willing to clear away the settled Shawnee, Creek, Seminal and Iroquois Indians to make room for the poor white man.

When you look at the important policy makers of early American history, the idea of Liberal vs. Conservative rings hollow and you're forced instead to look at their specific beliefs on specific issues to really understand them.


John Quincy Adams: Not a politician

Q. Adams viewed public service as an obligation, not something to 'electioneer' for.

He was apart from his family for years when he was called to service as a foreign diplomat in London, France, Germany and Russia and expressed much regret in letters home.

He'd constantly talk of retiring to pursue intellectual pursuits, only to be named the Secretary of State and then President.

He finally looked forward to an enjoyable retirement as a relatively old man for the times after one term of the Presidency when he lost to Jackson but was compelled by his fellow citizens a short time later to serve out the remaining years of his life as a congressman where he literally died at his desk.

He hated populism and referred to political rallies as 'mobs'. In a letter home to his wife, he remarked how pleased he was that an actually impromptu celebration for him in Massachusetts after his one term in the presidency resulted in "no violence".

He did so little to help his political situation, that friend and rivals actually referred to him as Macbeth.


John Quincy Adams: Scholarly Man

John Quincy Adams in my opinion is the last of the deferential society, thinking man presidents for a long time. The next presidents really played up their appeal to the common man- Jackson's nickname was 'Old Hickory' or 'The Hero', Van Buren was 'Old Kinderhook' (created the saying O.K.), Harrison was 'Old Tippecanoe'.

John Quincy Adams could not have been more different than the populist presidents that followed. He was steeped in the Roman and Greek classics, like his father John Adams. He also spoke fluent French, German, Russian and even some Dutch as well as complete fluency in Greek and Latin.

He read so much that he actually was nearly blind in his old age. He was a Renaissance man that wrote scholarly works on Astronomy and had a huge part in ushering in an era a standardized weights and measures through his own research and read the great works of Philosophy by night.

Barack Obama may have been the president of the Harvard Law Review, but he has a long way to go before he's as much of an intellectual as Quincy Adams.


James Monroe: Monrovia

Did you know that the city of Monrovia in Liberia is named after James Monroe?

James Monroe supported the idea of sending freed slaves back to Africa and aided the efforts of the American Colonization Society in the 1820's to help slaves establish a new country there and the city is named in his honor.

This seems radical and tinged with racism today and it probably was, but at the time when the South was willing to secede to preserve their 'Peculiar Institution' of slavery, this was about as compassionate as it got.

The idea of a bunch of former slaves who were considered property recently forming their own sustainable society with little to no resources seems doomed to failure, but it's important to note that the country of Liberia still exists today even if it has suffered its share of civil strife through the years.