Book: Life of John Quincy Adams
Author: William H. Seward
1. Date published-An overwhelming emphasis on the latest and greatest can remove contemporary perspective and a needed dimension for taking into account a presidency. This work is that process in the extreme. This 1849 work was published barely a year after the death of Adams in 1848. Taken solely on the current status of the book’s claims, this is pre-Civil War and a decidedly forceful tome condemning slavery while still attesting to the times with a moderate approach. The date published can provide challenging or even awkward phasing to the modern reader, with overly enthusiastic language and unabashed appeals to God. For those looking to complete the President Project with the most contemporary of analysis, steer clear of this work. For those looking for a solid, at times brilliant, first draft of a recently deceased icon, this book is a standard.
2. Scope- Seward in the prologue attempts to teach and inspire the nation through the public works of John Quincy Adams. His scope is complete in this mission, beginning with more than a token acknowledgement of his ancestry/birth all the way through his death and subsequent actions. There is no significant aspect of Adams’ life that is untouched including a brief presidency that is book-ended by a meteoric rise and unfathomable staying power post-presidency. This work also includes an eulogy that also highlights the entire life of Adams and his place in the American transformation of the early 18th century. The greatest aspect of this scope is the introduction to the ex-president, which Adams is the first to really embrace and powerfully wield in America history. Unlike his five predecessors, Adams returns to public service in a humbled House of Representatives post. Seward wisely clips his narrative on an otherwise inconsequential presidency and includes the coming of age of the influential ex-president.
3. Author- Alaskans will forever remember the derisive nickname of this home state “Seward’s Folly.” The man is much more intriguing that a misjudgement in the far Northwest. By the time this work was published, William H. Seward was already a quite accomplished public servant. Considered a political progressive, Seward was Governor of his home state of New York and quickly became synonymous with northern Abolitionist thinking. He makes no secret of Adams’ abolitionist views and his admiration for the bold stances he took on the issue in his life. Seward would go on to be Secretary of State under both Abraham Lincoln and Andrew Johnson to cap off an enormously impressive career as a public servant. However, this does not bode well for an impartial and unbiased look at the sixth president. Despite constantly exulting Adams’ independence and lack of party rigor, Seward himself beats the drum for his subject with next to no criticism and little objective insight. Rarely if ever does Seward harp on the negative aspects of Adams’ career, such as his sound defeat in 1828, and instead presents the glossiest image possible. The source is one of public duty and public service but the product is one giant epitaph, void of objective criticism needed for a great biography.
4. Length- Most 400 page biographies contain pages and pages of footnotes and research at the conclusion of the work. This biography is just over 400 pages, all readable with no research at the end. The length is on the cusp of a long style biography but the work is very much a short biography in content. Perhaps overly customary for times in which it was penned, there is next to no mention of his brilliant mother and at times equally brilliant wife, who by all accounts were substantially influential in his thinking. The length and duration of the work is almost exclusively dedicated to the public works of Adams and does not take the long style biography route of delving into the man himself or the times in which he lived.
5. Mission- Seward claims his mission as one of biography but also of teaching. He wants to use the public works of Adams to set a standard and example of which to conduct life, and the plan to get there. Despite the absurdity to think that one can simply lead the life of an offspring of an ex-president, Seward consistently shows young men and boys how to become a man with the story of John Quincy Adams. The best and timeless qualities of both a man and public servant are the focus and mission for Seward as he appeals to tough decisions and moral ambiguities that life challenges all to endure. He aimed to tell the story and history of a deceased contemporary while also teaching lessons to the young generation that was destined to fight in the Civil War. To this end, he accomplished his mission.