Thursday, August 21, 2014

Mr. Adam's Last Crusade by Joseph Wheelan


Mr. Adams's Last Crusade

I have become a huge John Quincy fan, and the more I learn about him the more impressed I become. When I found Mr Adam's Last Crusade: John Quincy Adam's Extraordinary Post-Presidential Life in Congress  I had to read it.  And I did, in three sittings. Wheelan has written an inspiring book, offering a concise overview of JQ's early career and a moving study of his time in the House.

After a failed presidency he expected a  peaceful retirement at Big House, the home of his parents, reunited with his library of 6,000 books.

Then he was elected to the House of Representatives. "My election as President of the United States was not so half so gratifying to my inmost soul" he wrote. And he quoted his hero Cicero, "I will not desert in my old age the Republic that I defended in my youth."

JQ was a throw back to another world, the world of the Founding Fathers and the Declaration of Independence, when duty and freedom of speech and sacrifice were not just ideas. He eschewed political favoritism and party politics. It made him unpopular. His intelligence and prodigious memory, paired with a sharp wit and verbal prowess, made him a formidable enemy.

"Slavery is a slow poison to the morals of any community infected with it. Ours is infected with it to the vitals."JQA

64 years old in 1831, JQ took up arms to battle what he believed was the greatest threat to America: slavery. The House had enacted a 'gag' on all discussion of slavery and JQ was determined to end it. It took eight years. He was vilified, his life threatened, the House tried to silence him. Every day he walked to work and brought up petitions that brought the wrath of the House and the South upon his head.

He became friends with abolitionists Theodore Weld and Angelina Grimke' Weld. JQ had been anti-slavery since 1820, but now became a self-avowed abolitionist.

"...the acutest, the astutest, the archest enemy of Southern slavery that ever existed." Representative Wise of Virginia

He voted against the main on other issues. He was no believer in expansionism, especially if it meant expanding slavery into new states and if it meant taking lands away from rightful owners. He was against the removal and extermination of Native Americans. He fought for the James Smithson legacy to be used as it was meant, resulting in the Smithsonian Institute. He voted to ban dueling. He even defended women's right to petition.

"They call Adams a man of one idea, but I tell you what it is, he had got more ideas than all of us put together." South Carolina Congressman Isaac Holmes

Then there was the Amistad trial. Don't rely on the Spielberg movie to learn about JQ's involvement or the importance of the trail. Read this book.

JQ was getting old, his hand was palsied, his eyes wept, he had rheumatism. He would not give up because there was no one to take his place. His eyes still  burned with passion and vitality. His mind was as sharp as ever. And he was at the height of his popularity.

He suffered a series of mild strokes, clung to his faith, and waited for the inevitable. On February 21, 1848 he was in the House when he suffered a stroke. All Washington closed down as "America's last living link between the present day and the fading Revolutionary War era of Washington lay dying in the U. S. Capitol" (from Mr Adam's Last Crusade).  On February 23 he died in the House Speaker's chamber.

In his day he was already an anachronism, a man without party loyalty, an original thinker, an independent voter without consideration of his own political or personal capital. His soul was rooted in the days of the Revolution when he watched the Battle of Bunker Hill with his mom and accompanied his father John Adams to Paris. He had known Thomas Jefferson, James Monroe, Dolley Madison. He lived into an America growing from the Industrial Revolution and clamoring for more land and more wealth. His questioning but firm faith was old fashioned in a time of Transcendentalism. JQ was America's better angel, a voice for the core values of it's foundation.

Has there ever been another like him?