Review of Nation Builder: John Quincy Adams and the Grand Strategy of the Republic

Author: Charles N. Edel

Publisher: Harvard University Press

An effective biography of JQ; but not much more than that.  Edel purports to present a case for John Quincy being more strategic than other Founders.  What he presents in the book shows that he was more strategic and far-sighted than other members of Monroe’s cabinet, but no convincing case is made that he was such in relation to other figures such as Hamilton, Madison, Washington, or even his own father.  In addition Edel goes to great lengths to emphasize that JQA was not able to implement his own vision due to an abhorrence for the practice and standards of politicking, so that Edel undermines his own title and in fact shows that others did a better job at building the nation.

Most particularly galling is the claim that JQA showed an “overwillingness” to resort to force and to justify it as a means to securing the borders.  If you are a liberal you are a coward, and Edel appears to be picking on a dead man who cannot defend himself.  It may be that in Edel’s eyes this was the case, but of course he does not make a clear differentiation between unequivocal statements of fact and statements of author opinion.

My general impression after reading this book is that JQA is a great figure for supporters of the current administration–a professor who plays tough until he gets to the Presidency, then proves spineless and controlled by abstract ideas which he can only justify by claiming they are too far in advance of his own time.  Sadly, then, Edel made me less of a fan of JQA than I had been before I started reading it.

Three stars.