John Quincy Adams

  • by Harlow Giles Unger
  • Narrated by Johnny Heller
  • 9 hrs and 42 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

He fought for Washington, served with Lincoln, witnessed Bunker Hill, and sounded the clarion against slavery on the eve of the Civil War. He negotiated an end to the War of 1812, engineered the annexation of Florida, and won the Supreme Court decision that freed the African captives of La Amistad. He served his nation as minister to six countries, secretary of state, senator, congressman, and president.
John Quincy Adams was all of these things and more. In this masterful biography, award-winning author Harlow Giles Unger reveals Adams as a towering figure in the nation’s formative years and one of the most courageous figures in American history - which is why he ranked first in John F. Kennedy’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Profiles in Courage.
A magisterial biography and a sweeping panorama of American history from the Washington to Lincoln eras, Unger’s John Quincy Adams follows one of America’s most important yet least known figures.
Harlow Giles Unger, a former distinguished visiting fellow in American history at George Washington’s Mount Vernon, is a veteran journalist, broadcaster, educator, and historian. He is the author of 20 books, including several biographies of America’s Founding Fathers. He has also authored histories of the early Republic as well as numerous books on American education. He lives in New York.

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What the Critics Say

"[Unger] eloquently details the diplomatic headaches caused by both the infamous XYZ Affair and ever-changing Gallic governments. Spare prose clarifies the overview of political complications and intricate family dynamics, revealing Adams as a historically overlooked yet key transitional figure who witnessed the birth of the nation and endured its nearly irreparable geographic squabbles of the 1840s." (Publishers Weekly)
"A neglected president receives his due as a statesman and practical politician.… A fine examination of a life, well deserving a place alongside David McCullough’s study of Adams père." (Kirkus Reviews)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

Supremely readable biography

Harlow Giles Unger’s new biography of John Quincy Adams is well-written and superbly researched. The book is fast paced and supremely readable while not missing any aspect of JQA’s life. Unger seamlessly weaves the words of Adams into his narrative and Unger’s always solid research augments the story that it seems like JQA helps tell. John Quincy Adams wrote in a diary daily from age 10 to death, this along with the massive correspondence between JQA and his parents John and Abigail Adams, together with the massive amount of reports JQA submitted during his career, Unger put it all together into a fascinating biography. There is so much information in this book it is hard to even highlight the information.

John and Abigail Adams saw to the education of their first born son and by the time he was ten years old he was fluent in Latin and Greek. He was already well read in Shakespeare and other leading literature of his day. He accompanied his father to Europe when he was 12 years old and spent his teenage years in Europe meeting all the key political, military, authors, philosophers’ people of the day. He became fluent in Greek, Latin, English, French, Dutch, Russian, German, Spanish, and Italian and learned some Swedish. JQA attended Leiden University in the Netherlands and when he returned to Boston he went to Harvard. He “read the law” with a prominent Boston attorney and was admitted to the Bar. JQA was American Ambassador to six European countries, negotiated the peace treaty that ended the War of 1812. Served eight years as Secretary of State, engineered the annexation of Florida, and wrote the core provision of the Monroe Doctrine warning European’s never again to try to colonize the Western World. He also wrote the Constitution of Massachusetts. John Quincy Adams is considered by scholars to be the best diplomat this country has had to date.

As an attorney JQA defended the African prisoners of the Spanish slave ship Amistad. JQA argued they had been kidnapped and had a legal right to defend themselves and attempt to escape from their kidnappers. Adams successfully defended the case before the Supreme Court. The only unsuccessful period in the long history of JAQ was his presidency. I had learned in school it was because he was unable to relate to the people because he was too educated. Unger points out that JQA angered Andrew Jackson because he though Adams cheated him out of the presidency. Jackson created a new political party called Democrats or Jacksonian Democrats. Unger shows how they deliberately shut the government down so Adams was unable to have bills passed or appointments made. The only major accomplishment was he almost cleared the federal debt.

JQA is the only former President that went on to serve in Congress. JQA belonged to no political party. He served 16 years as the representative from Massachusetts. When in Congress JQA defended Supreme Court Justice Samuel Chase in his impeachment trial. Chase was accused of sedition and treason (high crimes and misdemeanors). Adams argued that the charges brought against Chase were indictable criminal acts—not political statements. He said “This is a party prosecution”. Adams defense of Chase proved the earliest significant defense of the first amendment. John Quincy obtained an acquittal of Chase and prevented an American President (Jefferson) from criminalizing political dissent. JQA ensured the founding of the Smithsonian Institution, from an endowment from a British Lord. He protected the principal and the institution can use the interest. He spurred the construction of a net work of astronomical observatories across the nation. Adams risked death by championing abolition and emancipation as a congressman.

John Quince Adams married Louisa Catherine Johnson, the daughter of an American diplomat/merchant and an English mother. She was born in London. They were married at the church of “All Hallows by the tower” in London. Louisa is the only first lady not to be born in the United States. In 1878 John Quincy Adam’s youngest son, Charles Frances Adams built the first memorial presidential library in the U.S. to honor his father. The library is located in Quincy Ma.

On the personal side I noted JQA suffered from bouts of depression throughout his life. Louisa had many miscarriages and suffered from migraine headaches. I noted she had bouts of depression starting when they lived in the White House. Apparently alcoholism ran in the family from Abigail’s side of the family. JQA brother’s died of it as did one of his sons. One son “read the law” with Daniel Webster. One of the things I observed in the book was both John Q and Louisa were prodigious readers and preferred to stay home and read. I noticed Unger pointed out that reading was considered a method of education in those days. I found this to be a most enjoyable book I learned so much from it about Adams, his family and general history of the time. Unger is a noted historian and an excellent writer. Johnny Heller did a good job narrating the book.
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- Jean "I am an avid eclectic reader."

Informative and well written.

Would you listen to John Quincy Adams again? Why?

Yes, to further absorb the facts of Adams' life.


What did you like best about this story?

I found it fascinating that JQA's main public contributions came after his presidency, during his long years in Congress. It was also interesting to learn how much he contributed to foreign diplomacy during his youth. JQA was an under-appreciated guiding light during the early decades of our country.


Which scene was your favorite?

Can't choose. Too many stellar moments in that man's life.


Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

No. There's a lot of info in this book, an abundance that requires time to absorb.


Any additional comments?

One of my favorite biographies of all time is David McCullough's "John Adams." It is a perfect work on the life of one of our most important founding fathers. I am proud to say that I own that book in print and as an audio book. Both versions are keepers. Unger's bio of JQA is nearly as good. Beyond the excellent writing, the best part is that Adams the younger is just as fascinating as his father, though entirely unique as a person--definitely no clone of his famous dad. I will listen to this audio book again, and with pleasure. The narration by Johnny Heller is very well done.

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- Gotta Tellya "KEC"

Book Details

  • Release Date: 09-04-2012
  • Publisher: Blackstone Audio, Inc.