Diaries, 1779–1821 and Diaries, 1821–1848 by John Quincy Adams,

edited by David Wald­stre­icher

The New York Review of Books - - Contents - An­drew Del­banco

Diaries, 1779–1821

Diaries, 1821–1848 by John Quincy Adams, edited by David Wald­stre­icher. Li­brary of Amer­ica, 2 vol­umes, 1,488 pp., $75.00

When Henry Adams de­fined pol­i­tics as “the sys­tem­atic or­ga­ni­za­tion of ha­treds,” he knew what he was talk­ing about. Pol­i­tics ran in the fam­ily. His great-grand­fa­ther John Adams, a signer of the Dec­la­ra­tion of In­de­pen­dence and the sec­ond pres­i­dent of the United States, hated the French Revo­lu­tion and con­sid­ered the third pres­i­dent, Thomas Jef­fer­son, the next thing to an an­ar­chist. Henry’s fa­ther, Charles Francis Adams, served as Abra­ham Lin­coln’s am­bas­sador to Bri­tain when sec­tional ha­tred in the United States burst out into civil war. But it was Henry’s grand­fa­ther John Quincy Adams, born in 1767, who held more high fed­eral of­fices not only than any­one in the fam­ily but more than any­one in the his­tory of the repub­lic.

He be­gan his pub­lic ca­reer as min­is­ter to the Nether­lands (1794–1797) and Prus­sia (1797–1801), then rep­re­sented Mas­sachusetts as a US sen­a­tor (1803–1808) un­til Bos­ton fed­er­al­ists broke with him over his sup­port for Jef­fer­son’s trade em­bargo. His di­plo­matic ser­vice re­sumed when Pres­i­dent James Madi­son ap­pointed him min­is­ter to Rus­sia (1809–1814) and then to Bri­tain (1815–1817). As sec­re­tary of state (1817–1825) un­der Pres­i­dent James Mon­roe, he was the prin­ci­pal ar­chi­tect of what be­came known as the Mon­roe Doc­trine and ne­go­ti­ated the pur­chase of Florida from Spain as well as a new bor­der be­tween the United States and Span­ish pos­ses­sions in the west. In 1824 he suc­ceeded Mon­roe to the pres­i­dency but was de­feated in 1828 by An­drew Jack­son. Three years later, Mas­sachusetts vot­ers sent him to the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives, where he served, de­spite what some called his “deroga­tory de­scent” from the na­tion’s high­est of­fice to that of a mere con­gress­man, un­til his death in 1848.1

Even by Adams stan­dards, John Quincy was a good hater. He hated idle­ness, small talk, and nightlife. He hated “the ex­tremes of op­u­lence and of want” that he en­coun­tered in Eng­land, where starv­ing beg­gars came by night to the doors of coun­try es­tates and had to be carted away, dead or alive, by the groundskeep­ers in the morn­ing. He hated what we would call “elites” for their “great No­tions, of high Fam­ily” (his fa­ther’s phrase), and dem­a­gogic politi­cians for their “Char­la­tan­ery of pop­u­lar en­tice­ment” (his own phrase). Dur­ing his years abroad he dis­liked, if not quite hated, the inces­sant din­ner par­ties where he had to de­liver “Ta­ble-Cloth Or­a­tory.” He was good, too, at hold­ing a grudge. For decades he blamed his fa­ther’s loss in the pres­i­den­tial 1In 1811 Adams was nom­i­nated by Pres­i­dent James Madi­son as an as­so­ciate jus­tice of the Supreme Court and confirmed by the Se­nate, but he de­clined to serve in or­der to re­tain his post as min­is­ter to Rus­sia. elec­tion of 1801 on “the joint work of [Aaron] Burr and Alexan­der Hamil­ton” and rel­ished the “di­vine re­tribu­tive jus­tice” made manifest in “the mur­der of one of them by the other in a duel, and the ir­re­triev­able ruin of the mur­der[er.]”

Long on anger, Adams was short on hu­mor—a case in point for his grand­son’s doubt that “New Eng­land Calvin­ists ever laughed.” His no­tion of a joke was com­par­ing the af­fec­tion Penn­syl­va­ni­ans felt for An­drew Jack­son to that of “Ti­ta­nia Queen of the Fairies, for Bot­tom, af­ter his As­si­fi­ca­tion.” Although not a Calvin­ist in mat­ters of doc­trine, he was Calvin­is­tic in tem­per­a­ment, con­vinced that “the grace of God is yet nec­es­sary to con­troul the de­prav­ity of my na­ture.” Nor did he con­fine his sever­ity to him­self. When his wife, Louisa, af­ter one of many mis­car­riages, tried to hide the pal­lor in her face with a dab of rouge, he took a towel and scrubbed it off.

For close to seventy years, this for­mi­da­ble man—as­trin­gent, eru­dite (his mastery of Greek and Latin earned him ap­point­ment as Har­vard’s first Boyl­ston Pro­fes­sor of Rhetoric and Or­a­tory), se­verely dis­ci­plined yet fear­ful of the slight­est lapse into self-in­dul­gence—kept a diary al­most ev­ery day. When near­ing fifty, he in­jured his right hand fir­ing a pis­tol, and there­after tried to limit lift­ing it off the pa­per while writ­ing by sig­ni­fy­ing com­mas with dots or bulges joined to the ends of words. When the press of pub­lic busi­ness pre­vented him from mak­ing full en­tries, he set­tled for short no­ta­tions to be ex­panded

in ret­ro­spect when­ever time al­lowed. In the in­terim, he feared that “I shall lose ir­re­triev­ably the Chain of Events.” He never did. His last en­try is dated Fe­bru­ary 20, 1848, the day be­fore he col­lapsed on the floor of the House and three days be­fore he died.

The diary ul­ti­mately filled fifty-one hand­writ­ten vol­umes com­pris­ing some 15,000 pages. A quar­ter-cen­tury af­ter his death, Adams’s son Charles Francis made a se­lec­tion amount­ing to roughly half of the whole, which was pub­lished be­tween 1874 and 1877 in twelve vol­umes. Fifty years later, the his­to­rian Al­lan Nevins cut the twelve down to one. Now, work­ing from the man­u­script held at the Mas­sachusetts His­tor­i­cal So­ci­ety, a team of edi­tors at the Li­brary of Amer­ica, led by the con­sti­tu­tional scholar David Wald­stre­icher, has is­sued a new two-vol­ume se­lec­tion with annotations and a de­tailed chronol­ogy of Adams’s life and times. It is a su­perb edi­tion that should se­cure a place for the diary in the canon of Amer­i­can lit­er­a­ture.

The diary was a steno­graphic record de­signed to help Adams pre­pare speeches, ar­ti­cles, me­moranda, and le­gal briefs. But it was also a dis­ci­pline for his mind and a pri­vate out­let for emo­tions he was un­will­ing to ex­pose in pub­lic. He fret­ted that he had “filled my jour­nals with trash, and with ev­ery whim­sey that passed across my mind,” but any­one hop­ing for the sort of trash to be found in an­other fa­mous diary by an­other pub­lic man, Sa­muel Pepys—who re­ports pen­e­trat­ing one cham­ber­maid “de­vante and back­ward” and be­ing caught by his wife as he tried to per­suade an­other with “my main in her cunny”—will be dis­ap­pointed. On the ev­i­dence of Louisa’s fre­quent preg­nan­cies, Adams, too, had a busy sex life. But his only com­ment on the sub­ject is to en­dorse “the su­pe­rior hap­pi­ness of the mar­riage state over that of celibacy.”

In part be­cause Charles Francis Adams deleted from his fa­ther’s diary all “de­tails of com­mon life and events of no in­ter­est to the pub­lic,” the in­ner life of John Quincy Adams has been un­til now mostly a se­cret. One of the gifts of the new edi­tion is to give us a glimpse into his heart—from his de­light at swim­ming in the Po­tomac to his plea­sure in read­ing bawdy nov­els by Sterne and Field­ing, of whose Tom Jones he writes that “this book can­not lead a per­son to form too fa­vor­able an opin­ion of hu­man na­ture; but nei­ther will it give a false one.” There are ten­der ex­pres­sions of love for his par­ents—John Adams, to whom he owed his zeal for pub­lic ser­vice, and Abi­gail Adams, whom he adored be­yond mea­sure, a “Min­is­ter of bless­ing to all hu­man be­ings within her sphere of ac­tion,” who com­forted him “by my mere con­scious­ness of her ex­is­tence.”

The diary records his help­less pity for his rav­aged wife, who was as­saulted in body and spirit by fre­quent mis­car­riages, one still­birth, and the al­most un­bear­able shock of the deaths of two young chil­dren. There is ev­i­dence, too, of Adams’s own pe­ri­odic de­pres­sions, man­i­fested not as las­si­tude but as ma­nia to make the most of ev­ery mo­ment, driven by his chronic fear that the mo­ments were fast run­ning out. “A list­less­ness,” he writes,

which with­out ex­tin­guish­ing the love of life, af­fects the mind with the Sen­ti­ment that life is noth­ing worth. An op­pres­sion at the heart which with­out be­ing pos­i­tive pain is more dis­tress­ing than pain it­self . . . . Time is too short for me . . . . If the day were of forty-eight hours in­stead of twenty-four I could em­ploy them all, so I had but eyes and hands, to read and write.

But the most grip­ping pages of the diary are those that con­vey the rise of slav­ery to the top of Adams’s hi­er­ar­chy of ha­treds. What be­gins as a sort of per­plex­ity at the per­sis­tence of a bar­baric in­sti­tu­tion in a pu­ta­tively civ­i­lized coun­try turns, year by year, into ir­re­press­ible out­rage at the mor­tal threat slav­ery posed to the Amer­i­can repub­lic, which was ar­guably the thing he loved best.

As early as 1804, Adams wrote a se­ries of pseudony­mous ar­ti­cles at­tack­ing the US Con­sti­tu­tion for grant­ing dis­pro­por­tion­ate power to the South by adding “three fifths of all other Per­sons” to the white pop­u­la­tion for the pur­pose of cal­cu­lat­ing rep­re­sen­ta­tion in the House. Years later, as sec­re­tary of state, he found him­self be­sieged by slave­hold­ers de­mand­ing resti­tu­tion from Bri­tain for slaves who had run away or been cap­tured by the Bri­tish dur­ing the War of 1812. Lead­ers of the Amer­i­can Col­o­niza­tion So­ci­ety, founded in 1817, sought his sup­port for

their idea of ship­ping off free blacks to es­tab­lish a set­tle­ment—even­tu­ally to be named Liberia—on the west coast of Africa. Adams re­garded the Col­o­niza­tion So­ci­ety as a “fraud­u­lent char­i­ta­ble in­sti­tu­tion” bent on turn­ing the young na­tion into an im­pe­rial power on the pre­text “of ex­pur­gat­ing the United States, from the free peo­ple of Colour.” As for the no­tion that slave own­ers would be in­spired to eman­ci­pate their slaves and send them to Africa, that seemed to him about as likely as bur­row­ing un­der­ground through the earth to the North Pole.

Ear­lier than most con­tem­po­raries, Adams un­der­stood that a fate­ful col­li­sion be­tween North and South was com­ing, and that half­way mea­sures such as vol­un­tary or com­pen­sated eman­ci­pa­tion would never take hold among a suf­fi­cient num­ber of slave own­ers to fend it off. The path to a reck­on­ing had been charted by the Found­ing Fa­thers them­selves, in­clud­ing Jef­fer­son, who wrote soon af­ter the revo­lu­tion that “the spirit of the mas­ter is abat­ing, that of the slave ris­ing from the dust” in the vain hope that slav­ery would some­how fade away. Adams held the Vir­gini­ans chiefly re­spon­si­ble (though he served two Vir­ginian pres­i­dents, Madi­son and Mon­roe), but he granted no ex­emp­tion to ac­qui­es­cent North­ern­ers for their part in “the dis­hon­ourable com­pro­mise with Slav­ery” that lay at the heart of the Con­sti­tu­tion. Not only in the three-fifths clause but in sev­eral other mea­sures, in­clud­ing the no­to­ri­ous clause stip­u­lat­ing that fugi­tive slaves seek­ing sanc­tu­ary in free states must be re­turned to their own­ers, the Con­sti­tu­tion made a “morally and po­lit­i­cally vi­cious” bar­gain with slav­ery—an ac­com­mo­da­tion that Adams was sure would not last very long. Nev­er­the­less, “from ex­treme un­will­ing­ness to put the Union at haz­ard,” he sup­ported the re­newal in 1820 of the orig­i­nal bar­gain—a new com­pro­mise by which Congress averted the na­tion’s first ma­jor sec­tional cri­sis by vot­ing to ad­mit Mis­souri as a slave state and Maine as a free state, thereby pre­serv­ing the sec­tional bal­ance in the Se­nate. The Mis­souri Com­pro­mise also es­tab­lished a ge­o­graphic di­vid­ing line—the 36º30’ lat­i­tude—south of which slav­ery would be per­mit­ted and north of which (ex­cept for Mis­souri it­self) it would be ex­cluded. Dur­ing the fierce de­bate over whether Congress pos­sessed the con­sti­tu­tional au­thor­ity to ban slav­ery from fed­eral ter­ri­to­ries, Adams in­sisted that it did (“What can be more need­ful to the es­tab­lish­ment of Jus­tice, than the in­ter­dic­tion of Slav­ery where it does not ex­ist”?), and he viewed the Mis­souri Com­pro­mise as a tem­po­rary re­prieve that would give way to resur­gent sec­tional ran­cor as ter­ri­to­rial ex­pan­sion ad­vanced. It was a good pre­dic­tion. Forty years later, ex­clu­sion of slav­ery from the fed­eral ter­ri­to­ries be­came the main plank of the Repub­li­can Party plat­form, in re­sponse to which eleven slave states se­ceded from the Union, pre­cip­i­tat­ing the Civil War. Al­ready by the mid-1830s, Adams had be­come con­vinced that slav­ery would be “the wedge which will ul­ti­mately split up this Union.” Even as he acted the pub­lic part of a com­pro­miser, he con­fided to his diary that “my hopes of the long con­tin­u­ance of this Union are ex­tinct.” As late as 1829, he had as­serted that “cases of ex­treme op­pres­sion and cru­elty” were “very rare, and that the gen­eral treat­ment of Slaves is mild and mod­er­ate,” but read­ing Theodore Weld’s com­pen­dium of atroc­i­ties, Amer­i­can Slav­ery as It Is (1839), changed his mind. Now, he wrote in his diary, his “stom­ach heaves at the . . . num­ber­less cases of hu­man suf­fer­ing in­flicted by hu­man hands.”

Adams be­lieved that even the best minds of the South were be­ing per­verted by their fidelity to the slave sys­tem. Among his col­leagues in Mon­roe’s cabi­net, he had re­spected Sec­re­tary of War John C. Cal­houn as a man of “quick dis­crim­i­na­tion and keen ob­ser­va­tion” and “en­larged philo­soph­i­cal views” who be­lieved (in Adams’s para­phrase) that en­slav­ing blacks “was the best guar­an­tee to equal­ity among the whites.” But by the 1830s, as slav­ery came un­der at­tack not only from abo­li­tion­ists but also, in Cal­houn’s view, from the fed­eral gov­ern­ment, which had im­posed what he con­sid­ered puni­tive tar­iffs threat­en­ing the rights of Carolina planters, Adams was “deeply dis­ap­pointed in him, and now ex­pect[ed] noth­ing from him but evil.” When he looked back to the rev­o­lu­tion­ary gen­er­a­tion, Adams found the same con­tra­dic­tion be­tween their pro­fessed de­vo­tion to lib­erty and their de­fense of slav­ery. Writ­ing while the Mis­souri Com­pro­mise worked its way through Congress, he ob­served that Jef­fer­son, who had es­tab­lished “the first foun­da­tions of civil So­ci­ety” in the Dec­la­ra­tion of In­de­pen­dence, did “not ap­pear to have been aware” that he had also opened “a precipice into which the Slave-hold­ing Planters of his Coun­try, sooner or later must fall.” This was not so much a charge of hypocrisy as of self-de­cep­tion:

With the Dec­la­ra­tion of In­de­pen­dence on their lips and the mer­ci­less Scourge of Slav­ery in their hands, a more fla­grant im­age of hu­man in­con­sis­tency can scarcely be con­ceived than one of our South­ern Slave-hold­ing Repub­li­cans.

Adams had his own in­con­sis­ten­cies. Like many an­ti­slav­ery North­ern­ers, he could not be­gin to en­vi­sion a so­ci­ety of whites and blacks liv­ing to­gether in full equal­ity. He be­lieved sin­cerely that noth­ing could “be more false and heart­less than this doc­trine which makes the first and holi­est rights of hu­man­ity to de­pend upon the color of the skin,” yet he found him­self dis­gusted by Des­de­mona’s pas­sion in Othello for “a rude, un­bleached African soldier.” “The great moral les­son” of the play, he wrote in an 1835 ar­ti­cle about Shake­speare, is “that black and white blood can­not be in­ter­min­gled in mar­riage with­out a gross out­rage upon the law of Na­ture.”

De­spite his hor­ror at the specter of in­ti­macy be­tween the races, Adams’s rep­u­ta­tion to­day—to the ex­tent that he has one out­side the co­terie of pro­fes­sional his­to­ri­ans—is as an an­ti­slav­ery fire­brand ahead of his time. There is merit in this view. Upon re­turn­ing to gov­ern­ment in 1831, he spoke of­ten and pas­sion­ately in the House against slav­ery as “the great and foul stain upon the North-Amer­i­can Union.”

In an episode made fa­mous by the 1997 movie Amis­tad (in which An­thony Hopkins por­trays him as a thun­der­ing moral­ist), Adams stood be­fore the Supreme Court on be­half of a group of slaves who had re­volted aboard a Span­ish slave ship that was car­ry­ing them along the Cuban coast. The rebels—or mu­ti­neers, as some pre­ferred to think of them—tried to force the crew to sail to Africa, but turn­ing by night to­ward the north­west, the white sailors man­aged to steer into Long Is­land Sound, where the Amis­tad was seized by the US Coast Guard. Im­pris­oned while await­ing re­turn to their Span­ish own­ers, the slaves were de­fended by abo­li­tion­ist lawyers in a Connecticut state court, which ruled that they must be freed.

The US gov­ern­ment ap­pealed to the Supreme Court, where, over sev­eral days in the win­ter of 1841, Adams ar­gued for their free­dom. In the end, the Court—presided over by Chief Jus­tice Roger Taney, the same man who would rule six­teen years later in the in­fa­mous Dred Scott case that blacks have “no rights which the white man was bound to re­spect”—sus­tained the lower court rul­ing and or­dered the pris­on­ers re­leased. The Amis­tad case is some­times in­voked as a mile­stone of the an­ti­slav­ery move­ment, but in re­al­ity the rul­ing was a nar­row one con­firm­ing that the pris­on­ers had been trans­ported and sold in vi­o­la­tion of in­ter­na­tional agree­ments ban­ning the slave trade—a ver­dict with lit­tle im­pact on the sta­tus of do­mes­tic slav­ery in the United States.2

In fact, Adams never joined the party of rad­i­cal abo­li­tion­ists, whom he ac­cused of “ef­fu­sions of frenzy” that would only hurt their cause. He re­fused to en­dorse a dec­la­ra­tion by the Amer­i­can Anti-Slav­ery So­ci­ety con­demn­ing ev­ery slave owner as a “Man Stealer.” Even though he loathed it, he rec­og­nized the con­sti­tu­tional re­quire­ment to re­turn fugi­tive slaves upon claim by their own­ers. For many years, he op­posed bring­ing up slav­ery for de­bate in Congress lest it mag­nify the “ill will . . . heart-burn­ings, [and] mu­tual ha­tred” that threat­ened the sta­bil­ity of the na­tional gov­ern­ment.

Yet he also be­lieved in the right of his con­stituents to pe­ti­tion their rep­re­sen­ta­tives on any sub­ject of pub­lic con­se­quence. By tra­di­tion, pe­ti­tions to Congress were printed, en­tered into the of­fi­cial record, and re­ferred to an ap­pro­pri­ate com­mit­tee for con­sid­er­a­tion. By the mid-1830s the flow of pe­ti­tions on the slav­ery is­sue—of­ten call­ing for abo­li­tion in the Dis­trict of Columbia, over which Congress had ju­ris­dic­tion— was be­com­ing such a flood that at one point Adams de­voted two hours a day for three weeks just to mak­ing a list of pe­ti­tions sub­mit­ted to him. In De­cem­ber 1835, James Ham­mond of South Carolina called for an out­right ban on any pe­ti­tion con­cern­ing slav­ery. Un­der Ham­mond’s pro­posal, all such pe­ti­tions would be peremp­to­rily re­fused with­out de­bate or even ac­knowl­edg­ment. In May 1836, the House passed a ver­sion of Ham­mond’s plan. When the out­raged Adams stood up to protest, the Speaker of the House, the 2For a sum­mary of Adams’s role in the case, see Wil­liam J. Cooper’s lu­cid biog­ra­phy The Lost Found­ing Fa­ther: John Quincy Adams and the Trans­for­ma­tion of Amer­i­can Pol­i­tics (Liveright, 2017), pp. 362–368.

fu­ture pres­i­dent James K. Polk, ruled him out of or­der while Adams, de­mand­ing his First Amend­ment rights, shouted above the din, “Am I gagged or am I not?”

What be­came known as the “Gag Rule” lasted un­til 1844, when Adams man­aged to as­sem­ble a coali­tion to re­scind it. In the in­ter­ven­ing years, he tried with­out suc­cess to present pe­ti­tions on one as­pect or an­other of the slav­ery ques­tion, in­clud­ing one from a con­stituent who wanted Congress to “build a Wall, like the Wall of China, be­tween the free and the slave hold­ing States.” Oth­ers op­posed the an­nex­a­tion of Texas (which had won in­de­pen­dence from Mex­ico in 1836) as a new slave state. As if en­er­gized by the fu­til­ity of his cause, Adams rose like a jackin-the-box only to be or­dered by the Speaker to take his seat, “which I did, and im­me­di­ately rose again” as “the bawl of Or­der! Or­der!! re­sounded... from two thirds of the House.” In March 1838, cit­i­zens of Vir­ginia sent in a pe­ti­tion of their own, de­mand­ing “to ar­raign at the Bar of the House and ex­pel for­ever John Quincy Adams.” In the South he be­came a hated sym­bol of North­ern ex­trem­ism. At a time when po­lit­i­cal hos­til­ity could turn quickly into phys­i­cal vi­o­lence, he had rea­son to write in his diary that “I shall hence­forth speak in the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives, at the haz­ard of my life.” Fam­ily and friends urged re­straint, while an­ti­slav­ery ac­tivists urged him on. “Be­tween these ad­verse im­pulses,” he wrote, “my mind is ag­i­tated al­most to dis­trac­tion.”

As the up­roar over slav­ery grew, Adams be­came con­vinced that “the el­e­ments of ex­ter­mi­nat­ing war seem to be in ve­he­ment fer­men­ta­tion.” He be­lieved that sooner or later “the Planters of the South will sep­a­rate from the Union in ter­ror of the eman­ci­pa­tion of their Slaves, and that then the Slaves will eman­ci­pate them­selves by a servile War.” In May 1836, he man­aged to hold the floor long enough to de­liver a speech ar­gu­ing that when­ever a war was go­ing on in any state—he had in mind the In­dian wars then rag­ing in Ge­or­gia and Alabama—the fed­eral gov­ern­ment could as­sume pow­ers or­di­nar­ily pro­scribed by the Con­sti­tu­tion, which in nor­mal times placed slav­ery un­der con­trol of the states.

Here was an early ar­tic­u­la­tion of the prin­ci­ple that in wartime the fed­eral gov­ern­ment could claim emer­gency power to eman­ci­pate slaves in or­der to pre­vent them from be­ing used by the en­emy. Twenty-seven years later, this would be Lin­coln’s ra­tio­nale for the Eman­ci­pa­tion Procla­ma­tion—es­sen­tially an ex­ec­u­tive or­der jus­ti­fied on the grounds of mil­i­tary ne­ces­sity.3 Even ear­lier, in a diary en­try of Fe­bru­ary 1820, Adams had looked into the fu­ture and seen that “a dis­so­lu­tion, at least tem­po­rary of the Union as now con­sti­tuted,” would be re­quired so that “the union might then be re­or­ga­nized, on the fun­da­men­tal prin­ci­ple of eman­ci­pa­tion.”

Adams’s pre­science through­out his life­long diary is stun­ning. Not only did he an­tic­i­pate events—se­ces­sion, civil war, and eman­ci­pa­tion—that now lie be­hind us, but he fore­saw cer­tain haz­ards of Amer­i­can democ­racy whose full re­al­iza­tion may yet lie ahead. “Dem­a­gogue pol­icy,” he wrote in 1839, “is the first and most in­dis­pens­able el­e­ment” for a suc­cess­ful pres­i­den­tial can­di­date, and he had this to say, in a diary en­try of 1803, about the func­tion and value of po­lit­i­cal par­ties:

The Coun­try is so to­tally given up to the Spirit of party, that not to fol­low blind-fold the one or the other is an in­ex­pi­able of­fence— The worst of these par­ties has the pop­u­lar tor­rent in its favour, and uses its tri­umph with all the un­prin­ci­pled fury of a fac­tion; while the other gnashes its teeth, and is wait­ing with all the im­pa­tience of re­venge, for the time when its turn may come to op­press and pun­ish by the peo­ple’s favour.

He was out­raged by politi­cians “just cun­ning enough to grow rich by rail­ing against the rich, and to fat­ten upon the pub­lic spoils bawl­ing Democ­racy.” He pre­dicted in 1805 “that the dy­ing ag­o­nies of the Con­sti­tu­tion, will be wit­ness’d on the floor of the Se­nate.” To read these vol­umes is to marvel at how of­ten he was right and to hope that his dark­est prophe­cies will yet prove to be wrong.

3See Cooper, The Lost Found­ing Fa­ther, pp. 332–333, and John Fabian Witt, Lin­coln’s Code: The Laws of War in Amer­i­can His­tory (Free Press, 2012), chap­ters 7–8.

John Sin­gle­ton Co­p­ley: John Quincy Adams, 1796

John Quincy Adams

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