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Jul 4, 2005 12:23 pm

John Quincy Adams Guest Blogs at Cliopatria ...

Next to Abraham Lincoln and George Washington, I think that my favorite American president is John Quincy Adams. Perhaps that's the only explanation of the fact that when I was in graduate school at Chapel Hill, I bought his leatherbound Lectures on Rhetoric and Oratory, Delivered to the Classes of Senior and Junior Sophisters [sic] in Harvard University. 2 volumes (Cambridge: Hilliard and Metcalf, 1810). Lord knows, I've never been able to make my way through all the turgid prose in them.

I wouldn't argue that Adams was a particularly successful president. He achieved the office with less than a plurality of the popular vote, failed to win congressional approval of his ambitious program for internal development, and was defeated for re-election by a much more popular and demagogic Andrew Jackson. There's not much about Andrew Jackson that I approve of. But when the"neo-conservatives" set forth their agenda, I am reminded that John Quincy Adams would make short shrift of their claims to being any sort of conservative. It is Adams, who as Secretary of State outlined what became known as the Monroe Doctrine. It is found in no single document but was outlined in a number of places, including this 4th of July Address. So, in the spirit of Caleb McDaniel's Blogging in the Early Republic, I've invited John Quincy Adams to give Cliopatria's 4th of July Post:

And now, friends and countrymen, if the wise and learned philosophers of the elder world, the first observers of nutation and aberration, the discoverers of maddening ether and invisible planets, the inventors of Congreve rockets and Shrapnel shells, should find their hearts disposed to enquire what has America done for the benefit of mankind?

Let our answer be this: America, with the same voice which spoke herself into existence as a nation, proclaimed to mankind the inextinguishable rights of human nature, and the only lawful foundations of government. America, in the assembly of nations, since her admission among them, has invariably, though often fruitlessly, held forth to them the hand of honest friendship, of equal freedom, of generous reciprocity.

She has uniformly spoken among them, though often to heedless and often to disdainful ears, the language of equal liberty, of equal justice, and of equal rights.

She has, in the lapse of nearly half a century, without a single exception, respected the independence of other nations while asserting and maintaining her own.

She has abstained from interference in the concerns of others, even when conflict has been for principles to which she clings, as to the last vital drop that visits the heart.

She has seen that probably for centuries to come, all the contests of that Aceldama the European world, will be contests of inveterate power, and emerging right.

Wherever the standard of freedom and Independence has been or shall be unfurled, there will her heart, her benedictions and her prayers be.

But she goes not abroad, in search of monsters to destroy.

She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all.

She is the champion and vindicator only of her own.

She will commend the general cause by the countenance of her voice, and the benignant sympathy of her example.

She well knows that by once enlisting under other banners than her own, were they even the banners of foreign independence, she would involve herself beyond the power of extrication, in all the wars of interest and intrigue, of individual avarice, envy, and ambition, which assume the colors and usurp the standard of freedom.

The fundamental maxims of her policy would insensibly change from liberty to force....

She might become the dictatress of the world. She would be no longer the ruler of her own spirit....

[America's] glory is not dominion, but liberty. Her march is the march of the mind. She has a spear and a shield: but the motto upon her shield is, Freedom, Independence, Peace. This has been her Declaration: this has been, as far as her necessary intercourse with the rest of mankind would permit, her practice.

See also Brandon Watson's"She Goes Not Abroad, in Search of Monsters to Destroy" at Siris. Thanks to John Quincy Adams, John Nichols, and Manan Ahmed for the tip.

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More Comments:

Ralph E. Luker - 7/5/2005

It's always good to have approval for JQA from a libertarian voice. I don't imagine there'd be much enthusiasm for his agenda of internal improvements, however.

Kenneth R Gregg - 7/5/2005

I will second that!
And JQ Adams had the "vision thing" down right, unlike another more recent "chip off the old iceberg" in high office today.
Just a thought.
Just Ken

Oscar Chamberlain - 7/4/2005

I like JQ. He was a chip off the old iceberg--as I am too fond of telling my classes--but he had a high and fine vision of America. An elitist in our most democratic age, he had little chance to be an effective president. But in his celebration of education, his belief in science and the importance of becoming more and more knowledgeable of the world, and in his understanding that conquest did not improve a City on a Hill, he remains a voice to be listened to.

Thanks Ralph