The Other Adams
April 2, 2008 11:51 AM   Subscribe

No, not Pugsly. If you are watching the miniseries on HBO but still haven't gotten your fill of the Adams Family, consider reading John Quincy Adams' brilliant diaries. You can browse selected topics and read, in his own handwriting, J.Q. Adams' insights ranging from slavery, to the Monroe Doctrine (which he formulated), to becoming Secretary of State, to his reaction to the news of his father's death.

Although his single-term presidency was considered to be a failure, (you can read his sole inaugural address here), he subsequently distinguished himself as a U.S. Congressman by railing against slavery (and argued the Amistad case before the Supreme Court). Considered by some diplomatic historians to be the greatest Secretary of State in US history, he was astonishingly well educated: he wrote a Report on Weights and Measures, urging Congress to adopt a uniform system of weights and measures, and praised France's nascent metric system; he delivered lectures on Astronomy, he was First Boylston Professor of Rhetoric and Oratory at Harvard College (read some of his orations here); and was one of only two American presidents to publish verse: his epic poem Dermot MacMorrogh, The Conquest of Ireland is available online here. In Keith Simonton's estimate of presidential IQs, which you may wish to take with a huge grain of salt, J.Q. Adams ranked first, with an estimate of 165-175.

His distinguished parents' letters, previously.
posted by A Long and Troublesome Lameness (25 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
OK, so, Americans, explain the chopped up snake imagery on the banners to me.
posted by Artw at 11:53 AM on April 2, 2008

the pieces of the snake are states, who must JOIN OR DIE!
posted by moxiedoll at 11:57 AM on April 2, 2008

Hmm... but chopped up snake parts don't generally join together to form snakes do they? Is this a folkloric thing you have to be from the 18th century to get?
posted by Artw at 11:59 AM on April 2, 2008 [1 favorite]

more information here.

apparently the original image came from a woodcut of benjamin franklin's and was adopted as an early symbol of national unity.
posted by elsar at 12:00 PM on April 2, 2008

Artw, at the risk of taking your dereail, see Wikipedia, not to be confused with other snake-flag imagery.
posted by zachxman at 12:01 PM on April 2, 2008

from the link i just posted: "it played off a common superstition of the time: a snake that had been cut into pieces could come back to life if you joined the sections together before sunset."

but this is probably a derail of the JQA post...
posted by elsar at 12:03 PM on April 2, 2008

As mentioned in the previous thread, you can also check out John Quincy Adam's father's library and letters online.
posted by ericb at 12:04 PM on April 2, 2008

And, of course, see Henry Adams, grandson of John Quincy and author of one of the most brilliantly weird memoirs ever to be published.
posted by nasreddin at 12:10 PM on April 2, 2008 [1 favorite]

...he subsequently distinguished himself as a U.S. Congressman by railing against slavery (and argued the Amistad case before the Supreme Court).

John Quincy Adams (played by Anthony Hopkins) before the Supreme Court [video | 10:42]
posted by ericb at 12:28 PM on April 2, 2008

Thanks for these links. I've been enjoying the HBO miniseries, and this is perfect further reading.
posted by homunculus at 1:11 PM on April 2, 2008 [1 favorite]

Why didn't Adams use a word processor? His writing hard to make out.
posted by Postroad at 1:11 PM on April 2, 2008

No kidding. There's no transcription? This is harder to read than a bucket full of snake parts with writing on them.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 1:16 PM on April 2, 2008 [1 favorite]

dyoneo read nasreddin's comment and heartily seconded the recommendation, even if he was disappointed by nasreddin's failure to avail himself of the opportunity to instigate a purely academic discussion of giant electrified Virgins. dyoneo then scratched behind his left ear, ate half a family-sized bag of Flamin' Hot Fritos, and contemplated America's onrushing technological future.
posted by dyoneo at 1:19 PM on April 2, 2008 [1 favorite]

Hmm... but chopped up snake parts don't generally join together to form snakes do they?

Evidence that our politician's troubles with science pre-date the birth of our nation.
posted by psmealey at 2:43 PM on April 2, 2008

Personal theory: The crazy bald electrical dude was up to frankenstein type stuff with the snake parts.
posted by Artw at 2:52 PM on April 2, 2008

My girlfriend keeps cracking me up by saying "Every generation has one man that defines John Adams. This generation, that man is Paul Giamatti."
posted by klangklangston at 2:57 PM on April 2, 2008 [1 favorite]

I was thinking of a John Adams Sr. post--mostly to highlight this brilliant series of blog posts by J.L. Bell at Boston 1775. Bell is a close scholar of revolutionary Boston and has been enjoying the series even as he delights in picking it apart. Historical fact-checking of a very high order.
posted by LarryC at 3:14 PM on April 2, 2008 [1 favorite]

LarryC -- thanks for mentioning J.L. Bell's Boston 1775 blog. I haven't visited it for some time. It's now on my daily "must read" list, as I continue to watch the HBO series.
posted by ericb at 3:27 PM on April 2, 2008

I'll have you all know that I am descended from John Adams and vaguely related to Paul Giamatti.

So it is in my genes to be both snubbed by Jefferson AND the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences!

I am the Kwisatz Haderach!!*

* DVD Commentary for this comment: I was unsure of the correct spelling of Kwisatz Haderach, but was surprised I spelled 'Kwisatz' correctly in my Google search. I think that information, plus the now added information of how to spell 'Haderach' has supplanted something minor from my memory, like the birthday of a grandparent or the chemical composition of salt.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 4:37 PM on April 2, 2008 [4 favorites]

His name is a tomwaitsian pun for a hero of the 21st century!
posted by Artw at 4:52 PM on April 2, 2008 [1 favorite]

Although I think the Anthony Hopkins Amistad version of the John Quincy Adams Supreme Court argument was brilliant, the original was a tad bit more complex.
posted by Muddler at 6:00 PM on April 2, 2008

i too am enjoying the miniseries. i do think paul giamatti is miscast as Adams, but laura linney as Abigail and tom wilkinson as Franklin are thoroughly enjoyable and at times mesmerizing. as an Adams fan, thanks for the post.
posted by brandz at 6:29 PM on April 2, 2008

Here's another related post about the period, on the Alien and Sedition Acts.
posted by homunculus at 7:41 PM on April 2, 2008

My favorite fun fact about him is that he was the first President to have his photo taken. My mental image of him is always this photo, even though it was taken well after he was out of office.
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:33 PM on April 2, 2008 [2 favorites]

John Adams dies? SPOILER!
posted by srboisvert at 12:41 AM on April 3, 2008

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