2, 3, 6, 36

Monday, April 28, 2008
I won't go through the full train of thought that led me to the following couple of paragraphs from Profiles In Courage except to note that until this week I'd not looked through David McCullough's John Adams, the biography that provided the basis for the recently-concluded HBO series of the same name, because, based on a couple of reviews, I'd concluded that I wouldn't agree with it in important respects about which I hold informed, at least in my view, opinions. This remained my view even after I read and enjoyed the same author's 1776.

I did borrow a copy of John Adams from the library this week because I was curious as to why certain scenes in the final two episodes dealing with the subject's term as President and his last 26 years were dramatized as they were. While skimming using the helpful index, I came upon one sentence with which I'm in complete agreement: In a magnificient portrait by [John Singleton] Copley done in London a year later, he might be the beau ideal of the time.

This is that magnificent portrait of John Quincy Adams, John F. Kennedy's first profile in courage...

...and these are the two paragraphs which sum up my main point of political disagreement with McCullough and a number of the contributors to this blog (though it may be a surprise to them) through the years:

Even after the death of the elder Adams, John Quincy maintained touching loyalty to his father's memory. Reading in Jefferson's works the letters written by the later more than thirty-five years earlier when his father and Jefferson had been political rivals (although their early friendship was later revived), he could still work himself into a rage at what he regarded as Jefferson's perfidy. "His treatment of my father," Adams wrote in his diary, "was double-dealing, treacherous and false beyond all toleration." John Quincy did not comprehend, after a lifetime in the thick of it, how our complicated Federal system of checks and balances operated; nor did he realize that what he regarded as Jefferson's "machinations" was merely a facet of the latter's genius applied with success to the art and science of Government.

The failure of John Quincy Adams to recognize the political facts of life first became apparent during his years in the Senate, years which were neither the most productive of his life nor those in which his contribution was especially significant. Yet his single term in the United States Senate gives us a clear insight into the fate of a man who brought to the public service notable faculties, a respected name and a singular ambition for the right. His experience illustrates as does almost none other that even this extraordinary equipment is not enough to succeed in American political life.


Knucklehead said...

OK, I'll bite I can't quite put my finger on what it is you disagree with...

Is it the bit about "Jefferson's machinations" or something else.

(It's been a while since I read this book and I didn't see the TV series, so I might not hold up my end of any discussion.)

loner said...


It has to do with what makes a politician a success. I thought about reproducing McCullough's analysis of the 1800 election (the loser's litany in which the victor has little to nothing to do with his victory and when he does it's mostly because he's a knave), but why bother.

Anyway, I was sick when I stumbled upon the comment about the Copley portrait. Had it been otherwise (or I'd not been able to find a good image) you'd have been spared.