Goodreads Review: Gentleman Boss — Thomas C. Reeves (President #21 Chester Arthur)

Gentleman Boss: The Life of Chester Alan Arthur (Signature)Gentleman Boss: The Life of Chester Alan Arthur by Thomas C. Reeves

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Chester Arthur is one of those “neverheardofum” presidents, but not for his lack of an effort to be remembered. Long a New York political cog and boss, Arthur steered another direction when he came into the job he never wanted–President of the United States. Reeves painstakingly explores Arthur’s time in the New York City Customhouse, a patronage-hogging job which President Hayes removed him from less than two years before seeing him enter the White House. In the nation’s top post, Arthur pursued a grand agenda, internationally and domestically, but to little effect, leaving him largely an empty glass on the table of history. A biography packed with detail despite Arthur’s destruction of many of his papers, Gentleman Boss is a terrific ride from Lexington to Pennsylvania Avenues.

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Presidential Biographies

The Biographies I’ve Read of Each U.S. President

From three online “Best of” lists, and impulse pick-ups.
  1. Washington: A Life, Ron Chernow
  2. John Adams, David McCullough
  3. Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power, Jon Meacham
  4. James Madison: A Biography, Ralph Louis Ketcham
  5. James Monroe: The Quest for National Identity, Harry Amon
  6. John Quincy Adams: A Public Life, A Private Life, Paul C. Nagel
  7. The Life of Andrew Jackson (abridged), Robert V. Remini
  8. Martin Van Buren, The Romantic Age of American Politics, John Niven
  9. Old Tippecanoe: William Henry Harrison and His Time, Freeman Cleaves
  10. John Tyler: Champion of the Old South, Oliver P. Chitwood
  11. Polk: The Man Who Transformed the Presidency and America, Walter Bornemann
  12. Zachary Taylor: Soldier, Planter, Statesman of the Old Southwest,  K. Jack Bauer
  13. Millard Fillmore: Biography of a President, Robert J. Rayback
  14. Franklin Pierce: Young Hickory of the Granite Hills, Roy F. Nichols
  15. President James Buchanan: A Biography,  Philip S. Klein
  16. A. Lincoln: A Biography, Ronald C. White, Jr.
  17. Andrew Johnson: A Biography, Hans L. Trefousse
  18. American Ulysses, Ronald C. White, Jr.
  19. Rutherford B. Hayes and His America, Harry Barnard
  20. Garfield: A Biography, Allan Peskin
  21. Gentleman Boss: The Life and Times of Chester Alan Arthur, Thomas C. Reeves
  22. Grover Cleveland: A Study in Courage, To the Loss of the Presidency, Allan Nevins
  23. Benjamin Harrison, Charles Calhoun
  24. Grover Cleveland, A Study in Courage, To the End of a Career, Allan Nevins
  25. William McKinley and His America, H. Wayne Morgan
  26. Mornings on Horseback, David McCullough [Theodore Roosevelt]
  27. The Life and Times of William Howard Taft, Henry F. Pringle
  28. Woodrow Wilson: A Biography, John Milton Cooper, Jr.

The Ones Ahead

Biographies I plan to read later.
  • 29. The Harding Era: Warren G. Harding and His Administration, Robert H. Murray
  • 30. Calvin Coolidge: The Quiet President, Donald R. McCoy
  • 31. Herbert Hoover: A Public Life, David Burner
  • 32. No Ordinary Time, Doris Kearnes Goodwin [Franklin Roosevelt]
  • 33. Truman, David McCullough
  • 34. Eisenhower: Soldier and President, Stephen E. Ambrose
  • 35. An Unfinished Life, Robert Dallek [John F. Kennedy]
  • 36. Lone Star Rising: Lyndon Johnson and His Times, Robert Dallek
  • 37. Nixonland, Rick Perlstein
  • 38. Gerald Ford, Douglas Brinkley
  • 39. Jimmy Carter: A Comprehensive Biography, Peter Bourne
  • 40. President Reagan, Lou Cannon
  • 41. George H.W. Bush, Timothy Naftali
  • 42. First in His Class, David Maraniss [Bill Clinton]
  • 43. To be determined [George W. Bush]
  • 44. To be determined [Barack Obama]
  • 45. To be determined [Donald Trump]
  •  7. American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House, John Meacham
  • 18. Grant: A Biography, William S. McFeeley
  • 18. Personal Memoirs, Ulysses S. Grant
  • 33. The Autobiography of Harry S. Truman, Harry Truman and Robert H. Ferrell*
  • 34. Eisenhower in War and Peace, Jean Edwards
  • 41. 41: A Portrait of My Father, George W. Bush
  • 42. My Life, Bill Clinton

The Supplementals

Biographies I’ve read of other significant people in American history.
  • Benjamin Franklin: An American Life, Walter Isaacson
  • Alexander Hamilton, Ron Chernow
  • Santa Anna of Mexico, Will Fowler
  • Team of Rivals, Doris Kearns Goodwin
  • The Autobiography of Malcolm X, Malcolm X, Alex Haley

 

* Already read. Also the first presidential biography I ever read.

Special Thanks to Steve at BestPresidentialBios.com for his hard work and inspiration.

Martin Van Buren — John Niven (President #8)

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First, some trivial facts about President Van Buren:

  • First president born a citizen of the United States (after the Declaration of Independence).
  • First president from the state of New York.
  • Last vice president elected to the presidency until Richard Nixon, and the last sitting vice president to do so until George HW Bush.
  • First former president to run again for president in a later election after losing the office.
  • Third widower president (Jefferson, Jackson).
  • Third one-term president but the first not named John Adams.

Today I wrapped up John Niven’s Martin Van Buren: The Romantic Age of Politics, and gave it just three stars on Goodreads. I found it almost as challenging as Ralph Ketcham’s biography of James Madison, because of its detailed look at the magic tricks behind candidates and elections. It was 600 pages of campaigns, for the most part, and some have suggested a shorter work would have done the job adequately.

However, I don’t fault Niven for the length, I only wish there were more personal information about the man who became America’s eighth president. Like Jon Meacham’s Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power, Niven’s focus is revealed in the title–it’s about politics more than the man.

I was not pleased with the editing, and the final chapter covered the last 15 years of Van Buren’s life while the rest crawled slowly through the years, making it feel very rushed. I also found very few one-liners that I could hang onto, and little creative personality of the author in the work.

I started my presidential biography mission marking favorite lines in my book of Ron Chernow’s Washington for saving or sharing later, but have come to realize I can’t spend that much time on these biographies if I’m ever going to finish them all. Even so, I remember only two or three I might have recorded from Niven’s work, a number that pales dramatically by comparison to the others that I’ve previously read. One line that I did find particularly memorable was this one:

“As with all the libelous campaign literature, Weed’s philippics were millet seeds of truth embedded in husks of fabrication.”

I also found the block quotes mostly uninteresting, as though they were inserted only to add some longer quotations here and there and take up some space. But overall, I did like it, and have gained a broader understanding of the maneuvering that goes on within political parties and caucuses.

Now on to the next one: The one-month president!

The Life of Andrew Jackson — Robert V. Remini (President #7)

Day 1 • page 4

Great opening, jumping into Jackson’s life midway, as he became the most celebrated war hero since George Washington.

I inadvertently bought the abridged version of Remini’s biography, not knowing that the unabridged version is three volumes. I decided to stick with it anyway, and supplemented Jackson with Jon Meacham’s American Lion, as well.

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Day 2 • page 14

Said a resident of Salisbury, Kentucky, where Jackson had been quite a rowdy young man many years earlier:

“Well, if Andrew Jackson can be President, anybody can!”

I am already kind of regretting not giving a go of the three-volume edition of this. It feels rushed and chopped to pieces. Still a fantastic read!

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Day 3 • page 24

“Oh yes, I’m divorced now,” Rachel said. “Good, let’s get married,” Jackson replied. These are not quotes from the book, mind you, but the amount of work the man put into confirming the status of his love’s first marriage.

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Day 4 • page 48

Jackson sure had a lot of job changes, and each one seemingly better than the last (except that whole US Senate debacle). Through all of them he became more and more adept at politicking and earning the right allies. He is the country’s first true master politician!

I find it interesting that after two declared duels, no meaningful shots have been fired, and this from the great General Jackson. But then again, the greats do have a way of avoiding being killed by bullets.

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Day 4 • page 68

Finally, in his third duel, meaningful shots are actually fired. How Jackson did not die from his wound–at any time, not to mention immediately–is hard to understand. Dickinson’s fate is equally hard to comprehend: I’m sorry, but if you don’t get a shot off the first time, you shouldn’t be allowed to try again. They need to change the rules of duels!

Then Aaron Burr is hanging out at the Jackson’s. In every other book I’ve read, he quickly became a political outcast not long after his duel with Hamilton, but here he is palling around with Jackson and both men are rebuilding their reputations in the process.

Also for the first time in my presidential biographies, I read of someone being merciless to his slaves. Washington could order the whip, but it sounds like Jackson went further–“on occasion,” as Remini puts it, as if that makes it more acceptable.

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Day 5 • page 86

I may have heard it before, but I was still taken aback to read that Jackson had sent an orphaned Native American child to his home to be raised there. Because he felt a connection to it. Never mind that HIS army and HIS orders were the reason the child was an orphan. How will he explain that later in the child’s life?

I paused more after reading of Indian atrocities against American settlers. Pregnant women… sickening.

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Day 5 • page 99

Some locals were not happy with Jackson’s enlistment of free blacks in the upcoming fight to save New Orleans:

“Be pleased to keep to yourself your opinions upon the policy of making payments of the troops with the necessary muster rolls without inquiring whether the troops are white, black or tea.”

Let the decisive post-war battle begin!

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Day 6 • page 115

I am beginning to understand how mistakes tend to be the unsung heroes of war, and Jackson himself claimed he was lucky how the engagement with the British in New Orleans turned out. Nevertheless, the battle appeared afterward to be so one-sided, that it cemented Jackson’s lofty place in American history.

How quickly public opinion can change, however, as the hero who saved the city managed to overstay his welcome with a needlessly extended curfew and martial law. Still, he received a warm farewell and celebration at home when he returned to Tennessee.

After arresting federal judge Dominick Hall for releasing a man imprisoned by Jackson during his occupation of the city, the judge later charged Jackson with contempt.

The Hero of New Orleans paid the fine, much as it may have distressed him to do so. He was not prepared to defy Hall; he was unwilling to blemish his victory with a quarrel he was certain to lose. In a final display of spirit, he refiused to accept $1,000 raisied by popular subscription and requested that the sum be distributed among the families of soldiers who died in defense of the city.

Remini unapologetically defends Jackson’s relocation (“removal”) of Native Americans, but seems to present only Jackson’s opinions, not his own. It feels hypocritical for Jackson to present tribe leaders with the choice of relocation or extinction, since he himself would likely take the reigns of the operation exterminating them if necessary. But he probably felt, rightly, that if it weren’t he, many others would be more than willing to do it, making their fate inevitable, and relocation non-negotiable.

I enjoy reading today that another American city, Denver, has joined others in recognizing the second Monday in October as “Indigenous Peoples Day,” a holiday celebrated for centuries across the country as Columbus Day. I hope my own progressive city soon joins the list.

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Day 7 • page 146

On the apparent neglect of the rights of southerners and westerners, before the Missouri Compromise, Jackson wrote: “I hope I may not live to see the evils that must grow out of this wicked design of demagogues, who talk about humanity, but whose sole object is self aggrandizement regardless of the happiness of the nation.” This statement reveals his growing detection of corruption in Washington.

He had plans to be fair to all, and at least in his mind, he was.

This was one of Jackson’s abiding principles. Long before he became President of the United States he articulated the fundamental doctrine of Jacksonian Democracy: the obligation of the government to grant no privilege that aids one class over another, to act as honest broker between classes, and to protect the weak and defenseless against the abuses of the rich and powerful.

Such was evident in his announcement of prosecuting any whites living on Cherokee land, but it seemed to vanish during his continued “Indian removal” policies.

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Day 8 • page 160

Remini and Paul C. Nagel sure have different perspectives of the 1824 election. I think it would have been much better for John Quincy Adams if he had lost then and ran for president again in 1832! Both authors agree that Adams’ overreaching first State of the Union Address sealed the fate of his failed presidency.

Nagel specifically said there was no real “bargain” between JQA and Henry Clay, because the offer of Secretary of State was made after the House vote, but Remini presents the scheme as a simple fact, established in an otherwise harmless conversation likely with a wink or a nod. I am inclined from everything else I now know about Adams to believe that such a deal is completely out of character for him. Be that as it may, I can appreciate how it looked at the time, and perception is reality (or so I’ve been told).

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Day 9 • page 182

The nastiness and slander of the 1828 campaign approaches that of today’s. I now equate the names of Isaac Hill and Duff Green with Andrew Breitbart. I am struck by the tragic personal details in the lives of the presidents–trivial details that I feel like I might have heard before but not comprehended–such as Rachel Jackson dying the same month her husband officially knew that he would become president. I am also saddened to learn of the death of Lyncoya, the Indian child the Jackson’s never should have had in the first place.

I can understand why Jackson blamed the Adams camp for the death of his wife, but she must have had a very weak constitution to have been ultimately broken by words on a page. She had just lost Lyncoya and, I’m sure, dreaded the attention and attacks that lay ahead, but there must have been something else. It is unfair of Jackson to extend the charge of government corruption to include second-hand homicide.

⇒     The loss of his beloved means Jackson is about to become the second widower in the President’s House, and adds to a remarkable footnote about our First Ladies: Only one of them through the first seven presidents lived in the White House for her husband’s entire time in office: The city and house were not built yet for George and Martha Washington. John and Abigail Adams couldn’t move in there until late in his third year in office. Martha Jefferson died a decade before her husband was president. James and Dolley Madison were burned out of the house during the War of 1812, and it wasn’t ready for the James and Elizabeth Monroe until late in his first year. That makes John Quincy’s wife Louisa Adams the first. Now I can’t help but wonder who was the first First Lady to live there for eight years, since I know the next several presidents after Jackson served only one term. Don’t tell me!

It sounds like it is a wonder that the President’s House withstood the raucous crowd that gathered for Jackson’s inaugural celebration. “The people’s president” was almost smothered by them! What a contrast to today, when the place is fortress, and not the scene of any significant inauguration-day festivities.

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Day 10 • page 219

Jackson’s intended removal of corruption from Washington is overshadowed by the removal of his cabinet, and then the removal of the American Indian. Despite his calling it “harsh, arrogant, racist,” I am finding Remini to be far too tolerant of Jacksonian Indian policy. Don’t get me wrong — he has been critical of it. But calling their fate “inevitable” is an insult to humanity. The cause of liberty demanded better. And to suggest there was a military necessity to Indian removal I find quite laughable. Jackson had already proven nothing would stand in America’s way of defending itself anymore, and Indians would have been no obstacle had they not been relocated.

New Jersey Senator Theodore Frelinghuysen was one of the few to come to the defense of the Indians:

“We have crowded the tribes upon a few miserable acres of our Southern frontier: it is all that is left to them of their once boundless forests: and still, like the horse-leech, our insatiated cupidity cries, give! give! give!”

I would also like to know how Jackson expects to pay off the deficit while buying Indian lands for almost three times its amount.

§

Day 11 • page 251

Jackson saves the Union… for now. But I do believe the Confederate Army was just born in South Carolina.

I found it very exciting to read Jackson’s take on the veto, as he, like fellow limited-government advocate Thomas Jefferson, expanded the power of the presidency.

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Day 12 • page 292

Jackson and his staff accomplished so much it is blowing my mind, while Adam’s entire presidency was covered in one chapter of his biography. Jackson’s popularity with the electorate also continued almost without fail, and I wonder if he would have run for a third term had his health not been declining and had he not had a newly rebuilt home awaiting him in Tennessee.

I would feel worse about Rachel’s letters being destroyed in the Hermitage fire if it weren’t for the fact that many early presidents intentionally burned personal letters themselves. It is sad, though. so much of their stories remains an unfinished puzzle.

I did a literary double-take when reading about Jackson’s tour after the South Carolina threat, when they stopped in Lowell, Massachusetts to see a factory where young women worked. The phrase “a veritable mile of girls” made me think of today’s presidential campaign, in which the names and behaviors of Donald Trump and Bill Clinton are bringing up outrageous stories too numerous too quickly for a voter to keep up. I believe their staffs would have to steer them clear of any place with a “mile of girls.”

I will be driving for 11 hours tomorrow, so I may not have much reading time, but I will try to post!

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Day 13 • page 310

An assassination attempt that somehow failed twice! Jackson was calm back at the White House afterward, but that fits his style. He probably figured God obviously needed more from him, so he went on about living his life with no regard to what had just happened.

I can see how liberals and conservatives today borrow from Jackson’s vision of Democracy.

It is quite ironic that Americans were illegally migrating to Mexico in the 1830s, when Texas was still part of that country!

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Day 14 • page 350

Retirement, and an end to the most colorful presidency yet. So many accomplishments, summarized nicely in chapter 29.

I am sad to read that Jackson did not free any of his slaves in his will — something profoundly flawed in his otherwise remarkable thinking.

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Day 15 • page 360

Old Hickory is dead, but, despite his worry, his legacy lives on in a mostly positive way. The details of his passing make  a touching story on their own–that he was surrounded by so many friends and family members, and was speaking coherently (preaching!) to the very end.

I wonder what he would think about having his face on paper money? He would, I’m sure, graciously yield his likeness to someone else. That it looks like it’s going to be a leader of slave escape is something we just won’t tell him.

I will seek the three-volume Remini for my collection and plan to read that some day, after I’ve completed all the presdients. I considered reading Meacham’s bio on Jackson immediately after this one, but I feel like I should move on and come back to that as a “bonus” read later.  So instead, I am moving on to a different biography, Ron Chernow’s Hamilton, making me one of the few people reading it for a reason other than the Broadway musical that has apparently made it a trend.

John Quincy Adams: A Public Life, a Private Life — Paul C. Nagel (President #6)

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Day 12 • 8½ pages

Work and home demands have kept me from my minimum 20 pages per day today, and means I have read 8½ pages total the last two days. I will try to make up for it in the next couple of days.

I am starting this book (for the purposes of the new blog) on page 215, and ending today on 223. John has returned to Paris while journeying from Russia to his new post in London, traveling part of the way on a ship named after his father. I would think that would be a pretty cool experience for JQ, except that he spent most of his life to that point trying to get out of his John Adams’ shadow. Among the entertainments while in France, a visit to the castle of the Marquis de Lafayette, who will soon make his farewell tour of the United States. The more I read in other biographies about Lafayette, the more I want to read one about him. I have a good one on my to-read list, Lafayette, by Harlow Giles Unger.

John helped finalize the Treaty of Ghent, which ended the War of 1812 with the same policies that were in place before it started–but with an American capital to rebuild–seen as a victory for the US. His amazing résumé continues to grow.

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Day 13 • 24½ pages

I have found a love of statistics, and to some extent, trivia about two of my favorite subjects: Baseball and US Presidents. My wife hates it, so I get to talk about it here.

Today’s text confirmed for me what I had suspected, the unusual fact that our SIXTH president’s wife was the FIRST presidential spouse to live in the White House for her husband’s entire term. The city was not yet built in George Washington’s time, and was not ready (and barely) for John Adams to move into until his third year in office. Thomas Jefferson was a widower in the President’s House, James Madison was burned out of it in the War of 1812, and repairs did not allow James and Elizabeth Monroe to move in until late in his first year.

I found it incredible that Abigail Adams influenced two later presidents to give jobs to her family members, but that her son could not be moved to do so in his new office of Secretary of State. I think those apron strings are cut!

It saddens me how quickly JQA became a target of unfairness–during the so-called “era of good feelings,” no less–because of the aspirations of those he worked with. Monroe’s cabinet should have been a “dream team,” perhaps the strongest one the nation had seen to that point. But if nothing else, something politicians are great at is messing things up.

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Day 14 • 20 pages

The metric system can save us from the devil. That thought was quite a surprise! JQA’s report on weights and measures sounds like the most detailed and boring book ever written! But if it made him happy, I accept it.

I like that Nagel mentioned John’s receipt of a stray vote that prevented Monroe from unanimous re-election. I also like that Adams opposed the Missouri Compromise, a deal that put my home state on the wrong side of history.

For the first time since starting my trip through the lives of all the presidents, I felt a real connection to the history I was reading, when John became a fan of steamboat travel. Being from St. Louis, I grew up in an area greatly affected by steam-powered traffic on the Mississippi, so it was easy for me to visualize the vessel on which he journeyed from Washington to Massachusetts.

I was sad that he seemed to pay little notice of the death of the legendary First Lady, his mother, Abigail in 1818. But it was somehow appropriate anyway. Also sad is knowing that his father would deteriorate substantially and not live very much longer, either.

My favorite line today was the humorous (and unintentional) use of alliteration when John was referring to Washington society’s petty social expectations as a, “paltry passion for precedence.”

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Day 15 • 27 pages

If I am ever asked what contest between former presidents I would most like to see, I think at this point I would have  to say a swim-off in the Potomac by JQA and JFK.

John’s comment about the swine farm could  similarly apply to the politically ambitious in Washington: “Not cheering either to the sight or to the scent.”

His noble aspiration to, “bring the whole people of the union to harmonize together,” is one echoed by many presidents before and after him, and achieved by none. There are just too many of us and too many opinions to harmonize.

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Day 16 • 33 pages

“My life must be militant to its close.”

I am unwrapping the injustice of a presidency doomed to failure by popular opinion before it even began. Adams became the second president to win the office via the House of Representatives, after Andrew Jackson claimed both the most popular and most electoral votes, though because there were four candidates, even Jackson did not take the required electoral majority.

While unfair to the highly qualified and dedicated Adams, I can appreciate what 1820s Americans would have been feeling: An exciting personality, the nation’s first big war hero since George Washington, and someone neither from New England nor Virginia, had been defeated through technicality by a government insider who had spent most of his life on another continent while failing repeatedly to make a private-sector career in America.

Nagel’s apologetic introduction of the chapter as a necessarily brief commentary on JQA’s presidency was followed by talk about the endless and unrestricted line of visitors to the Executive Mansion, and about trips home, but nothing on any significant event in which Adams played a role. It seems the most noteworthy thing about his time in office is that he became president at all. Perhaps the most unfortunate part of the story is that all of the grand desires he called out in his first Congressional address, torn asunder by colleagues, the press, and the people, are things we have and take for granted today. The country simply wasn’t ready for for his ideas, and wasn’t ready for another Adams.

I found Nagel’s description of the events of July 4, 1826, the most clever of the ones I have read so far:

The nation was much stirred by the news that the two principal authors of the Declaration of Independence should be recalled by God on the nation’s fiftieth birthday.

Both Thomas Jefferson and the senior John Adams, as well as JQA himself, had been diplomats overseas, a job in which being recalled means you are either fired, or needed in some other capacity and must go home.

I am heartbroken for John, as his insignificant presidency is nearly bracketed by his father’s death, and then his eldest son’s.

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Day 17 • 23 pages

A sturdy white oak.

It is hard to fathom how JQA, twice ousted from elected office, constantly disrespected by colleagues and the press, and hard-pressed to find anything noteworthy he had accomplished as a politician, would come up with this phrase: “Public affairs… afford me rather relief and relaxation from these heavier domestic and personal afflictions.” That meant he had some really bad stuff going on at home.

I love how John’s opinion of President Jackson is revealed on page 343:

“He is one of our tribe of great men who turn disease to commodity, like John Randolph, who for forty years was always dying.” According to Adams, Jackson was “so ravenous of notoriety that he craves the sympathy for sickness as a portion of his glory,” willing even to allow talk of his “chronic diarrhoea.” He predicted that the president would “crawl” back to Washington, disappear briefly into the White House, and then emerge, “never in better health and spirits.”

Louisa’s description of her husband’s resolve to their only remaining son, Charles: “Your father is a sturdy white oak and not to be crashed by the reptiles who envy his talents and would destroy him if they could.”

It sounds as though in the next chapter, he will be doing the destroying…

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Day 18 • 16 pages

Finally, John is thriving, never more popular at home, and newly reelected to the House. Yet I find that I can’t be too happy for him, as he has emerged on the wrong sides of the slavery and women’s rights issues–if only to sustain a fight.

I enjoyed reading about the origins of the Smithsonian Institution, courtesy of a bequeathal by British friend James Smithson.  I am also glad that Adams led the effort to keep the funds directed toward the cause for which it was intended.

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Day 19 • 15 pages

I am realizing that John is possibly the most notable politically active septuagenarian since Benjamin Franklin, and continue to find it astounding how a man who had so often been beat up in his chosen career seemed to find additional strength each day in his old age. He turned around, to be the slayer of the “slavocracy,” provoking the ire of southern states at every opportunity, despite the “gag rule” on the subject of human bondage. With each page I read he becomes a bigger hero to the rights of all men, even defending the Africans of the Amistad before the Supreme Court.

I am pushing with his family for John to complete a biography of his father, but it appears that is not likely to ever happen. I am happy that he looks forward to finally having a friend in the Executive Mansion with the election of William Henry Harrison,  yet I know that only more death awaits, to take another jab at John’s hope and optimism.

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Day 20 • 35 pages

I finished the text today, as I had a day off from work and was close enough to the end to see the light. It was a difficult for me, at this time, to read such detail of the deterioration of the health of John Quincy Adams. Yet I took inspiration from his drive to keep going until the very end, and only hope I can somehow manage that when my time comes around. Although I would like to retire at some point–I’m not sure Adams knew what retirement was.

He continued on in an effort to salvage his name in history, and he has more than done that. I couldn’t help but think that he was likely the most prominent politically-active septuagenarian since Benjamin Franklin. Then he turned 80 and kept going. I also thought about how he could stand beside Lincoln in American history as a formidable opponent of slavery.

As usual, I got choked up as I read of his passing, this time influenced by the unexpected celebrations he encountered as he traveled to Cincinnati and elsewhere. I thought about how hard that trip was for him physically, and how easy his last journey was, from Washington to Quincy where he finally would lay at rest.

It is a strange roller-coaster ride of emotion, getting to know someone intimately; watching them grow from childhood (or sometimes infancy) to adulthood, and then fading from this world to the next, all in a short three to four weeks of my time. Losing friends is hard. Meeting and losing them in the same month is inexplicable.

JQ is the sixth president of whom I have read a biography, and the seventh key American historical figure (including Franklin) in the last 12 months. I am gaining an invaluable perspective on what it was that made these men great, and not-so-deep down, I feel a wish to join them in their notoriety. Maybe in my next life…

Washington: A Life — Ron Chernow (President #1 George Washington)

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 “The Shield of Providence”

My Thoughts on Washington: A Life, by Ron Chernow

I began my reading of presidential biographies with the man who was the first president of the United States, George Washington. I learned a lot from Chernow’s book, including Washington’s miraculous survival as long as he did, politically as well as literally.

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