Traub, James. John Quincy Adams: Militant Spirit. New York: Basic Books, 2015.

When it comes to discussing presidents of the United States, there is an argument which can be made indicating John Quincy Adams is frequently overlooked. Adams, born on Saturday, July 11, 1767 in Braintree, Province of Massachusetts Bay, British America, was the sixth person elected to the office of the American presidency. Despite this point, rarely do historians discuss in any great depth the contribution the Massachusetts Bay born statesman made to American democracy.

In 2016, The New York Times Magazine contributor James Traub saw the publication of his book John Quincy Adams: Militant Spirit. Prior to Militant Spirit, Traub penned five books.[1] In addition to being a regular contributor to The New York Times Magazine, Traub was worked as a reporter for the New York Post and a senior editor of the Saturday Review.[2]

In Militant Spirit, Traub eloquently discusses Adams in five distinct parts.[3] Each part of the book is crafted to address a specific aspect of Adams’ life. From 1767 to 1801, the first part of Traub’s 640-page book focuses on Adams and his road to becoming a statesman.

It is perplexing how the sixth American president is not ranked at a higher tier in the brotherhood of persons which has held the highest political office in the land when he contributed so much to the political landscape in respect to the international arena. We need not forget, even though the statesman was a zealous nationalist in his own right, it was Adams that crafted much of American foreign policy. Furthermore, Adams played a key role in negotiating treaties pivotal to American history, one of which was the Treaty of Ghent, which ended the War of 1812.[4] [5]

“In this supreme crisis, diplomacy salvaged for the United States what could not be won on the battlefield,” historian George Herring wrote.[6] Madison had already abandoned demands that Britain accept his position on neutral rights and impressment. The end of the European war seemed to make such issues irrelevant. Britain would relent only to the extent of a settlement on the basis of the uti possidetis, meaning that territory held at the time the war ended would go to the occupant. The U.S. delegation, headed by Clay, Gallatin, and John Quincy Adams, was perhaps the ablest ever put together by the nation. A master of card games—at Ghent he was often stumbling to bed about the time Adams was rising to pray—Clay sensed that the British were bluffing and persuaded his colleagues to stall. The delegation thus ignored Washington’s instructions to break off the negotiations.”

From what Traub penned in his book, the game of political brinksmanship was every bit a cutthroat House of Cards in Adams’ day as it is presently. Traub, in touching upon the Treaty of Ghent several times the course of his book, wrote “… Clay was a schemer … a congressman, John Floyd, had called for President Monroe to turn over to the House a complete record of the correspondence from the Treaty of Ghent. Clay appears to have inspired the request …”

The 2000 and 2016 presidential elections are not the only ones that have had a degree of controversy surrounding them. If one was to take a closer look at the 1824 presidential election, as Traub has done in the research for his book, the four-way contest for the presidency was not only nail-bitingly close to the wire, it was highly controversial for the period. Even though Adams saw election to the presidency, the closeness of the results called into question the legitimacy of the win.


[1] Too Good to Be True: The Outlandish Story of Wedtech (1990), City On A Hill: Testing the American Dream at City College (1994), The Devil’s Playground: A Century of Pleasure and Profit in Times Square (2004), The Best Intentions: Kofi Annan and the UN in the Era of American World Power (2006), and The Freedom Agenda: Why America Must Spread Democracy (Just Not the Way George Bush Did) (2008).

[2] “Elizabeth Easton Wed to James Traub,” The New York Times, June 17, 1985,, pg. C12

[3] “He Is Formed For A Statesman,” “War And Peace,” “Territorial Expansion,” Internal Improvement,” and “The Slavocracy.”

[4] George Herring, From Colony to Superpower: U.S. Foreign Relations Since 1776, (UK: Oxford Univ. Press, 2008), pp. 129-130.

[5] Samuel Flagg Bemis, John Quincy Adams and the Foundations of American Foreign Policy, (New York: Greenwood Press, 1981),

[6] Herring, From Colony to Superpower, pp. 130.

John Quincy Adams: Militant Spirit
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Shain E. Thomas, a contributor to the Handbook of Texas Online, is a University of North Texas graduate student majoring in Library Information Science.