TBT – #MAGAWeek2018 – John Quincy Adams

Because I was out sick from work yesterday (and will be again today), I needed a way to cover Secretary of State and President John Quincy Adams with one AP United States History class that was slightly behind the others (in part to our strange, rotating schedule).  It occurred to me that I had written nearly 2000 words on the great Secretary of State back in 2018, during the first ever #MAGAWeek.  Why not have the students read that?

So, given my decrepit—but improving!—situation, I thought I’d dedicate today’s TBT to the man who was, perhaps, the greatest Secretary of State in American history—the oft-forgotten, much-maligned John Quincy Adams:

John Quincy Adams

If yesterday’s MAGA Week profile of George Washington was straight from “American History Greatest Hits, Volume I,” today’s selection is like a bootlegged deep-cut from an obscure local musician’s live show.  John Quincy Adams—an American diplomat, Secretary of State, President, and Congressman—deserves better.

US History students of mine for years have recoiled at the dour daguerreotype portrait of our somewhat severe sixth President.  But behind that stern, austere visage churned the  mind of a brilliant, ambitious man—and probably the greatest Secretary of State in American history.  I will be focusing on Adams’s tenure in that position in today’s profile.

An “Era of Good Feeling”

Adams was one of several “all-star” statesmen of the second generation of great Americans.  After the careers of George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, and John Quincy’s father, John Adams, a new, youthful cadre of ambitious and talented national leaders took their place at the helm of a nation that was growing and expanding rapidly.  From the ill-fated War of 1812 through the Mexican War, leaders like John C. Calhoun, Daniel Webster, Henry Clay, and Andrew Jackson—the populist odd-man out—forged a national identity and sought to navigate the nation through its early growing pains.

John Quincy Adams was among this group.  After the War of 1812, his father’s old Federalist Party largely died out, both due to the treasonous actions of the so-called “Blue Light” Federalists (who openly sided with the British) and to demographic changes brought about by westward expansion and the Louisiana Purchase in 1803.  More Americans were small, yeoman farmers, and the Federalists’ pro-British, pro-industry, pro-commerce platform held little appeal for feisty frontiersman who were suspicious of a strong federal government and the hated Second Bank of the United States, charted in 1816.

As such, the United States entered an “Era of Good Feeling” under President James Monroe, in which one party, the Democratic-Republican Party, remained.  Monroe’s cabinet was a “who’s who” of young, dynamic men, and Adams was his Secretary of State.

Secretary of State

It was in this context that Adams made his most significant contributions to American foreign policy and nationalism.  While serving as Secretary of State, he laid out a vision for America’s future that held throughout the nineteenth century.

In essence, Adams argued that the United States should pursue a realist foreign policy that avoided wars and foreign entanglements; that the nation should not seek a European-style “balance of power” with its Latin American neighbors, but should be exercise hegemonic dominance in the Western Hemisphere; and that the United States should gain such territory as it could diplomatically.

In 1821, Adams famously issued his warning against involvement in foreign wars of liberation.  The context for this warning was the Greek War of Independence from the Ottoman Empire, an endeavor that was hugely popular in Europe, particularly in Britain.  Many Americans urged Congress to intervene in the interest of liberty, and for Americans to at least send arms to help in another fledgling nation’s war for independence.

Adams perceptively saw the dangers inherent in the United States involving itself in other nations’ wars, even on the most idealistic of grounds.  To quote Adams at length:

“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.” (Emphasis added; Source:  https://www.mtholyoke.edu/acad/intrel/jqadams.htm)

If America were to involve itself in open-ended wars of liberation—even once!—it would set a dangerous precedent that the United States would become constantly embroiled in the squabbles of other nations.  No matter how well-meaning, such intervention would commit the nation to a disastrously unlimited policy of nation-building and war.

The Transcontinental Treaty (1819)

Prior to rumblings for intervention in Greece, Adams brokered the purchase of Spanish Florida in a rather amusing fashion.  The hero of the Battle of New Orleans, General Andrew Jackson, pursued a group of Seminole Indians into Florida, violating orders to respect the international border.  In the process, Jackson attacked a fort manned by Seminoles and escaped slaves, killed two British spies, and burned a Spanish settlement.

Instantly, an international crisis seemed imminent.  To a man, President Monroe’s cabinet demanded disciplinary action be taken against General Jackson.  It was Adams—who, ironically, would become Jackson’s bitterest political opponent in 1824 and 1828—argued against any such action, and planned to use Jackson’s boldness to America’s advantage.

With apologies to Britain and Spain, Adams pointed out that, despite the government’s best efforts, Jackson was almost impossible to control, and was apt to invade the peninsula again.  Further, Spanish rule in Florida was increasingly tenuous, due to the various Latin American wars of independence flaring up at the time.  With revolts likely—and facing the prospect of another Jackson invasion—Spain relented, selling the entire territory for a song.

The Oregon Country and the Convention of 1818

Adams was also key in securing the Oregon Country for the United States, although the process was not completed in full until James K. Polk’s presidency, some thirty years later.  The Oregon Country—consisting of the modern States of Washington and Oregon—was prime land for settlement, but the United States and Great Britain both held valid claims to the territory.

Adams realized that the United States could afford to be patient—given America’s massive population growth at the time, and its citizens’ lust for new lands, Adams reasoned that, given enough time, American settlers would quickly outnumber British settlers in the territory.

Sure enough, Adams secured another territory for the United States, albeit in far less dramatic fashion that the acquisition of Florida one year later.

The Monroe Doctrine (1823)

Perhaps Adams’s greatest contribution to the United States was his work on the Monroe Doctrine in 1823.  Once again, Adams’s diplomatic brilliance came into play.

Adams sought to keep the United States out of foreign wars, but he also wanted to keep European powers out of the Western Hemisphere.  As Spain continued to lose its grip on its American colonies, the autocratic nations of Russia, Prussia, and Austria (the Austrian Hapsburg controlled Spain at this time) sought to reestablish monarchical rule in the Western Hemisphere.

President Monroe and Secretary Adams were having none of it—nor was was Great Britain, which enjoyed a brisk trade with the newly-independent republics of Latin America.  To that end, Britain proposed issuing a joint statement to the world, with the effect of committing both nations to keeping the new nations of Latin American independent.

Monroe was excited at the idea, but in his ever-prescient manner, Adams argued for caution.  Were the United States to issue the declaration jointly with Britain, they would appear “as a cockboat in the wake of a British man-o-war.”  It would be better, Adams argued, to issue a statement unilaterally.

The United States had no way, in 1823, to enforce the terms of the resulting Monroe Doctrine, which pushed for three points:  Europe was to cease intervention in the affairs of the Western Hemisphere (non-intervention); Europe was to cease acquiring new colonies in the Western Hemisphere (non-colonization); and the United States would stay out of open-ended entanglements and alliances with Europe (isolation).

However, Adams knew that Britain would enforce the Monroe Doctrine with its mighty navy, even if the United States issued it unilaterally, because it would be in Britain’s national interest to do so.  Sure enough, Adams’s shrewd realism won the day, and, other than France’s brief occupation of Mexico during the American Civil War, European powers never again established colonies in the New World.

After Monroe’s Cabinet

For purposes of space and length, I will forego a lengthy discussion of Adams’s presidency and his tenure in Congress.  He was an ardent nationalist in the sense that he sought an ambitious project of internal improvements—roads, canals, harbors, and lighthouses—to tie the young nation together.  In his Inaugural Address, he called for investment in a national university and a series of observatories, which he called “lighthouses of the sky,” an uncharacteristically dreamy appellation that brought him ire from an already-hostile Congress.

His presidency, too, was marred by the unusual circumstances of his election; Adams is the only president to never win the popular or electoral vote, or to ascend to the position from the vice presidency.  That’s a story worth telling in brief, particularly for political nerds.

The presidential election field of 1824 was a crowded one, and the “Era of Good Feeling” and its one-party dominance were showing signs of sectional tension (indeed, the second system of two parties, the National Republicans—or “Whigs”—and Jackson’s Democratic Party, would evolve by 1828).  There were four candidates for president that year:  Andrew Jackson, John Quincy Adams, Speaker of the House Henry Clay, and Secretary of Treasury William Crawford of Georgia.

Jackson won a plurality of the electoral votes—99—but no candidate had a clear majority.  In this event, the top three candidates are thrown to the House of Representatives, where each State’s delegation votes as one.  Crawford, who finished third, was deathly ill, and was not a suitable candidate, and Henry Clay, in fourth, was not eligible constitutionally.

That left the rabble-rousing Jackson and the austere Adams.  Clay, as Speaker of the House, held immense influence in Congress, and could not stand Jackson, so he threw his support behind Adams, who won the election in Congress.

Apparently losing all the wisdom and prudence of his days at the State Department, Adams foolishly named Clay as his new Secretary of State—an office that, in those days, was perceived as a stepping stone to the presidency.  Jackson supporters immediately cried foul, arguing that it was a “corrupt bargain” in which Clay sold the presidency in exchange for the Cabinet position.

While it appears that Adams sincerely believed Clay was simply the best man for the job, the decision cast a pall over his presidency, and Jackson supporters would gleefully send their man to the Executive Mansion in 1828.

At that point, Adams expected to settle into a quiet retirement, but was elected to represent his congressional district in 1830.  During his time in Congress, he fought against slavery and the infamous “gag rule,” which prevented Congressman from receiving letters from constituents that contained anti-slavery materials.  He was also a vocal opponent of the Mexican War—as was a young Abraham Lincoln during his single term in Congress—and died, somewhat disgracefully, while rising to oppose a measure to honor the veterans of that war.

Regardless, Adams’s career shaped the future of the country, gaining it international prestige and setting it on track to emerge as a mighty nation, stretching from sea to shining sea.  Through his service and genius, Adams made America great—and, physically, in a very literal sense.

Quick References

Lazy Sunday XVI: #MAGAWeek2018

This week marks the beginning of #MAGAWeek2019, my celebration of the men, women, and ideas that MADE AMERICA GREAT!  Starting Monday, July 1 and running through Friday, July 5, this year’s #MAGAWeek2019 posts will be SubscribeStar exclusives.  If you want to read the full posts, subscribe to my SubscribeStar page for as little as $1 a month.  You’ll also get access to exclusive content every Saturday.

To celebrate #MAGAWeek2019, this edition of Lazy Sunday features the four essays from #MAGAWeek2018.  They pull from my years of teaching and reading American history, and I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I enjoyed writing them.

1.) “George Washington” – The Father of Our Country!  Social justice bleeding hearts and historical revisionists have striven for years to cast Washington and the other Founders as greedy slave owners who wrote a wicked, capitalistic Constitution to preserve their own power.  What a cartoonishly stupid view of American history!  George Washington was an able leader, and demonstrated a trait that the modern Left would do well to learn:  mercy.

2.) “John Quincy Adams” – John Quincy Adams was a terrible president, and suffered from the aloof elitism of our modern coastal elites (he was even staged against the Trump of his time, the populist hero Andrew Jackson).  That said, he was the best Secretary of State this nation ever had (so don’t be too hasty in drawing comparisons between him and Secretary Hillary Clinton).  JQA crafted America’s expansion across the continent with adept skill.  Read all about it in my lengthy biography.

3.) “Thomas Jefferson & The Declaration of Independence” – Jefferson is, other Washington, Madison, Hamilton, and a handful of other Founders, our most important Founding Father.  He wrote the Declaration of Independence, with its lofty ideals of God-given rights and liberty.  He was a Renaissance Man, talented in many areas, and while he harbored a naive support for the French Revolution (and revolutions generally), his philosophic mind bequeathed to the world a document that is a thunderclap for liberty here and abroad.

4.) “Limited Government” – This post largely focused on the Madisonian system of the Constitution.  I fear that we no longer truly live under the constitutional order that Madison and the fifty-four other Framers created, as our insidious Deep State and bureaucratic elite resist the results of elections and despise the very citizens they are charged to serve.  Let us hope the spirit of 1787 will move Americans again to insist upon the restoration of limited government.

Enjoy this look back at our nation’s history, and stay tuned for more #MAGAWeek entries this week!

–TPP

Other Lazy Sunday Installments:

#MAGAWeek2018 – Limited Government

For the last day of MAGA Week 2018, I’m dedicating this post not to any specific historic individual, but instead to a facet of political (conservative) philosophy:  limited government.

It’s easy to take limited government for granted, or even to fail to recognize it:  it doesn’t seem to occur organically, although modern-day economic libertarians will claim as such (never mind that this ignores most of the last 6000 years of recorded history).  Limited government is rooted in self-government, which did flourish once given a chance, but it certainly required the fertile soil of 550 years of English political history.

Limited government is not quite the same as small government.  A government can be “small” in terms of its expenditures, but still not “limited”—imagine a lean, efficiently-run dictatorship in a very small country.

Limited government, on the other hand, suggests a “smallness” of scale, but also carefully delineates the scope of the government’s purview.  The “checks and balances” and “separation of powers” of the Constitution are key ingredients, not just between the different branches of the federal government, but between the federal and State governments as well.

The whole point of our system—beautifully laid out by the Framers, but particularly James Madison—is to defuse and counterbalance power, and to submit all authority to rule of law.  The Constitution, then, is the limiting of what government can do.  Everything else is left to the people.

Unfortunately, our nation has given up our old attitude—“ask forgiveness, not permission”—for “assume you’re not allowed to do something without getting it sanctioned by some authority first.”  That’s a shocking change from the Framers’ attitude, and to our century of “salutary neglect” prior to 1763.

Recall that Americans didn’t declare independence in 1776 because taxes were too high, but that they were being taxed without their consent—without representation in Parliament.  The whole theory was that government ruled with the consent of the governed, a notion dating back to the feudal privileges of the barons at the signing of the Magna Carta at Runnymede in 1215.

Similarly, the Boston Tea Party was a response to the monopolization of tea entering the colonies—a corporatist scheme cooked up by the British government to bail out the failing, government-subsidized British East India Company.  The colonists rightly reasoned that, should the importation of tea be monopolized, any product could be subject to monopolization—potentially destroying the colonial economy under the thumb of an exploitative British government.

Americans believed—correctly—that their rights as Englishmen were being trampled, and that the British government was overstepping its bounds.  In essence, Parliament and King George III failed to apply the traditional limits of English government to their colonial possessions in British North America.

As such, our Framers put together a written Constitution (unlike Britain’s unwritten constitution, which can essentially be changed at the majoritarian whim of Parliament; thus, people arrested in Britain for posting controversial topics on Facebook—and the persecution of Tommy Robinson), one that clearly delineates the roles of the three branches of government.  The Bill of Rights prudently added the Tenth Amendment, which devolves power down to the States and the people.

As for why limited government is great, I will close with this recommendation:  watch the video below from Prager University.  Adam Corolla lays out the best case for limited government I’ve ever heard.

Enjoy—and thanks for making America great again!

#MAGAWeek2018 – Thomas Jefferson & The Declaration of Independence

Happy Independence Day, America!  242 years ago, the Second Continental Congress declared independence from Great Britain, changing the course of history and spawning independence movements all over the globe.

As such, it’s only fitting that today we look at the author of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson.

Few figures in the period of the Early Republic have inspired as much debate as Jefferson, who clashed frequently with President Washington’s Secretary of Treasury, Alexander Hamilton, while serving as Secretary of State.  His friendship with John Adams turned into a bitter, acrimonious rivalry, as the two parted ways on the proper response to the French Revolution, then squared off against one another in the 1796 and 1800 presidential elections.  The two would make amends later in life, exchanging some of the liveliest, most insightful correspondence of the period.

After the publication of Thomas Paine’s revolutionary pamphlet “Common Sense” electrified pro-independence sentiment throughout the colonies, the Second Continental Congress put aside any hopes of reconciliation with Britain, and instead decided to declare independence.  To draft the document that would take the colonies across the Rubicon, the Congress selected Jefferson.

Jefferson wrote the Declaration with his fellow countrymen and other European nations in mind, although it was addressed to Parliament and King George III.  The Declaration is one of the most brilliant documents ever written, and its opening paragraphs are almost more important than the specific list of grievances against the English government.

Jefferson’s claim—radical at the time—that “all men are created equal”—shook the world, and its reverberations through history are well-documented.  There are, however, some other key phrases.  The phrase “When in the Course of human events” seems innocuous on the face, but carries an important meaning:  the “unalienable” rights are not unique to any one people, nation, or time in history, but are universal.  All peoples enjoy natural rights that are woven into the fabric of the universe—and which were “endowed by [our] Creator.”

Jefferson was likely a Deist, believing that a God created the universe, but afterward left it to work and unfold according to physical laws of nature.  Nevertheless, Jefferson believed—as did many of the Founders, who were often products of the Scottish Enlightenment (and, fortunately, not the more destructive French Enlightenment)—that the Creator imbued the physical universe with natural rights, just as He created gravity.

Regardless, after some revisions—the congressional committee that commissioned Jefferson had him change “Life, Liberty, and Property” to “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness”—the Declaration was adopted as both a specific list of grievances detailing America’s case to “a candid world,” and as a timeless expression of America’s belief in natural rights.  The usual disclaimers apply—women and free blacks, not to mention slaves, were left out of this consideration at the time, despite objections from Abigail Adams, wife of our second president (and mother of yesterday’s subject)—but the Declaration paved the way for all Americans to enjoy greater liberty.

When time permits, I will dive into a deeper, lengthier discussion of Jefferson’s legacy; as it is, it’s taken me several hours just to write this much, as I’m fulfilling my avuncular duties of watching my niece and nephew.  For now, I will end on one final anecdote:

On 4 July 1826, Thomas Jefferson passed away—the fiftieth anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence.  A few shorts hours, in what is likely the most serendipitous event in American history, an aged John Adams slipped away, too.  Moments before his passing, Adams said, “Thomas Jefferson still survives,” although Jefferson had passed just hours before.  An attendant by Adams’s side said that, at the moment of the great man’s death, a sudden thunderstorm whipped up, as if the artillery of Heaven were welcoming him home.

***

To read a full transcript of the Declaration of Independence, I recommend this version at Archives.gov:  https://www.archives.gov/founding-docs/declaration-transcript

#MAGAWeek2018 – John Quincy Adams

John Quincy Adams

If yesterday’s MAGA Week profile of George Washington was straight from “American History Greatest Hits, Volume I,” today’s selection is like a bootlegged deep-cut from an obscure local musician’s live show.  John Quincy Adams—an American diplomat, Secretary of State, President, and Congressman—deserves better.

US History students of mine for years have recoiled at the dour daguerreotype portrait of our somewhat severe sixth President.  But behind that stern, austere visage churned the  mind of a brilliant, ambitious man—and probably the greatest Secretary of State in American history.  I will be focusing on Adams’s tenure in that position in today’s profile.

An “Era of Good Feeling”

Adams was one of several “all-star” statesmen of the second generation of great Americans.  After the careers of George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, and John Quincy’s father, John Adams, a new, youthful cadre of ambitious and talented national leaders took their place at the helm of a nation that was growing and expanding rapidly.  From the ill-fated War of 1812 through the Mexican War, leaders like John C. Calhoun, Daniel Webster, Henry Clay, and Andrew Jackson—the populist odd-man out—forged a national identity and sought to navigate the nation through its early growing pains.

John Quincy Adams was among this group.  After the War of 1812, his father’s old Federalist Party largely died out, both due to the treasonous actions of the so-called “Blue Light” Federalists (who openly sided with the British) and to demographic changes brought about by westward expansion and the Louisiana Purchase in 1803.  More Americans were small, yeoman farmers, and the Federalists’ pro-British, pro-industry, pro-commerce platform held little appeal for feisty frontiersman who were suspicious of a strong federal government and the hated Second Bank of the United States, charted in 1816.

As such, the United States entered an “Era of Good Feeling” under President James Monroe, in which one party, the Democratic-Republican Party, remained.  Monroe’s cabinet was a “who’s who” of young, dynamic men, and Adams was his Secretary of State.

Secretary of State

It was in this context that Adams made his most significant contributions to American foreign policy and nationalism.  While serving as Secretary of State, he laid out a vision for America’s future that held throughout the nineteenth century.

In essence, Adams argued that the United States should pursue a realist foreign policy that avoided wars and foreign entanglements; that the nation should not seek a European-style “balance of power” with its Latin American neighbors, but should be exercise hegemonic dominance in the Western Hemisphere; and that the United States should gain such territory as it could diplomatically.

In 1821, Adams famously issued his warning against involvement in foreign wars of liberation.  The context for this warning was the Greek War of Independence from the Ottoman Empire, an endeavor that was hugely popular in Europe, particularly in Britain.  Many Americans urged Congress to intervene in the interest of liberty, and for Americans to at least send arms to help in another fledgling nation’s war for independence.

Adams perceptively saw the dangers inherent in the United States involving itself in other nations’ wars, even on the most idealistic of grounds.  To quote Adams at length:

“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.” (Emphasis addedSource:  https://www.mtholyoke.edu/acad/intrel/jqadams.htm)

If America were to involve itself in open-ended wars of liberation—even once!—it would set a dangerous precedent that the United States would become constantly embroiled in the squabbles of other nations.  No matter how well-meaning, such intervention would commit the nation to a disastrously unlimited policy of nation-building and war.

The Transcontinental Treaty (1819)

Prior to rumblings for intervention in Greece, Adams brokered the purchase of Spanish Florida in a rather amusing fashion.  The hero of the Battle of New Orleans, General Andrew Jackson, pursued a group of Seminole Indians into Florida, violating orders to respect the international border.  In the process, Jackson attacked a fort manned by Seminoles and escaped slaves, killed two British spies, and burned a Spanish settlement.

Instantly, an international crisis seemed imminent.  To a man, President Monroe’s cabinet demanded disciplinary action be taken against General Jackson.  It was Adams—who, ironically, would become Jackson’s bitterest political opponent in 1824 and 1828—argued against any such action, and planned to use Jackson’s boldness to America’s advantage.

With apologies to Britain and Spain, Adams pointed out that, despite the government’s best efforts, Jackson was almost impossible to control, and was apt to invade the peninsula again.  Further, Spanish rule in Florida was increasingly tenuous, due to the various Latin American wars of independence flaring up at the time.  With revolts likely—and facing the prospect of another Jackson invasion—Spain relented, selling the entire territory for a song.

The Oregon Country and the Convention of 1818

Adams was also key in securing the Oregon Country for the United States, although the process was not completed in full until James K. Polk’s presidency, some thirty years later.  The Oregon Country—consisting of the modern States of Washington and Oregon—was prime land for settlement, but the United States and Great Britain both held valid claims to the territory.

Adams realized that the United States could afford to be patient—given America’s massive population growth at the time, and its citizens’ lust for new lands, Adams reasoned that, given enough time, American settlers would quickly outnumber British settlers in the territory.

Sure enough, Adams secured another territory for the United States, albeit in far less dramatic fashion that the acquisition of Florida one year later.

The Monroe Doctrine (1823)

Perhaps Adams’s greatest contribution to the United States was his work on the Monroe Doctrine in 1823.  Once again, Adams’s diplomatic brilliance came into play.

Adams sought to keep the United States out of foreign wars, but he also wanted to keep European powers out of the Western Hemisphere.  As Spain continued to lose its grip on its American colonies, the autocratic nations of Russia, Prussia, and Austria (the Austrian Hapsburg controlled Spain at this time) sought to reestablish monarchical rule in the Western Hemisphere.

President Monroe and Secretary Adams were having none of it—nor was was Great Britain, which enjoyed a brisk trade with the newly-independent republics of Latin America.  To that end, Britain proposed issuing a joint statement to the world, with the effect of committing both nations to keeping the new nations of Latin American independent.

Monroe was excited at the idea, but in his ever-prescient manner, Adams argued for caution.  Were the United States to issue the declaration jointly with Britain, they would appear “as a cockboat in the wake of a British man-o-war.”  It would be better, Adams argued, to issue a statement unilaterally.

The United States had no way, in 1823, to enforce the terms of the resulting Monroe Doctrine, which pushed for three points:  Europe was to cease intervention in the affairs of the Western Hemisphere (non-intervention); Europe was to cease acquiring new colonies in the Western Hemisphere (non-colonization); and the United States would stay out of open-ended entanglements and alliances with Europe (isolation).

However, Adams knew that Britain would enforce the Monroe Doctrine with its mighty navy, even if the United States issued it unilaterally, because it would be in Britain’s national interest to do so.  Sure enough, Adams’s shrewd realism won the day, and, other than France’s brief occupation of Mexico during the American Civil War, European powers never again established colonies in the New World.

After Monroe’s Cabinet

For purposes of space and length, I will forego a lengthy discussion of Adams’s presidency and his tenure in Congress.  He was an ardent nationalist in the sense that he sought an ambitious project of internal improvements—roads, canals, harbors, and lighthouses—to tie the young nation together.  In his Inaugural Address, he called for investment in a national university and a series of observatories, which he called “lighthouses of the sky,” an uncharacteristically dreamy appellation that brought him ire from an already-hostile Congress.

His presidency, too, was marred by the unusual circumstances of his election; Adams is the only president to never win the popular or electoral vote, or to ascend to the position from the vice presidency.  That’s a story worth telling in brief, particularly for political nerds.

The presidential election field of 1824 was a crowded one, and the “Era of Good Feeling” and its one-party dominance were showing signs of sectional tension (indeed, the second system of two parties, the National Republicans—or “Whigs”—and Jackson’s Democratic Party, would evolve by 1828).  There were four candidates for president that year:  Andrew Jackson, John Quincy Adams, Speaker of the House Henry Clay, and Secretary of Treasury William Crawford of Georgia.

Jackson won a plurality of the electoral votes—99—but no candidate had a clear majority.  In this event, the top three candidates are thrown to the House of Representatives, where each State’s delegation votes as one.  Crawford, who finished third, was deathly ill, and was not a suitable candidate, and Henry Clay, in fourth, was not eligible constitutionally.

That left the rabble-rousing Jackson and the austere Adams.  Clay, as Speaker of the House, held immense influence in Congress, and could not stand Jackson, so he threw his support behind Adams, who won the election in Congress.

Apparently losing all the wisdom and prudence of his days at the State Department, Adams foolishly named Clay as his new Secretary of State—an office that, in those days, was perceived as a stepping stone to the presidency.  Jackson supporters immediately cried foul, arguing that it was a “corrupt bargain” in which Clay sold the presidency in exchange for the Cabinet position.

While it appears that Adams sincerely believed Clay was simply the best man for the job, the decision cast a pall over his presidency, and Jackson supporters would gleefully send their man to the Executive Mansion in 1828.

At that point, Adams expected to settle into a quiet retirement, but was elected to represent his congressional district in 1830.  During his time in Congress, he fought against slavery and the infamous “gag rule,” which prevented Congressman from receiving letters from constituents that contained anti-slavery materials.  He was also a vocal opponent of the Mexican War—as was a young Abraham Lincoln during his single term in Congress—and died, somewhat disgracefully, while rising to oppose a measure to honor the veterans of that war.

Regardless, Adams’s career shaped the future of the country, gaining it international prestige and setting it on track to emerge as a mighty nation, stretching from sea to shining sea.  Through his service and genius, Adams made America great—and, physically, in a very literal sense.

Quick References

#MAGAWeek2018 – George Washington

#MAGAWeek2018

It’s July Fourth week here in the glorious United States, and in the spirit of good, old-fashioned patriotism, I’m dubbing this week “MAGA Week 2018” (and adopting the hashtag #MAGAWeek2018 in celebration—please share this post with the appropriate dose of shameless promotion I crave).  Each day I’ll be highlighting some historic individual who, in his or her own way, made America great again in their respective time.

George Washington

As with all American firsts, we’re starting with the first President of the United States, George Washington.  A bit cliche, perhaps, but I believe that we take George Washington’s legacy for granted.  Yes, he’s ubiquitously arrayed on our currency, and he shows up around Presidents’ Day in commercials for local car dealerships (“I cannot tell a lie—the price on these 2018 Chevy Silverados is unbeatable!”), but Washington has suffered at the hands of social justice warrior academics and white-male bashers.

Of course, none of those Gender Studies majors could even bash our first President were it not for his choices in and before taking office.  Indeed, we owe an immense debt of gratitude to George Washington for the system of government we enjoy today.

Surrendering Power

Washington is not some kind of patriotic demigod—he more or less blundered the British Empire into the lengthy and expensive Seven Years’ War/French and Indian War with France—but he did something that few military men have ever done in history:  he voluntarily gave up power.

George Washington received a commission from the young Continental Congress to lead the Continental Army in 1775.  On 23 December 1783, General Washington resigned his commission, surrendering his commission back to the civilian authority that originally granted it.

Historically speaking, it is hard to articulate how rare such an action is.  Washington could have gone the direction of the “George Washington of South America,” Simon Bolivar, and continued to fight for more power, or to expand the Revolution abroad.  Many men in his position—a position of immense popularity and holding the keys to the nation’s fighting force—would have forced the Continental Congress at gun point to extend “emergency powers” or the like to them.  Washington could easily have made himself King of the United States.

Instead, Washington followed the model of the humble Roman farmer Cincinnatus, who saved the young Roman Republic and promptly returned to his plow.  Thus, Washington is remembered to this day as “The American Cincinnatus.”

The Newburgh Conspiracy

Before he surrendered his commission, Washington narrowly saved the fledgling young Republic once again.  In Newburgh, New York, a group of disgruntled soldiers, upset that they had gone unpaid for so long, began to foment a conspiracy to march on Philadelphia, demand their wages on gunpoint, and, should the Continental Congress refuse, overthrow the assembly by force.  Such an uprising would have been disastrous, and could have ushered in a military junto, supplanting the Articles of Confederation.

Despite his best efforts, Washington could not win over the hardened veterans with eloquence.  He produced a letter from a soldier to read aloud to the rowdy bunch of soldiers, then fumbled about in his coat pocket for his glasses.

As he put on his glasses, Washington remarked, “Gentleman, you must pardon me, for I have not only grown gray but almost blind in service to my country.”  Washington’s soldiers had never seen him in such a light, and began to weep openly.  Thus, General Washington prevent a military coup simply by donning his glasses.

Shays’ Rebellion

After Daniel Shays’ Rebellion in 1786-87, Washington again—reluctantly—returned to public life, and was among the handful of men who began to push for a stronger national government.

Shays’ Rebellion shook many leading Americans to the core.  The State of Massachusetts, which was diligently and vigorously paying off its debts from the American Revolution, placed heavy demands on the limited resources of farmers in the western portion of the State (a recurring theme in American history—the tension between eastern commercial elites and western farmers).  As many farmers were unable to pay their debts—much less in the hard currency specie the law required—they faced debtors’ prison or confiscation of their property.

Their backs against the wall, the young Daniel Shays led an ad-hoc army of about 4000 men to occupy courthouses to prevent foreclosures and seizures of property.  Ultimately, the State of Massachusetts had to raise a private militia, as no other States would send troops to assist what they saw as a matter exclusive to Massachusetts.

Shays’ Rebellion highlighted the need for a stronger central government than the Articles of Confederation provided.  The Articles did not give the federal government the ability to tax the States or imports, and while a national army technically existed, it could only requisition troops from the States, and it had no way to compel the States to provide troops (seeing as it lacked a national military).

Reluctantly, Washington came out of retirement, and presided over the Constitutional Convention in 1787.

First President

Once the Constitution was ratified in 1789, the nation faced a number of problems that had gone unresolved during the long years under the Articles of Confederation.  America in the 1780s was economically depressed and suspicious of national authority (the latter is not entirely a bad quality), and it had failed to fulfill several of its obligations to Great Britain under the Treaty of Paris of 1783, the treaty that ended the Revolutionary War.  Additionally, the French Revolution broke out in 1791, creating a sticky situation between the young Republic and its technical Revolutionary allies.

The only man who could engender the support of all thirteen States was George Washington, who won unanimously in the Electoral College.  At his Inauguration, Washington wore a simple, brown suit—the attire of a common but respectable gentleman of the time—and eschewed any regal titles.  Vice President John Adams, knowing the difficulty of the job any President would face, proposed the unwieldy, monarchical title “His Highness, President of These United States, and Protector of Their Liberties” (in response, congressmen snickered that Adams should be called “His Rotundity”).  Washington wisely adopted the simple “Mr. President.”

The Whiskey Rebellion

In 1795, during his second term, George Washington faced the Whiskey Rebellion in Pennsylvania.  Like Shays’ Rebellion, the uprising pitted the interests of the nationalists against rural farmers.  Western farmers, lacking reliable transportation and long transport times, relied on converting their corn into whiskey, which would survive the long, arduous trip to market.  The Federalist-dominated Congress placed an excise tax on whiskey as a way to increase revenue, placing a heavy burden on western farmers (who, incidentally, tended to vote for Thomas Jefferson’s new Democratic-Republican Party).

Farmers began refusing to pay the tax, and assembled a militia to prevent its collection.  This time, however, things went differently—George Washington, as Commander-in-Chief, personally led the Army to face the farmers.  At the sight of the American military, the farmers threw down their weapons and dispersed.  Washington—in one of his multiple instances of magnanimity and mercy—pardoned the leaders of the rebellion, sparing them the hangman’s noose.

The lessons of the Whiskey Rebellion were clear:  good order must be maintained; armed insurrection is not tolerated; change must occur at the ballot box, not by force of arms.  Washington’s response to the Whiskey Rebellion cemented the authority of the Constitution, which had survived one of its first major tests.

End of Presidency

Washington served ably as President, keeping America out of France’s costly and radical revolution, establishing good government, and uniting a young country that was suspicious of centralized power.  And, once again, Washington yielded power, opting to serve only two terms—an important precedent that every President followed until Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

That final act cannot be dismissed too quickly.  Had Washington served a third term, he would have died in office.  The precedent would have been set that any President should try to hold onto power as long as was electorally feasible—or by extra-constitutional means, if necessary.

In his Farewell Address, Washington spelled out the ingredients that make a good government work.  He wrote, “Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports…. It is substantially true that virtue or morality is a necessary spring of popular government.”

We would do well to remember his words—and, I fear, we have forgotten many of them.

Fortunately, God blessed the United States with George Washington, and worked through him to make ours a more perfect union.  At multiple times in our young Republic’s history, George Washington Made America Great Again!

Quick References

Lazy Sunday CXXXI: Friends, Part III

The celebration of friendship rolls on (read Part I and Part II), this week heavily featuring blogger buddies.  One of the real joys of blogging is the opportunity to read other bloggers’ writing, and to build up a community of like-minded writers.  These three writers definitely fit the bill:

  • Supporting Friends Friday: Mogadishu Matt” – Mogadishu Matt at Free Matt Podcast writes some of the more interesting “slice of life” commentary I’ve ever read.  He’s particularly humorous when writing his own, hard-boiled responses to letters sent to advice columnists.  He’s a man who has lived a rich—if not always easy—life, and he’s learned and grown from those experiences.  That really comes across in his writing.
  • Supporting Friends Friday: photog” – Good old photog is the proprietor of Orion’s Cold Fire.  I consider photog my closest blogging ally, and some of my writing for his blog got the juices flowing again for my blog.  He writes on everything from politics to photography (thus the nom de plume) to Star Trek.  Check him out!
  • Supporting Friends Friday: Audre Myers” – Audre is a fun-loving, child-like, but wise writer who frequently posts for Nebraska Energy Observer, Neo’s blog (which features far more stuff about English and American history than it does about running electrical lines in rural Nebraska).  Writing this tribute to Audre proved to be a turning point for my own blog:  Audre has tons of fans in Great Britain, and now traffic to my site has increased five-to-ten-fold on a daily basis, thanks simply to Audre’s friends and well-wishers commenting on the blog.  I’ve never had such lively comment sections, and that also means more comments from Audre herself!

Well, that’s another Sunday in the books.  Enjoy your day and support your writers!

Happy Sunday!

—TPP

Other Lazy Sunday Installments:

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Lazy Sunday CXXX: Friends, Part II

The friendship rolls on this Sunday, as I continue to look back at past editions of Supporting Friends Friday (read last week’s here).  Introducing the (nearly) weekly feature has been a real joy, and it’s quickly become one of my favorite of my regularly recurring series.

The three installments featured this Sunday are a bit of a mixed-bag, unlike last week’s heavily musical selection.  We’ve got a professor and her book of poetry; an organization dedicated to helping bull terriers; and another musician buddy of mine:

Well, that’s it for another Lazy Sunday.  Thank you for being a friend!

Happy Sunday!

—TPP

Other Lazy Sunday Installments:

Tip The Portly Politico:  Support quality commentary on politics, education, culture, and the arts with your one-time donation.

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Lazy Sunday CXXIX: Friends, Part I

Back in June, I started a new feature on non-Bandcamp FridaysSupporting Friends Friday.  It’s a small way to highlight and support the works and talents of my various friends, of both the IRL and online variety.

Now that I’ve written several of these posts, it seemed like a good time to look back at them.  The three this week are all good friends I know personally—indeed, they all live within forty-five minutes of me—and we have a musical connection.  The first friend featured is a poet, but we met at local open mic nights.

Happy Sunday!

—TPP

Other Lazy Sunday Installments:

Tip The Portly Politico:  Support quality commentary on politics, education, culture, and the arts with your one-time donation.

***NOTEThis link is NOT a subscription to my SubscribeStar Page; it is for a one-time donation/tip via PayPal. To subscribe to my SubscribeStar page, use this URL:   https://subscribestar.com/the-portly-politico***