John Quincy Adams: A Life | Chapter 11 of 27

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CHAPTER 3
The Land of Lovely Dames
For the first time during his extensive travels, John Quincy found his 2,000-mile midsummer journey from Holland to St. Petersburg free of threats to life or limb. Although he missed his father and brother, he seemed composed, wore a pleasant expression, and proved an amiable companion to Francis Dana, who, at thirty-eight, was twenty-four years older than his “secretary.” The journey proved instructive for both.
On July 25, he reached Berlin, which he called “the handsomest and the most regular city I ever saw,”2 but he criticized the king, who “treats his people like slaves.” They found conditions worse when they crossed into Poland, where, for the first time in his life, John Quincy encountered slaves. “All the farm workers are in the most abject slavery,” he noted with disgust. “They are bought and sold like so many beasts, and are sometimes even changed for dogs or horses. Their masters have even the right of life and death over them, and if they kill one of them they are only obliged to pay a trifling fine. [The slaves] may buy [their freedom], but their masters . . . take care not to let them grow rich enough for that. If anybody buys land, he must buy all the slaves that are upon it.”3
 
Panoramic view of St. Petersburg, where fifteen-year-old John Quincy Adams spent the winter of 1782 as secretary and translator for American minister Francis Dana. The palatial buildings in the center include the famed Winter Palace and the then new Hermitage, in which Catherine the Great housed her art collection. (LIBRARY OF CONGRESS)
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On August 27, 1781, John Quincy and Dana reached St. Petersburg and settled in the luxurious Hotel de Paris, near the Winter Palace. “The city of Petersburg,” he wrote to John Thaxter in Paris, “is the finest I ever saw. It is by far superior to Paris, both for the breadth of its streets, and the elegance of the private buildings.”
To Dana’s dismay, Russian foreign ministry officials refused to receive him or even recognize his presence. His notes went unanswered, and sentries refused him entry through the palace gates. In frustration, he turned to the French chargé d’affaires for help, but Foreign Minister Comte de Vergennes at Versailles had sent instructions not to aid the Americans. The French diplomat exuded warm words and pledged to help, but stunned Dana by suggesting that the American’s reliance on a child as his secretary and interpreter might compromise his status.
 
Massachusetts-born and Harvard-educated Francis Dana served at Valley Forge with George Washington before becoming an American diplomat and the first American envoy to Russia. (LIBRARY OF CONGRESS)
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Not long thereafter, stunning news arrived of George Washington’s remarkable victory at Yorktown. Although Dana was certain the American triumph would open doors at the Winter Palace, weeks passed without success. As winter’s paralyzing deep freeze enveloped the Russian capital, John Quincy had nothing to do but study. Although their lodgings were warm enough, temperatures outside dropped to levels that made venturing into the fresh air foolhardy. “The thermometer at night,” John Quincy noted in early February 1782, “was 15 degrees below freezing.” It fell to twenty-five below, then twenty-eight below. “Stayed at home all day.”4
By then, his diary entries had shrunk to a sentence or two, noting only the temperature and his decision to remain inside and read. Both he and Dana were idle most of the time, with no diplomatic work or contact with Russian authorities. It was fortunate that St. Petersburg had at least one bookshop with English-language works, and both John Quincy and Dana purchased an enormous quantity. Before the end of winter, John Quincy had read—among other things—all eight volumes (more than five hundred pages each) of David Hume’s History of England, Catherine Macaulay’s eight-volume The History of England from the Accession of James I to that of the Brunswick Line, William Robertson’s three-volume The History of the Reign of Charles V, Robert Watson’s two-volume The History of the Reign of Philip the Second, King of Spain, Thomas Davies’s Memoirs of the Life of David Garrick, and the two-volume landmark work in economics by Adam Smith, An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations. He also restudied Cicero’s Orations and John Dryden’s Works of Virgil, copied the poems of Dryden, Alexander Pope, and Joseph Addison—and learned to read and write German.
“I don’t perceive that you take pains enough with your hand writing,” his father growled in response. “When the habit is got, it is easier to write well than ill, but this habit is only to be acquired in early life.” Adams ended his letter more warmly, however: “God bless my dear son and preserve his health and his manners from the numberless dangers that surround us wherever we go in this world. So prays your affectionate father, J. Adams.”5
Crestfallen at his father’s response to his studies, John Quincy did not reply for a month, and when he did, he wrote in French to make it difficult for the elder Adams to read. Adams answered acerbically, “It is a mortification to me to find that you write better in a foreign language than in your mother tongue.” Adams was, however, worried about his son—an adolescent, all but alone in a foreign land, with no companions but a middle-aged man and a pile of books.
“Do you find any company?” John Adams wrote. “Have you formed any acquaintances of your own countrymen? There are none I suppose. Of Englishmen you should beware. . . . My dear boy, above all preserve your innocence.”6 He grew more anxious as the winter progressed without John Quincy’s gaining any substantial diplomatic experience. “I am . . . very uneasy on your account,” he wrote in mid-May. “I want you with me. . . . I want you to pursue your studies at Leyden. . . . Your studies I doubt not you pursue, because I know you to be a studious youth, but above all preserve a sacred regard to your own honor and reputation. Your morals are worth all the sciences.”7
John Quincy finally admitted to himself—and to his father—“I have not made many acquaintances here.” Although he had “as much as I want to read,” he longed for companions his own age. In addition, the crushing poverty, deprivation, and lack of freedom in Russian life—and the oppressive slavery he witnessed—left him depressed. “Everyone that is not a noble,” he lamented, “is a slave.”8
His father responded by urging John Quincy to return to Holland. Adams had succeeded in winning Dutch recognition of American independence and had moved to The Hague as American minister plenipotentiary.
Although eager to rejoin his father, John Quincy was enjoying his independence and took a long, circuitous route back to Holland through Scandinavia and Germany. After three weeks exploring Finland (then a part of Sweden), he reached Stockholm, and ignoring his father’s exhortations on the importance of preserving his innocence, John Quincy Adams plunged into Swedish life for nearly six rapture-filled weeks.
“I believe there is no country in Europe,” he exulted, “where the people are more hospitable and affable to strangers or more hospitable . . . than the Swedes. In every town, however small it may be, they have these assemblies [dances] . . . to pass away agreeably the long winter evenings. . . . There, one may dance country dances, minuets or play cards, just as it pleases you, and everybody is extremely polite to strangers.” Years later, he recalled, that “the beauties of the women . . . could not be concealed. . . . The Swedish women were as modest as they were amiable and beautiful. To me it was truly the ‘land of lovely dames,’ and to this hour I have not forgotten the palpitations of heart which some of them cost me.”9
While he was sampling Sweden’s wine and women, his parents grew frantic. “I hope our dear son abroad,” Abigail fretted to John, “will not imbibe any sentiments or principles which will not be agreeable to the laws, the government and religion of our own country. He has been less under your eye than I could wish. . . . If he does not return this winter, I wish you to remind him that he has forgotten to use his pen to his friends upon this side of the water.”10 John Adams feigned nonchalance in replying to Abigail but sent inquiries to French consuls in Germany and Scandinavia about his son’s whereabouts.
John Quincy had reached Göteborg on the west coast of Sweden with every intention of remaining, when the French consul reported his father’s anxieties and set the boy scrambling to make travel arrangements to Holland. He took a final fling at a masquerade ball where “the men dressed as sailors and the women [as] country girls. . . . I stayed there till about 4 o’clock this morning. When I returned to my lodgings, I threw myself upon the bed and slept till about 7 o’clock, then packed my trunks and set away.”11
In the weeks that followed, John Quincy traveled to Copenhagen, Hamburg, and Bremen, finally rejoining his father in The Hague on July 22—noticeably more mature than when he had left.
“John is every thing you could wish,” Adams explained to Abigail without revealing the obvious changes in his personality or probable causes. “Wholly devoted to his studies, he has made a progress which gives me entire satisfaction. . . . He is grown a man in understanding and stature as well. . . . I shall take him with me to Paris and shall make much of his company.”12 Even Abigail was impressed after reading John Quincy’s first letter to her upon his return to Holland. “The account of your northern journey,” she conceded, “would do credit to an older pen.”13
Adams was more than delighted with his son, and early in August, the two left The Hague for Paris, where John Adams joined Benjamin Franklin and John Jay in negotiating a peace treaty with England—and elated John Quincy by recruiting him as a secretary to edit and transcribe documents. John Adams now accepted his precocious sixteen-year-old son as a man, a friend, and a pleasant, sophisticated companion, not only at concerts, the opera, and museums but at luncheons, dinners, and other functions with some of Europe’s most distinguished figures. They, in turn, also accepted the young man as an equal. “Dined at . . . the Dutch ambassador with a great deal of company,” John Quincy reported in his diary in mid-August 1783. “Dined at the Duke de la Vauguyon . . . the French ambassador at the Hague . . . the Baron de la Houze . . . the minister of France at the court of Denmark.”14 With each encounter, he listened carefully, gradually learning the language of diplomacy in which spoken words seldom matched their literal meanings. An “interesting concept” often meant “unacceptable,” while a “different approach” could well mean war.
With France a center of scientific advances, John Quincy also witnessed astounding new processes and inventions and developed a deep interest in science. “My Lord Ancram,” he recounted in his diary, “has undertaken to teach people born deaf and dumb not only to converse . . . fluently but also to read and write.” Another entry described his having witnessed “the first public experiment . . . of the flying globe.”
A Mr. Montgolfier has discovered that if one fills a ball with inflammable air much lighter than common air, the ball of itself will go up to an immense height. It was . . . 14 foot in diameter . . . placed in the Champs de Mars.g At 5 o’clock, two great guns fired from the École Militaire. . . . It rose at once, for some time perpendicular and then slanted. . . . If it succeeds it may become very useful to mankind.15
The launch of the first balloon set off a mania in France, with Joseph de Montgolfier and his brother Étienne sending balloons into the atmosphere in Versailles and elsewhere. “The enthusiasm of the people of Paris for the flying globes is very great,” John Quincy noted with excitement. “Several propositions have been made from persons who, to enjoy the honor of having been the first travelers through the air, are willing to go up in them and run risks of breaking their necks.”16
In the midst of the whirlwind of social and scientific activities, John Adams worked out the final stages of treaty negotiations with Britain, with John Quincy helping prepare copies of the final documents. On September 3, Adams, Franklin, Jay, and British minister David Hartley met on the rue Jacob, on the Left Bank, to sign a treaty of peace between Britain and the United States, with Britain recognizing the United States of America as a free and independent nation.
In the months that followed, John Quincy and his father traveled back and forth between France, England, and Holland. They spent the autumn of 1783 in Britain, where John Quincy visited London’s wonders—Westminster Abbey, St. Paul’s Cathedral, and so on. He tramped through great museums and libraries, attended opera at Covent Garden, and saw productions of Hamlet and Measure for Measure at the Drury Lane Theatre, where the legendary Sarah Siddons starred each night. Benjamin West, the Pennsylvania-born Quaker artist who had moved to London, took him to see the art collection at Buckingham Palace and several art galleries, and he went to the opening of Parliament to hear the King’s Speech from the Throne and the debates between Edmund Burke, Lord North, William Pitt, Charles Fox, and other great figures in the House of Commons.
At the end of the year, the Adamses returned to The Hague, where John Adams sought new loans for the United States, while John Quincy resumed his studies. In the spring, Abigail announced that, after a separation of four years, she was coming to Europe “in the joyful hope of soon holding to my bosom the dearest, best of friends.”17 John Adams was elated, saying his wife’s letter “has made me the happiest man upon earth. I am twenty years younger than I was yesterday.” And he signed it, “Yours, with more ardor than ever.”18
A month later, Abigail arrived in England with her daughter, Nabby. Not long after they checked into their London hotel, a servant knocked at the door to announce, “Young Mr. Adams is come.”
“Where, where is he?” Abigail and Nabby screeched in unison. Abigail described the scene in a letter to her sister: “Impatient enough I was, yet when he entered . . . I drew back not really believing my eyes—till he cried out, ‘Oh, my momma! And my dear sister.’ Nothing but his eyes at first sight appeared what he once was. His appearance is that of a man.”19
Moved to tears as she wrote, Abigail told her sister she felt “exceedingly matronly with a grown up son on one hand and daughter upon the other.”20 And to husband John she wrote, “I was this day made very happy by the arrival of a son in whom I can trace the strongest likeness of a parent in every way dear to me.”21
John Quincy rented a coach and took his mother and sister for a reunion with his father in Paris, where the whole family moved into a luxurious home in Auteuil, six miles west of the city in the Bois de Boulogne. Thomas Jefferson and his daughter—both lonely for family life after the death of his wife two years earlier—frequently came to dinner. Following Paris custom, Jefferson enrolled his daughter in a convent school, and he compensated for her absence by bonding with John Quincy, taking him to theater, concerts, and museums, and becoming an important figure in the young man’s life. The two formed such close ties that John Adams remarked to Jefferson that John Quincy “appeared to me to be almost as much your boy as mine.”22
The Adamses also spent time with the Lafayettes, who entertained Americans with huge buffet dinners at their home every Monday. After Queen Marie Antoinette gave birth to her first son and heir apparent, France rejoiced, and Adrienne Lafayette invited the Adamses to accompany her to the Te Deum at the cathedral of Notre Dame de Paris, where both King Louis XVI and the Marquis de Lafayette were to participate. “What a charming sight,” John Quincy wrote in his diary, “an absolute king of one of the most powerful empires on earth and perhaps a thousand of the first personages in that empire adoring the divinity who created them and acknowledging that he can in a moment reduce them to the dust from which they sprang.”23
By now, John Quincy was as much a celebrity in Paris as his father—treated as an equal by the likes of Jefferson and Lafayette, addressed as “Mr. Adams,” and referred to as “young Mr. Adams” to differentiate him from his father. He had seen more of Europe than many of them and knew more of the social conditions and politics of distant lands—Germany, Poland, Russia, and Scandinavia. When artist Benjamin West arrived, he went to see John Quincy Adams, not his father, to arrange introductions to Jefferson and Lafayette. John Quincy’s diary describes his winter in Paris: “Dined at the Marquis de la Fayette’s . . . dined with Mr. Jefferson [and] Captain John Paul Jones . . . Dined at Dr. Franklin’s. . . . Walked into Paris to the Marquis de la Fayette’s to go with him to Mr. Jefferson’s upon the subject of importation of our whale oil into this country.”24
The Swedish ambassador, who had known John Quincy in Stockholm, invited him to bring his family to dinner. “Mon dieu que mademoiselle vôtre soeur est belle,” he whispered of Nabby’s beauty to John Quincy, saying he had seen few as lovely as she. “J’ai vu peu d’aussi jolies femmes qu’elle.”h John Quincy apparently did not translate for Nabby. “He thought doubtless that I should tell her what he said,” John Quincy noted in his diary later. “He is a very agreeable man.”25
Abigail was less sanguine about dining with celebrities, saying she was “astonished” when “this lady I dined with at Dr. Franklin’s . . . gave him a double kiss one upon each cheek and another upon his forehead. . . . She carried on . . . at dinner, frequently locking her hand into the Dr.’s . . . then throwing her arm carelessly upon the Dr.’s neck. . . . I must say I was highly disgusted and never wish for an acquaintance of this cast.”26
In the course of the winter, John Quincy drew close to his mother and sister as never before, taking them to theater, concerts, operas, and museums—and introducing them to such celebrities as the heroic Jean-Pierre Blanchard, who only two weeks earlier had been the first person to cross from Dover to Calais in an air balloon.
The following spring, John Adams received word that Congress had named him America’s first ambassador to Britain. By then, John Quincy recognized that he could no longer “loiter away my precious time in Europe”—that the time had come for him to enroll full time in university, finish his formal education, and choose a profession. 27
 
Abigail Adams II (“Nabby”), the oldest child of John and Abigail Adams, came with her mother to join her father and younger brother John Quincy in Paris in the summer of 1784. (NATIONAL PARKS SERVICE, ADAMS NATIONAL HISTORICAL PARK)
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Although Harvard seemed a backward country school compared with the University of Leyden or England’s great institutions at Oxford and Cambridge, the pathway to professional and political leadership in America began in Cambridge, Massachusetts, not Cambridge, England. “Harvard rendered her sons fit to serve their country,” historian Samuel Eliot Morison explained, “not by practical courses on politics and government, but by a study of antique culture that broadened their mental vision, stressed virtue, and promoted . . . the character appropriate to a republican. . . . American revolutionary leaders, both North and South . . . could never have rendered their distinguished services to the young republic without that classical learning which is denied to most Americans today.”28
Intent on his son’s rising to American leadership, John Adams wrote to Reverend Joseph Willard, who had awarded John Adams an honorary LL.D. at Willard’s first commencement as Harvard’s president in 1781. Adams assumed Willard would automatically admit John Quincy, given the boy’s studies at Leyden, his mastery of two classical and three modern languages, and his command of an enormous body of classical and modern literature, philosophy, and science. As Adams described his son, “He has translated Virgil’s Aeneid . . . the whole of Sallust and Tacitus’ [s] Agricola . . . a great part of Horace, some of Ovid, and some of Caesar’s Commentaries . . . besides Cicero’s Orations. . . .”
In Greek his progress has not been equal; yet he has studied morsels of Aristotle’s Politics, Plutarch’s Lives, Lucian’s Dialogues. . . . In mathematics I hope he will pass muster. . . . We went with some accuracy through the geometry in the Preceptor, the eight books of Simpson’s Euclid in Latin. . . . We went through plane geometry . . . algebra, and the decimal fractions, arithmetical and geometrical proportions . . . the differential method of calculations . . . and Sir Isaac Newton.29
Under no circumstances, Adams told the Harvard president, would he permit his son to enter Harvard as a freshman or sophomore, but if Willard admitted him as a junior or senior, “I should choose to send him to you rather than to Leyden.” Adams also suggested that his own services to the nation warranted Harvard’s waiving all expenses other than tuition.
Willard responded curtly, saying he would admit the boy subject to examination.
On May 12, 1785, a cabrioleti pulled up to the Adams home in Auteuil to take John Quincy to Lorient and a ship bound for America. He embraced his family and “took leave of my parents and my sister . . . at half after twelve with such feelings as no one that has not been separated from persons so dear can conceive.”30 He had said his good-byes to Lafayette and Jefferson the previous day and carried letters from each to deliver to America, along with a pack of hunting dogs that Lafayette asked him to take as a gift to George Washington. He also carried jars of whale oil that Jefferson had asked him to offer New York merchants as a commercial opportunity for illuminating the streets of Paris. For Jefferson, John Quincy’s departure was wrenching, and when the rest of the Adams family left Paris for London, Jefferson lamented in a letter to John Adams, “The departure of your family has left me in the dumps.” Without John Quincy’s companionship, he admitted, “My afternoons hang heavily on me.”31
Nine days later, on May 21, 1785, John Quincy Adams boarded one of the first four passenger ships to sail the Atlantic between France and America—the ninety-six-foot-long Courier de l’Amérique. “Every passenger pays five hundred livresj for his passage. . . . You live at the captain’s table and have a small apartment on board to yourself. You must provide whatever refreshments you may be in need of and must bring your own sheets and pillows and napkins [towels].”
On the morning of July 18, the ship reached New York—the American capital at the time—and Adams went directly to Secretary of State John Jay’s magnificent Broadway residence, where he was to stay. Recognized as a celebrity in New York as much as in Paris, John Quincy dined with Jay, then went with him to meet Elbridge Gerry and Rufus King, the two Massachusetts delegates to Congress. “I was introduced to the President of Congress [Richard Henry Lee],” he wrote of his first evening in New York, “and Mr. [James] Monroe of the Virginia delegation. I went to [New York] Governor [George] Clinton, but he was not within. ”32 The next morning, he breakfasted with Gerry and King. “The President of Congress who was there was so kind as to offer me a room in his house.”33 As president of the Confederation Congress, Richard Henry Lee was, in effect, President of the United States, and he invited John Quincy to the weekly formal dinners he gave for American notables and visiting dignitaries.
After his experiences in Scandinavia and the long trip across the Atlantic, John Quincy was quick to note the characteristics of every attractive young lady he met. “Miss Jarvis,” he remarked in his diary, “is very fair, but Miss Ogden is a beauty. . . . There are five or six young ladies in the family, one only is handsome.”34 And on another afternoon, John Quincy went to see the eighteen-year-old widow of the nearly seventy-year-old British officer Jacob Wheate. Lady Wheate, as he called her, “is one of the most reputed beauties in the town. I own I do not admire her so much as I expected to before I saw her. She is like too many of the handsome ladies here: very affected.”35
In mid-August, John Quincy set off for Boston, stopping in New Haven, where Yale College president Ezra Stiles—a hero in the defense of New Haven against the British—greeted the boy on what was then a tiny hilltop campus. Adams was unimpressed, writing Nabby that the Yale library “is neither as large nor as elegant as your pappa’s.” His comment on Yale was but one installment of a letter written over a ten-day span that began in New York, where, he reported to Nabby that one afternoon, “I dined in company with Mr. [Thomas] Paine, the author of Common Sense, and [Rev.] Dr. [John] Witherspoonk . . . I have been introduced at different times to almost all the members of Congress.” Young Adams was apparently tiring of his celebrity status, however, and told Nabby that “wherever I go I hear a repetition of the same questions[:] . . . ‘How do you like Europe?’ What country do you like best?’ . . . and a hundred other such. I am almost wearied to death with them, and I sometimes think of writing a list of the questions with the answers, and whenever a person begins to make any questions, I would give him the paper. . . . Since my arrival here, every moment of my time has been taken up and yet I have had little or nothing to do.”36
From New Haven, he went to Hartford and, finally, to Boston and his childhood home at Braintree. “No person who has not experienced it,” he told his diary, “can conceive how much pleasure there is in returning to our country after an absence of six years, especially when it was left at the time of life that I did when I went last to Europe. The most trifling objects now appear interesting to me.”37 His aunt Mary, Abigail’s sister, and her family greeted him in what proved a deeply emotional reunion for them all.
“We sat and looked at one another,” John Quincy wrote to his mother. “I could not speak. . . . How much more expressive this silence than anything we could have said.” After dinner, John Quincy and his uncle went to Cambridge to see John Quincy’s brother Charles, who had enrolled in Harvard six weeks earlier. In the days that followed, John Quincy visited his grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins—as well as such illustrious family friends as former Massachusetts governor John Hancock. He impressed them all—with his height as much as his erudition. He had left Massachusetts as a boy and returned a young man of five feet seven and a half inches—a half inch taller than his father and far thinner.
“Cousin John is come,” his Aunt Mary wrote to her sister Abigail after his visit, “and brought with him in his own face such a resemblance of his papa and mama as I never before saw blended in one. And I am happy to perceive that it is not only in his person that he bears such a likeness to his parents. I have already discovered a strength of mind, a memory, a soundness of judgment which I have seldom seen united in one so young. His modesty is not the least of his virtues. . . . If his application is equal to his abilities, he cannot fail of making a great man.”38
Eventually, John Quincy had to face the inevitable, and on August 31, 1785, he went to Harvard to see its president, Reverend Joseph Willard. Although Harvard boasted America’s largest library, with 12,000 volumes, the jaded young Adams found the latter only “good, without being magnificent.” 39 He had, after all, studied in the Bibliothèque du roi, in Paris, with its more than 1 million books and 80,000 manuscripts. He was less than impressed, as well, with the president’s office and, indeed, with President Willard himself.
Raised in poverty after losing his father at the age of two, Willard was a mathematician with little appreciation for the romance of opera, music, and the grand arts that had formed so much of John Quincy’s education. He was a serious man—dour, with a deep distaste for the boy’s elegant clothes, his confident, worldly ways, and the ease with which he addressed older men as if they were social equals. Willard ran Harvard like a military institution, demanding that all who approached him—tutors and students alike—doff their hats when they passed. He banned wearing silk and limited student dress to coarse brown, olive, or black cotton jackets and pants called “homespun.” From the first, he resented John Quincy’s effervescent demeanor, enthusiasm, and joy. Even more, he resented the boy’s assumption that, as John Adams’s son, his admission to Harvard was a mere formality.
After asking John Quincy a few questions in Latin, then Greek, Willard scowled, then stunned the boy by telling him he was ineligible for admission to Harvard. It was the harshest blow he could possibly have delivered to the son of a Founding Father. Every man of note in Massachusetts history had gone to Harvard since its founding in 1634; eight of the fifty-six signers of the Declaration of Independence were Harvard graduates, including John Quincy’s father and his cousin Sam Adams Jr. And now, with a few words, an undistinguished pedagogue, who had contributed nothing of note to his nation’s freedom, had shattered the hopes of a Founding Father’s son to complete his higher education, obtain a law degree, and assume the leadership of his country. He had crushed John Quincy Adams’s career before it could begin.

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Alice
Great book, nicely written and thank you BooksVooks for uploading

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