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Paul Nagel
Paul Nagel
John Quincy Adams: A Public Life, A Private Life
ISBN: 0679404449
John Quincy Adams: A Public Life, A Private Life
Two decades ago, Paul Nagel experienced a change of heart as a person and as a writer. For thirty years, he had participated in university life as an historian and administrator. During that time, he continued the scholarly interests he had developed in graduate school. This meant he wrote sometimes impenetrable books and articles setting forth for a small audience the ideas and images Americans used when they thought about their nation during the nineteenth century.

Then, in the mid-1970's, Nagel realized he was no longer happy with academic life and with intellectual history. He found he wanted to aim his books toward general readers rather than professional peers. Consequently, he traded campus life for the solitude and risks of full-time writing. Appropriately, his new specialty was quite different from the old. Instead of abstractions, Nagel took up lives of notable people and began writing as a biographer. Whatever else may be said about this switch, there have been no regrets on Nagel's part.

Fortunately, Nagel has been married to a genealogisc and librarian, Joan Peterson, whose aid and encouragement he emphasizes made his embrace of biography possible. The result has been six books, ranging from the latest, John Ouincy Adams: A Public Life, A Private Life, to a prize-winning portrayal of Missouri, his native state. The others have included two additional volumes about the Adams family, as well as biographies of the Lee family of Virginia and of the artist George Caleb Bingham. Happily, most of these books became selections of the Book-of-the-Month Club and the History Book Club.

Now Nagel is steering toward autobiography as he begins a book about his German forebears and their influence upon him. He writes in Minneapolis where he and Joan reside. During their fifty years together, the Nagels have lived in ten states, mainly Kentucky, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, and Virginia. Along the way, they raised three sons and numerous cats. Besides cats, Nagel's other interests are hiking, reading biography, and joining his wife in genealogical digging. All of these, however, fade when there are visits to offspring who live in London.

Recognition of Nagel's writing has led to his election as a cultural laureate of Virginia and as a fellow of the Society of American Historians, the Pilgrim Society, and the Massachusetts Historical Society. He has been president of the Southern Historical Association and a trustee of the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. He is a corresponding editor of American Heritage.
—from the publisher's website

John Quincy Adams: A Public Life, A Private Life
Program Air Date: January 4, 1998

BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Paul Nagel, who was John Quincy Adams?
Mr. PAUL NAGEL, AUTHOR, "JOHN QUINCY ADAMS": Probably the most--well, certainly one of the very most complex personalities to sit in the presidency, where he had a miserable time, but also one of the most intriguing figures in American public life and, perhaps, the most useful of all American public servants.
LAMB: Useful.
Mr. NAGEL: Yes.
LAMB: Why useful?
Mr. NAGEL: Well, once upon a time, when I was at the University of Georgia, we lived next door to Dean Rusk after he had left the secretary of state's office. And Mr. Rusk said to me, when he learned I was going to write about the Adamses--he said, `There is no question John Quincy Adams is by far our greatest secretary of state.' That was early in his career and midway, and then near the end of it what does he do but he's the sole champion of freedom of speech in Congress when he defended the right of petition when--the so-called gag rules. I could go on and on. His--I'm a fan of his.
LAMB: Let me ask you what years he lived.
Mr. NAGEL: Well, he was born in 1767 and died in his 80th--81st year; he died in 1848. And he spent 21 of those years living abroad, which shaped his outlook a great deal, of course. And many of the other years he lived in Washington with retreats to Quincy, Mass. He was born in--in Braintree (pronounced BRAN-tree) or Braintree (pronounced BRAIN-tree), as it seems to spell. But the locals say Braintree, (pronounced BRAN-tree) Massachusetts, near--on the south shore of Boston.
LAMB: His parents?
Mr. NAGEL: Well, his parents people seemed to know; second president of the United States, John Adams, and his mother, was--I thought—I should say that John Adams might and did, in his privacy, claim that he did more to write the Declaration of Independence than his sometime friend and sometime foe Thomas Jefferson. But John Adams was his father, and his mother was that remarkable woman Abigail Adams, whose--whose critical apparatus when it came to sizing up public figures was really unrivaled and--sharper than her husband's.
LAMB: You only devote one of your chapters to the presidency. Why?
Mr. NAGEL: Well, the poor fellow was--was al--was--really was impotent as a president because he--it's a long story. He came into office under a cloud. He was--had to be elected by the House of Representatives. J--Andrew Jackson, his principal rival, had gotten more popular votes, more Electoral College votes, but no one had gotten a majority in the Electoral College. He won in the House of Representatives, it was claimed, because he had a bargain--a corrupt bargain--with Henry Clay, who'd been one of the other runners and who threw his support to Adams.

And he made the terrible mistake of naming Clay to be secretary of state, which in those days was the step people--the last step people took before they became president. So he had a--not only a majority against him in Congress, but he had a--well, he--he had a--he--he was the victim of what was called a corrupt bargain.

The other reason he was a--powerless, really, is because his ideas were so far away from what the public and particularly Congress could be interested in: support for education, su--federal support for science, federal support for a great national infrastructure of roads and canals. He was a--he made himself ludicrous. His Cabinet begged him not to deliver in his first annual message a plea for the government of the United States to create an astronomical observatory.

And he was--his happiest times in the White House were when he was out in the garden on his knees next to the White House gardener. You know, they raised their own vegetables in those days at the White House.
LAMB: He was our sixth president, you point out. Who was president on either side of him?
Mr. NAGEL: Well, he was followed by, in his judgment, the unspeakable Andrew Jackson. And he was preceded by James Monroe, whom he served for eight years as secretary of state.
LAMB: What party was he in?
Mr. NAGEL: Well, he b--he began as a Federalist and was thrown out of that party for--and when he was--he was a United States senator from 1803 until he resigned in 1808, when he was repudiated by the Massachusetts Legislature. Legislatures in those days, of course, elected United States senators. He was a--what was the question again?
LAMB: We're talking about--we both got caught on this one.
Mr. NAGEL: I got--I got--I was...
LAMB: We're talking about who was president on either side of him...
Mr. NAGEL: That's right. Well, he--he was--and you asked me who was--what party.
LAMB: And I asked you wh--and I--what I--what I really was leading up to is I want to know, you know, wh--if he were here today, what party would he be in?
Mr. NAGEL: He--he would be--oh, that is an interesting question. He would probably be--oh, he--no, he would be no party. He thought parties we--partisan politics were the--were unspeakably beneath intelligent public figures. He would probably be more Democrat than Republican, I think. But that's hard to say. Things have changed.
LAMB: What about his father? What would he have been?
Mr. NAGEL: Well, his father was, of course, a Federalist, s—a believer in strong government. But believing strong government in 1800 was quite a bit different than in the year 2000, actually. Adams--the reason Adams was thrown out of the Federalist Party is because he supported Thomas Jefferson and the great expansionist plans of Jefferson, the purchase of Louisiana. And then he was a great believer in defending national integrity against the attack of the British during the war between England and France, which affected New England shipping. And--so he was--by the time he became president, he felt he was a--he wanted to be a man of neither party. But he was actually a--a builder of the Whig Party.
LAMB: Tell us about the diaries and...
Mr. NAGEL: Uh-huh.
LAMB: ...where are they?
Mr. NAGEL: Well, the diaries were under lock and key for--till 1951. The Adams family owned them. Hi--his--John Quincy Adams' great-grandsons--several historians--Henry Adams, Brooks Adams, Charles Francis Adams II--had a big debate. Should they burn the papers or should they keep them? So they decided they would keep them. Their father, Charles Francis, had published about half of the diary in 11 volumes in the 1870s. He'd edited it.
LAMB: And he was the son of.
Mr. NAGEL: He was the son of John Quincy Adams, that's right, his only surviving son and a very--a very successful person in his own right. Well, the sons dec--the grandsons decided the papers should all be sealed, diaries, letters sent and received and all of that. 1951 the Adams Manuscript Trust gave them to the American people th--through the Massachusetts Historical S--Society, where they now reside. They've all been filmed, to the great--well, th--to the benefit of the manuscripts, of course, and to the benefit of scholars. It's one of the reasons I decided to write about the Adamses, is because it could be marvelously convenient. You had all of this unbelievably revealing material actually in your home if you wanted to buy 608 reels of film.
LAMB: How did you do it?
Mr. NAGEL: Well, I was fortunate. I had helped the Massachu--Massachusetts Historical Society and they gave me a--a price I couldn't turn down. So...
LAMB: So you have them home.
Mr. NAGEL: Joanne--we did. We hauled--Joanne and I hauled--my wife and I hauled the 608 reels from university to university. And then when I gave up university life to write, we continued to have them. And just--when finishing this book, which is, I think, my last utterance on the Adamses, we gave them to--well, we gave them to Carleton College in Minnesota because they do such a great job in training undergraduates in history.
LAMB: How far do you live from Carleton?
Mr. NAGEL: Well, Carleton's in Northfield, which is the great--metropolitan area of Minneapolis. It's--it's 20 miles, 25 miles.
LAMB: How long have you lived there?
Mr. NAGEL: We r--Joanne and I started out from Minnesota, and Joanne was a librarian at the university and I got a PhD in history, and we left there almost exactly--not quite 50 years ago and returned five years ago to retire because I'm very fond of cold weather and winter. Peop--people--there are people in Minnesota who say, `You could have retired and worked anywhere in the United States and you came back here?' Well--but then a lot of Minnesotans who go to certain places we won't mention in the Southwest or the Southeast and come rushing back to Minnesota. It's a great state, and we enjoy the Twin Cities.
LAMB: How many different universities did you teach at?
Mr. NAGEL: Well, I--I visited or taught at about seven, I guess. I was the vice president of one and dean...
LAMB: Name them quickly.
Mr. NAGEL: Well, I spent most of the time at the University of Kentucky and the University of Missouri. I taught f--I worked for a while for the University of Georgia, which is when I met Dean Rusk. And then I was a visiting professor at Vanderbilt--and a lot of it in the South, which is strange because my adviser--my doctoral adviser at the University of Minnesota told me--`Paul,' he said, `never, never go. My one piece of advice to you is never to go to a Southern university.' So what do I do but spend most of my career in the South. I left the university life. I was a visiting professor at Amherst College, and that's about it, I guess.
LAMB: Why did he advise you not to go South?
Mr. NAGEL: Well, he felt the scholarship was either dormant or was intended to be too regionally pietistic to...
LAMB: Did you find that?
Mr. NAGEL: No. No. No, history is a very vigorous profession in the South. The Southern Historical Association is, many scholars believe, the most vibrant and active of the three great history societies in America. And...
LAMB: Wh--this is a picture out front in the book, a frontispiece. Where did this come from?
Mr. NAGEL: Well, that came from--that's the proud possession as--rightly so--of Amherst College. It was one of--a daguerreotype studio was opened in Washington in the--about 1842 and JQA fas--he--J--John Quincy Adams wanted more than anything else to be a scientist or a man of letters. And he was the f--one of the first residents of Washington to rush down to the daguerreotype studio to have the--his pose--his--his picture taken.
LAMB: What year was this?
Mr. NAGEL: Yes, 1842, I think.
LAMB: Well, back to the diaries.
Mr. NAGEL: Yeah.
LAMB: How big is the--you know, 600 and how many reels?
Mr. NAGEL: Well, there's 608 reels for the Adams papers. There are n--19 reels devoted to the diaries.
LAMB: When did he first start writing his diary?
Mr. NAGEL: Well, he started writing when he was going with his father to--to France when he was 11 years old. And he--an amazing fidelity to it, both in terms of writing it and in terms of making it useful is introspectively and a brilliant treatment of what was going on--wherever he was at the time. He wrote until his first stroke left him really very--very difficult for him to write after that. And his wife and his granddaughter would make his daily entries. And he made entries almost to the day he died in--on the floor of Congress.
LAMB: Have you read them all?
Mr. NAGEL: Yes. More than once. I'm--I'm...
LAMB: Is there a moment that...
Mr. NAGEL: ...the only--I think I'm the only person in the United--in the world who has had the tenacity to do that.
LAMB: How many different pages would you--can you quantify how many pages of copy?
Mr. NAGEL: Well, no, I--the best thing to say is if you un--if you rolled out a--a--I've forgotten who told me this--if you extended the reel--the--the film, it would run nine miles.
LAMB: And where did you read them?
Mr. NAGEL: Read them in part--first, where I was the lucky owner of the films, read them in--in the research center at the University of Missouri library. And then--then I acqu--read--read them mostly then at home in my study. I--I started--I--I left university life in 1980 and...
LAMB: What'd you do after that?
Mr. NAGEL: Well, briefly I was--helped the u--the Virginia Historical Society, which is a private research library in Richmond begun by--founded by John Marshall and James Madison. It's a research library, and I--th--helped them out for about five years as director. And then I turned--turned to--but at that point, by the way, living in Virginia, I had finished the second book I wrote about the Adams family and had gotten so interested in some Lee manuscripts--Lee family manuscripts that we--the historical society had acquired from--from John--believe it or not from Robert E. Lee's granddaughter. It's hard to believe that Robert E. Lee's granddaughter could be living in, say, 19--and I think she--I trust—I pray she still is living.
LAMB: Sh...
Mr. NAGEL: S--and then--so I wrote a book about the--t--took time out, wrote a book about the Lees of Virginia over severn—seven generations and then finally tackled JQA.
LAMB: I--is there any living descendant today of John Quincy Adams?
Mr. NAGEL: Many. Yeah. They--well, I shouldn't say many. There are--yes, there are quite a few. His--his second son ha--had—John Adams II has numerous descendants. And, of course, Charles Francis Adams has--his third son is...
LAMB: Anybody active in the family in keeping the history going?
Mr. NAGEL: Oh, yes, indeed. They're great supporters of the Massachusetts Historical Society. The most--a--and they ha--particularly one who, alas recently died, Thomas Boylston Adams, was a--a writer of history. He was a columnist for The Boston Globe on--and wrote about--wrote--wr--really wrote in the vein that his great-great-great-grandfather wrote.

There's an interesting story, by the way, about Tom Adams. I had finished the Lee book--this would have been 1990--and was sitting at breakfast--living in Richmond, Virginia--sitting at breakfast with Joanne trying to decide whether I wanted to write about John Quincy Adams or Henry Adams, his grandson. I thought I would enjoy doing either.

I was still a little skittish about writing JQA because of the complexity of the man's personality. And the phone rang, picked it up; it was Tom Adams calling from Lincoln, Massachusetts. And he said, `Paul,' he said, `I think--I hear you've just finished your Lee book.' He said, `I think it's time for you to do a biography of John Quincy Adams.' So that decided it. Unfortunately, Tom died earlier this year and can't be around to read it.
LAMB: How many di--you say he was away from this country 21 years...
Mr. NAGEL: Yeah.
LAMB: ...John Quincy Adams. He--he went first to France with his father.
Mr. NAGEL: Yeah.
LAMB: Why was his father in France?
Mr. NAGEL: His father was--well, he was one of the commissioners for peace. When he--when that--they--to try to bring about the end of the Revo--American Revolution. When that frustrated John Adams, he went to Holland, to the Low Countries, to try to negotiate and did negotiate financial support for the rebellious colonies. And while they were in Holland, JQA was a student--as a youngster, was a student at the University of Leiden. By then he was--he was more conv--he was more facile in e--the French language than the English language.

And then we sent--the Congress wanted someone to go to St. Petersburg to see if Catherine the Great, who was a pivotal figure in European politics at the time--if she wouldn't come down on the side of the American cause, the revolutionary cause. So they sent Francis Dana, who spoke no French, as a representative. He wa--wasn't yet ministerial status. Somebody had to go with him to--in--to be interpreter and to show him the ways of Europe. So whom do they send but a 14-year-old boy named John Quincy Adams. So he was--his first post, if you will, was in Russia at St. Petersburg. He then came back...
LAMB: How old was he?
Mr. NAGEL: Fourteen. He then came back...
LAMB: Alone? Was he by himself?
Mr. NAGEL: Well, with--with Dana. He went--he accompanied Francis Dana. And then when that proved to be very frustrating—Catherine wouldn't even speak to them--he came back alone, had a--and, really, it was--it was his moment of maturation, actually. He ca--he wa—he came back in the wintertime and spent a great deal of time in Scandinavian area before he came back down slowly. Oh, he was having a great time. He was on his own.
LAMB: Where's he getting the money from?
Mr. NAGEL: Well, he had brought--well, he lived off the land, in part. Ev--everyone was eager to see the--this stra--this person—this young m--young man from these colonies. So he was widely entertained. But the--the money came mostly from--he took money with him from Dana when he left Russia, and it got him--got him through.
LAMB: How many countries was he an ambassador to?
Mr. NAGEL: He was technically minister. We didn't have ambassadors for--until much later. He was a minister to the Low Count—to Holland. He was named briefly--and didn't serve--minister to Portugal.
LAMB: And at what age is he at this time?
Mr. NAGEL: Well, by this time, you see, he--he goes in--he's--it was about age 28 he starts, after he was--after his--came back to the United States, spent a year and a half and graduated from Harvard, struggled w--against depression to establish the only career he knew at the time, a lawyer, and was miserable at it. But he became an essayist. George Washington was proud of the support he was getting from this young fellow up in Boston and made him--and named him minister to--to Holland, to the Netherlands--Holland and then to Portugal, where he didn't go. His father switched him then to Berlin. He was a minister to Berlin--had a wonderful time, till 1801 when his father, John Adams, lost the election to Jefferson--had lost it in 1800--and demanded that he--recalled him. Just a--a parental deed that John Quincy Adams did not appreciate. He wanted to stay in Europe, where he was surrounded by books and art and time to write, a good, comfortable life. And he knew if he came back, he'd have to go into politics or law, both of which he dreaded.

So he came back and then didn't go abroad again till 1809, when he was minister to St. Petersburg, to Russia--first--our first minister to Russia--where he became a great friend of the czar.
LAMB: How long was he in Russia?
Mr. NAGEL: He was in Russia from 1809 until 1814.
LAMB: And you point out that he and the czar, Alexander, walked...
Mr. NAGEL: Yes. Yes.
LAMB: ...a lot together.
Mr. NAGEL: Yeah.
LAMB: Can you--how did you know that? How do you...
Mr. NAGEL: Well, he described the--in deta--JQA's diary is so detailed, so minute, that he--there are times he actually records the script. `The czar said' and then quotation marks.
LAMB: What language were they--would they speak?
Mr. NAGEL: Well, they would be talking French. But, fortu--fortunately, his diary's in English. That's w--to find this--this American so fluent in French was not only surprising in European circles and why so many European emissaries, other ministers, really admired him and were able to listen to him and got the--to know him well. But it was very useful for--for JQA because he--he was—he really turned--in his time abroad in St. Petersburg, more than anything else, he was America's listening post because he could—he didn't--he never learned Russian, which distressed him. He--he had learned German in Berlin and spoke German reasonably well.

He then went after the--when time came to try to end the second war with Britain, the War of 1812, he led the American peace delegation for the p--and signed--wrote and signed the peace that ended the war at--peace at Ghent. And then he was sent to England as our post-war representative, where he stayed till 1817, came back to be secretary of state.
LAMB: And when th--a treaty of--is it called the Treaty of Ghent?
Mr. NAGEL: Mm-hmm.
LAMB: And--and who was there with him? Who are the other two...
Mr. NAGEL: There were several. There was Henry Clay, who—Albert Gallatin and a--J--James Bayard, a senator who--a remarkably talented man when he was sober, senator from Delaware. And then a sometime congressman from Massachusetts named Russell.
LAMB: One of the things that I noticed in the book, as it—unlike today, that if there was a decision to make, somebody--the ambassador or minister, or if there was an exchange of information between governments--take months. I mean, it--he said, `I could get tucked away in Russia and read for six months before I can get a message back.'
Mr. NAGEL: Yes. That's right.
LAMB: How did they communicate back and forth?
Mr. NAGEL: That's the way they communicated. They took the best route they--the safes--well, particularly during the wartime years, took the safest route they could sometimes through Scandinavia and on down, sometimes...
LAMB: It--what kind of transportation?
Mr. NAGEL: Boat. Sail. Oh, yes.
LAMB: What was some of the longest trips he ever took?
Mr. NAGEL: Well, it d--it--of course, it depended on the weather. The longest trip he took, of course, was from Boston to St. Petersburg. And he got in, he was determined--he was named--he was finally approved--or the--he was appointed and approved as minister in July of 1809. And, of course, the--the gulf--the—the port--getting--getting to St. Petersburg by boat becomes impossible by mid-October because it freezes over. And he drove the captain of the boat without mercy: against wind, against the--the belligerent ships that were preying on neutral vessels. And they finally—they made it just--just in time.
LAMB: You say that he read the Bible every day.
Mr. NAGEL: Yes. There were a few years that he--in--well, he didn't as a young man, but there were a few years in his adulthood when he didn't, but then he reverted to it and he read it in Greek. And—and he insisted that his daughters learn to read it--read the Bible both in Greek and in English. He did not learn Hebrew, but Greek and then Latin. And he would frequently record his--record--the text in his diary would begin--would begin the day's entry, e--even though much of it might have been involved with political warfare on the House of Representatives, where has was as irascible and angry a--a voice as you could hear. He would begin the day by recording the text or the--the number of chapters that he read and perhaps a brief summary sometimes of what he read.

He struggled hard to be a Christian. Th--I sa--his father was a Unitarian or a Universalist, and they had a great time writing letters back and forth. His father kept teasing him. You know, `How--how can you--how can you--how can you believe in the Trinity?' And JQA would reply as best he could. But it--it was all--all very friendly.

But to the end of his life, he--he tried--he tried to believe, as he said, but there were some things he found very difficult, that you have to take on faith. Now that's very difficult, troublesome for John Quincy Adams who liked to--he was a very rational-minded person who, you know--great scientific mind, could have been, I think.
LAMB: You tell a story--and this is out of context, but I--I don't want to forget to ask you about it--about when he was in the White House, a dentist coming to visit.
Mr. NAGEL: Ah, yes.
LAMB: Where did you find this?
Mr. NAGEL: All in the diary.
LAMB: Tell that story.
Mr. NAGEL: Well, the president of the United States and the secretary of state were in high conference. The door opens--as it happens, though, people just walked in to the president. They waited till they were impatient on the stairway leading to the president's office, which was then the second floor of the White House. Door opens, in walks this gentleman, said he was just passing through Washington and--as happened frequently. Just wanted to see a president of the United States. John Quincy Adams, of course, and the gentleman wa--stood up, shook hands, found out he was a dentist, told Henry Clay to take off, to get lost and had the dentist pull one tooth, clean his teeth, had him come back the next day and finish the work. And when he asked the dentist his fee, the dentist said, `No fee.' He said, `I just want a letter of recommendation from you.'

But the more interesting visitor, I think, was the one that—the doctor who'd been fired by the United States Army, a physician from the Medical Corps or whatever it was at the time. He wanted the job back. And when the Army wouldn't give it back to him and the president wouldn't overrule the Army, he said he was--he'd come to Washington to kill the president of the United States. He walked the streets of Washington reporting that he was here to shoot the president. He goes to the president--he--he s--he enters the White House, goes up the stairs to the president's office, walks in. John Quincy Adams knew he was in town. He'd been warned by his friends not to take his usual morning walk. He always was up before dawn walking and oftentimes with Chief Justice Marshall. And he s--stood his ground. And the doctor, abashedly, told his story, and Adams said, `No, I won't overrule the Army.'

So he left. He came back several times. He quit talking about shooting the president. JQA said in his diary--he said that the episode reminded him sometimes of the very narrow margin between life and death.
LAMB: Swam in the Potomac often.
Mr. NAGEL: Yes. Yes, he did, to the dismay of his mother—his mother--to the dismay of his wi--well, his mother--except she was dead by then. But he--he was--he competed against himself to make sure—to see how long he could swim without touching bottom. He almost drowned once. The rumor went around the country the president of the United States had drowned. He--the boat sank in the mid--they wanted to go to the other side of the Potomac and swim back. His son took one—his son was--John was with him, and he took one look at the boat and said, `I'll have nothing of that,' and went back to the White House. Adams and his valet, his man Friday--wonderful guy, actually--went across, got halfway over and the boat sank. Both of them had taken off their clothing. They managed to save a couple of pieces of clothing, swam to the other shore. Adams again thinking about his folly and the—the nearness of death.

And so he sat sunning himself while Antoine went back to the White House to get some clothes. Meanwhile, this--the rumor was picked up that the president--Antoine was rushing back with the news that the president had drowned. And when he got back to the White House, he was scolded unmercifully by the first lady. He admitted that perhaps he'd been a little foolish--all of this in the diary.
LAMB: Where'd he meet his wife?
Mr. NAGEL: He met his wife--she wa--in London. She was the daughter of America's consul in London, a man named Joshua Johnson, whose brother was the first Revolutionary governor of Maryland, p--came from a prominent Maryland family. She was born of Joshua Johnson and an Englishwoman, about whom we know very, very little--many children. She was a very talented musician, linguist, writer. Her diaries, her poems, her letters, her commentaries on her husband are all in the Adams papers. All right there. She was a--well, she was torn just--in a way, she was torn over her husband's career the way he was. She so wanted him to be remembered for what he wanted to be remembered for, as a scientist or a writer. She deplored his presence in politics because she knew he was unsuited for politics. But she was very loyal and--and she supported him eloquently.

JQA was something--he--he didn't truly appreciate her, I think, until late in life. He was something of a real macho, a male chauvinist type. He thought women's place was--well, it was perhaps a reaction against the overpowering mother he had. He thought women's place was to stay home and be quiet. And Abiga--his wife Louisa often complained he wouldn't discuss politics with her, and she loved to hear about it if she was s--she was the first first lady--former first lady who, when she died, she was so prominent and popular in the city of Washington that, when she died, Con--both houses of Congress adjourned in memory of her. She...
LAMB: How many children did they have?
Mr. NAGEL: They had four: one daughter who died as a youngs—infant in Russia, and three sons--two of them died of a--alcoholism. One of them was a suicide. And then the one son who did survive and was the joy of his parents was Charles Francis Adams, the f--the diplomat and editor and writer and father of remarkable sons in his own right.
LAMB: You say his brother Thomas died of alcoholism?
Mr. NAGEL: His brother Thomas died--John Quincy Adams' brother Thomas died...
LAMB: Right.
Mr. NAGEL: ...and his brother Charles died.
LAMB: Of alcohol?
Mr. NAGEL: Mm-hmm. It co--it came to--it's in--it's a--the family is probably pretty good evidence that a w--a weakness for alcohol can be genetically transmitted.
LAMB: What about John Adams, the father?
Mr. NAGEL: Oh, it came down through the--it came down, they believe--according to Charles Francis Adams, they believe it came down through the Quincy side, his--Abigail's forebearers. John Adam--no, John Adams was--well, Charles--John Quincy Adams was a--a—was Herculean, really, and tremendous in his capacity to drink wine. But it only made him more congenial and more--more companionable.

You know, in those days we--there's a--in fact, there's a very book written some years ago called "The Alcoholic Republic" which talks about the high incidence of alcoholism in the first--first half-century, really, of the American republic before the temperance movement began momentum in the '30s and '40s and the Coldwater army began to march across America. You know, people drank hard cider at breakfast. John Adams was--was a s--a man of sobriety. But the Adams family and even--even their--some of the Adamses' later generations have been quite forthright in saying that--one thing they have to be careful about.
LAMB: The--the distance between Quincy and Boston?
Mr. NAGEL: Yes.
LAMB: How far is that?
Mr. NAGEL: Well, it--depending on how you go and how the tides are, it's nine to 12 miles, and they--he would often walk it.
LAMB: We've got some videotape of--of that little village where everything Adams is located.
Mr. NAGEL: Mm-hmm.
LAMB: Have you been there?
Mr. NAGEL: Often. Frequently.
LAMB: And see the Adams historical site. Is this...
Mr. NAGEL: No, that's the old house. Yeah, that's--that's the house that John and Abigail came back to when they--they were retiring from--from the presidency.
LAMB: John Adams died in that house?
Mr. NAGEL: Yes, he did.
LAMB: And John Quincy Adams died where?
Mr. NAGEL: John Quincy Adams died in the speaker's chamber in the federal Capitol after he was felled by a stroke. That's—look at--that garden is--still has--by the old house still has flowers that Louisa--the two first ladies, Louisa and Abigail--that's the--that's the library of the--of--which Charles Francis Adams built to hold John Quincy Adams' books. And that's John Quincy Adams' portrait there.
LAMB: And this is the little library outside...
Mr. NAGEL: That's right.
LAMB: ...of the main house.
Mr. NAGEL: That's right. That's right. Built about 1872, I think, sometime...
LAMB: And what was this portrait? Do you remember it?
Mr. NAGEL: This portrait?
LAMB: Yeah.
Mr. NAGEL: Is that the Healey portrait or is that Morse? I don't--I'm--I'm sorry. I don't know for sure.
LAMB: And if--you spent time around all this?
Mr. NAGEL: Oh, yeah, yeah. The--the old house has a--is a marvelous place to work. I've--I have found--been lucky enough to have the run of the place sometimes--I shouldn't say that here, I guess--and have actually found in some of the desks in the old house some letters that were very helpful. This is the ch--the so-called Adams church. It was built after John Adams' death, and the four--the--the two presidents and the two first ladies are--there they are. That's the crypt beneath the portico. And...
LAMB: And they're buried underneath this together.
Mr. NAGEL: That's right, the four of them--two presidents, two first ladies. It's just--it's a remarkable place …
LAMB: You have a story in the book that when John Quincy Adams died and was buried out here in Washington at the Congressional Cemetery, and then four years later or so after his wife died, they moved him up to this church and that his grandson literally opened the coffin?
Mr. NAGEL: No, it--what happened is the--there's an--there's an interlude in there that's very important. They kept him in the Congressional Cemetery.
LAMB: This is...
Mr. NAGEL: A crude way to put it...
LAMB: This is the crypt here.
Mr. NAGEL: Yeah. They kept him in the Congressional Cemetery just a few--a couple of weeks until they could get a delegate from each of the states from the House of Representatives to accompany the body to Quincy. And so that's--really, that--the end of John Quincy Adams' life is something that very few people know.

There was a--more of an outpouring of public grief for JQA after he died. Fifteen thousand people attended his funeral in the capital of the United States. When h--the train--the telegraph had just become useful at the time, so the word of his death went around the country. The train that bore his coffin to Boston traveled along amid universal grief. People just were--stood along the train tracks, t--took off their hats, and women wept. And this champion of freedom of speech--they forgot he was president. It was all that he'd done lately, of course. There hadn't been that kind--there was not that kind of grief of the death of a public figure until the death of Lincoln, when, of course, it was...
LAMB: Well, what about the...
Mr. NAGEL: And then--and then he was--he was interred in the family vault across the road from the church, and the--and then when Louisa died, they were together interred in the--in that crypt. And it was at that time that Charles Francis Adams II, his teen-age grandson--they were waiting for--to enlarge the sarcophagus for JQA's oversized coffin, and the young man thought, `Gee, it would be interesting to see how Grandpa has fared--how his body has fared.' So he had them open the casket and, of course, the crowd that was there all rushed to look. And it clouded over in a few seconds, but they did have time to see the very old man's countenance with quite a stubble of beard.
LAMB: Grown after he died.
Mr. NAGEL: Yeah, yeah.
LAMB: Why did John F. Kennedy include John Quincy Adams in his "Profiles in Courage"?
Mr. NAGEL: Well, 'cause it's right. It's the first essay. I think it--because JQA was many--well, certainly one of the most courageous senators from New England and perhaps from anywhere because he s--he--he--he fought against his own delegation, his colleagues in the House and the Senate, on behalf of supporting Jefferson's policy to build his--build an--an America across the Mississippi River with the purchase of Louisiana. And he fought for--he fought for m-- America's rights as a neutral when the New England spokesmen were all wanting to cave in--at least Adams thought--cave in to England and--and bow to English demands that they--on shipping--on--on sh--making no shipments to anyone except whom the English permitted.
LAMB: How was he elected president?
Mr. NAGEL: Well, he was elected by the House of Representatives after there was no majority vote for any candidate in the...
LAMB: Step back just a little bit, though, and--I mean, how did he even get to the point where he ran? Because you say...
Mr. NAGEL: Ah, yes.
LAMB: keep saying in the book he didn't like politics.
Mr. NAGEL: No, he did not--well, he--that's right. And thi—this is--this is one of the--I don't know if I r--resolved his complexity to that point or not. But th--that is the biggest question, you know: How could a man as devoted at--to literature and science and a person who so disliked politics--I don't think he did; it wasn't just empty talk in his diary--how could he stay as long in politics, and how could he run for president?

He often--he said he--it was a cup he hoped would pass that he wouldn't have to take it, even borrowed words from Christ. He was secretary of state and he had a lot of support in New England to be president. And he thought finally--his rationalization was that he could do as no one else probably could ever do. He would be a president of the whole people, he would be above party and he would help build universal peace. For example, he was a great champion of the decimal system. He--he wrote a--an enormous tract on that when he was secretary of state.

So he--he allow--he--he--he said he wasn't running. He said, `If the people choose me, fine. I will never'--he said, `I will never run for office. It's just a--the voice--if I hear the voice of the people, I will respond.' Well, the voice of the people was certainly muted in this case because there were many candidates.

But did e--much of the last four years of--of his eight as secretary of state were devoted, whether he liked it or not, to demands upon him that were made upon every candidate. He tried to avoid them; his wife begged him it--that he was gonna try to be president, at least be--be--and make a pleasant effort. And he said, `If that's what it takes to be president, I don't wanna be president,' but he did, as it turned out.

So then when the--there was no majority vote in the Electoral College, the House of Representatives chose h--the president in February of 1825. And then they--on the first ballot, he was given a majority of the states. Each state has one vote. And then Jackson came in second, and all heck broke loose after that because of the--it was claimed that the way Adams got the votes of Illinois, Kentucky and Ohio, crucial for him--those votes were as a result of the support of Henry Clay.
LAMB: Got the page here where you've got--the book totals it. He had--I mean, Andrew Jackson got 99 electoral votes and 152,000 votes, he got 84 electoral votes and only 114,000 votes, and then William Crawford had 46,000 votes and 41 electorals, and Henry Clay had 37 electoral votes and came in fourth and then got knocked off the whole thing.
Mr. NAGEL: Yeah. Yeah.
LAMB: Has that ever happened since then where both electoral and popular votes have been--he w--somebody came in second ended up winning?
Mr. NAGEL: No.
LAMB: I know Benjamin Franklin--I mean, Benjamin Harrison came in second in popular votes...
Mr. NAGEL: Yeah.
LAMB: ...but--but won in the electoral.
Mr. NAGEL: But won in Electoral College. No, I don't think so. I think that's the only time. The Electoral College, of course, had to choose between Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr in the election. That's a--but that was because the Constitution hadn't been changed to make the Electoral College vote separately for vice president and president.
LAMB: And after his term was over, did he run again--his first term as president?
Mr. NAGEL: He--he--yes, he ran for re-election and was--well, he--actually, he probably did a little better than he--than one would expect. But he was roundly defeated by Andrew Jackson, who began then his eight years as president.
LAMB: Then what did he do in his life?
Mr. NAGEL: Well, that--then he--he announced that he was going home to Quincy, going to retire in--as completely as any nun would ever have retired and was going to write a--a biography of his father and would perhaps do some writing in defense of his own views. He got back and found he--he was so angry over his defeat--he f--he--he felt much of his defeat was owed to the slaveholders and the Southern bloc, and also to the fact that he was roundly denounced by the--the—the survivors of the Federalist movement that had thrown him out of the Senate back in 1808. So he was just a very, very angry man, so angry that he couldn't concentrate. He--he--his son begged him to sit down and work with his books, do what he always said he was going to do. But he--he just was very upset. And so when...
LAMB: Was he angry in the diaries, by the way?
Mr. NAGEL: Yeah. Yes. Oh, yeah. He was very--one of the joys of the diary, if--if that's the word for it, is that he was as harsh and severe with himself in the diary and as discerning about himself as he was about anyone else, and he was very candid about his opinions of what other--his--his opinions of others. In fact, his grandsons didn't want their father, Charles Francis Adams, to publish anyth—or edit any--do any publishing of his diary because it showed the old man as--as such a curmudgeon, so--such an angry fellow.

And it was that anger that, I think--and I--of course, I could be wrong, but I--it was basically anger and a desire for revenge that sent him back to Washington. Louisa first said, `Well, you're going back to Washington, you're going without me.' But she had sisters and relatives in Washington, and she came along with him, and they lived in Washington then--except for summers in Quincy, they lived in Washington from 1831 until he died in '48. He...
LAMB: So 17 years he was in Congress.
Mr. NAGEL: He was in--yeah, he was in Congress from eight--well, eight--actually, 1832--he was elected a year before he was--took his seat--'32 to '48.
LAMB: And how old was he when he died?
Mr. NAGEL: Eighty, going on 81.
LAMB: And what did he die of?
Mr. NAGEL: Stroke. He had had--that was his third stroke. He had a--he had a stroke in--while he was in Boston, which he just refused to retire with it, and he--he--he--sheer s--tenacity, he came back from it, and while he was a wreck of a person, he had two--it was in 1846--he had another year and a half or so before this--and he—his final stroke is one of the most famous episodes in the fl--I think on the floor of the House of Representatives. He was still fighting against the war over the--Mexico. It was a slavemongers' war, he said, it was a war to expand human bondage and so on. And he rose to object to a measure related to the war--the war was going on then—and he toppled over with a stroke. He was caught by the person standing next to him, taken to the speaker's chamber, where he survived for a little while, long enough to ask to see his old friend and sometime enemy Henry Clay. And Henry Clay came and--he was a senator then from Kentucky. Clay came and wept at the side--it was all very—very touching. It became part of Washington folklore.

And then he didn't recognize Louisa when she came to see him and--and--and he died. The desk at which he toppled over--over which he toppled--when you showed the--the interior of the Adams Library in Quincy, that desk is in the library. They--the Congress presented it to the--to the Adams family some years later.
LAMB: The gag rule...
Mr. NAGEL: Yeah.
LAMB: When he was in the House of Representatives before he died...
Mr. NAGEL: Yep.
LAMB: ...he fought the gag rule. What was it?
Mr. NAGEL: The South--the--the Democratic Party, which generally controlled Congress at the time--the Democratic Party was—JQA certainly believed, was pretty much the handmaiden of the S--of the Southern bloc, the Southern congressmen and senators, after all that. And that bloc was--became so disgusted in the mid-1830s with the arrival--in fact, carloads of them--or cartloads of them, stagecoaches full of them after a while--of petitions from all over New England and gradually across from--into Ohio and Pennsylvania, petitions begging Congress to do one of many things about slavery, anti-slave petitions. The Southern delegation got Congress to adopt a resolution, so-called gag rule, which said that any petition presented to Congress which touched in any way upon the institution of slavery would not even be received, much less read and discussed and--and referred to committee.

Well, this--Adams--this was--Adams considered this a gift from on high. He said, `I'm looking for'--he kept saying, `I--I need a cause. I need a cause.' And, of course, what the--the--the South just fell--fell flat on their face with this because JQA, year after year, proclaimed this as it was, a violation of the Constitution, the right of petition, the right of free speech. And before ver--many years had passed, he was the--the great--the great defender of free speech, and gradually--gradually, Northerners got up the courage to join him. And finally, before he died, the gag rule was repealed and a great moment in his life.

It was--and it made him so famous--or infamous, if you go south of the Potomac--that he became one of the most popular public speakers in his day. Thousands of people gathered in New York City to hear him lecture on faith. He--he just--he would--he would lecture and if—he made a trip to Cincinnati for--to lecture on the--at the laying of a cornerstone for an astronomical observatory in Cincinnati, talk about--for two hours or three hours on--on the history and importance of--of astronomy. He loved astronomy.
LAMB: Some of the words that I wrote down that I saw so often in the book were `depression'...
Mr. NAGEL: Mm-hmm.
LAMB: ...`insomnia'...
Mr. NAGEL: Yeah.
LAMB: ...`taciturn.'
Mr. NAGEL: Yeah.
LAMB: Did--part of the insomnia thing is he used to r--he would arise at 3 AM in the morning when he was at the State Department.
Mr. NAGEL: Mm-hmm.
LAMB: How...
Mr. NAGEL: He couldn't--he had tr--he had great trouble sleeping, partly, I think, because he ate handsomely a--and drank handsomely at dinner, and then he would--to his own shame, he would sleep quite a while in his study when he thought he was supposed to be working and took the edge off his sleep, and he woke up early.

The interesting--I thought, the most interesting--for me, the most interesting discovery after working for over 20 years with the Adamses and thinking about JQA that long is to realize--and I hadn't recognized it, I must say, in the first time around with him--was that he was frequently clinically depressed. He couldn't--he--his--he had an aunt who recognized it. And in many ways, I think this helps explain much of the--his personality.

You know, historians have said for--for--and until very recently said that there's been no more unpleasant, no more dis--un—unlikable person in American public life who was so successful as John Quincy Adams. Part of it, I think--much of it, I think, is due to his—to his depression, which struck him w--as it usually does, a chemical problem with--when he was just becoming about age 20, 21.
LAMB: You refer to a James Anderson Thompson...
Mr. NAGEL: Mm-hmm.
LAMB: ...a medical doctor.
Mr. NAGEL: Mm-hmm.
LAMB: Did you--what did you do with him?
Mr. NAGEL: Oh, Andy Thompson is a psychiatrist, a friend of mine and--at the University--and lives in Charlottesville and sometime professor at the University of Virginia. He and I got acquainted because he was interested in Robert E. Lee and he had read my book about the Lee family. So we began to correspond and we began to visit. And he's--he's very interested in the history of--the way in which psych--psychological and psychiatric problems and illnesses affect great people. So I was able to--to learn a lot from him, and he--he was very helpful in affirming and sort of shaping my—my understanding of John Quincy Adams' illness.
LAMB: And in the end, did--did he have anything besides depression?
Mr. NAGEL: Well, ye--yeah, he suffer--this--he suffered from hemorrhoids, and some people say it's--it's quite possible that his--his grim feature was when that disorder--when he was sitting in the president's chair, elsewhere, when that disorder would really bothered him, w--you know, what you say when--in 1825 when you're the president of the United States and you have--you're suffering from hemorrhoids--he w--he did a lot of his writing standing up because of that problem.
LAMB: This probably isn't a proper segue, but how about this dedication here? Who are these two people?
Mr. NAGEL: Well, one is my wife, who's a librarian and genealogist, and we've been together for 50 years, and we have--we have three sons, but they've produced but one grandchild for us, a granddaughter who's--who's the--I hope might someday even be an historian.
LAMB: How old is she?
Mr. NAGEL: She's--as you've probably heard from others on a program like this, she's six going on 25.
LAMB: And your other books--have you ever dedicated a book to your wife before?
Mr. NAGEL: Oh, yeah. Yes, not--there's some--Dan Boorstin, who's a friend of mine, likes to dedicate all his books to his wonderful wife Ruth. I've dedicated books to three boys, to Joan. The first book I dedicated to Joan, and then the boys. And then I wrote a--the Lee book I dedicated to the daughter of Douglas Southall Freeman, who was a big help. I dedicated the first Adams book to Wilhelmina Harris, who was Brooks Adams' secretary and the great founder of the Adams National Historic Site, who was a wonderful help to me. We lived across the street in her house--many of the summers we spent in Quincy.

I dedicated a biography I wrote about the state of Missouri, where I was born, to my--all my forebearers who--who were in re—almost in--the German forebearers. All of them are in sort of--came in soon after the founding of Missouri. So I've--I've dedicated it to people who are--been very dear to me.
LAMB: Where did you write this book?
Mr. NAGEL: That one?
LAMB: Mm-hmm.
Mr. NAGEL: Minneapolis. I finished the research--I was a visiting scholar at Duke. We thought of--we thought of living in Duke--in the ch--in the triangle area, Chapel Hill, Duke and North Carolina-Raleigh, but it was too warm for me, too hot. Lovely libraries there, wonderful--wonderful place. Then we—we realized--Joan and I realized we were home--we were homesick for Minnesota. I--I'm a Minnesotan by marriage and a Swede by adoption. My--Ja--Joan's a thorough-blooded Swede. Her--her genealogical records go back to where the Swedes were--her forebearers were probably just beginning to rise off--off the perma--permafrost.

And so we've--I really--the north European history and culture's something I'm interested in. In fact, my--I think my next book's gonna be about my German ancestors. I've been doing some research in the genealogical library in Salt Lake City, found my--one of my—I think one of my earliest great-great-grandfather and a Polish shoemaker back about 1620. His name was Sibrovsky.

My--the man who most affected my life was my grandfather Sibrovsky, who was an immigrant from East Prussia, came as a clergyman, came over as a minister to save the souls of folks in the Missouri River Valley. He--I have his vision, except he didn't have the advantage of surgery that I've had, so I can--I'm able to see you there. And I--I--I read to him in English and German. He gave me a devotion to books, to scholarship. He--he was a man who obviously, as I look back, was very talented but blinded early, had to retire from the ministry, was killed by a--run over by a truck the one day I didn't accompany him to help him across the streets about 18--19--18--1935.

But he--I owe--I owe--I owe a great deal to all my fore--all my grandparents, but I knew all four of them, lived with them, and they taught me a lot.
LAMB: Would you have liked John Quincy Adams, do you think?
Mr. NAGEL: I say at the end somewhere, I think, that I've came—I didn't--I began by disliking him intensely. But after living with him all those years off and on and finally tackling him in--in this—in this biography, I've concluded that--I'm--I'm--I'm sure there were times I would--couldn't--wouldn't have been able to bear his company, but he wa--he must have been remarkably good for a companion for walking.
LAMB: Where--what is this cover from?
Mr. NAGEL: That's George Caleb Bingham's--I--by the way, I wrote a biography of that, and it's an interesting coincidence because it was chosen without my knowledge. That's George Caleb Bingham's biography of him, painted--it's in the National Portrait Gallery, painted in 1852, four years after Adams' death. He painted Adams from life and then was so char--oh, so overtaken, I think, by the Adams legend that arose with Adams' death that he decided to do a somewhat more generous, spirited portrait. The--the portrait from Life isn't quite as handsome as that one.
LAMB: Paul C. Nagel, author of "John Quincy Adams: A Public Life, A Private Life," thank you very much.
Mr. NAGEL: Thank you, sir.

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