Double Bind
By Paul Bacon

A reluctant but lifelong politician, and a successful diplomat sorely lacking in social graces, John Quincy Adams was among America's most tragically ironic statesmen. Despite his openly self-deprecating persona, the son of ex-president John Adams was considered by many to be cold and aloof. Adams launched bold, visionary public works initiatives, but his presidency was deemed a "list of failures."

History has vilified Adams as one of the most unpopular presidents, yet he defended American Indian rights, championed the abolitionist cause, and once called women's liberation "a virtue of the highest order." The bright spot in Adams's political career came after his defeat by Andrew Jackson, when in 1831 he became the only ex-president elected to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives. "No election or appointment ever gave me so much pleasure," said the man who once claimed he would rather "clean filth off the streets" than enter politics.

Adams served in Congress for the next 17 years, earning a reputation as the most passionate and respected liberal voice in Washington. Defying the many ironies of his life, Adams fulfilled his pledge to die in the line of duty when he suffered a fatal stroke on the floor of the House in 1848.


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