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John Quincy Adams and American Global Empire

John Quincy Adams and American Global Empire

Copyright Date: 1992
Edition: 1
Pages: 252
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  • Book Info
    John Quincy Adams and American Global Empire
    Book Description:

    This is the story of a man, a treaty, and a nation. The man was John Quincy Adams, regarded by most historians as America's greatest secretary of state. The treaty was the Transcontinental Treaty of 1819, of which Adams was the architect. It acquired Florida for the young United States, secured a western boundary extending to the Pacific, and bolstered the nation's position internationally. As William Weeks persuasively argues, the document also represented the first determined step in the creation of an American global empire.

    Weeks follows the course of the often labyrinthine negotiations by which Adams wrested the treaty from a recalcitrant Spain. The task required all of Adams's skill in diplomacy, for he faced a tangled skein of domestic and international controversies when he became secretary of state in 1817. The final document provided the United States commercial access to the Orient--a major objective of the Monroe administration that paved the way for the Monroe Doctrine of 1823.

    Adams, the son of a president and later himself president, saw himself as destined to play a crucial role in the growth and development of the United States. In this he succeeded. Yet his legendary statecraft proved bittersweet. Adams came to repudiate the slave society whose interests he had served by acquiring Florida, he was disgusted by the rapacity of the Jacksonians, and he experienced profound guilt over his own moral transgressions while secretary of state. In the end, Adams understood that great virtue cannot coexist with great power.

    Weeks's book, drawn in part from articles that won the Stuart Bernath Prize, makes a lasting contribution to our understanding of American foreign policy and adds significantly to our picture of one of the nation's most important statesmen.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-4837-3
    Subjects: History, Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-vii)
  3. List of Maps
    (pp. viii-viii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-5)

    This is a story about a man, a treaty; and a nation. The man is John Quincy Adams: son of a president, congressman, president and the greatest secretary of state in American history: The treaty is the Transcontinental Treaty of 1819, which acquired Florida, secured a western boundary extending to the Pacific Ocean, and, I argue, represented the first determined step in the creation of an American global empire. The nation is the United States, the most powerful nation-state in world history and a country in whose growth and development Adams perceived himself destined to play a crucial role.


  6. ONE Destiny
    (pp. 6-36)

    Fifty years old in 1817, John Quincy Adams stood at the crossroads of an already remarkable life. Returning from his post as United States minister to Great Britain, he prepared to assume the office of secretary of state in the new administration of James Monroe. The appointment represented both an opportunity and a risk for Adams; all his previous accomplishments would count for little if he failed in his new job.

    No American had been better prepared to be secretary of state. Adams’s entire life had led to this end; if he failed, it would not be for lack of...

  7. TWO Developing a Strategy
    (pp. 37-58)

    John Quincy Adams arrived in New York on 6 August 1817, ending a nine-year absence from his native land. The tempestuous fifty-day voyage from Great Britain (Adams wrote that his wife “thought herself dying” from seasickness) had not helped still his own anxieties about his new job. He confided in his diary that” so keen indeed was the emotion of contemplating the probabilities of the future time that nothing but a finn reliance upon Him who has ever been my preserver and the dispenser of every blessing supported me from despondency”¹ The elite of New York enthusiastically welcomed the new...

  8. THREE First Moves
    (pp. 59-84)

    John Quincy Adams did not exaggerate the immensity of his work load. Only a man who lived to work could have stood the pace. In a very real sense, Adamswasthe Department of State. The department, which at the time included no more than a dozen employees, was without an assistant secretary which meant that Adams was solely responsible for all departmental decisions as well as the drafting of instructions to the American ministers abroad. Moreover, he was in charge of overseeing the census of 1820, arranging for the publication of legislation, consulting with the president on pardons, and...

  9. FOUR “The South American Question”
    (pp. 85-104)

    The South American struggles for independence complicated the efforts of Monroe and Adams to expand the power and influence of the United States. There is no doubt that most North Americans, in a demonstration of reflexive ideological affinity, exulted at the prospect of republicanism triumphant in the Western Hemisphere; they equated Spanish rule with colonialism, Catholicism, and corruption. Despite this popular ideological sympathy, geopolitical considerations prevented Monroe and Adams from taking any substantive action to aid the South American insurgents. Spanish officials made it clear that to do so would result in the breaking off of negotiations and possibly war....

  10. FIVE Jackson’s Invasion of Florida
    (pp. 105-126)

    John Quincy Adams was not the only one satisfied by Clay’s defeat. The initial widespread support for South American recognition steadily eroded as the public realized its implications for the United States. Madison astutely observed in a letter to Monroe that “the nation will . . . disapprove any measure unnecessarily involving it in the danger of war.” Even theRichmond Enquirer,a critic of the administration’s neutrality policy; welcomed the defeat of Clay’s resolution: “The proposition of Mr. Clay is wrong. . . . It is a proposition against the established order. . . . What has the House...

  11. SIX Onís Brought to a Point
    (pp. 127-146)

    Don Luis de Onís responded to Adams’s defense of Jackson’s conduct by rebutting the secretary’s assertions point by point. He rejected the charge that Spanish troops had failed to restrain the Seminoles from cross-border forays into Georgia, claiming that correspondence from the Spanish governor in Florida indicated instead that the tribesmen had frequently protested attacks by North Americans. He alluded to other documents that contradicted allegations of interference with the American supply convoy and of aiding and abetting Seminole warriors. Onís demanded Jackson’s punishment, yet he pledged to investigate the actions of the Spanish officials in Florida and mete out...

  12. SEVEN The Origins of Empire
    (pp. 147-175)

    John Quincy Adams began his diary for 1819 by paraphrasing from the golden verses attributed to Pythagoras:

    Let not thine eyelids close at parting day

    Till, with thyself communing, thou shalt say

    What deed of good or evil have I done

    Since the last radiance of the morning sun?

    In strict review the day before thee pass,

    And see thyself in truth’s unerring glass.

    If, scorning self-delusion’s fraudful ways,

    Her solemn voice of reproving Conscience raise,

    With keen contrition, aid divine implore

    Each error to redeem, and wrong no more.

    Or, should that faithful guardian witness bear

    That all thy...

  13. EPILOGUE The American Cicero
    (pp. 176-199)

    Final ratification of the Transcontinental Treaty signaled the end of the first phase of American continental expansionism in the nineteenth century. By establishing the previously undefined limits of the Louisiana Purchase and adding Florida, the treaty resolved longstanding uncertainties about the nation’s borders. Moreover, the treaty determined the course of American expansionism until the Civil War by its claim to Oregon and the northwest coast in exchange for an equally strong (if not stronger) claim to Texas.

    The cession of the Texas in return for a transcontinental boundary proved critically important. In effect, the “Louisiana Purchase” had been the basis...

  14. Notes
    (pp. 200-215)
  15. Selected Bibliography
    (pp. 216-225)
  16. Index
    (pp. 226-238)