A British paradox: John Quincy Adams's life and career in the early American republic
Shimp, Robert Edward
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This dissertation argues that John Quincy Adams’s American identity and views on the United States’ nation building process in the early republic were directly influenced by Great Britain’s politics and culture over his lengthy public service career. From this argument, this project inverts historiographical trends that tend to treat Adams as a footnote to the rise of Jacksonian Democracy or focus on his late career battles against slavery in the House of Representatives. Instead of these limiting approaches, I examine Adams’s complicated relationship with Britain by unpacking the distinct periods when he lived in London from the 1783 to 1817. Over six chapters, I focus on his three stays in London in the 1780s, diplomatic missions of varying lengths from 1794 to 1797, and his two years as ambassador in Britain from 1815-1817. I reveal how Adams, with unquestionable ties to the American Revolution through his parents John and Abigail, navigated a paradoxical relationship with Britain as a prominent public figure in the United States. He both engaged with and admired Britain’s relative stability, social life, and spectrum of reforming ideas while remaining wary of its diplomacy and perceived corrupting influences. Given Adams’s career longevity, he can be viewed as a central link between the American Revolution and the Civil War and, by proxy, both his and his nation’s complicated uncoupling from Britain as he served his nation nearly continuously from 1781 to 1848. This dissertation argues that even after the United States declared its independence from Britain, Adams’s worldview continued to be shaped by his travels to Britain, marriage to an Englishwoman, and consumption of British culture. They ensured his life-long, inextricable ties to Great Britain and are valuable lenses to illustrate America’s nation building into the 1840s from a biographical perspective. In constructing these arguments, my research draws primarily from Adams’s voluminous personal papers, namely his 14,000-page diary. These sources are contextualized by underutilized British sources on Adams from the Public Record and Foreign Offices in addition to personal papers from his British associates.