Foreign Policy Research Institute A Nation Must Think Before it Acts Chapter 7: John Quincy Adams and the Problem of Neighborhood

Chapter 7: John Quincy Adams and the Problem of Neighborhood

The Tragedy of U.S. Foreign Policy:

How America’s Civil Religion Betrayed the National Interest


McDougall Book Jacket

The original draft of this book contained 172 pages of endnotes, which had to be shed in the name of economy. Thanks to the Internet, readers can access them here. Unfortunately, of course, the author had to substitute page and paragraph numbers for the original superscripts in the text, but in most cases it should be clear which sentences in a given paragraph match up with which sources.

Paragraphs appearing in their entirety on a single page are identified by the page number (e.g., p. 122). Paragraphs divided between two pages are identified by those pages (e.g., pp. 92-93). Paragraphs that share a page with another complete paragraph are identified by the page number and paragraph number (e.g., p. 103, ¶ 1).





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Chapter 7: John Quincy Adams and the Problem of Neighborhood:

60-61: Robert Kagan, Dangerous Nation (New York: Knopf, 2006), p. 158, commits this howling anachronism in order to justify his ideological spin on John Quincy Adams’ “dangerous nation” letter quoted on p. 159.

61, ¶ 1: The principals were President James Monroe’s acting Secretary of State Richard Rush and the British Minister to the United States Sir Charles Bagot. They exchanged letters on April 27 and 28, 1817, and the Senate ratified the terms a year later. After the 1867 British North America Act founding the Dominion of Canada the agreement was renewed in the 1871 Treaty of Washington.

61, ¶ 2: While serving as U.S. minister to the Netherlands from 1794 to 1797 young John Quincy traveled to London and consulted with John Jay over his commercial treaty. A letter he wrote to his father about the need to steer clear of European affairs evidently influenced the text of Washington’s Farewell Address: Paul C. Nagel, John Quincy Adams: A Public Life, A Private Life (New York: Knopf, 1997), p. 49.

61-62: John Quincy Adams’ moral and intellectual universe is the subject of Greg Russell’s outstanding John Quincy Adams and the Public Virtues of Diplomacy (Columbia: University of Missouri, 1995); quotes in this paragraph from pp. 1-8, 10, 87, 114-15, 137-41. John Adams letter to John Taylor of Caroline (April 15, 1814) in George W. Carey, ed., The Political Writings of John Adams (Washington, DC: Regnery, 2000) p. 388.

62: Russell, John Quincy Adams and the Public Virtues of Diplomacy, pp. 137, 270-74. John Adams made the last point eloquently in a letter to Jefferson (Feb. 2, 1816): “Power always thinks it has a great soul and vast views beyond the comprehension of the weak; and that it is doing God’s service when it is violating all his laws.”

62-63: Robert W. Smith, Keeping the Republic: Ideology and Early American Diplomacy (DeKalb: Northern Illinois University, 2004), p. 96. The new biography by Marie Arana, Bolivar: American Liberator (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2013) is eloquent on this score. Sympathetic and contemptuous North Americans alike either misunderstood or did not acknowledge the racial hurdles South Americans tried to leap.

63: Much new scholarship has appeared since 1997 on the beginnings of U.S.-Latin relations. See James E. Lewis, The American Union and the Problem of Neighborhood: The United States and the Collapse of the Spanish Empire, 1783-1829 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina, 1998); Lars Schoultz, Beneath the United States: A History of U.S. Policy Toward Latin America (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University, 1998); John J. Johnson, A Hemisphere Apart: The Foundations of United States Foreign Policy Toward Latin America (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1990); William Earl Weeks, John Quincy Adams and American Global Empire (Lexington: University of Kentucky Press, 1992); Lester D. Langley, The Americas in the Age of Revolution, 1750-1850 (New Haven: Yale University, 1996); Frank L. Owsley, Jr. and Gene A. Smith, Filibusters and Expansionists: Jeffersonian Manifest Destiny, 1800-1821 (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1997).

63-64: Adams wrote: “The duty of this government to protect the persons and property of our fellow-citizens on the borders of the United States is imperative – it must be discharged,” and warned the United States would do it again if necessary: Letter to George William Irving (Nov.28, 1818), Worthington C. Ford, ed., The Writings of John Quincy Adams, 7 vols. (New York: Macmillan, 1913-17), 6: 501-2.

64, ¶ 1: John Lewis Gaddis argued this case in Surprise, Security, and the American Experience (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University, 2004). It was effectively rebutted by David C. Hendrickson, “Preemption, Unilateralism, and Hegemony: The American Tradition?” Orbis 50, no. 2 (Spring 2006): 273-87. Most damning is the contrast between that surgical First Seminole War (1818) and the open-ending nation-building of the Second Seminole War (1835-48) in which the United States government blundered into a protracted counter-insurgency. The Seminoles led by the brilliant chief Osceola waged a guerilla war in the jungle for 13 years that ultimately involved 40,000 soldiers and cost $40 million (a huge sum).  In his second inaugural address on March 5, 1821, Monroe boasted: “Great confidence is entertained that the late treaty with Spain, which has been ratified by both parties, and the ratifications whereof have been exchanged, has placed the relations of the two countries on a basis of permanent friendship”:

64, ¶ 2: Clay’s views were extreme. Not even President Jefferson had entertained the folly of military or diplomatic intervention in Mexico or South America and pledging vigorous prosecution of any American citizens engaging in hostilities against Spain. President Madison softened this policy in the name of an “enlarged philanthropy” which maintained U.S. neutrality but relaxed the strictures against the sale of guns. 

64-65: Charles Francis Adams, ed., Memoirs of John Quincy Adams, 12 vols. (Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1874-77), 5: 324-25 (March 1821).

65-66: Russell, John Quincy Adams and the Public Virtues of Diplomacy, pp. 114-41; David C. Hendrickson, Union, Nation, or Empire: The American Debate on International Relations, 1789-1941 (Lawrence: University of Kansas, 2009), pp. 78-82.

66-67: John Quincy Adams, An Address Delivered to the Citizens of Washington; on the Occasion of Reading the Declaration of Independence, on the Fourth of July, 1821 (Washington, D.C.: David & Force, 1821), pp 29-34.

67: Letter to Everett (Jan. 31, 1822): Ford, ed., Writings of John Quincy Adams 7: 197-202. See also Samuel Flagg Bemis, John Quincy Adams and the Foundations of American Foreign Policy (New York: Knopf, 1948), pp. 357-59; Mary W. M. Hargeaves, The Presidency of John Quincy Adams (Lawrence: University of Kansas, 1985), p. 113; Robert V. Remini, John Quincy Adams (New York: Times Books, 2002), pp. 52-58; Lewis, American Union and the Problem of Neighborhood, p. 158; Schoultz, Beneath the United States, p. 12.

67-68: Kagan, Dangerous Nation, p. 163. The new book by Charles N. Edel, Nation Builder: John Quincy Adams and the Grand Strategy of the Republic (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University, 2014), ably corrects the distorted notion that Adams didn’t really mean what he said. See also Russell, John Quincy Adams and the Public Virtues of Diplomacy, pp. 141.

68-69: Letter to Hugh Nelson (Apr. 28, 1823): Ford., ed., Writings of John Quincy Adams 7: 369-84.

69: Adams’s response to Russian Minister Baron de Tuyl: Memoirs of John Quincy Adams, 6: 211-12 (Nov. 1823). The most recent scholarly treatise, Jay Sexton, The Monroe Doctrine: Empire and Nation in Nineteenth-Century America (New York: Hill and Wang, 2011), substantiates this interpretation.

70, ¶ 1: Andrew Preston, Sword of the Spirit, Shield of Faith: Religion in American War and Diplomacy (New York: Knopf, 2012), pp. 103-8, imagines the “Old Testament Adams” of his years as Secretary of State and President giving way to a “New Testament Adams” during his later years as an anti-slavery member of Congress. George C. Herring’s From Colony to Superpower: U.S. Foreign Relations Since 1776 (New York: Oxford University, 2008) is excellent and exhaustive, however he does commit this exaggeration on pp. 158-61 when he says that Adams “moved in <Clay’s> direction” and that “their diplomats often crossed” the fine line separating encouragement from involvement in the domestic affairs of other nations.

70, ¶ 2: Arana, Bolívar, pp. 384-87.


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