In the wake of the State of the Union address this week, now is the time for all good men to come to …
Praise John Quincy Adams.
“The vision thing,” to borrow Poppy Bush’s phrase [seemed a lot short on that Tuesday for all the presidential handclapping for the administration’s achievements].
Adams’ 1825 “Annual Message” [didn’t call it the State of the Union then and certainly not SOTU so it could squeeze into a Twitter feed}, should be ranked up there with Thomas Jefferson’s “We are all;” Abraham Lincoln’s “Mercy;” Franklin Roosevelt’s “The only thing;” and John Kennedy’s “Ask not” inaugural addresses as a “must read” public document.
JQ hit his stride with his second swing. Call it a mulligan. After all, he had to rush the inaugural talk because the election ended up in the House and they dilly-dallied deciding on a president almost to the day of the inauguration.
And in the immortal words of the current president’s idol – Andy Jackson, hero of New Orleans, hater of the British all his life and true believer in the gospel of “The only good Indian is a … [you get the idea]” — only through a “Corrupt Bargain” with Henry Clay or “rigged” to employ 21st century reality-TV-showese did JQ end up in a big house on Pennsylvania Avenue.
Back to our “vision” story:
In the Message, Adams didn’t give a laundry list of federal this and that, 200 somethings or others to Sacketts Harbor, New York, ad nauseam, ala long-winded William Jefferson Clinton in his State of the Union addresses did time and again.
While JQ’s inaugural address, which he actually delivered, wasn’t much, the Annual Message, read by an official of the Congress, was one of the boldest visions ever set out of what this nation could do:
Build “lighthouses of the sky—national observatories, erect a national university; launch a major scientific maritime expedition; beef up the Navy to protect American interests in the hemisphere against those crazed revolutionaries to the south and keep those pesky pirates in the Mediterranean in check; have West Point educate more engineers, including topographical — we’re going west, by golly, and we need roads, canals, etc.; make sure vets of the Revolution and their widows are provided for; separate State from Interior; and overhaul the judiciary.
“The spirit of improvement is abroad upon the earth.”
What Adams didn’t discuss was “Indian policy.” Best to think of it in the same terms as immigration, “we’re all dreamers, etc. today.
Adams’ written message doesn’t read like the “American carnage” speech [given to the largest inaugural crowd in history] nor all the handclapping for himself SOTU this week [before the most State of the Union viewers in history — has to include smart phones, tablets, laptops and desktops to make that claim or – maybe not].
Well of course, the “Era of Good Feelings” –sending “good Virginians” to the presidency after “bad Virginian” Jefferson left Washington — died with 1824 election debacle in the House.
The old “Indian fighter” wasn’t the kind of guy to throw in the towel in “good feeling.” And boy, did he have strong support in the South for slave-holding and “Indian removal.” In fact, he had good reason to feel cheated in a “Corrupt Bargain.”Unlike the current president, unless we count the millions of illegal voters who cast ballots for his Democratic opponent in his column rather than hers, Jackson led the popular vote in a field of four candidates.
Needless to say, “the vision thing” was DOA in Congress. And like daddy Adams, JQ became a one-term president.
Like Jimmy Carter, a one termer as well, JQ devoted the rest of his life to public service – in the House where he was the unrelenting foe of slavery.
As to how Adams judged Jackson in 1832 when he was running for re-election on the second most pressing internal question of the day, Jackson “has surrendered the Indians to the States within the bounds of which they are located. This will strengthen and confirm his popularity in these States, especially as he has burdened the Union with the expense of removing and indemnifying the Indians.” [boldface, italic and underlined from me, but quote from his Memoirs compiled by his son, p. 232].[https://archive.org/details/memjohnquincy12adamrich]
Reminds me of “wall-building” — in reverse.
Bye-bye, Cherokees, Seminoles, Chickasaws, Choctaws, and Creeks, the trail of tears across the Mississippi. Think of the river as a liquid wall — very long, but free to American taxpayers. As for the removal, indemnify charges, not to worry.
As might be expected, Adams had slavery at the top of his list of internal questions that divided the country in 1832. He already had been elected to the House to snipe at Jackson.