This July 11 marked the 250th anniversary of the birth of John Quincy Adams. On that day, Robert offered an appreciation at Jihad Watch of our sixth president, who had such a remarkable understanding of Islam. It might be instructive to know a bit more about J. Q. Adams, about both the breadth of his experience and the depth of his education, that help to explain that understanding. He turns out to have been remarkable in a dozen directions, our greatest scholar-president, our greatest historian-president, our most successful diplomat and, next only to Lincoln, the sturdiest of our Presidential moralists.
The first thing that strikes one about John Quincy Adams is his incredible energy, physical and mental. As diplomat, lawyer, statesman, politician, as Senator, President, and finally as Congressman, as professor and orator and writer, he needed all of that energy with which he had fortunately been endowed, because he was constantly active, fulfilling both the high tasks he had been assigned, and those he had not been given, but dutifully took on nonetheless.
Until his old age, he woke every day between 5 and 6, walked four miles whatever the weather, then read several books of the Bible, usually in English, but often, too, in Greek, or French. He then set to work, which for Adams meant reading of all kinds — literature, law, moral philosophy, current events, but above all, the study of history. He knew at least six foreign languages. He was fluent in French and Dutch, having learned French as a child and kept it up when he spent time in Paris with his father between 1778 and 1779, and again in 1783, even attending a French Ecole de mathematiques. When his father was assigned to be Minister to the Netherlands from 1780 to 1782, John Quincy accompanied him, and became fluent in Dutch. He insisted in later life on maintaining his Dutch, long after he would have had any professional need. When he was appointed Minister to Prussia, he immediately began diligently to study German, and did acquire a working knowledge but not, he recognized, the fluency he had in French and Dutch. With German too, he kept at it, long after he had left the Berlin legation, translating German texts to keep up the language.
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