The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
VOLUME XVI. Early National Literature, Part II; Later National Literature, Part I.

XV. Publicists and Orators, 1800–1850

§ 24. John Quincy Adams

Perhaps the student of American literature might justly pass by the work of John Quincy Adams (1767–1848), on the ground that it possesses nothing of real literary merit and deserves no special distinction; he was not a great orator, if one judge by grace of expression and by power of public appeal, and he was not a writer gifted with special originality or charm of style. He was, however, for fifty years and more a prominent figure in public life—foreign minister, senator, secretary of state, president, representative in Congress; he prepared able state papers; for nearly twenty years and at an age when most men enjoy retirement from active service, he played a conspicuous rôle in Congress, speaking in behalf of free speech and the right of petition and defending the cause of free labour against the demands of slavery; he left for the use of succeeding generations a diary of his life, a source of comfort to the historical investigator and a pleasure to the lay reader of history, a diary astonishingly full and minute, filled with reflections and with stern and caustic comments on men and events. The years after his presidency, when he was a representative in Congress, have given his name a peculiar lustre, for he laboured there boldly and almost alone.