The Lost Founding Father

John Quincy Adams and the Transformation of American Politics

William J. Cooper (Author, Louisiana State University)

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Overview | Formats

Why has John Quincy Adams been largely written out of American history when he is, in fact, our lost Founding Father?

Long relegated to the sidelines of history as the hyperintellectual son of John and Abigail Adams, John Quincy Adams (1767–1848), has never basked in the historical spotlight. Remembered, if at all, as an ineffective president during an especially rancorous time, Adams was humiliated in office after the contested election of 1824, viciously assailed by populist opponents for being both slippery and effete, and then resoundingly defeated by the western war hero Andrew Jackson, whose 1828 election ushered in an era of unparalleled expansion.

Aware of this reputation yet convinced that Adams deserves a reconsideration, award-winning historian William J. Cooper has reframed the sixth president’s life in an entirely original way, demonstrating that Adams should be considered our lost Founding Father, his morality and political philosophy the final link to the great visionaries who created our nation. As Cooper demonstrates, no one else in his generation—not Clay, Webster, Calhoun, or Jackson—ever experienced Europe as young Adams did, who at fourteen translated from French at the court of Catherine the Great. In fact, Adams’s very exposure to the ideas of the European Enlightenment that had so influenced the Founding Fathers, including their embrace of reason, were hardly shared by his contemporaries, particularly those who could not countenance slaves as equal human beings.

Such differences, as Cooper narrates, became particularly significant after Adams’s failed presidency, when he, along with his increasingly reclusive wife, Louisa Catherine Adams, returned to Washington as a Massachusetts congressman in 1831. With his implacable foe Andrew Jackson in the White House, Adams passionately took up the antislavery cause. Despite raucous opposition from southern and northern politicians, Adams refused to relent, his protests so vehement that Congress enacted the gag rule in the 1830s specifically to silence him. With his impassioned public pronouncements and his heroic arguments in the Amistad trial, a defiant Adams was no longer viewed as a failed president but a national, albeit curmudgeonly, hero, who finally collapsed on the floor of the House chamber in 1848 and died in the capital three days later. Ironically, Adams’s death and the extraordinary obsequies produced an outpouring of national, and bipartisan, grief never before seen in the nineteenth century, as if the country had truly lost its last Founding Father.

Now, in another fractious age, the courageous life of John Quincy Adams suddenly takes on renewed vigor and meaning, as William J. Cooper’s momentous biography so eloquently affirms.

Book Details

  • Hardcover, Rough Front - Edge: Deckle, Feather, Uncut
  • October 2017
  • ISBN 978-0-87140-435-0
  • 6.8 × 9.6 in / 544 pages
  • Sales Territory: Worldwide

Other Formats

  1. Book CoverThe Lost Founding Father: John Quincy Adams and the Transformation of American Politics


Endorsements & Reviews

“In this illuminating new look at John Quincy Adams, the distinguished historian William J. Cooper gives us a vivid and convincing account of one of the most significant—but too often overlooked—figures in our history. Long obscured by the towering shadow of his father’s generation on one side and by Andrew Jackson on the other, our sixth president merits more study and credit. In these pages, Cooper gives him both.” — Jon Meacham, author of Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power

“There is a certain urgency to new studies of presidents of the republic. William Cooper’s well-crafted life of John Quincy Adams, a learned and well-trained president with a conscience touching the moral questions of his day, admirably fits that bill.” — William McFeely, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Grant: A Biography

“John Quincy Adams was a world traveler and full-throated nationalist, primed from youth for a life in politics. His path to success was marred by a cold, forbidding character that he could not shake. The Lost Founding Father is as nimble and inviting to readers as its subject was dense and ill-disposed to company.” — Andrew Burstein, author of Jefferson’s Secrets and The Passions of Andrew Jackson

“As he did in his prize-winning biography of Jefferson Davis, William J. Cooper here brilliantly balances a perceptive portrait of John Quincy Adams’s personal life and character…with an astute and compelling analysis of his decades-long public career. The result is another first-class performance.” — Michael Holt, author of The Rise and Fall of the American Whig Party

“Cooper’s balanced, well-sourced, and accessible work focuses on a rarely examined yet pivotal period in American history.” — Publisher's Weekly