AUTHOR'S NOTE: This is the first installment in a four-part series on fathers and sons in politics.
In 1775, a youngdescribed New England as having “the advantage of every other colony in America.” The men who wrote the Constitution were provincial with loyalties and interests particular to their geographical location and characterized themselves as from the South, Middle Colonies, New England, and the Frontier, rather than “Americans.” Each was unique with distinctive characteristics and demands from their representatives. The hallmark of “The American Experiment,” as the Frenchman Alexis de Tocqueville described in "Democracy in America," is based on diversity rather than uniformity.
The colonies, though they had their differences, gained strength from each other similarly to the way families grow and learn together, and in some instances like politics family members take up the same professions as their parents. Because politics was a male-dominated endeavor until the 20th century, political succession among female leaders is scarce. When we think of political inheritance, names like Adams, Brown, Cuomo and Romney are familiar father-and-son political families. There are others, but for the purpose of this series, these four will be discussed and compared for their contributions, relevancy and generational differences.
John Adams and
John Adams was president from 1797-1801. As a Federalist and the second president of the United States, he was charged with continuing George Washington’s policies of neutrality. He was a member of the Continental Congress and on the committee to draft the Declaration of Independence. While applauded for keeping America out of a war with France even though this broke with his Federalist ideals, his legacy includes the enactment of the Alien and Sedition Acts, which some historians view as a blemish. But were Adams’ fears for alien invasion justified, and were his actions altruistic?
These acts comprised four laws that increased the residency requirement for American citizenship from five to 14 years, authorized the president to imprison or deport aliens considered "dangerous to the peace and safety of the United States" and restricted speech critical of the government. The laws were enacted by the Federalist who were fearful of an overthrow of the American government as French refugees fled to the U.S. as a result of the French Revolution and the Revolt in Haiti. Many Americans, however, opposed these laws arguing it was unconstitutional and infringed on free speech.
There are parallels between the Alien and Sedition Act laws and the Patriot Act enacted in the wake of 9-11. Concerns for security and surveillance are pitted against safeguards and personal freedom. In both instances threats from external terrorism were the drivers in their formulation.
Adams’ son, John Quincy Adams, was the sixth president of the United States. Ironically, both were one-term presidents because they failed to gain sufficient support from their Federalist Party. John Quincy was raised for public service and became a pre-eminent secretary of state, which became the jewel in his crown, not the presidency. Preparation for diplomatic service began in his childhood when he accompanied his father to Europe at an early age living in the Netherlands, Finland, Denmark, Sweden and Russia, where he became fluent in many languages and attended European Universities.
As secretary of state, he was a major contributor to the formulation of the Monroe Doctrine that protected the Western Hemisphere from European involvement. He negotiated the Adams-Onis Treaty with Spain, expanding our borders to the Pacific Ocean and ceded Florida to the U.S. He was responsible for building an efficient and powerful American diplomatic service during his eight years as secretary.
As president, Adams was pitted against a Congress controlled by anti-Federalists, which prevented him from winning a second term as president in 1828. One of the main areas of discord was the Tariff of 1828 enacted to protect industry in the North, but the Southern states would have to pay higher prices on goods their region did not produce and increased what the British would have to pay for cotton from the South. Despite these battles with Congress, Adams was able to pay off much of the national debt and continued efforts to modernize the American economy.
Both John Quincy and his father held similar views in that it was constitutional and appropriate for the federal government to sponsor broad programs to improve American society and prosperity, which is one of the defining tenants of progressive Democratic liberalism today. John Quincy, however, did not retire from public life like his father after losing the bid for a second term as president. He went on to serve nine distinguished terms in the House of Representatives.
Their shared political values and beliefs are a result of their close relationship during John Quincy’s formable years when he traveled extensively with his father, Ambassador Adams, in Europe where he negotiated treaties and loans for the United States. He learned dedication and service to his country by observing his father’s diplomacy with the countries of Europe.
Seeking answers in history
A recent question in the American Pundit Contest posed the question on whether the Electoral College is relevant in this century. The Electoral College was designed originally to balance the power away from the executive branch to the states. The Tariff of 1828 is an example of executive powers not welcomed by all the states, and in this case the South felt slighted, fueling calls for Nullification. In the presidential voting process, the Electoral College, created in 1787 and amended several times in last few hundred years, attempts to give the states fair representation; whereas popular vote allows heavily populated states an advantage over smaller states. John Quincy Adams lost re-election to , a Southerner from Tennessee representing the new Democratic Party, which supported small, limited federal government and also advanced the South’s dissatisfaction with Federalist ideals, specifically the Tariff of 1828. Without the Electoral College however, it is possible John Quincy Adams could have been re-elected by the highly populated North versus the rural South.
States like California, Texas, New York and Florida, by their population count, could outnumber most other states combined in a popular-vote-only election, leaving the smaller states without power and influence in an election. While popular-vote-only has the allure of election by a direct vote from the people, there are considerations of equal representation of all the states no matter their size geographically or in population.
Part two of this series will be Edmond G. “Pat” Brown and Jerry Brown.
If you like to write about U.S. politics and Campaign 2012, enter "The American Pundit" competition. Allvoices is awarding four $250 prizes each month between now and November. These monthly winners earn eligibility for the $5,000 grand prize, to be awarded after the November election.
John Quincy Adams: A Public Life, A Private Life, Paul C. Nagel, Alfred Knopf, New York 1997