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John Quincy Adams American Statesmen Series

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Nearly sixteen years have elapsed since this book was written. In that time sundry inaccuracies have been called to my attention, and have been corrected, and it may be fairly hoped that after the lapse of so long a period all errors in matters of fact have been eliminated. I am not aware that any fresh material has been made public, or that any new views have been presented which would properly lead to alterations in the substance of what is herein said. If I were now writing the book for the first time, I should do what so many of the later contributors to the series have very wisely and advantageously done: I should demand more space. But this was the first volume published, and at a time when the enterprise was still an experiment insistence upon such a point, especially on the part of the editor, would have been unreasonable. Thus it happens that, though Mr. Adams was appointed minister resident at the Hague in 1794, and thereafter continued in public life, almost without interruption, until his death in February, 1848, the narrative of his career is compressed within little more than three hundred pages. The proper function of a work upon this scale is to draw a picture of the man.

With the picture which I have drawn of Mr. Adams, I still remain moderately contented—by which remark I mean nothing more egotistical than that I believe it to be a correct picture, and done with whatever measure of skill I may happen to possess in portraiture. I should like to change it only in one particular, viz.: by infusing throughout the volume somewhat more of admiration. Adams has never received the praise which was his due, and probably he never will receive it. In order that justice should be done him by the public, his biographer ought to speak somewhat better of him than his real deserts would require. He presents one of those cases where exaggeration is the servant of truth; for this moderate excess of appreciation would only offset that discount from an accurate estimate which his personal unpopularity always has caused, and probably always will cause, to be made. He was a good instance of the rule that the world will for the most part treat the individual as the individual treats the world. Adams was censorious, not to say uncharitable in the extreme, always in an attitude of antagonism, always unsparing and denunciatory. The measure which he meted has been by others in their turn meted to him. This habit of ungracious criticism was his great fault; perhaps it was almost his only very serious fault; it cost him dear in his life, and has continued to cost his memory dear since his death. Sometimes we are not sorry to see men get the punishments which they have brought on themselves; yet we ought to be sorry for Mr. Adams. After all, his fault-finding was in part the result of his respect for virtue and his hatred of all that was ignoble and unworthy. If he despised a low standard, at least he held his own standard high, and himself lived by the rules by which he measured others....