Books in Brief

John Quincy Adams: Militant Spirit, by James Traub (New York: Basic Books, 620 pp., $45.00). This well-written and highly readable biography, addressed to the general reader rather than to the academic historian, is nevertheless a substantial as well as a highly accessible work by a professor of foreign policy at New York University.  Traub’s presentation is less “original” (after two centuries of historiography) than it is balanced, reasonable, and compelling.  “Adams’ persistent argument for husbanding US diplomatic and military power,” Traub claims, “is his single most lasting contribution to the corpus of the nation’s governing principles.”  This was owing, firstly, to his fear that America might become enmeshed in, and its republican existence threatened by, Continental animosities, quarrels, and wars; secondly, to his conviction that “the great object of the institution of civil government is the improvement of the condition of those who are parties to the social compact.”  This belief caused him to support the program of “internal improvements” with which the name of Henry Clay, his secretary of state, is so notably associated, and to oppose the Jeffersonians’ concept of a limited federal government.  “Adams was thus the living link between a long-defunct Federalism and an emergent...

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