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The Last Puritan Statesman and the 2016 Conventions

{{PD-US}} – published in the US before 1923 and public domain in the US.
{{PD-US}} – published in the US before 1923 and public domain in the US.

Had I the resources, the one new book I’d give every delegate to the national political conventions that are meeting later this month is James Traub’s masterful biography, John Quincy Adams: Militant Spirit (Basic Books).

Traub grabs your attention quickly, seven sentences in: “[Adams] did not aim to please, and he largely succeeded.” Why? Because “he lived according to principles he considered self-evident. Others of his contemporaries did so as well, of course; what set Adams apart was that his principles were so inviolable that he eagerly sacrificed his self-interest to them. As president he accomplished very little of his ambitious agenda in part because he refused to do anything to reward his friends or punish his enemies. Such inflexibility is a dubious virtue for a politician.”

That’s on page xi. Some 544 pages later, I had gotten the distinct impression that Mr. Traub wished there were a bit more principled inflexibility and disdain for self-interest in our politics today.

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