American Phoenix: John Quincy and Louisa Adams, the War of 1812, and the Exile that Saved American Independence
Jane Hampton Cook
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John Quincy and Louisa Adams’s unexpected journey that changed everything.
American Phoenix is the sweeping, riveting tale of a grand historic adventure across forbidding oceans and frozen tundra―from the bustling ports and towering birches of Boston to the remote reaches of pre-Soviet Russia, from an exile in arctic St. Petersburg to resurrection and reunion among the gardens of Paris. Upon these varied landscapes this Adams and his Eve must find a way to transform their banishment into America’s salvation.
Author, historian, and national media commentator Jane Hampton Cook breathes life into once-obscure history, weaving a meticulously researched biographical tapestry that reads like a gripping novel. With the arc and intrigue of Shakespearean drama in a Jane Austen era, American Phoenix is a timely yet timeless addition to the recent renaissance of works on the founding Adams family, from patriarchs John and Abigail to the second-generation of John Quincy and Louisa and beyond.
Cook has crafted not only a riveting narrative but also an easy-to-understand history filled with fly-on-the-wall vignettes from 1812 and its hardscrabble, freedom-hungry people. While unveiling vivid portrayals of each character―a colorful assortment of heroes and villains, patriots and pirates, rogues and rabble-rousers―she paints equally fresh, intimate portraits of both John Quincy and Louisa Adams. Cook artfully reveals John Quincy’s devastation after losing the job of his dreams, battle for America’s need to thrive economically, and sojourn to secure his homeland’s survival as a sovereign nation. She reserves her most detailed brushstrokes for the inner struggles of Louisa, using this quietly inspirational woman’s own words to amplify her fears, faith, and fortitude along a deeply personal, often heart-rending journey. Cook’s close-up perspective shows how this American couple’s Russian destination changed US destiny.
to talk about what else? The savage United States. “The conversation turned upon America and Count Markoff mentioned many things that Talleyrand had told him of his travels in the United States.” Louisa was familiar with Prince Charles-Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord, the Frenchman who had come to the United States years earlier in a temporary exile. He had visited England as an unofficial French diplomat. When the British government issued a warrant for his arrest in 1794, he'd fled to the
propensity.” The sermon addressed the scriptural concept of “take no thought for tomorrow” and “do not worry about what he shall eat or drink.” These were tough principles for Adams. “A father of a family in this world must take thought of tomorrow—not for what he himself shall eat or drink, or wherewithal he shall be clothed, but for his wife and children.” Since becoming a husband and father, he had encountered “perpetual temptations and stimulations to waste the means of provision bestowed
Massachusetts while he served in the Continental Congress in Philadelphia and later abroad. The senior Adams knew all too well the temptations of European court life. He had witnessed the ways of the French court when he lobbied for the American cause. Perhaps forgetting the academic education John Quincy had received in Paris, he wanted to shield his grandsons from the depraved morals of similar circles. Or maybe the old man was simply prioritizing his lineage’s survival. If something happened
hundred were privileged enough to take dinner with the imperial family. The Adamses and their party left the crowds to join this elite group. While taking a stroll among the paintings, Louisa saw the empress mother. “I . . . was gazing at the pictures when I observed the empress mother make a sign to me to come to her.” Insecurity swelled worse than nausea as she remembered the woman’s admonishment. How could she possibly explain why she missed the previous ball? Her true reasons were too
traffic or property prohibited by the laws of this country,” he responded, relying on his honor and reputation to make his case. Though evasive, the count reassured John of his good standing. “[Romanzoff] said he could hardly express to my face what he thought upon this subject; but it was certainly nothing distrustful of me.” Confident these ships “were bona fide American,” Adams gave the foreign minister his list documenting the sixty-seven US vessels. “The owners of almost all were