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Our President Sat Naked on the Banks of the Potomac

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It may have been over 180 years ago, but this year's political campaign has been eerily similar to that of 1824. In that race, John Quincy Adams, Henry Clay, Andrew Jackson and Harris Crawford were all vying for the presidency. The four split the votes in the Electoral College (sound familiar?) so none was the definitive winner. Jackson won the popular vote, but when Clay threw his support for Adams, the latter was elected president.

That should have ended it, but those were cantankerous times. Jackson was beyond upset — so much so that he rallied his supporters and vowed to do everything possible to ruin Adams' term. It worked. Jackson thwarted virtually every initiative Adams proposed as president. His one term in office is still recognized as one of the most ineffectual in history.

All that was also not for a lack of intelligence. A graduate of Harvard, Adams spoke seven languages and had been a U.S. diplomat to Russia, England, Germany and The Netherlands. Like his father — second president John Adams — John Quincy was also known to be a stubborn, confrontational, easily angered, depressed perfectionist. Given all that, to the delight of others in attendance he also had a proclivity for dining alone even at diplomatic gatherings.

Not dissimilar to every man to ever hold the office of president, Adams had curious behaviors that, today, would result in either impeachment or being committed to an institution. For instance, John Quincy loved to swim. That's fine. He was a fitness buff. Though, buff is the right word because he loved swimming nude in ice water. Remember, he lived in a time before refrigeration so ice water was found only outside, say, in the Potomac River.

On one occasion he and an assistant were canoeing across the Potomac so Adams could swim back.

In turbulent waters the canoe capsized and sank. They made it to shore and his aid went to summon help while the president of the United States sat shivering naked on the bank. Fortunately for Adams (and all of us), the invention of photography was years away.

John Quincy holds another distinction — he remains the only president to serve in the Congress after his term of executive office. Many scoffed, but it was there that he made his true mark.

An ardent abolitionist, Adams opposed slavery. He agreed to defend a group of Africans who had been captured aboard the ship "Amistad." Recognizing they were free men and women who had been illegally taken, he pleaded their case to the Supreme Court. His education and oratorical skills were so persuasive that — even with the majority of the judges being slave owners — he prevailed and the Africans were returned to their homeland.

Idiosyncrasies aside, his successful litigation on behalf of the "Amistad" captives qualifies him for an honor. This month, the Mint has done that by featuring John Quincy Adams on the sixth coin in the Presidential Golden Dollar series.

Now available at many banks, the coin includes a portrait of Adams on the obverse with the Statue of Liberty on the reverse. Uncirculated Adams dollar coins are also available in rolls and bags directly from the U.S. Mint. For more information, log on to www.usmint.gov or phone 1-800-USA-MINT (872-6468).

NOTE TO EDITORS: A JPEG visual of the new John Quincy Adams golden dollar coin has been sent with this column.

To find out more about Peter Rexford and to read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.

COPYRIGHT 2008 CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC.



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