“I’m a warrior, yes, but I am not a monster. There’s a heart beating inside me that wants the same thing you do. To love. To be loved,” British Captain John Simcoe said to Anna Strong on a recent episode of AMC’s hit Revolutionary War spy show Turn.
This precise sentiment is what makes history relevant to us today. Though fans of Turn are fascinated by spies and the Revolutionary War, we live in an advanced technological age. We can’t relate easily to what it’s like to only be able to ride in a carriage or on horseback. We receive text messages in a blink instead of waiting weeks for an important letter to arrive. However, we can relate to the desire to love and be loved and to make our lives count.
The writers of AMC’s Turn have smartly tapped universal themes that transcend generations and help viewers to relate to these characters as humans, not as mere actors in tricorn hats and mob caps.
Below is the introduction to my Pulitzer-nominated book, American Phoenix, which brings to life the story of a son and daughter of the American Revolution, John Quincy and Louisa Adams and their experience during the War of 1812. This introduction taps the same need that Simcoe recently expressed in Turn, the desire to love and be loved, to be remembered and fulfill a purpose in life. Earlier this month, American Phoenix made the top 100 books on Kindle. Buy your print or ebook copy today. Also, I recently was a guest on The O’Reilly Factor talking about the importance of kids discovering history.
Recalling the Ones Who Were, from American Phoenix.
“The phoenix riddle hath more wit. By us, we two being one, are it.” —John Donne, English poet, circa 1631
Though he often concealed his true feelings from polite society, President John Quincy Adams kept detailed diaries throughout his life. Dipping a pen into his inkwell was as natural to him as breathing. In contrast his letters—particularly to his parents, brother, and wife—revealed this reserved man’s deeper passions of love, justice, and a valiant quest for honor.
An avid reader, John also understood the value of eyewitness accounts to historians. If his life proved influential at all—something he longed for—he suspected scholars just might collect his diaries and correspondence. He was right. Researchers throughout the years have published his writings in many volumes.
His wife, Louisa, also loved the written word. She, too, dared to dream that someone just might take an interest in her life. In her own Jane Austen–like way, she kept a diary and even dabbled in drafting fiction. When she wrote about one of the most dramatic times in her life, she hoped that one day, maybe—just maybe—her story could make a difference in someone else’s life too.
“It may perhaps at some future day serve to recall the memory of one who was—and show that many undertakings which appear very difficult and arduous to my sex, are by no means so trying as imagination forever depicts them.”
Writing was the key to being remembered in their generation. Photography didn’t exist in their heyday, much less the concept of video. They understood the sentiment behind Benjamin Franklin’s quip: “If you would not be forgotten, as soon as you are dead and rotten, either write things worth reading, or do things worth the writing.” John Quincy and Louisa Adams did both.
Through this book I hope to bring to life the story of their honorable exile for you—a modern-day reader—in a way that resonates with your mind, heart, and soul. In scouring their diaries for main conflicts and combining their viewpoints, I sought to write a nonfiction book that also leverages the age-old fiction structure of conflict-setback-conflict-setback-climax-resolution. Their quotations come from their diaries and letters, updated only through modern spellings, corrected punctuation, and other essential editing elements required for modern publication standards. My desire is to portray the Adamses as they were—and as we all are—flawed human beings longing for love and respect.
Their journey also awakened me to the significance of the lesser-known War of 1812. Back then America was a country in name only and in desperate need of honor—much like John Quincy himself. We were a country whose national sovereignty was laughed at, spit upon, and joked about around the world. In 1776 independence depended, in part, on the senior John Adams. By 1812 independence depended again on an Adams—on two of them. John and Louisa Adams’s sacrifices for their nation and the cause of liberty are as inspiring as those made during the American Revolution decades earlier.
Communication changes. Technology transforms time, but the human heart doesn’t change. The need for honor, family, acceptance, justice, reunion, faith, hope, and love is as real today as it was from 1809 to 1815. From being down on your luck to rising stronger than before, American Phoenix shows “the ones who were” and the triumph that can come when anyone’s life—yours, mine, or theirs—takes an unexpected journey.
Jane Hampton Cook
Author Jane Hampton Cook is known for making history memorable and relevant to today’s news, current events, and modern-day life. A frequent guest on the Fox News Channel and other outlets, Jane is the author of eight books, including American Phoenix, America’s Star-Spangled Story, and Stories of Faith and Courage from the Revolutionary War. Jane is also a former White House webmaster. She lives with her husband and three sons in Fairfax, Virginia.