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415 Topics: American Presidents – John Quincy Adams; base versus basis; so far versus so far so good; integral

Complete Transcript
You’re listening to ESL Podcast’s English Café episode 415.

This is English as a Second Language Podcast’s English Cafe episode 415. I’m your host, Dr. Jeff McQuillan, coming to you from the Center for Educational Development in beautiful Los Angeles, California.

Our website is ESLPod.com. Go there. Become a member of ESL Podcast and download a Learning Guide for this episode.

On this Café, we will continue our series on American presidents. Today we’re going to talk about our sixth president, John Quincy Adams, and as always, I’ll answer a few of your questions. Let's get started.

There are many examples in recent years of political families in the United States, families from which several important political leaders have come. The most famous of these families is probably the Kennedys. The Kennedy family has produced a president, John F. Kennedy, as well as several other famous American politicians, and they continue to have members of their family active in politics in some U.S. states. There have been other well-known political families – the Bush family, for example. We now also have the Clinton family, where both the husband and the wife have become important political leaders in the U.S.

This phenomenon, this situation of having a powerful political family is, of course, nothing new. In most countries you will see this situation. It's also not new in American history. Today, we talk about the first son of a president, who himself became president. We're going to talk about John Quincy Adams, who, as our sixth president, served from 1825 to 1829. Normally, we use his middle name, “Quincy,” in order to distinguish him or to identify him in our minds from his father, who was our second president, John Adams. In this episode, however, I'm just going to refer to him as Adams. So, when you hear me say “Adams,” you will know that I'm talking about John Quincy Adams, not his father, John Adams.

Adams was born in 1767, before the American Revolution. As a child, he spent a lot of time traveling internationally with his father. He learned to speak French and some Dutch. He studied at the best college in the United States both then and now – Harvard – and he began working as an attorney – as a lawyer – in Boston in 1791. The president of the United States at that time – George Washington, our first president – appointed or selected Adams as the minister or the representative to the Netherlands. He did that in 1793, when Quincy was only 26 years old. They used the word “minister” (minister) to describe this position. Normally, a minister is a religious leader of a Christian church, but here it meant more like an ambassador – someone who represents a country in another country.

Adams performed very well in his job. He was later appointed minister to Portugal. In fact, George Washington called him one of the most valuable of American officials abroad. “To be valuable” means to be someone who is important, someone who benefited the country in some way. In 1802, Adams was elected to the Massachusetts State Senate. Massachusetts is a state – one of our original 13 states – located in the East Coast, in the northeast part of the United States. Adams was elected to the senate of the state. Later that same year, 1802, he tried to become a member of the United States House of Representatives.

Remember, the U.S. national government, like most of our state governments, has two types of representatives. It has senators and it has representatives. There are usually fewer senators than there are representatives. In the United States national government, we have two senators from each state for a total of 100 senators. In the House of Representatives, there are a total of 435 representatives. However, the number that come from each state depends on the population of that state.

Adams tried to get elected – unsuccessfully, as it turned out – to the U.S. House of Representatives. However, in the next year, 1803, he was elected to the U.S. Senate. He was elected to serve from 1803 until 1808. As a senator, Adams was a member of the Federalist Party. The Federalist Party at that time was one of the two major political parties in American politics. However, Adams took some positions – he had some ideas – that did not make him very popular with some members of the Federalist Party. When this happened, he decided, as some politicians do, to change parties, to go over to the other important political group, and that was the “Democrat Republican” – that's what it was called – the “Democrat-Republican Party.”

Adams continued to serve as a minister – a representative – to several other countries. And finally, under President James Monroe, he became the secretary of state. The secretary of state in the U.S. government is the most important member of the government when it comes to foreign affairs. The secretary of state is the person who meets with, often, presidents or other leaders of other countries. So, the foreign policy – the policy of the U.S. government toward other countries – is in part directed and determined by the secretary of state – of course, working with the president.

Adams “served” or worked as secretary of state from 1817 to 1825. During that time, he negotiated several important treaties for the United States. A “treaty” (treaty) is an important agreement, usually between two countries, where each country promises to do something. We often talk about peace treaties that end a war or end armed violence or conflict between two countries. Adams negotiated, among other things, the Adams-Onis Treaty, which made Florida part of the United States. He also helped negotiate the Treaty of 1818, which clarified the boundaries between the United States and Great Britain, or the United Kingdom. “To clarify” here means to define, to make clear.

The most important document that Adams wrote as secretary of state was something that was later called the Monroe Doctrine. The word “doctrine” (doctrine) is usually associated with a religious belief or an official belief of a religious organization such as a church. However, here it simply means policy, the policy of the U.S. government – how the U.S. government is going to react in certain situations. The treaty, the Monroe Doctrine, was an attempt to limit the influence of European powers, European countries, in North and South America. It said that if other countries tried to colonize or make as part of their own parts of North and South America, the United States would consider this an act of aggression.

When we talk about people being “aggressive” (aggressive), we mean they are very forceful, very direct in what they are trying to do. Often, it is associated with violence. An “act of aggression” would describe the situation where one country tries to do something to another country against that other country’s will. Again, normally the idea is by force, by violence. Many historians believe that Adams was one of the best secretaries of state and one of its best diplomats. A “diplomat” (diplomat) is someone whose job it is to represent their country in another country, usually involving things like treaties and negotiations – discussions with other countries.

Adams was himself elected to the presidency in 1824. This was quite a surprise, because he in fact did not win the most popular votes or the most electoral votes. In the United States presidential election system, the people of each state vote. This vote is called the “popular vote.” However, people aren’t voting directly for the president and vice president. Instead, they are voting to see how the “electoral votes” of their state will be distributed. The “electoral (electoral) votes” are the actual votes that count for the presidency.

So, you're sort of voting for a vote; you're voting to determine how your state’s electoral votes will be used. What happens is, after the popular election in November, a group of people get together in Washington from each of the 50 states, nowadays, and they have another election, if you will. It's called the “electoral college,” and this is a group of people who get together and officially determine who is the president, or the next president, of the United States.

Well, in the election of 1824, John Quincy Adams did not receive the most popular votes or the most electoral votes. However, none of the candidates had a majority of the votes. And when this happens – when there is not one candidate who has a majority of the electoral votes – the presidency is decided by a vote in the House of Representatives. This is exactly what happened. It's the only time it has happened in U.S. history. John Quincy Adams was selected as the next president. Many people didn't like the decision, however, and that's one reason why Adams was what we would call a “one-term president.” He only served for four years and was not reelected in 1828.

What did Adams accomplish during his four years as president? For one thing, he was able to reduce the national debt of the United States. A “debt” (debt) is money that you owe someone else or some other country. The national debt would be the debt that the U.S. national government has. Adams was able to reduce the national debt. However, many of his proposals, many of his ideas, were rejected by others, and the truth is he was unable to accomplish or do very much during his four years as president.

But after Adams returned to private life, we might call it, in 1829, he decided that he would continue in politics. We might say that he wasn't yet ready to leave the limelight. “To be in the limelight” (limelight) means to have a lot of attention paid to you, to be the person that everyone is talking about, that everyone is interested in. Adams was not ready to leave the limelight. So, he ran for the U.S. House of Representatives again in 1830. This time, he won. He became the first U.S. president to go back into Congress, to go back into the legislative branch after having been president. He stayed in the U.S. House of Representatives for the rest of his life, another 17 years.

It was his time in the U.S. House of Representatives when Adams had his most important influence, in some ways, on American policy. Beginning in 1841, Adams focused his attention on the slavery issue. “Slavery” (slavery) is when one person owns another person as property. Adams was in favor of the abolition of slavery. “Abolition” (abolition) is when you end something, when you end some policy. In this case, Adams wanted to end slavery. Unfortunately, the U.S. government didn't want to talk about this issue, especially in the Congress. There was, in fact, what is called a “gag (gag) rule.” A “gag rule” is a rule that a representative body or some organization has that says you can't talk about this in a meeting or in an official session. The U.S. House of Representatives had a gag rule about slavery. They weren’t even going to talk about it.

Adams proposed some laws that would try to end slavery in the U.S. He wasn't successful, but he was successful in drawing people's attention to this issue. There was a movie not too long ago called Amistad (Amistad), which is the Spanish word for friendship. The story is actually about a group of slaves who had been trying to return to Africa after having been sent to Cuba. Eventually, the U.S. government had captured this ship. John Quincy Adams was the lawyer who defended the slaves and eventually won their freedom. It was a very important political case and an example of Adams fighting for the abolition of slavery as best he could. If you have an opportunity to see this movie Amistad, I think you'll really enjoy it and certainly learn a lot about John Quincy Adams and what kind of man he was.

Adams passed away, or died, on February 23rd, 1848, when he was 80 years old. He actually died after having gotten sick while giving a speech in the U.S. House of Representatives. He is remembered mostly for his diplomatic skills, especially in his contributions to the Monroe Doctrine. Adams loved to write, and in fact kept a very detailed diary. A “diary” (diary) is when you sit down every day, or frequently, and you write about your life that day, what happened that day. Adams kept a diary beginning at age 11 up until the end of his life. This diary consists of more than 50 books and is one of the sources that historians look at in trying to understand life and politics during the early 19th century in the United States.

John Quincy Adams, then, was more than just the son of a president. He was someone who made significant contributions to American politics – contributions, such as the Monroe doctrine, which still have an impact on American policy today.

Now let’s answer some of the questions you have sent to us.

Our first question comes from Norbert (Norbert), currently living in Germany, originally from Poland. Norbert wants to know the difference between “base” (base) and “basis” (basis). Both base and basis can refer to the support that something has or what something stands on, what it is built on. If we’re talking about a physical object such as a table, we would use the word “base.” “This table has a wooden base.” That means that the table sits on something made of wood. The “base” is the support. In this case, really, it's usually always on the bottom of the object.

“Basis” means something that is supported, but usually not something physical. We're talking more about an argument, for example, or the reasons why you are doing something. “The basis for my decision is the information I read yesterday in a book.”

In both of these cases, we’re using “base” and “basis” as nouns. “Base” can also be used as a verb, and when it's used as a verb, then it gets a little more complicated because it can mean something very similar to “basis” as a noun. For example, you can say, “I am going to base my decision on what I read yesterday in a book.” When I use “base” there as a verb, it has a similar meaning as the word “basis” as a noun: the foundation or the reason why I'm going to do something.

So, to sum up, “base” as a noun is the physical support for some object. “Basis” as a noun refers to the reasoning or evidence for an argument or some decision or, perhaps, even some estimate that you are making. “Base” as a verb can also refer to the reasoning or evidence for a certain decision.

Our next question comes from Isa (Isa) in Canada. The question has to do with the phrase “so far” and a related phrase, “so far, so good.” “So far,” used by itself, means up to this time – up to the present time. For example, “I've been watching this movie for one hour, and so far, it's pretty good.” That would mean up to this point, up to this one-hour point, it is pretty good. I'm not sure how it's going to be during the next hour, but so far it's been pretty good.

The expression “so far, so good” is usually used by itself to describe a certain situation. When you're talking about the progress that has been made up to a certain point of time, you might use this expression. For example, someone says, “How is your new job?” You can say, “Well, so far, so good.” That means up to this point, everything has been going well – “so far, so good.” We would never say, “so far, so well,” however. You would just use this phrase as it is: “so far, so good.”

This phrase is often used to answer a question about something that is going on that hasn't finished, that hasn't been completed, but the person is asking you how things are going up to this point. “How is your new secretary working out? Is she doing a good job?” You could say, “Well, so far, so good” – “Yes, up to this point, she has done a good job.”

Finally, Shahin (Shahin) in Iran wants to know the meaning of the word “integral” (integral). “Integral” usually means essential – something that is necessary for something else to be considered complete or whole. For example, “Having enough money is integral to the success of a new business.” If you don't have enough money, you won't be successful; money is integral to the success of the business.

You could also describe a person as being an integral part of a group. “Joanne is an integral part of our team at work” – our group of people who work together. This word is somewhat formal. You will probably only see it in writing. It often is used in business situations to talk about some necessary element or some necessary or essential component of an operation, or a group, or some other larger unit that is being discussed.

If you have a question or comment, you can email us. Our email address is eslpod@eslpod.com.

From Los Angeles, California, I'm Jeff McQuillan. Thank you for listening. Come back and listen to us again right here on the English Café.

ESL Podcast English Café was written and produced by Dr. Jeff McQuillan and Dr. Lucy Tse. Copyright 2013 by the Center for Educational Development.

minister – an ambassador; a person who represents a country overseas; a religious leader in a Christian church

* The foreign ministers of all three countries talked about how to have greater economic cooperation.

treaty – an important agreement between two countries where they each promise to do something

* If either country violates this treaty, it may lead to war.

act of aggression – a country doing something forceful and direct against another country, which may lead to war

* Sailing warships into the waters near the capital would be an act of aggression.

diplomat – a person whose job is to represent a country overseas and improve foreign relations

* There will be a dinner tonight to welcome the diplomats from Thailand and Indonesia, who are here to join talks on the environment.

popular votes – a count of how many citizens vote for a particular candidate; the number of people in a country who vote to support someone for a high office

* There is no question that Ms. Lopez won the election because she received 86% of the popular vote.

electoral votes – a count of how many representatives vote for a particular candidate in the electoral college (a group of people who represent each state and vote in elections for the president and vice president)

* The election was very close, with the winning candidate getting only five more electoral votes than her competitor.

national debt – the amount of money a country owes to other countries or other large organizations

* If our nation continues to spend without trying to cut costs, our national debt will reach its highest levels ever in history.

the limelight – focus of public attention; being talked about and known by many people

* Alexey never wanted to be in the limelight, but when he discovered a new way to create energy, he was on the news and on covers of magazines.

abolition – the end of slavery (the practice of owning other human beings and forcing them to work without receiving payment)

* Most of the southern U.S. states did not want abolition because their economy depended on slaves.

to gag – to place a piece of cloth inside someone’s mouth and/or tie it over someone’s mouth so that the person cannot speak; to prevent someone from speaking about a specific topic

* The company president placed a gag on everyone working on this project.

to colonize – to establish government control over a place, often sending people there to live

* Will we ever colonize other planets and have people living in space?

diary – a written record of one’s thoughts and/or actions that one writes in regularly, usually every day

* Junichi kept a diary throughout his childhood that his grandchildren were able to read many years after his death.

base – the bottom or support of something

* The base of this lamp is broken and can’t be repaired.

basis – the support for something; a standard or unit with which other things are measured

* It’s hard to get to the basis of his fear of the dark because he refuses to talk about it.

so far – up to this time; up to the present time; to a certain limited extent or amount

* So far we’ve received no news about the birth of our granddaughter, but it should happen any day now.

so far, so good – the progress that has been made up to now is acceptable or good; no problems yet

* A: How is it going cooking in a kitchen on a small boat?

B: So far, so good.

integral – essential; necessary for something to be complete or whole; something that is part of the whole, rather than being available separately

* We tried assembling the bookcase, but an integral part of the back is missing.

What Insiders Know
Presidents on Postage Stamps

In the past 160 years, the faces of American presidents have appeared on postage stamps more than any other “subject” (person or thing). In 1847, the U.S. Post Office decided to release the first two postage stamps and the faces of Benjamin Franklin and George Washington appeared on them. Both of these important people in American history appeared frequently on postage stamps until 1869. Although Benjamin Franklins was not a U.S. president, he is considered a very important “figure” (person) in early American history and he was also responsible for “founding” (starting) the United States Post Office, and was its first “Postmaster General” (national leader of the postal service).

The U.S. Post Office continued to release stamps with the image of presidents on them. They added Thomas Jefferson in 1856 and Andrew Jackson in 1862. Abraham Lincoln also appeared on a postage stamp in 1866, one year after his death. This led to a new “regulation” (rule; policy) stating that presidents can begin to appear on stamps a year after their death. Before this regulation, it took a minimum of 10 years before any person could appear on stamps. In 1938, John Quincy Adams appeared for the first time on a stamp.

After 22 years of having Presidents’ faces “depicted” (shown) on postage stamps, the U.S. Post Office released a series of 11 postage stamps in 1969 that depicted subjects other than presidents. Some stamps depicted regular people and others showed “patriotic symbols” (things that represent and show one’s love for one’s country). The quality of these new stamps was “inferior” (worse; not as good) than the previous stamps issued and this disappointed many people. In fact, this series was so unpopular that the U.S. Post Office decided to no longer sell them. In 1870, the Post Office went back to depicting American presidents on postage stamps.