John Quincy Adams
Dimitris Stamatios | November 7, 2022
John Quincy Adams (Braintree (Massachusetts), July 11, 1767 – Washington D. C., February 23, 1848) was an American statesman, diplomat, lawyer and chronicler who served as the sixth president of the United States, from 1825 to 1829. He previously served as the eighth U.S. Secretary of State from 1817 to 1825. During his long diplomatic and political career, Adams also served as an ambassador and as a member of the U.S. Congress representing Massachusetts in both houses. He was the eldest son of John Adams, who served as the second president of the United States from 1797 to 1801, and first lady Abigail Adams. Initially a Federalist like his father, he won election to the presidency as a member of the Democratic-Republican Party and, in the mid-1830s, affiliated with the Whig Party.
He was involved in numerous international negotiations. In addition, as Secretary of State, he participated in the creation of the Monroe Doctrine. When he was president he undertook a program of modernization and development of education, which was blocked by Congress. He failed to win re-election in 1828, losing to Andrew Jackson.
Adams, after leaving office, was elected to the House of Representatives from Massachusetts; he has been the only president to do so, being a member of the House for the last 17 years of his life. In the House he became a leading abolitionist, and even went so far as to assert that, should a civil war break out, the president could abolish slavery through his war powers (as Abraham Lincoln did in 1863 during the Civil War with the Emancipation Proclamation.
Adams, son of Abigail Adams and John Adams, was born in the town of Braintree, now known as Quincy (not in his honor but in honor of Josiah Quincy, his maternal grandfather). The house where John Quincy Adams was born, now part of Adams National Historical Park, remains open to the public. It is very close to Abigail Adams Cairn, the place where Adams witnessed the Battle of Bunker Hill when he was seven years old.
Adams first learned of the Declaration of Independence from letters his father wrote to his mother from the Second Continental Congress in Philadelphia.
Adams spent much of his youth accompanying his father, who was ambassador to France from 1778 to 1779, and to the Netherlands from 1780 to 1782.
For almost three years, he accompanied Francis Dana as secretary on his mission to St. Petersburg, to have the new country recognized. He also spent time in Finland, Sweden and Denmark, and in 1804 published a travelogue on Silesia.
During those years abroad, Adams became fluent in French and Dutch; he also became familiar with German and other European languages. In 1788 he graduated from Harvard College (the Adams House at Harvard College was named for Adams and his father). From 1787 to 1789 he was apprenticed to Theophilus Parsons in Newburyport, Massachusetts. He was admitted to the bar in 1791 and began practicing law in Boston.
George Washington appointed Adams ambassador to the Netherlands in 1794 and to Portugal in 1796. When his father became president, he appointed him ambassador to Prussia at Washington”s request. Adams continued in the post until 1801 and, while in office, married Louisa Catherine Johnson, the daughter of an American merchant, in London. For nearly two centuries Adams was the only president whose wife was born abroad, until Donald Trump.
Adams returned to Quincy in 1801. During this period he resided in the Old House, now a museum. He began his political career in the election of 1802, when he tried, unsuccessfully, to gain a seat in the House of Representatives as a Federalist. However, he was elected senator from Massachusetts that same year.
Shortly thereafter, the Massachusetts General Court elected Adams to the Senate as a Federalist, where he served from 1803 to 1808. In the latter year, he broke with the Federalists, abandoned his Senate seat, and joined the Democratic-Republicans.
He served as ambassador for several more years in different European countries. In 1814 he participated in the Treaty of Ghent, as representative of the United States.
From 1817 to 1825 he was Secretary of State in the government of James Monroe. During that period he played a decisive role in the acquisition of Florida. His views usually coincided with those of Monroe. As Secretary of State he negotiated the Adams-Onís Treaty (or Treaty of Transcontinentality) and drafted the Monroe Doctrine, which prevented European states from intervening in America: the famous “America for the Americans”.
Adams contested the 1824 presidential election with three other candidates: Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Henry Clay of Kentucky, Secretary of the Treasury William H. Crawford of Georgia, and Senator Andrew Jackson of Tennessee. After Crawford suffered a stroke, there was no clear front-runner.
When the election was held on November 9, 1824, Jackson received 151,363 votes (while Adams received between 108,740 and
However, in the Electoral College things were somewhat different: Jackson had 99 Electors, Adams 84, Crawford 41, and Clay 37. Since none had an absolute majority in that electoral college, under the 12th Amendment, the U.S. House of Representatives was to choose among the three candidates with the most votes – Jackson, Adams and Crawford. In the House, the congressmen of each State had to decide to which candidate to give the vote of their respective State, since according to the Constitution, in the election each State had one vote; and once the decision was made by the majority of the State”s congressional delegation, their vote went to the chosen candidate. Clay, although he had placed fourth and therefore was not eligible for election, had a great deal of power as Speaker of the House. Crawford, having suffered a stroke in 1823, had no real chance of being elected.
Clay, who hated Jackson and shared Adams” position on tariff and public works policy, convinced the House to vote for Adams, who was elected on February 9, 1825 on the first ballot with the support of 13 states against 7 that supported Jackson and 4 that supported Crawford. Adams” victory surprised Jackson, who had won in electoral and popular vote, and expected to be elected president. When Adams appointed Clay Secretary of State – the post held by his three predecessors before he became president – Jackson”s Democratic supporters were outraged. This dispute was always a burden during Adams” tenure and contributed greatly to Adams” defeat in the election of 1828, in which, this time, Jackson won the presidency.
Adams, who was the sixth president of the United States, was in office from March 4, 1825 to March 3, 1829. He took the oath of office on a law book, rather than on the Bible, as was customary.
During his term, he worked on the development of the American System, which consisted of high tariffs to promote internal development such as road construction, and a national bank to encourage productive initiative and create a national currency. In his first annual address to Congress, Adams presented an ambitious modernization program that included roads, canals, a national university, an astronomical observatory, among other initiatives. Support for his proposals was limited, even within his party. Many of his initiatives in Congress were opposed by Jackson”s supporters, who were still outraged.
However, some of his proposals did get accepted, namely the widening of the Cumberland to Ohio road with a view to a future extension to St. Louis; the beginning of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal; the connection of the Great Lakes to the Ohio River in Ohio and Indiana; and the widening and reconstruction of the Dismal Swamp Canal in North Carolina.
One of the issues that divided the Administration was the implementation of protectionist tariffs. Henry Clay supported them, but the Vice President, John C. Calhoun, did not. Adams” position was not known, because his constituency was divided. When Adams lost control of Congress in 1827, the situation became even more complicated. The signing of the Tariff Act of 1828 made him very unpopular, especially in the South.
Adams and Clay founded a new party, the National-Republican Party, which did not achieve much success. In the election of 1827, Adams and his supporters lost control of Congress. New York Senator Martin Van Buren, a future president and Jackson supporter, became one of the leaders of the Senate.
Many of the difficulties Adams faced were due to his opposition to replacing members of the Administration who supported Jackson, because he believed that only incompetence was grounds for replacement. For example, John McLean, his Postmaster General (the man in charge of the postal system), continued in office even though he used his influence to curry favor with Jackson supporters. Instead, Jackson”s administration was the beginning of what is known as the spoils system, an English expression that describes the practice by which political parties in government distribute institutional offices and positions of power to their own members and supporters.
Another blow to Adams” presidency was his generous Native American policy. The settlers on the frontier clamored for a more expansionist policy. When the Federal Government wanted to impose its authority for the benefit of the Cherokees, the governor of Georgia took up arms. This foreshadowed the future secession of the Southern states during the Civil War. Adams defined his domestic policy as a continuation of Monroe”s policy. On the other hand, years later Andrew Jackson and Martin Van Buren initiated the policy of moving the Indians to the West.
Adams, during his time as Secretary of State, is considered one of the best diplomats in U.S. history, even being one of the creators of the Monroe Doctrine. However, during his presidential term, Adams did not achieve much in foreign policy; the opposition he faced in Congress meant that this did not happen.
Among the few diplomatic successes during his tenure we can include reciprocity treaties with numerous states, including Denmark, Mexico, the Hanseatic League, the Scandinavian countries, Prussia and Austria. However, thanks to his successes as Secretary of State, most of the problems he would have had to face as President had already been solved years earlier by himself.
End of Chairmanship
John Quincy Adams left office on March 4, 1829, after losing the election in 1828. Adams did not attend the inauguration of his successor, Andrew Jackson, who had publicly snubbed him by not making the traditional “courtesy call” to the outgoing President. Adams became one of four presidents who chose not to attend the inauguration of his successor; the others were his father, Andrew Johnson and Donald Trump.
After Adams” inauguration in 1825, Jackson resigned his Senate seat. For four years he worked hard, along with his supporters in Congress, to defeat Adams in the Presidential Election of 1828. The campaign was based on the personal, and although neither candidate campaigned personally, his supporters did. The hardest moment of the campaign came when the press accused Jackson”s wife Rachel of bigamy. She died a few weeks after the election. Jackson declared that he would forgive those who insulted him, but he would never forgive those who slandered his wife.
Adams lost the election by a decisive margin; he won the same states as his father in the election of 1800: the states of New England, New Jersey, and Delaware. Jackson won the rest except New York and Maryland, which gave their electoral votes to Adams.
John Quincy Adams did not retire after leaving office, but ran for the National-Republicans for Congress, being elected in the 1830 election. He was the first President to be elected to Congress after his term. He was elected eight times, serving as a congressman for 17 years, from 1831 until his death.
In Congress, he was chairman of the Committee on Manufactures, the Committee on Indian Affairs and the Committee on Foreign Affairs. He also became one of the leading abolitionists in Congress. During the years 1836-1837, Adams presented numerous petitions to Congress for the abolition of slavery and the slave trade in the District of Columbia and throughout the country. The Gag_Rule prevented discussion of the slavery issue from 1836 to 1844, but Adams frequently ignored it.
In 1834 he tried unsuccessfully to become Governor of Massachusetts for the Anti-Masonic Party, losing to John Davis.
In 1841 he was part of the defense in the U.S. case against the Africans of El Amistad in the U.S. Supreme Court. He successfully argued that the Africans, who had taken control of a Spanish ship on which they were being illegally transported as slaves, should be considered free, and not deported to Cuba (still under Spanish control). According to Andrew Jackson”s successor, Martin Van Buren, the U.S. Justice Department argued that the Africans should be deported for mutiny and for murdering the ship”s officers. Adams secured their freedom, with the right to stay in the U.S. or return to Africa. Adams argued as the main cause that the U.S. had prohibited the international slave trade, even though it was allowed within the country.
While preparing to address the House of Representatives on February 21, 1848, he collapsed after suffering a cerebral hemorrhage. Two days later, on February 23, he died in the Capitol building in Washington, D. C. His last words were the following: “This is the last of Earth. I am happy. (This is the last of Earth. I am happy).
He was buried in the family vault in Quincy. After his wife”s death, his son buried him next to her in the family pantheon at the United First Parish Church. His parents are also buried there.
John Quincy Adams and Louisa Catherine (Johnson) Adams had three sons and a daughter. Louisa was born in 1811, but died a year later while the family was in Russia. They named their first son George Washington Adams, after the first president. Both George and their second son, John (1803-1834), had very turbulent lives and died at young ages.
The youngest son, Charles Francis Adams, followed his father”s diplomatic and political career. In 1870 Charles Francis built the first presidential library in the United States, in honor of his father. The Stone Library includes nearly 14,000 books written in 12 languages. The library is located in the “Old House” in the Adams National Historical Park in Quincy, Massachusetts.
Actress Mary Kay Adams is a descendant of John Quincy Adams.
John Adams and John Quincy Adams were the first father and son to become president (the others were George H. W. Bush and George W. Bush), both of whom served only one term as president.
- John Quincy Adams
- John Quincy Adams
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