John Quincy Adams (1767-1848)/biography

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John Quincy Adams
John Quincy Adams.jpg

In office
March 4, 1831 – February 23, 1848

In office
March 4, 1825 – March 4, 1829
Vice President John C. Calhoun
Preceded by James Monroe
Succeeded by Andrew Jackson

In office
March 5, 1817 – March 3, 1825
President James Monroe
Preceded by James Monroe
Succeeded by Henry Clay

Born July 11, 1767(1767-07-11)
Died February 23, 1848 (age 80)
Political party Federalist, Democratic-Republican, National Republican, Anti-Masonic, and Whig
Spouse(s) Louisa Catherine (Johnson) Adams
Occupation Lawyer
Religion Unitarian
Signature John Quincy Adams Signature.png

John Quincy Adams (July 11, 1767February 23, 1848) was a diplomat, politician, and the sixth President of the United States (March 4, 1825March 4, 1829). His party affiliations were Federalist, Democratic-Republican, National Republican, and later Anti-Masonic and Whig. Adams was the son of United States President John Adams, and Abigail Adams. He is most famous as a diplomat involved in many international negotiations, and for formulating the Monroe Doctrine. As president he proposed a grand program of modernization and educational advancement, but was unable to get it through Congress. Late in life, as a Congressman, he was a leading opponent of the Slave Power, arguing that if a civil war ever broke out the president could abolish slavery by using his war powers, a policy followed by Abraham Lincoln in the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863.

Early lifeEdit

Adams was born in Braintree, Massachusetts, in a part of town which eventually became Quincy. The John Quincy Adams birthplace, now part of Adams National Historical Park, is open to the public, as is the nearby Abigail Adams Cairn that marks the site from which Adams witnessed the Battle of Bunker Hill as a seven-year-old boy. He first learned of the Declaration of Independence from the letters his father wrote his mother from Philadelphia. Much of Adams' youth was spent overseas accompanying his father, who served as an American envoy to France from 1778 until 1779 and to the Netherlands from 1780 until 1782. During this period, he acquired his early education at institutions such as the University of Leiden. For nearly two years, at the age of only 14, he accompanied Francis Dana on a mission to St. Petersburg, to gain recognition of the new republic. He also spent time in Finland, Sweden, Denmark and Germany.

During these years overseas, Adams gained a mastery of French and Dutch and a familiarity with German and other European languages. After returning to America, he had become far more educated and well-travelled than most of his countrymen even twice his age. He entered Harvard College and graduated in 1788. He was then admitted to the bar in 1791 and began practicing law in Boston.

Early political careerEdit

Louisa Adams

Louisa Catherine Adams

George Washington appointed Adams as minister to the Netherlands from 1794 until 1796 and to Portugal in 1796. With George Washington's urging, his father appointed him minister to Prussia from 1797 until 1801. While serving abroad, he married Louisa Catherine Johnson, the daughter of an American merchant, in a ceremony at the church of All Hallows-by-the-Tower, London.

Adams afterwards returned to Quincy where he lived in the Old House (now a museum). He began his political career in 1802 when he was elected to the Massachusetts Senate. Adams was an unsuccessful Federalist candidate for election to the U.S. House of Representatives in the same year. He was elected as a Federalist to the U.S. Senate, serving from March 4, 1803, until June 8, 1808, when he broke with the Federalists, resigned from his Senate seat in March 1808, and became a Republican. Adams served as minister to Russia from 1809 until 1814, chief negotiator of the U.S. commission for the Treaty of Ghent in 1814, and minister to the Court of St. James (Great Britain) from 1815 until 1817.

Secretary of StateEdit

Adams served as Secretary of State in the Cabinet of President James Monroe from 1817 until 1825, a tenure during which he was instrumental in the acquisition of Florida. Typically, his views were concurrent with those espoused by Monroe. As secretary of state, he negotiated the Adams-Onís Treaty and wrote the Monroe Doctrine, which cautioned European nations against meddling in the affairs of the Western Hemisphere.

Election of 1824Edit


John Quincy Adams

Adams ran against four other candidates in the Presidential election of 1824. His opponents included Speaker of the House Henry Clay, Secretary of the Treasury William H. Crawford, Tennessee Senator Andrew Jackson and John C. Calhoun. After Crawford suffered a stroke there was no clear favorite. After the elections no one had a majority of either the electoral votes or the popular votes, although Andrew Jackson was the winner of a plurality of both. The decision went to the House of Representatives. The candidate with the lowest votes, Henry Clay, was dropped from consideration, and Clay gave his support to Adams. Adams won on the first ballot and was named president. Adams then named Clay Secretary of State to the angry complaints of Andrew Jackson, who alleged a corrupt bargain and vowed to run again in 1828.

Presidency 1825–1829Edit

Adams served as the sixth President of the United States from March 4, 1825, to March 4, 1829. He was the first President not to be able to claim his politics dated back to the Revolutionary period. John Quincy Adams took the Oath of Office on a book of laws, instead of the more traditional Bible.[3]

Domestic PoliciesEdit

During his term, he worked on developing the American System, consisting of a high tariff to support internal improvements such as road-building, and a national bank to encourage productive enterprise and form a national currency. In his first annual message to Congress, Adams presented an ambitious program for modernization that included roads, canals, a national university, an astronomical observatory, and other initiatives. The support for his proposals was limited, even from his own supporters. His critics accused him of unseemly arrogance because of his narrow victory. Most of his initiatives were opposed in Congress by Jackson's supporters, who remained outraged over the 1824 election.

Canal swains lock 20040911 121236 2

Chesapeake and Ohio Canal at Swain's Lock

Nevertheless, some of his proposals were adopted, specifically the extension of the Cumberland Road into Ohio with surveys for its continuation west to St. Louis; the beginning of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal' the construction of the Delaware and Chesapeake Canal and the Portland to Louisville Canal around the falls of the Ohio; the connection of the Great Lakes to the Ohio River system in Ohio and Indiana; and the enlargement and rebuilding of the Dismal Swamp Canal in North Carolina.

One of the issues which divided the administration was protective tariffs. Henry Clay was a supporter, but Adams's Vice President John C. Calhoun was an opponent. The position of Adams was unknown, because his constituency was divided. After Adams lost the control of Congress in 1827, the situation became more complicated. He also signed into law the highly unpopular Tariff of 1828 (also known as the Tariff of Abominations), thereby compromising his chances of getting anything else done during his presidency.

He and Clay set up a new party, the National Republican Party, but it never took root in the states. In the elections of 1827 Adams and his supporters lost the control of Congress. New York Senator Martin Van Buren, a future president and follower of Jackson, became one of the leaders of the senate.

Much of Adams' political difficulties were due to his refusal, on principle, to replace members of his administration who supported Jackson (on the grounds that no one should be removed from office except for incompetence.) For example, his Postmaster General, John McLean, continued in office through the Adams administration, despite the fact that he was using his powers of patronage to curry favor with Jacksonites.

Adams defended his domestic agenda as simply continuing Monroe's policies. However, Adams did not address public works spending like Monroe did, and had a rationale for government intervention. What was most striking was that Adams addressed congress and asked them to ignore objections to parts of his program that provoked the most opposition of the constitution.

Foreign policiesEdit

Adams is regarded as one of the greatest diplomats in American history and during his tenure as Secretary of State he was one of the designers of the Monroe Doctrine. But during his term as president, Adams achieved little of consequence in foreign affairs. A reason for this was the opposition he faced in Congress, where his rivals prevented him from succeeding.

Among the few diplomatic achievements of his administration were treaties of reciprocity with a number of nations, including Denmark, Mexico, the Hanseatic League, the Scandinavian countries, Prussia and Austria. However, thanks to the successes of Adams' diplomacy during his previous eight years as Secretary of State, most of the foreign policy issues he would have faced had been resolved by the time he became President.


Official White House portrait of John Quincy Adams

Administration and CabinetEdit

The Adams Cabinet
Office Name Term
President John Quincy Adams1825–1829
Vice President John C. Calhoun1825–1829
Secretary of State Henry Clay1825–1829
Secretary of Treasury Richard Rush1825–1829
Secretary of War James Barbour1825–1828
Peter B. Porter1828–1829
Attorney General William Wirt1825–1829
Postmaster General John McLean1825–1829
Secretary of the Navy Samuel L. Southard1825–1829

Supreme Court appointmentsEdit

States admitted to the UnionEdit


Departure from OfficeEdit

John Quincy Adams left office on March 4, 1829 after losing the election of 1828 to Andrew Jackson. Adams did not attend the inauguration of his successor. He was one of only three Presidents who chose not to attend their respective successor's inauguration, the others were his father and Andrew Johnson.

Election of 1828Edit


Rachel Jackson, wife of President Andrew Jackson.

After the election of Adams in 1825,[1][2] Jackson resigned from his senate seat. For four years he worked hard, with help from his supporters in Congress, to defeat Adams in the Presidential election of 1828. The campaign was very much a personal one. Although neither candidate personally campaigned, their political followers organized many campaign events. Both candidates were rhetorically attacked in the press. This reached a low point when Jackson's wife, Rachel, was accused of bigamy. She died a few weeks after the elections and Jackson never forgave Adams for this.

In the end, Adams lost the elections in a landslide. He won exactly the same states that his father had won in the election of 1800: the New England states, New Jersey, Delaware, and Georgia. Jackson won everything else except for New York, which gave 16 of its electoral votes to Adams.


Rather than retire, he went on to win election as a National Republican and Whig to the House of Representatives, serving for seventeen years, from 1831 until his death. In Congress, he was chairman of the Committee on Manufactures (for the 22nd, 23rd, 24th, 25th, 26th, 28th and 29th), the Committee on Indian Affairs (for the 27th Congress) and the Committee on Foreign Affairs (also for the 27th Congress). He became an important antislavery voice on congress. During the years 1836-37 Adams presented many petitions for the abolition of slavery and the slave trade in the District of Columbia and elsewhere to Congress. The Gag rule prevented discussion of slavery from 1836 to 1844, but he frequently managed to evade it by parliamentary skill.
Adams&#039; Burial Site 002

United First Parish Church

In 1834 he unsuccessfully ran as the Antimasonic candidate[3] for Governor of Massachusetts, losing to John Davis. In 1841, Adams represented the Amistad Africans in the Supreme Court of the United States and successfully argued that the Africans, who had seized control of a Spanish ship where they were being held as illegal slaves (as the international slave trade had been abolished, although slavery itself had not), should not be taken to Cuba but should be considered free and have the option to remain within the U.S. or return home as free people.


While preparing to address the House of Representatives on February 21, 1848, Adams collapsed, having suffered a cerebral hemorrhage. Two days later, on February 23, he died with his wife and children at his side in the Speaker's Room inside the Capitol Building in Washington. His last words were reported to have been, "This is the last of earth. I am content." His interment was in the family burial ground at Quincy, and he was subsequently reinterred after his wife's death in a family crypt in the United First Parish Church across the street. His tomb can be viewed today and his parents are also interred there.


Graves of the Adams, Quincy, Massachusetts

Tombs of Presidents John Adams (left) and John Quincy Adams (right) and their wives, in a family crypt beneath the United First Parish Church.

Adams's son Charles Francis Adams also pursued a career in diplomacy and politics. In 1870 Charles Francis built the first memorial presidential library in the United States, to honor his father John Quincy Adams. The Stone Library includes over 14,000 books written in twelve languages. The library is located in the "Old House" at Adams National Historical Park in Quincy.

John Quincy Adams and Louisa Catherine (Johnson) Adams named one of their sons after George Washington (George Washington Adams), making Adams the only U.S. President to do so. An infant daughter, born in 1811, died of an illness while the family was in Russia.

The actress Mary Kay Adams is a descendant of John Quincy Adams.

John Adams and John Quincy Adams were the first father and son to both serve as president. Each man served one term. President George H.W. Bush and President George W. Bush are also father and son. Other Presidents had a family tie to a previous president. Benjamin Harrison was the grandson of William Henry Harrison. James Madison and Zachary Taylor were second cousins. Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) and Theodore Roosevelt were fifth cousins.


  • Adams was one of the founders of First Unitarian Church of Washington, in Washington, D.C.
  • Adams was the second president to wear long pants instead of knee-breeches, which had been the fashion up to that time. James Madison was the first.
    John Quincy Adams 1824

    Adams posed for this daguerreotype photograph shortly before his death in 1848--almost twenty years after leaving the White House--when he was serving as a congressman from Massachusetts. He is the earliest president of whom a photograph exists.[4]

  • Though the story may be apocryphal, Adams is supposed to have been the first President to give an interview to a woman. Adams had repeatedly refused requests for an interview with Anne Royall, the first female professional journalist in the U.S., so she took a different approach to accomplish her goal. She learned that Adams liked to skinny-dip in the Potomac River almost every morning around 5 a.m., so she went to the river, gathered his clothes, and sat on them until he answered all of her questions.
  • On another occasion, while Adams was skinny-dipping in the Potomac River, a tramp stole the clothes he had left on the riverbank. Adams remained in the river for nearly an hour, until he saw a young boy walking along the river bank. He called to the boy to "Go up to the White House and ask Mrs. Adams to send down a new set of clothes for the President." Twenty minutes later, the boy returned with a servant from the White House, bearing a new set of clothes for Adams.
  • Adams was the first president to be involved in a railroad accident. He was a passenger on a Camden & Amboy train that derailed in the meadows near Hightstown, on November 11, 1833. His coach was the one ahead of the first car to derail. He was uninjured and continued his journey to Washington the following day.[5]
  • Adams County, and its county seat Quincy, are named after him, along with several other counties in the U.S.
  • The Adams Memorial is proposed in Washington, D.C. for John Adams and his family.
  • John Quincy Adams is one of only two presidents to publish verse in his lifetime (The other was Jimmy Carter). Dermot MacMurrogh, an epic poem about Henry II's conquest of Ireland in which he subtly associated the Roman Catholic Church with English aggression, was published in 1832. Poems of Religion and Society, a collection of lyrical poems, was published in 1848.
  • The "c" in Adams's middle name "Quincy" is properly pronounced with the z sound, not the s sound, just like the city of Quincy, Massachusetts, and Quincy Market in Boston (names derived from the same family).
  • He is the first of the 8 senators profiled in John F. Kennedy's Profiles in Courage.
  • He was the first president to have his photograph taken, although not until many years after his presidency.
  • According to a study by psychologist Keith Simonton, Adams has the highest estimated IQ of any US president.
  • John Quincy Adams wrote a treatise against Islam.
  • John Quincy Adams was portrayed in the 1997 movie 'Amistad' played by Sir Anthony Hopkins.


See alsoEdit


  1. ^ [1]
  2. ^ [2]
  3. ^ Richards, Leonard L. (1986). The Life and Times of Congressman John Quincy Adams. Oxford [Oxfordshire]: Oxford University Press. pp. 48. ISBN 0-19-504026-0. 
  4. ^
  5. ^ Seriously injured in this accident was Cornelius Vanderbilt, who suffered two cracked ribs and a punctured lung, taking a month to recover. Bob Withers, The President Travels by Train - Politics and Pullmans, (1996)
  6. ^ NPR Robert Siegel talks with Michael B. Oren, author of Power, Faith, and Fantasy: America in the Middle East: 1776 to the Present


  • Allgor, Catherine. "'A Republican in a Monarchy': Louisa Catherine Adams in Russia." Diplomatic History 1997 21(1): 15-43. ISSN 0145-2096 Fulltext in Swetswise, Ingenta and Ebsco. Louisa Adams was with JQA in St. Petersburg almost the entire time. While not officially a diplomat, Louisa Adams did serve an invaluable role as wife-of-diplomat, becoming a favorite of the tsar and making up for her husband's utter lack of charm. She was an indispensable part of the American mission.
  • Bemis, Samuel Flagg. John Quincy Adams and the Foundations of American Foreign Policy. vol 1 (1949), John Quincy Adams and the Union (1956), vol 2. Pulitzer prize biography.
  • Crofts, Daniel W. "Congressmen, Heroic and Otherwise" Reviews in American History 1997 25(2): 243-247. ISSN 0048-7511 Fulltext in Project Muse. Adams role in antislavery petitions debate 1835-44.
  • Holt, Michael F. The Rise and Fall of the American Whig Party: Jacksonian Politics and the Onset of the Civil War. 1999.
  • Lewis, James E., Jr. John Quincy Adams: Policymaker for the Union. Scholarly Resources, 2001. 164 pp.
  • Mattie, Sean. "John Quincy Adams and American Conservatism." Modern Age 2003 45(4): 305-314. ISSN 0026-7457 Fulltext online at Ebsco
  • McMillan, Richard. "Election of 1824: Corrupt Bargain or the Birth of Modern Politics?" New England Journal of History 2001-02 58(2): 24-37.
  • Miller, Chandra. "'Title Page to a Great Tragic Volume': the Impact of the Missouri Crisis on Slavery, Race, and Republicanism in the Thought of John C. Calhoun and John Quincy Adams." Missouri Historical Review 2000 94(4): 365-388. ISSN 0026-6582 Shows that both men considered splitting the country as a solution.
  • Nagel, Paul C. John Quincy Adams: A Public Life, a Private Life (1999)
  • Parsons, Lynn Hudson. "In Which the Political Becomes Personal, and Vice Versa: the Last Ten Years of John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson" Journal of the Early Republic 2003 23(3): 421-443. ISSN 0275-1275
  • Portolano, Marlana. "John Quincy Adams's Rhetorical Crusade for Astronomy." Isis 2000 91(3): 480-503. ISSN 0021-1753 Fulltext online at Jstor and Ebsco. He tried and failed to create a national observatory.
  • Potkay, Adam S. "Theorizing Civic Eloquence in the Early Republic: the Road from David Hume to John Quincy Adams." Early American Literature 1999 34(2): 147-170. ISSN 0012-8163 Fulltext online at Swetswise and Ebsco. Adams adapted classical republican ideals of public oratory to America, viewing the multilevel political structure as ripe for "the renaissance of Demosthenic eloquence." Adams's Lectures on Rhetoric and Oratory (1810) looks at the fate of ancient oratory, the necessity of liberty for it to flourish, and its importance as a unifying element for a new nation of diverse cultures and beliefs. Just as civic eloquence failed to gain popularity in Britain, in the United States interest faded in the second decade of the 18th century as the "public spheres of heated oratory" disappeared in favor of the private sphere.
  • Rathbun, Lyon. "The Ciceronian Rhetoric of John Quincy Adams." Rhetorica 2000 18(2): 175-215. ISSN 0734-8584. Shows how the classical tradition in general, and Ciceronian rhetoric in particular, influenced his political career and his response to public issues. Adams remained inspired by classical rhetorical ideals long after the neo-classicalism and deferential politics of the founding generation had been eclipsed by the commercial ethos and mass democracy of the Jacksonian Era. Many of Adams's idiosyncratic positions were rooted in his abiding devotion to the Ciceronian ideal of the citizen-orator "speaking well" to promote the welfare of the polis.
  • Remini, Robert V. John Quincy Adams (2002) short
  • Wood, Gary V. Heir to the Fathers: John Quincy Adams and the Spirit of Constitutional Government Lexington, 2004. 249 pp.
  • Brinkley, Alan, Dyer, Davis "The American Presidency" Houghton Mifflin Company, 2004.

Primary sourcesEdit

  • Butterfield, L. H. et al., eds., The Adams Papers (1961- ). Multivolume letterpress edition of all letters to and from major members of the Adams family, plus their diaries; still incomplete.[4]

External linksEdit

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Political offices
Preceded by
James Monroe
United States Secretary of State
March 5, 1817 – March 4, 1825
Succeeded by
Henry Clay
President of the United States
March 4, 1825 – March 4, 1829
Succeeded by
Andrew Jackson
United States Senate
Preceded by
Jonathan Mason
Senator from Massachusetts (Class 1)
1803 – 1808
Served alongside: Timothy Pickering
Succeeded by
James Lloyd
United States House of Representatives
Preceded by
Joseph Richardson
Member from Massachusetts's
11th congressional district

1831 – 1833
Succeeded by
John Reed
(district moved)
Preceded by
James L. Hodges
Member from Massachusetts's
12th congressional district

1833 – 1843
District eliminated
Preceded by
William B. Calhoun
Member from Massachusetts's
8th congressional district

1843 – 1848
Succeeded by
Horace Mann
Diplomatic posts
Preceded by
William Short
United States Minister to the Netherlands
1794 – 1797
Succeeded by
William Vans Murray
New title United States Minister to Prussia
1797 – 1801
Succeeded by
Henry Wheaton¹
Preceded by
William Short
United States Minister to Russia
1809 – 1814
Succeeded by
James A. Bayard
Preceded by
Jonathan Russell
as Charge d'Affairs
United States Minister to Great Britain
1815 – 1817
Succeeded by
Richard Rush
Party political offices
Preceded by
James Monroe
Democratic-Republican Party presidential candidate²
Party broke up
New political party National Republican Party presidential candidate
Succeeded by
Henry Clay
Honorary titles
Preceded by
Andrew Jackson
Oldest U.S. President still living
June 8, 1845 – February 23, 1848
Succeeded by
Martin Van Buren
Notes & References
1. There was over a thirty-four year period between Adams's and Wheaton's terms.
2. The Democratic-Republican Party split in 1824, fielding four separate candidates: Adams, Andrew Jackson, Henry Clay, and William Harris Crawford.

This page uses content from the English language Wikipedia. The original content was at John Quincy Adams. The list of authors can be seen in the page history. As with this Familypedia wiki, the content of Wikipedia is available under the Creative Commons License.

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