Adams, John Quincy
John Quincy Adams (1767-1848): American Politician, sixth President of the United States.
John Quincy Adams was the sixth president of the United States and son of the second president, Adams, John. Born on 11 July 1767 to John and Abigail Adams in Braintree, Massachusetts, John Quincy Adams served as diplomatic aide to his father in France and the Netherlands during part of his childhood. Beginning in 1781, at the age of 14, John Quincy Adams accompanied Francis Dana on a diplomatic mission to St. Petersburg, Russia as his personal secretary. Upon returning to the United States, John Quincy Adams graduated from Harvard in 1787. After graduation he studied the law under Theophilus Parsons and earned a Master of Arts degree from Harvard in 1790. He passed the bar a year later and began practicing in Boston.
In 1793, George Washington appointed John Quincy Adams to be the U.S. Minister to the Netherlands. Wishing to keep his law practice in Boston though, John Quincy Adams was reluctant to accept the post. In fact, the younger Adams only accepted the position at the urging of his father. During his service in the Netherlands, Adams met John Jay, who was then working on what became known as the Jay Treaty. His association with Jay provided Adams with a chance to firsthand experience treaty making between a great power, like Great Britain, and the fledgling United States. It was also during this time that John Quincy met, Louisa Catherine Johnson, who became his wife in 1797. Johnson, a British subject, would eventually become the first foreign-born First Lady of the United States. They would eventually have four children.
Hoping to return home at the end of his appointment in the Netherlands, President George Washington instead selected John Quincy Adams as minister to Portugal in 1796. In 1797 at the suggestion of George Washington, John Adams appointed his son as Minister to Prussia. During his tenure as minister to these countries, John Quincy Adams renegotiated the Treaty of Amity and Commerce with Prussia in 1799, while strongly recommending that America remain neutral in the French Revolution and the resulting conflicts it spurred.
After the inauguration of Jefferson, Thomas as president in 1801, John Quincy Adams returned to the United States. In April 1802, voters elected Adams to the Massachusetts State Senate as a member of the Federalist Party. Though he lost his bid for the United States House of Representatives in November 1802, the Massachusetts legislature elected him to the U.S. Senate in 1803. As a senator, he supported the Louisiana Purchase and Jefferson’s Embargo Act, making him very unpopular within his party. In June 1808, Adams broke with the Federalists, resigned his post as senator, and joined the Democratic-Republican Party.
John Quincy Adams’ support of Jefferson’s foreign policy garnered him enough goodwill that President Madison, James administration appointed Adams to be the United States’ Minister to Russia from 1809 to 1814. As a result of the War of 1812, Adams resigned this post in 1814 to serve as the United States’ chief negotiator of the Treaty of Ghent, which ended the War of 1812. Following the signing of the treaty, Adams became minister to Great Britain from 1815 to 1817, the same position which was originally occupied by his father from 1785 to 1788. In 1817, Adams served as Secretary of State under James Monroe. While Secretary, he negotiated the Adams-Onis Treaty, which saw the Spanish cede Florida to the United States. As Secretary of State, Adams drafted the Monroe Doctrine, which still forms a cornerstone of American foreign policy to this day. Adams also oversaw negotiations with Great Britain over the nation’s northern boundary. The Treaty of 1818, established the 49th parallel from the Great Lakes to the Rocky Mountains as the nation’s northern border. Later, the 49th parallel became the basis for the nation’s border west to the Pacific.
Having a strong support base in New England, John Quincy Adams launched his bid for presidential office in 1824. The election also featured William Crawford, Henry Clay, Jackson, Andrew, and John C. Calhoun as candidates. Jackson easily carried the popular vote, however he did not have the necessary majority of the electoral vote. This resulted in the United States House of Representatives deciding the winner, the last time to date it has been forced to do so. Henry Clay, with a sizeable following in the House of Representations, backed Adams, allowing him to triumph over Jackson. In return, Adams appointed Clay as his Secretary of State. Outraged by the unexpected turn of events, Jackson and his supporters argued that Adams and Clay had agreed to a “corrupt bargain.” These allegations hindered Adams' four years as president.
Choosing to be sworn-in using a book of constitutional law in lieu of a Bible, John Quincy Adams served as president from 1825 to 1829. President Adams supported Henry Clay’s economic plan called the “American System.” This policy centered on increased tariffs to fund extensive internal infrastructure improvements and the preservation of The Bank of the United States as a way of regulation the nation’s monetary currency. The American system would become a source of political debate in U.S. domestic politics through the 1850s. Due to Adams’ support of high tariffs and his personal opposition to slavery, the South did not favor John Quincy Adams. In addition, President Adams alienated frontier settlers with his desire to see American Indian tribes assimilated into the population, and was opposed to expansionist legislation in Congress, which further alienated those wanting to expand the frontier. Despite his near unrivaled prowess as a diplomat, his presidency saw little of note in the international scale, partially because of strong opposition in Congress, and, as Secretary of State, he had effectively negated any significant international crises which would have arisen during his presidency.
Adams suffered a decisive loss in the 1828 elections against Jackson. Enraged at Adams' seemingly anti-south views, Adams' own vice president, South Carolinian John C. Calhoun joined Jackson as his running mate. After the election, Adams was unable to reconcile with Jackson and refused to attend Jackson’s Inauguration. During the first 40 years of the U.S. Presidency, John Quincy Adams, and his father John Adams, were the only single term presidents. Unlike most former presidents who go into political retirement, John Quincy Adams was not finished with politics. In 1830, the voters of Massachusetts elected Adams to the U.S. House of Representatives, and Adams would serve in the House until his death in 1848. To date, John Quincy Adams and Andrew Johnson are the only former presidents to serve in Congress after the presidency. Adams even sought the governorship of Massachusetts in 1831, though he lost that bid and remained in Congress. Congressman Adams played key roles in a variety of issues during the 1830s and 1840s. He was the leading spokesman in Congress against slavery, and Adams argued on the behalf of Africans, who had been kidnapped into slavery, before the Supreme Court of the United States in United States vs. Amistad. The Supreme ruled that the Africans were illegally kidnapped and were free to return to Africa. Adams’ opposition to the spread of slavery led him to oppose the annexation of Texas and the Mexican-American War.
During a debate in Congress, John Quincy Adams collapsed as a result of a cerebral hemorrhage and died on 23 February 1848 at the age of 80. John Quincy Adams left behind an impressive legacy. Through his vast diplomatic work, Adams is arguably one of America’s greatest diplomats. His staunch support for the rights of American Indians and his passionate opposition to slavery are especially noteworthy. John Quincy Adams’ exhaustive fifty volume diary is one of the most accurate first hand sources of information of the post-revolutionary through the pre-industrial revolution time periods in America. Though unpopular during his presidency, presidential rankings now place John Quincy Adams in the top 25 presidents of all time.
Paul C. Nagel, John Quincy Adams, a Public Life, a Private Life, 1997.
Max Toubiana/ Scott Buchanan