John Quincy Adams (1767-1848)

Figure 1.--

John Quincy became the sixth president of the United States, the only such father son presidnts until President George W. Bush was elected in 2000. As a boy he was a brilliant linguist and actually played an important role in diplomacy for the Amerivan colonists. John Quincy was educated at Harvard and practiced law as a young man. After independence, President Washington appointed him Ambassador to the Netherlands. He married Louisa Carherine Jounson, the daughter of the American Ambassador to England. After returning to America he won election to the Senate. He then served as Ambassadir to Russia and became one of the most prominent Secetaries of State. Adams may have made a greater contribution to the United States as President Monroe's Secretary of State than as president. He was the author of the Monroe Doctrine. He became the sixth president in 1924 despite losing the popular vote to General Jackson. After losing the 1828 election to Jackson, he served for years as a Congressman. He was known fir his opposition to slavery and promotion of women's sufferage. John Quincy Adams in many respects paralleled the career as well as the temperament and viewpoints of his illustrious father.


No American president had more famed parents. His father was John Adams, the second president of the United States. His mother was Abigale Adams, a force in herself.


John was born in in Braintree, Massachusetts (1767). No American president could have had a more fascinating childhood and better preparation. His mother oversaw his early childhood as his father was absent for long periods.He witnessed the Battle of Bunker Hill together with his mother from the top of Penn's Hill above the family farm. He was 9 years old at the time. The time with his mother ended when he was 11 years old. His father took John Quincy with him when he was appointed Minister to Prance. As secretary to his father, he spent a great deal of his teen years in Europe. He lived and travelled throughout Europe, but spent most of the time in France where his father served as Minister. In France, his father worked with Franklin and Lee as Minister Plenipotentiary. The relationship between Franklin and Adams was a stormy one. Fraklin respected Adams, but did not consider him an effective diplomat in dealing with the French. John Quincy must have observed Franlin's finese and his father's less astute efforts at diplomacy. His intelligence and linquistic abilities attracted the notice of both Franklin and Lee. John Quincy became an accomplished linguist and assiduous diarist. He was only 15 years old served as Secretary to the Mission to Russia. Here his major assett was in command of languages, especially French.


Hohn Quincy was a very bright boy and especially gifted in langauages. His parents tutored him as a younger boy. He applied himself and was an excellent student. He was able to attend schools in Paris and Amsterdam. When he and his father returned to America, John entered Harvard as a Junior. He graduated second in his class (1787). He then studied law. He was an avid reader throughout his life. Adams may well be the most educated president in American history, although a lot of his education occured outside of school. He served as a secretary for various diplomats. He learned French, Dutch, and German, as well as having learned Latin and studied Greek and Italian. His language skills were so impressivde that he was translating official documents for use in the state Department that had limited foreign language capability. And while overseas he attended schools in France and the Netherlands. after returning home he graduated from Harvard with both a BA and a MA, before reading law to become a lawyer. Reading law was the term used in the early-19th century. It was how Lincoln became a lawyer. Before the american educatiinal system developed law schools and the JD, prospective lawyers litterally 'read tghe law'. It was an apprenticeship to an established lawyer. After finishing his studies, Adams was appointed variously as the Ambassador to Netherlands, then Prussia, then Russia, and finally the United Kingdom. Surely Adams was the most cosmopolitan President. His diplomatic career was ended hen he was elected a U.S. Senator. He then served as Secretary of State under James Monroe--at the time seen as the stepping stine to the presidency. And he of couese then became president. The sum total of his experiences surely place him as the best educational and practical experinces preparing him for the presidency.

The Revolution

Some scholars believe that the man most responsible for the success of the American Revolution, other than George Washington, was John Quincey's father John Adams. One of Adam's major accomplishments was helping Benjamin Franklin convince the French to assisst the Americans in the Revolutionary War. Adams joined Franklin in Paris during 1778?, brininging along his son John Quincey because of his linguistic accomplishments. John Quincey was only about 11 years olds at the time. King Louis XV finally agreed to aid America, but appointed an ambassador who could not speak a word of English. It was John Quincey who taught the French amnassasdor English on the boat trip back to America. French assistance was of course critical in winning the Revolution. John Quincey was to follow his father after the Revolution to another diplomatic post--this time St. Petrsburg, Russia.


John Quincy Adams after graduating from Harvard began to read the law and then practice law.

Diplomatic career

Adams began his diplomatic career at age 14, certainly the youngest age for any American diplomat, when he served as the secretary for the American Minister (Ambassador) to Russia in St. Petersburg. President Washington appointed Adams at age 26 Minister to the Netherlands (1794) He served there for 3 years (1797). His father then appointed him Minister to Prussia. He was elected to the United States Senate from Massachusetts (1802). Six years later President Madison appointed him Minister to Russia. Later he served as American Minister to Russia and Great Britain. He helped negotiate the Treaty of Ghent which ended the War of 1812 with Britain (1815).

Political Career

Secretary of State

John Quincey Adams along with George Marshal may well have been the most important secretaries of state in American history. Given Afam's diplomatic experiences, he was the logical candidate for Madison to appoint Secretary of State. His diplomatic accomplishments were legindary. Even before vecoming Secretary od State, he played a major role inegotiating the peace treaty with Britain (1815). After beconoing Secretary of State, he geloped negotiate the Trans-continental Treaty with Spain (1819). Although little heraled today the, Trans-continental Treaty both acquired Florida and achieved international recognition for the western boundaries of the United States streaching to the Pacific Ocean. There was a real danger at the time that the United States might be drawn into another war with Britain which opposed the American expansion to the Pacific and the acquisition of Florida. General Andrew Jackson's military exploits in Florida and hanging of a British citizen could well have ignited another disastrous war. It was Adams' adroit diplomacy which achieved American objectives while avoiding war with the Btitish. Ig this wasn't enough for one Secretary of State, he also formulated with the President the Monroe Doctrine. Although named after President James Monroe, it was actually Adams' work.


Adams who is probably America's greatest diplomat, was interestingly capable--if not known for extrodinary offensive blutness, sarcasm, and open intolerance. He was a man of sharp contrasts. He was a devotee of the theater, but distrusted actors. He loved his children deeply, but was a harsh taskmaster to them.

Election of 1824

Most early American presidents with the exception of Washington and Adams had been secretaries of state. Thus in the political tradition of early-19th century, America, Adams as Secretary of State was considered the political heir to the Presidency. But the old ways of quietly choosing a President were giving way in 1824 to popular politucs and thev clamor for a military hero. The 1824 election resulted in the first major contested election. John Quincey Adams had been President Monroe's Secretary of State. This was the most prestigious Government post, even more than the vice-presidency. Thus Adams was seen as the political heir to President Monroe. These traditions, however, were being questioned. General Andrew Jackson was the most popular figure in America because of his military campaigns against Native Americans and the British during the War of 1812. Jackson was, however, a devisive figure with his opponents seeing him as a threat to the American Republic, both because of his volitility and aggressive militarism. There was, as a result of the Era of Good Feeling, still only one political party--the Republican Party. There were however sectional and factional divisions within the Party. The differentvsections put up their favorite sons. Adams was the candidate of the North. He garnered fewer popular and electoral votes than Jackson who was emensly popular in the West. William H. Crawford and Henry Clay also received votes. Jackson was the leading candidate, but did not gain a majority in the Electoral College. The election was decided among the top three by the House of Representatives. Clay in essence decided the election. He favored policies similar to Adams and thus threw his support to him. Jackson's supporters charged that a corupt bargain gave the presidency to Adams.


Upon becoming President, Adams appointed Senator Henry Clay as Secretary of State. Jackson and his angry followers charged that a "corrupt bargain" had taken place and immediately began their campaign to wrest the Presidency from Adams in 1828. As a result of the highly politicized politional environment. President Adams could accomplish very little. This in essency ruined the Adams presidency. Adams was never able to divorce himself from the taint of corruption. Thus, Adams' great assomplishments were as secretary bof state and not as president. Well aware that he would face hostility in Congress, Adams nevertheless proclaimed in his first Annual Message a spectacular national program--projects commonly referred to as internal improvements. He proposed that the Federal Government bring the sections together with a network of highways and canals, and that it develop and conserve the public domain, using funds from the sale of public lands. At the end of his presidency, he broke ground for the 185-mile C & 0 Canal (1828). One aspect which has to be considered in assessing internal improvements is the political culture of the time. Practices that woulkd now land politicians in Federal prisons today were accepted practices at the time. Thus sometimes a substantial portion of funds appropriated for internal improvements disappeared. This is one reason Jackson opposed Adam's internal improvements. Adams also urged the United States to take a lead in the development of the arts and sciences through the establishment of a national university, the financing of scientific expeditions, and the erection of an observatory. His critics declared such measures transcended constitutional limitations.

Election of 1828

TThe 1828 election involved perhaps the longest presidential campaign in American history, Jackson loyalist, Martin Van Buren, began building the first mass political machine in Anerican politics--earning him the title of "the Little Magician". The new Democratic Party and Jackson swept the election. Van Buren worked to obtain the support for influential politicans in every state. Jackson was already enormously popular in the West. Van Buren worked to build his popularity in the East. A major effort was made to establish pro-Jackson newspapers in every state. This was arguably one of the dirtiest ca,psaigns in American history. Jackson and his wife were viciously attacked. And this time Jacksonian newspapers answered back with outrageouos charges of his own. Jackson's victory ushered in the Age of Jackson--the only president to have an an entire era of American history named after him. And it marked a fundamental shift in American politics. America until this time had drawn its presidents and other leaders largely from the elite. Jackson with a Scotts-Irish backwoods had a very humble childhood. His rise in American politics thus reprresented a major shift in American politics. Not only were the peope to elect their leaders, but leaders would also become leaders themselves. The vicious campaign charges against Jackson echoed in the Eaton Affair and destroyed the relationship between Jakson and his Vice President John C. Calhoun of South Carolina. This was probably a factor in the in the Nulification Crisis. After his defeat he returned to Massachusetts, expecting to spend the remainder of his life enjoying his farm and his books.

House of Representatives (1830-48)

Unexpectedly the Plymouth district elected Afams to the House of Representatives (1830). Adams served there for the remainder of his life as a powerful legislative leader. Above all, he fought against circumscription of civil liberties. In 1836 southern Congressmen passed a "gag rule" providing that the House automatically table petitions against slavery (1836). Adams tirelessly fought the rule for 8 years until finally he obtained its repeal. He collapsed on the floor of the House from a stroke and was carried to the Speaker's Room, where 2 days later he died (1848). He was buried--as were his father, mother, and wife--at First Parish Church in Quincy. To the end, "Old Man Eloquent" had fought for what he considered right.


Louisa Catherine Johnson Adams (1775-1852)

Louisa Catherine Johnson Adams was the only First Lady born outside the United States. She did not arrive in Amerca until 4 years after she had married John Quincy Adams. Political enemies sometimes called her English. She was born in London to an English mother, Catherine Nuth Johnson, but her father was American--Joshua Johnson, of Maryland--and he served as United States consul after 1790.

A career diplomat at 27, accredited to the Netherlands, John Quincy developed his interest in charming 19-year-old Louisa when they met in London in 1794. Three years later they were married, and went to Berlin in course of duty. At the Prussian court she displayed the style and grace of a diplomat's lady; the ways of a Yankee farm community seemed strange indeed in 1801 when she first reached the country of which she was a citizen. Then began years divided among the family home in Quincy, Massachusetts, their house in Boston, and a political home in Washington, D.C. When the Johnsons had settled in the capital, Louisa felt more at home there than she ever did in New England.

She left her two older sons in Massachusetts for education in 1809 when she took two-year-old Charles Francis to Russia, where Adams served as Minister. Despite the glamour of the Tsar's court, she had to struggle with cold winters, strange customs, limited funds, and poor health; an infant daughter born in 1811 died the next year. Peace negotiations called Adams to Ghent in 1814 and then to London. To join him, Louisa had to make a 40-day journey across war-ravaged Europe by coach in winter; roving bands of stragglers and highwaymen filled her with "unspeakable terrors" for her son. Happily, the next 2 years gave her an interlude of family life in the country of her birth.

Appointment of John Quincy as Monroe's Secretary of State brought the Adamses to Washington in 1817, and Louisa's drawing room became a center for the diplomatic corps and other notables. Good music enhanced her Tuesday evenings at home, and theater parties contributed to her reputation as an outstanding hostess.

The pleasure of moving to the White House in 1825 was dimmed by the bitter politics of the election and by her own poor health. She suffered from deep depression. Though she continued her weekly "drawing rooms," she preferred quiet evenings--reading, composing music and verse, playing her harp. The necessary entertainments were always elegant, however; and her cordial hospitality made the last official reception a gracious occasion although her husband had lost his bid for re-election and partisan feeling still ran high.

Louisa thought she was retiring to Massachusetts permanently, but in 1831 her husband began 17 years of notable service in the House of Representatives. The Adamses could look back on a secure happiness as well as many trials when they celebrated their fiftieth wedding anniversary at Quincy in 1847. He was fatally stricken at the Capitol the following year; she died in Washington in 1852, and today lies buried at this side in the family church at Quincy.


John and Louisa had four children, three boys and a girl. Their daughter did not survive infanct. Only one of the sons had a successful life.

George Washington (1801-29)

George was of course named after the president that fathercand grandfather admired. He was a bright but moody boy. He graduated from Harvard, practiced law for a while, and succeeded in getting elected to the Massachusetts state legislature. His life was darkened by scandal and he began drinking heavily. Many believed he committed suicide by jumping from a passanger boat in New York harbor.

John II (1803-34)

John was a much freer spirit than his older brother. He received a good education, but his father was disappointed at his performance at Harvard. His behavior even resulted in expulsion. He married a cousin, Mary Catherine Hellen, in the White House, the second such wedding ceremony for a presidential child. He assisted his father as president, but an incident with a political enemy made a politicial career of his own impossible. For a while he managed the family properties, but unsuccessfully. Loke his older brother he also began drinking heavily and died at an early age.

Charles Francis (1807-86)

Charles Francis contrasted sharply to his older brothers and had a full and successful life. He also could have successfully pursued a political career, but was too outspoken to be successful politican. He championed several important causes, but before they had become accepted by the general public--especially the abolition of slavery. He was a brilliant student, learing several languages and graduating from Harvard at age 17. He began his law career by working under no less a lawyer than Daniel Webster. He married Abigail Brown Brooks, the daughter of a wealthy Boston family. He inherited his father's estate making him finally independent. He won election to the Massachusettes legislature in 1841 and the Congress in 1858, only a few years before the outbreak of the Civil War. President Lincoln appointed him Ambassador to Great Britain. Upon arrival in Britain he found rsing public support for intervention to support the Confederacy. He played an important role in helping to prevent intervention. He had an important ally, Prince Albert. After the War he promoted civil service reform, another controversil issue. There was some talk of a presidential nomonation, but it never ,aterialized.

Louisa Catherine (1811-12)

A daughter was born in St. Petersburg, Russia while her father was Ambassador there. Sirely the only presidebtial child born in Russia! She died the next year in 1812, the year that Napoleon invaded Russia.


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Created: July 30, 1999
Last changed: 10:18 PM 9/13/2015