John Quincy Adams Biography

Born: Braintree, Mass., July 11, 1767. Studied in Europe at the University of Leyden. Graduated Harvard University in 1787. Admitted to the bar and commenced practice in Boston. Was elected to the Massachusetts State senate in 1802. Minister to England 1815-1817. Was Secretary of State in the Cabinet of President James Monroe, 1817-1825. Served as President from March 4, 1825, to March 3, 1829. Died: Washington, D.C., February 23, 1848.


John Quincy Adams (July 11, 1767-February 23, 1848) was an American diplomat and politician who served as the sixth President of the United States from March 4, 1825 to March 4, 1829. At various times he was a member of the Federalist, Democratic-Republican, National Republican, and later Anti-Masonic and Whig parties. Adams was the son of the second President John Adams and his wife Abigail Adams. He is most famous as a diplomat involved in many international negotiations, and for formulating the Monroe Doctrine as Secretary of State. As president he proposed a grand program of modernization and educational advancement, but was stymied by a hostile Congress. Adams decisively lost his 1828 bid for re-election to Andrew Jackson. Adams became a U.S. Representative after leaving office, the only president ever to do so, serving for the last 17 years of his life. In the House he became a leading opponent of the Slave Power and arguing that if a civil war ever broke out the president could abolish slavery by using his war powers, which Abraham Lincoln did during the American Civil War in the 1863 Emancipation Proclamation.

Adams was born to John Adams, Jr. and Abigail Adams in the section of the town of Braintree that is now Quincy, Massachusetts. The John Quincy Adams birthplace, now part of Adams National Historical Park, is open to the public. Also nearby Abigail Adams Cairn, marking the site from which Adams witnessed the Battle of Bunker Hill at age six. Adams first learned of the Declaration of Independence from the letters his father wrote his mother from the Second Continental Congress in Philadelphia. Much of Adams' youth was spent accompanying his father overseas. John Adams served as an American envoy to France from 1778 until 1779 and to the Netherlands from 1780 until 1782, and the younger Adams accompanied his father on these journeys. Adams acquired an education at institutions such as Leiden University. For nearly three years, at the age of only 14, he accompanied Francis Dana as a secretary on a mission to St. Petersburg, Russia, to obtain recognition of the new United States. He also spent time in Finland, Sweden and Denmark, and in 1804 published a travel report of Silesia. During these years overseas, Adams gained a mastery of French and Dutch and a familiarity with German and other European languages. He entered Harvard College and graduated in 1788. He apprenticed as a lawyer with Theophilus Parsons in Newburyport, Massachusetts, from 1787 to 1789. He was admitted to the bar in 1791 and began practicing law in Boston.

George Washington appointed Adams minister to the Netherlands in 1794 and to Portugal in 1796. When the elder Adams became President he appointed his son in 1797 as minister to Prussia at Washington's urging. Adams served at that post until 1801, and 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 remains the only President to have a foreign-born First Lady. Adams returned to Quincy in 1801. During this period he lived in the Old House, now a museum. He began his political career in the 1802 elections, when he unsuccessfully ran for the House of Representatives as a Federalist but was elected to the Massachusetts Senate the same year. The Massachusetts General Court elected Adams as a Federalist to the U.S. Senate soon after, and he served from March 4, 1803, until June 8, 1808, at which point he broke with the Federalists, resigned his Senate seat, and became a Democrat-Republican. Adams then served as minister to Russia from 1809 until 1814, as chief negotiator of the U.S. commission for the Treaty of Ghent in 1814, and as minister to the Court of St. James's (Britain) from 1815 until 1817.

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 warned European nations against meddling in the affairs of the Western Hemisphere.

Adams ran against four other candidates in the presidential election of 1824: Speaker of the House Henry Clay of Kentucky, Secretary of the Treasury William H. Crawford of Georgia, U.S. Senator Andrew Jackson of Tennessee, and Secretary of War John C. Calhoun of South Carolina. After Crawford suffered a stroke, there was no clear favorite. In the election, no candidate had a majority of the electoral votes (or of the popular votes), although Jackson had been the winner of a plurality of both. Under the terms of the Twelfth Amendment, the presidential election was thrown to the House of Representatives to vote on the top three candidates: Jackson, Adams, and Crawford. Clay had come in fourth place and thus was ineligible, but he retained incredible power as Speaker of the House. Crawford suffered a stroke in 1823 that effectively ended his candidacy, although he later recovered. Clay's personal dislike for Jackson and the similarity of his American System to Adams' position on tariffs and internal improvements caused him to throw his support to Adams, who was elected by the House on February 9, 1825, on the first ballot. Adams' victory shocked Jackson, who had gained the plurality of the electoral and popular votes and fully expected to be elected president. When Adams appointed Clay as Secretary of State the position that Adams and his three predecessors had held before becoming President Jacksonian Democrats were outraged, and claimed that Adams and Clay had struck a "corrupt bargain." This contention shadowed over Adams' term and greatly contributed to Adams loss to Jackson four years later, in the 1828 election.

Adams served as the sixth President of the United States from March 4, 1825, to March 3, 1829. He took the oath of office on a book of laws, instead of the more traditional Bible.

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 party. 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. Nonetheless, 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 control of Congress in 1827, the situation became more complicated. By signing into law the Tariff of 1828 (also known as the Tariff of Abominations), extremely unpopular in the South, he limited his chances to achieve more during his presidency. Adams 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 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. Another blow to Adams' presidency was his generous policy toward Native Americans. Settlers on the frontier, who were constantly seeking to move westward, cried for a more expansionist policy. When the federal government tried to assert authority on behalf of the Cherokees, the governor of Georgia took up arms. It was a sign of nullification that foreshadowed the secession of the Southern states during the Civil War. Adams defended his domestic agenda as continuing Monroe's policies.

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. 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.

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, Andrew Jackson, who had openly snubbed him by refusing to pay the traditional "courtesy call" to the outgoing President during the weeks before his own inauguration. 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.

After the inauguration of Adams in 1825, 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 the press accused Jackson's wife Rachel of bigamy. She died a few weeks after the elections. Jackson said he would forgive those who insulted him, but he would never forgive the ones who attacked his wife. Adams lost the election 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, and Delaware. Jackson won everything else except for New York, which gave 16 of its electoral votes to Adams, and Maryland, which cast 6 of its votes for Adams.
He was the first president to serve in Congress after his term of office, and one of only two former presidents to do so; Andrew Johnson later served in the Senate. He was elected to eight terms, serving as a Representative for 17 years, from 1831 until his death. Through redistricting Adams represented three districts in succession: Massachusetts's 11th congressional district (1831-1833), 12th congressional district (1833-1837), and 8th congressional district (1837-1843), serving from the 22nd to the 30th Congresses. He became a Whig in 1834. In Congress, he was chairman of the Committee on Manufactures (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 in the 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.

In 1834 he unsuccessfully ran as the Antimasonic candidate for Governor of Massachusetts, losing to John Davis. Adams then continued his legal career. In 1841, he had the case of a lifetime, representing the defendants in United States v. The Amistad Africans in the Supreme Court of the United States. He successfully argued that the Africans, who had seized control of a Spanish ship on which they were being transported illegally as slaves, should not be extradited or deported to Cuba (still under Spanish control) but should be considered free. The US Department of Justice argued the Africans should be deported for having mutinied and killed officers on the ship. Adams won their freedom, with the chance to stay in the United States or return to Africa. Adams made the argument on the grounds that the US had prohibited the international slave trade, although it allowed internal slavery.

While preparing to address the House of Representatives on February 21, 1848, Adams collapsed, having suffered a massive cerebral hemorrhage. Two days later, on February 23, he died with his wife and son at his side in the Speaker's Room inside the Capitol Building in Washington, D.C. 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. After his wife's death, his son had him reinterred with his wife in a family crypt in the United First Parish Church across the street. His parents are also interred there and both tombs can be viewed.

John Adams and John Quincy Adams were the first father and son to each serve as president. Each man served one term.

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