6th President, 1825–1829

Party Affiliation: Democratic-Republican

(though he was a member of several political parties during his career)

Chief 1824 Opponents: Andrew Jackson (Democratic-Republican), William Crawford (Democratic-Republican), Henry Clay (Democratic-Republican),

and John C. Calhoun (Democratic-Republican)


Where and when was John Quincy Adams born?
John Quincy Adams was born in Braintree, Massachusetts, to John and Abigail Adams on July 11, 1767.

What was his father’s profession?
John Quincy Adams was the oldest son of John Adams, the second president of the United States. They were the first father and son to serve as commanders in chief of the United States of America. It was not until George W. Bush became the forty-third president, following in the footsteps of his father, George H. W. Bush, that there was another father and son who both won the presidency. John Adams was a politician and a lawyer—just as John Quincy Adams would become.

Did John Quincy Adams have any siblings?
Yes, he had four siblings: an older sister named Abigail and nicknamed “Nabby,” a younger sister named Susanna (who died as an infant), and two younger brothers named Charles and Thomas.

Did Adams have a religious upbringing?
Yes, his parents instilled in him at an early age the practice of regular reading of the Bible. He read the Bible for an hour a day as a youngster in different languages. He was reared as a Congregationalist, though in later years he joined the Unitarian Church.

What was his early education?
He received education at home, then accompanied his father to France in 1778, when the elder Adams was selected to serve as a special envoy to France. He entered a private school in Paris with other young American boys, including Benjamin Franklin Bache, the grandson of Benjamin Franklin who later became a famous newspaper editor. In 1780, his father worked as a diplomat in the Netherlands. Young John and his brother Charles entered the Latin School there to continue their studies. However, they didn’t like the school and their father removed them. He sent young John to the University of Leyden, where he studied under Benjamin Waterhouse. Later, John Quincy Adams accompanied his father to Russia when he was only fourteen years old. There, he studied largely on his own. A few years later, he returned to the United States and attended Harvard University. Initially, he was rejected by Harvard; Joseph Willard, president of the college, said Adams needed more instruction in Latin and Greek. John Quincy Adams studied feverishly and entered Harvard in the spring of 1786 as a junior. He graduated in less than two years, ranking second in a class of fifty-one.

Who was his first love?
A twenty-three-year-old Adams fell in love with sixteen-year-old Mary Frazier of Newburyport, Massachusetts. He wanted to ask for her hand in marriage but did not do so, partly at the insistence of his mother, Abigail. She warned her son about the dangers of marrying too young and how it might negatively impact his career. It took Adams many years to recover from the loss of this relationship.

Did he marry?
He married Louisa Catherine Johnson in 1797. She was the daughter of a British mother and an American father; her father, Joshua, served as the U.S. consul in Great Britain. Louisa was born in London and remains the only First Lady to ever be born outside the United States. Adams received criticism in some American newspapers for marrying a foreign-born woman from England, and some referred to him as “the American Prince of Wales.”

Did he have any children?
Adams and his wife, Louisa, had four children—a daughter Louisa, who died as an infant at age one—and three sons: George Washington, John, and Charles Francis. George— whom John Quincy Adams named after President Washington—committed suicide.


After graduation from Harvard, what did Adams do?
He studied law for several years under Newburyport lawyer Theophilus Parsons, who would later become chief justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court. Adams practiced law in Massachusetts, but he lost his first case and never did like the practice of law very much. He preferred reading, writing political essays, and getting involved in politics.

What letters did Adams publish that attracted attention?
He wrote a series of essays entitled “Letters of Publicola” that were published in the Boston newspaper. The essays defended the American system of government and disagreed with some of Thomas Paine’s theories in his The Rights of Man (1791). The essays attracted the attention of prominent Federalists and led many conservatives to support Adams in his early political career.

What position did Adams hold at Harvard University?
While he served as a politician in his pre-presidency days, Adams doubled as a professor of rhetoric at his alma mater. In 1804, he was appointed the first Boylston Professor of Rhetoric and Oratory at Harvard. He began teaching at the university in 1806 while he was a U.S. senator.

What major U.S. Supreme Court case did Adams argue in 1809?
Adams argued on behalf of Massachusetts native John Peck in the famous case of Fletcher v. Peck (1810). The case involved a Georgia state law that invalidated the sale of more than thirty million acres of land to several Northern companies. It was alleged that several Georgia legislators received bribes for their votes approving the land deals. The law invalidating the land sales presented problems for innocent third parties who purchased the land without the knowledge of the shady origins of how the land was first acquired. In what some historians think was a contrived lawsuit—many believe the plaintiff and defendant planned the lawsuit together—Robert Fletcher of New Hampshire sued John Peck of Massachusetts in 1803 to establish his valid claim to the land. The Court ruled that the Georgia law invalidating the original land sales was unconstitutional because it violated the Constitution’s Contract Clause, preventing states from impairing the obligations of contracts. Chief Justice Marshall reasoned that the new law could negatively impact innocent, third-party purchasers like Fletcher.

Who appointed Adams to his first official political positions?
President George Washington appointed Adams as minister to the Netherlands in 1794 and as minister to Portugal in 1796. Adams thought so highly of President Washington that he later named one of his sons George Washington Adams.

What position did his father appoint him to?
President John Adams appointed his son John Quincy to become minister of Prussia in 1797. John Quincy Adams expressed reluctance to his father about accepting the position because he feared it would be derided as a nepotistic appointment. However, his father sternly told him that he was the best person for the job. At the end of his presidency, John Adams terminated John Quincy’s diplomatic career, fearing that incoming President Thomas Jefferson might dismiss his son and cause him some humiliation.

What was Adams’s first nondiplomatic political office?
Adams won election to the Massachusetts state Senate in 1802 as a Federalist candidate. He did not expect to win the race, as some Federalists felt betrayed by his father during his presidency. Adams showed his independent streak in his first political office, voting against a bank charter favored by Federalists.

What political race did Adams lose in 1802?
Adams then decided to run for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. However, he lost the election to the Democratic-Republican incumbent, Dr. William Eustis. Adams lost the election by a mere fifty-nine votes. Eustis himself had a fine political career, later serving as U.S. secretary of war and then as governor of Massachusetts.

What was Adams’s next political position?
Adams then ran for a seat in the U.S. Senate, which he won in 1803 as a Federalist. As a
U.S. senator, Adams once again showed his independent streak by supporting some major political moves by Democratic-Republican President Thomas Jefferson. Adams supported both the Louisiana Purchase and the Embargo Act of 1807. The support of the Embargo Act, which harmed shipping interests in New England, caused the Massachusetts legislature to call for his dismissal. Adams resigned from his position in June 1808.

To what position did President Madison appoint Adams?
President Madison appointed Adams as minister to Russia in 1809. The Senate confirmed him by a vote of nineteen to seven. Adams got along exceedingly well with the Russian czar Alexander I. In fact, Adams enjoyed his position in Russia so much that he even turned down an appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court—something unimaginable in modern-day America. Another reason for Adams’s decision might be that his position as minister to Russia paid considerably more than the salary of justice on the Court.

What famous treaty did Adams help bring about?
Adams was part of the team that helped bring about the Treaty of Ghent, which brought an end to the War of 1812. Signed in late December 1914, the treaty did not officially end the hostilities until it reached Washington, D.C., in February 1915.

What diplomatic position did Adams hold next, a job that his father had held previously?
President Madison then appointed Adams to be minister to England, something his father had done years earlier. Adams served in that capacity for two years until President James Monroe appointed him secretary of state.

How did Adams perform as secretary of state?
Adams performed well as secretary of state under President Monroe. He crafted the foreign policy doctrine that later bore the president’s name—the Monroe Doctrine. Historian Robert V. Remini writes in his 2002 biography of Adams, John Quincy Adams: “John Quincy Adams is arguably the greatest secretary of state to serve that office.” He helped negotiate the Adams-Onis, or Transcontinental Treaty of 1819, which established the western boundaries of the Louisiana purchase and solidified relations between the United States and Spain.

Who were the candidates in the election of 1824?
The candidates were John Quincy Adams, Andrew Jackson from Tennessee, William H. Crawford from Georgia, and Henry Clay from Kentucky. Adams and Crawford had both served in the cabinet of President James Monroe—Adams as secretary of state and Crawford as secretary of the treasury. Jackson was a U.S. senator and former war hero, while Clay was the Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives.

Who won the popular vote in the presidential election of 1824?
Jackson captured the popular vote with more than 150,000 votes, while Adams captured just over 100,000. Jackson also won more electoral votes (99) than Adams (84). However, Jackson failed to capture the required majority of 131 electoral votes, as Crawford tallied 41 electoral votes and Clay 37. When no candidate receives a majority of the electoral votes, the decision falls to the House of Representatives. The representatives from each state vote for a candidate. Adams ended up capturing 13 states (Jack- son 7 and Crawford 4). Thus, Adams became president as he captured more than a majority of the states (13 out of 24) to win the electoral vote and the presidency.

What was the “corrupt bargain”?
The corrupt bargain referred to a claim asserted by Jacksonians—supporters of Andrew Jackson—that John Quincy Adams and Henry Clay engaged in a corrupt bargain to get votes for Adams. They maintained that Clay encouraged others in the House to vote for Adams because Adams agreed to name Clay as his secretary of state if he won the presidency. While Clay did encourage members of the House to vote for Adams rather than Jackson and later became Adams’s secretary of state, the two contended that there never was any “corrupt bargain.” Clay maintained that he thought Adams would be better equipped to handle the presidency than Jackson.

What was Adams’s policy toward Native Americans?
Adams favored treating the Native Americans fairly, something that his opponents used against him in his reelection campaign in 1828. In his inaugural address, he called on his country “to promote the civilization of the Indian tribes.” However, his administration did not protect the Creek Indians in Georgia. Many Americans—including Adams’s opponent, Andrew Jackson—supported the trampling of the Native Americans’ rights. Adams later admitted his country had harmed the Native Americans greatly: “These are crying sins for which we are answerable before a higher jurisdiction.”
What sport or recreation did John Quincy Adams engage in regularly while president?
He loved to swim in the Potomac River, which he often did as early as 5:00 A.M. Sometimes he even skinny-dipped in the river. One story—which may or may not be true—was that female journalist Anne Royell successfully obtained an exclusive interview with Adams by refusing to give him his clothes when he finished his swim unless the spoke to her on the record.

What were some of Adams’s proposals as president?
He favored the creation of a system of roads, canals, and highways that would make travel across the United States easier. He managed to pass a law that allowed the Cum- Berland Road to pass into Ohio and he funded a project that would create a canal from the Chesapeake Bay to the Ohio River. He also advocated the establishment of a uniform system of weights and measures—something akin to the metric system—which failed, even though Adams wrote a detailed report to Congress on the issue. In addition, he advocated for a national university and the creation of a naval academy.
Unfortunately, Adams had little success with most of his proposals. His presidency was doomed in part by the presence of so many Jacksonian Democrats in Congress, who adamantly believed that Jackson deserved the presidency.

What happened in Adams’s reelection attempt?
Adams could never overcome the allegations that he did not deserve to win the election of 1824, as the Jacksonians fanned the flames of public discontent. Furthermore, many members of Congress were allied with Jackson and continually thwarted Adams’s proposals. In 1828, Jackson supporters effectively convinced enough voters that he deserved the election four years earlier and he deserved it now. Jackson won 178 electoral votes to only 83 for Adams.

What did John Quincy Adams have in common with his father with respect to reelection?
John Quincy Adams and his father were the only two of the first seven presidents to not win reelection. Presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe, and Andrew Jackson all served two full terms in office. John Quincy Adams also did not attend the inauguration of his successor, Andrew Jackson, just as his father declined to attend the inauguration of his successor, Thomas Jefferson.


What political position did Adams hold after the presidency?
Two years after his defeat in his reelection attempt, Adams ran for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives in 1830. He won reelection eight times, serving nearly twenty years.

What was different about Adams’s politics as a representative?
Adams opposed the policies of President Andrew Jackson and the newly called Democratic Party. Instead, Adams joined the Whig Party, where he continually advocated abolitionist views. For much of his political career, Adams maintained a streak of independence that often upset members of his own political party.

What rule in the House did Adams consistently oppose?
He consistently opposed a congressional gag rule on antislavery petitions in Congress. In 1836, Representative Charles Pinckney from South Carolina introduced a measure that would bar discussion of antislavery petitions. The House approved the measure and continually reaffirmed the measure year after year. John Quincy Adams adamantly opposed the measure and fought to have it rescinded. Finally, in 1844, the House voted down the measure by a 108 to 80 vote. In his diary, Adams wrote: “Blessed, forever blessed be the name of God!”

What famous case did Adams argue before the U.S. Supreme Court?
Adams argued before the Supreme Court in the Amistad case, which involved the mutiny of Africans who had been kidnapped into slavery aboard the Spanish ship Amistad. The Africans argued that they were not slaves and should not be returned to Connecticut, where they had been placed by the U.S. commander who had found the ship. They also argued that they should not be returned to Spain since they were free Africans. Adams and Roger Sherman Baldwin argued the case on behalf of the Africans before the U.S. Supreme Court. The Court ruled in favor of Adams’s clients.

How did Adams die?
Adams suffered a stroke on the House floor in February 1848. Two days later he died. Several of his colleagues remarked that it was fitting that Adams worked until his death given his devotion to the House.
Previous Post Next Post