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John Quincy Adams Biography

Lesson Plans | Quotes | Quotes

John Quincy Adams (1825-1829)

John Quincy Adams (July 11, 1767 – February 23, 1848) was unique in several respects. He was the first President whose father was President. He remains the only President elected by the House of Representatives as per the 12th Amendment and the only former President to serve in the House. Also, his wife Louisa was and is the only foreign-born First Lady of the United States.

John Quincy Adams was born to John and Abigail Adams in a part of Braintree, Massachusetts now known as Quincy – the boy and the town were both named after Abigail’s father, “Colonel” John Quincy. As a youth, John Quincy Adams spent a lot of time in Europe, including diplomatic trips made by his father and Francis Dana. These experiences in foreign relations prepared him for his later success as a diplomat. Also, in 1779, he began a diary which he maintained until the end of his life, and this exceptional collection remains one of the most comprehensive sources of information on the early United States.

He earned his Master’s from Harvard in 1790 and started practicing law in Boston the following year. After a series of articles supporting President Washington’s foreign policy, Washington made him Ambassador to the Netherlands in 1794 and Portugal in 1796. President John Adams appointed his son Ambassador to Prussia the following year upon Washington’s recommendation; indeed, Washington considered the younger Adams "the most valuable of America's officials abroad."

John Quincy Adams joined the Massachusetts State Senate in 1802 and the US Senate from 1803-1808, when his failure to toe the Federalist Party line got him ousted. He became a Democratic-Republican in response. Under President Madison, Adams served as Ambassador to Russia and, after negotiating the Treaty of Ghent, Ambassador to Great Britain. For almost the entirety of President Monroe’s 1817-1825 tenure, Adams was his Secretary of State, negotiating treaties in which Spain ceded the Floridas to the US and which settled the boundary dispute with Great Britain over the Oregon Country. The doctrine announcing the US’ intolerance for any attempts by European powers to establish new colonies in the Americas is known today as the Monroe Doctrine; however, it would not have existed without John Quincy Adams. It has been interpreted and re-interpreted many times since to justify US action, or condemn the actions of other nations, in the Western Hemisphere.

Sadly, Adams’ presidency was the low point of his career. Even his election was nothing to brag about. In 1824, with only the Democratic-Republican Party still standing (and just barely), the election came down to a regional battle. Andrew Jackson had the most votes, but only a plurality – no candidate had the required majority of electoral votes. Thus, the House of Representatives chose from the top three candidates based on electoral votes, leaving Speaker of the House Henry Clay, who was in fourth place, out of the running. He supported Adams, who became President and made Clay his Secretary of State. Jackson and his supporters accused Adams and Clay of striking a “corrupt bargain” and Adams never recovered. Of course, Jackson defeated Adams in 1828.

Though his presidency was relatively uneventful, by supporting major improvements to roads, waterways, and industry, as well as arts and sciences initiatives, Adams was ahead of his time as a President; needless to say, his critics charged him with overstepping his constitutional bounds. After his less-than-stellar term as President, he spent 17 years as a US Representative from Massachusetts, starting in 1831. His time in the House was far more successful; in particular, he became one of the nation’s most prominent and active opponents of slavery.

 


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Federalist Party
Adams' National Historical Park