John Quincy Adams was the son of John and Abigail Adams, and he served as the 6thAmerican President from 1825 to 1829. A member of multiple political parties over the years, he also served as a diplomat, a Senator and member of the House of Representatives.
The first President who was the son of a President, John Quincy Adams paralleled his father’s career as well as his temperament and viewpoints of his illustrious father.
Childhood and Development
As a young boy, John Quincy witnessed the famous Battle of Bunker Hill (June 1775) from a hilltop near the family farm with his mother. He was able to accompany his father on a diplomatic mission to France when he was 10. Later he studied at European universities, becoming an accomplished linguist (fluent in seven languages) and a hard-working diarist. Adams returned to Massachusetts in 1785 where he was admitted to Harvard College and graduated two years later. He then studied law and was admitted to the bar in 1790, after which he set up a law practice in Boston.
At age 26, John Quincy Adams was appointed Minister to the Netherlands and then promoted to the Berlin Legation. In 1802 he was elected to the United States Senate. Six years later, President Madison appointed young Adams to be Minister to Russia.
Serving under President Monroe, Adams was one of America’s great Secretaries of State. He worked with England to arrange the joint occupation of the Oregon country, which was included in the purchase of Florida from Spain. John Quincy Adams also helped to formulate the Monroe Doctrine with the American President at the time.
According to early 19th century political tradition, Adams as Secretary of State, was considered the next in line for the Presidency. The old ways of choosing a President were changing in 1824 towards the demand of a popular choice.
Upon Becoming President
Within the one and only party–the Republican–sectionalism and factionalism were beginning, and each group put up its own candidate for the American Presidency. John Quincy Adams, the candidate of the North, fell behind Gen. Andrew Jackson in both popular and electoral votes, but received more than William H. Crawford and Henry Clay. Since none of the candidates had a majority of electoral votes, the election was decided by having the House of Representatives choose from among the top three candidates. Clay, who favored a program similar to Adams, threw his crucial support in the House behind Adams.
As he began his term as American President, Adams quickly appointed Henry Clay as Secretary of State. This choice led Andrew Jackson and his angry supporters to launch a campaign to wrest the Presidency from Adams in 1828. Well aware that he would face opposition in Congress, Adams still proclaimed in his first Annual Message a spectacular national program. He proposed that the federal government bring the country together with a network of highways and canals. He also charged Congress with developing and conserving the public domain using funds from the sale of public lands. In 1828, he broke ground for the 185-mile C & 0 Canal.
President John Quincy Adams promoted interest in the arts and sciences by creating a national university, funding scientific expeditions, and the building of an observatory. Adams saw the need for America to lead the world in scientific advancement even though some of his opponents argued that these projects weren’t constitutional.
John Quincy Adams was accused of corruption and misappropriating tax dollars during the 1828 campaign by the Jacksonian supporters. Adams was frustrated by the accusations and lost the election. He retired to Massachusetts to find peace in the quiet of reading and maintaining his farm.
Unexpectedly, in 1830, the Plymouth district elected him to the House of Representatives, and there for the remainder of his life he served as a powerful 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. Adams tirelessly fought the rule for eight years until finally he obtained its repeal.
In 1848, he collapsed on the floor of the House from a stroke and was carried to the Speaker’s Room. Tragically, two days later he died. 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.
The following poster provides an attractive and concise summary of John Quincy Adams’s achievements throughout his lifetime: