The Presidents of the USA



John Quincy Adams
He was an excellent Secretary of State, maybe the best in the history of the U.S., but as a President, a hostile Congress did not allow him to be successful. He had an impressive record of accomplishments but not during his Presidency.

Born: July 11, 1767, Braintree, Mass.
Political partyFederalist, Democratic-Republican, Whig
EducationHarvard College, A.B., 1787
Military service none
Previous public office ♦ minister to the Netherlands, 1794
♦ minister to Prussia, 1797
♦ Massachusetts Senate, 1802
♦ U.S. Senate, 1803-8
♦ minister to Russia, 1809-14
♦ negotiator of Treaty of Ghent, 1814
♦ minister to Great Britain, 1815-17
♦ US secretary of State, 1817-25
Subsequent public service House of Representatives, 1831-48
DiedFeb. 23, 1848,Washington, D.C.
picture of John Quincy Adams

Early Life

He was born in Braintree (now Quincy), Mass. on July 11, 1767. As the eldest and most gifted son of John Adams, second president of the United States, Adams enjoyed many opportunities that prepared him for later public service.

In 1779, at the age of 12, he accompanied his father to Europe. Precocious and brilliant - at 14 he accompanied Francis Dana, the American minister, to Russia as a French translator - he served as his father's secretary during the peace negotiations in Paris. Except for brief periods of formal education, he studied under his father's direction. When he entered Harvard in 1785, he was proficient in Greek, Latin, French, Dutch, and German.

After his graduation, Adams studied law and began to practice in Boston in 1790. More interested in politics than the law, he made a name for himself with political essays supporting the politics of President George Washington. Those signed "Publicola" (his answer to Thomas Paine's Rights of Man) were so good that they were ascribed to his father, who was then vice president.

Political Career

In 1793 Washington appointed young Adams minister to the Netherlands. From this "vantage" point he supplied the government with a steady flow of information on European affairs. Sent to London in connection with Jay's Treaty, he met Louisa Catherine Johnson, the daughter of the American consul, and married her on July 26, 1797. Later in 1797 Adams became minister to Prussia, concluding a commercial treaty incorporating the neutral-rights provisions of Jay's Treaty.

Adams returned home shortly after his father left the White House in 1801 and served in the U.S. Senate. He supported Jefferson's purchase of Louisiana and voted for Jefferson's Embargo Act of 1807. Both of these acts alienated the Federalists in Massachusetts and induced Adams to resign from the Senate a year early. He then joined the Democratic-Republicans and, after teaching at Harvard for two years, accepted the position of minister to Russia. He was one of three American commissioners who negotiated an end to the War of 1812 on terms favorable to America by negotiating the Treaty of Ghent (1814) with Great Britain.

Adams capped his career as a diplomat with eight years of service as James Monroe's secretary of state. He performed brilliantly, negotiating a treaty with Great Britain in 1818 to extend the U.S.-Canadian border along the 49th parallel; arranging future arbitration of the disputed Oregon boundary; and obtaining Florida from Spain in return for a renunciation of U.S. claims on Texas. His policy of benevolent neutrality, a"tilt" to the former colonies and away from Spanish efforts to reconquer them, assured the success of Latin American independence movements without leading to war with Spain.

Adams had witnessed the Greek War of Independence from the Ottoman Turks and predicted that the Greek fight for independence from the Turks was only the beginning of a long conflict between Islam and the West. Although he sympathized with the Greeks, and held a deep mistrust of the defeated Muslims, eventually he was reluctant to support America's involvement in continuing wars far from home.

The Monroe Doctrine, which warned European states against interference in the Western Hemisphere, was largely Adams' work: President Monroe was willing to accept a joint declaration with the British to warn the French, Spanish, and Russians against attempts to dominate the Americas, but Adams insisted that the United States issue the doctrine unilaterally. Adams is considered by many to be the greatest secretary of state in American history.

Meanwhile, the Federalist party had disappeared, and in the misnamed Era of Good Feelings, as Monroe's Presidency was known, only the “National Republicans” under President Monroe remained. In the Presidential election of 1824, Adams was one of four regional candidates from this party. Andrew Jackson received a plurality of the popular vote (but fewer than 50 percent), defeating Adams 153,000 to 114,000 in states where electors were chosen by popular vote. Jackson's 99 electoral college votes put him ahead of Adams' 84, Senator William Crawford's 41, and Representative Henry Clay's 37.

Since no one had received a majority of the electoral college votes, the election went to the House of Representatives, where each state would have one vote. There, Adams received, with the support of Clay, a winning 13 votes to only 7 for Jackson and became President.

With only 31 percent, he holds the record for the lowest percentage of the popular vote.


Adams's Presidency was tainted by the questions surrounding his election and the violent opposition of the Jacksonians.

He accomplished little because he did not have personal following among the people or in Congress.

He backed Clay's “American system," which called for protective tariffs that would raise the prices of foreign goods to encourage U.S. industry, land sales to encourage settlement of the West, and enlargement of foreign markets for American agricultural products. Adams, Clay, and Secretary of the Treasury Richard Rush did manage to get Congress to pass measures subsidizing canals, harbors, and roads.

Adams had some successes in foreign affairs. Together with Secretary of State Clay, he negotiated commercial treaties that improved trade with a number of European nations and with Mexico.

During his term as president, however, Adams achieved little of long-term consequence in foreign affairs and far less than expected due to the strong opposition of the Congress.

The midterm elections of 1826 gave a large majority in Congress to anti-Adams factions. Meanwhile, Andrew Jackson organized his followers and in 1828, running under the label Democrat or Democratic-Republican, defeated Adams, who ran on the ticket of the National Republicans.


Following Andrew Jackson's victory in 1828, Adams was elected to the House of Representatives. In the House he won the nickname Old Man Eloquent for speaking out vigorously against slavery. He also opposed nullification, the imposition of a gag rule, and annexation of Texas. In 1841, abolitionists persuaded him to defend the right to freedom of fifty‐three Africans before the Supreme Court in United States v. The Amistad . The result was to overturn the convictions of the African crew members who had mutinied aboard the slave ship Amistad.

In 1848, John Quincy Adams suffered a stroke at his desk in the House chamber, shortly after making an impassioned speech against extending slavery to the Western territories won in the Mexican-American War. He died in a nearby room. A bronze marker on the floor indicates where Adams's desk once stood. Visitors to the Capitol know it as the “whispering spot” in Statuary Hall.


John Quincy Adams had been an excellent Secretary of State, maybe the best in the history of the U.S,. but as a President he was not allowed by a hostile Congress to be successful.

Cold and introspective, Adams was not generally popular, but he was respected for his high-mindedness, his eloquence, his persistence and his knowledge.

In many ways Adams's congressional record, after the presidency, as a champion of civil rights was the crowning point of his long career in public service.

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