John Quincy Adams – Life, Leadership, & Presidential Accomplishments

John Quincy Adams

John Quincy Adams – Life and Accomplishments

Going by the alias “Old Man Eloquent”, John Quincy Adams was a renowned linguist, political orator, senator and a diplomat who in 1825 got inaugurated as the sixth President of the United States.

As a Massachusetts-born politician, Quincy Adams first diplomatic mission abroad was in the Netherlands. He also served as minister to Prussia during the presidency of his father, Founding Father John Adams. Due to his immense experience in Europe, he would go on to represent the United States and her interests in a total of five different European countries – the Netherlands, Portugal, Prussia, Russia, and Great Britain.

His greatest accomplishment came during his tenure as Secretary of State where he successfully helped the United States acquire Florida. He is also best remembered for the relentless effort he put into negotiating the Treaty of Ghent in 1814 – a treaty that effectively ended hostilities (the War of 1812) between Great Britain and the U.S.

After serving just a single term in the White House, John Quincy Adams devoted the remaining 18 years of his life serving as a Congressman for his home state of Massachusetts.

Childhood and Early Life of John Quincy Adams

John Quincy Adams Birthplace

John Quincy Adams’s birthplace in Quincy (Braintree), Massachusetts

John Quincy Adams was born on 11th July 1767 to parents John Adams and Abigail Adams. His birthplace was at Braintree (modern-day Quincy), Massachusetts – exactly the same place that his father John Adams was born.

At just age 10, John Quincy was already globetrotting with his father on several diplomatic missions in Europe. As a result of this, he achieved close to perfect fluency in virtually all the major languages in Europe. Historians believe that he was fluent in at least seven languages, they include – French, German, Dutch and Russian.

For a period of about eight years, John Quincy stayed in Europe to work as an assistant to his father. He was also enrolled at the Leiden University. Just a year into his studies, John Quincy secured a very good job as an interpreter/secretary to Francis Dana, an American diplomat in Russia. He, therefore, stayed in St. Petersburg for about three years before going back to the United States and enrolling at Harvard College in 1785.

Time as a lawyer

After his graduation from Harvard in 1787, John Quincy sat for the bar exams and passed. He was then admitted into the bar in 1790 and became a lawyer in Boston.

With very few successes during his law practice, Quincy Adams decided to follow in his father’s footsteps and pursue a career in politics.

John Quincy Adams’s wife – Louisa Catherine Johnson

Louisa Catherine Johnson Adams

Gilbert Stuart Portrait of Louisa Catherine Johnson Adams, the wife of President John Quincy Adams

When John Quincy first met Louisa Catherine Johnson in France, the latter was about 2 years old. The two would later meet again in London after a decade or so. Like Quincy Adams, Catherine was also the daughter of an American diplomat. However, her mother was  British.

John Quincy and Louisa Catherine got married on July 26, 1797. Initially, John Adams Senior did not approve of their union. He felt that Catherine’s heritage would go against Quincy’s plans to become a president in the future.

The marriage between John Quincy and Louisa Catherine produced four children – George Washington Adams, John Adams II, Charles Francis Adams, and Louisa Catherine Adams.

The death of their daughter – who was just an infant at the time – caused a lot of cracks to appear in their marriage. Besides, John Quincy was always away from home on some diplomatic mission in one form or the other. You could say that their marriage wasn’t the smoothest sailing of marriages.

Entry into Politics

The Adams family had always been a big admirer of George Washington. Therefore, it was not surprising when the young Adams started writing several editorials in support of George Washington’s policies.

In 1794, Washington rewarded John Quincy Adams with an appointment as an envoy to the Netherlands. This position suited Quincy perfectly because of his relative experience in Europe as well his fluency in Dutch.

At just age 26, Quincy would represent the U.S. and her interest in Amsterdam from 1794 to 1796. His time in the Netherlands saw him successful secure repayments of Dutch loans back to the United States.

After about two years in Amsterdam, John Quincy was on the move again. This time around, it was to Prussia. His father, John Adams, who was president at the time, appointed him as a U.S. Ambassador to Prussia in 1796.

Senator in the Massachusetts House

Upon his father’s defeat at the polls in 1800, John Quincy returned to the United States. He practiced law a bit, but what really got his political off the ground was his election as a senator in the Massachusetts House. Two years after his election, his home state Massachusetts elected him to represent them in the U.S. Senate from March 4, 1803, to June 8, 1808. He was an avid loyalist to the Federalist Party, just like his father was.

On a few occasions, John Quincy Adams sided with the opposition Republicans. Even though he was a Federalist, he still went ahead and backed Thomas Jefferson’s Embargo Act and the Louisiana Purchase of 1803.

John Quincy Adams had the ability to objectively assess the issues free from any party politics. This won him the admiration of many. However, many of his party members in the Federalist Party thought of this as a blatant betrayal. The estranged relationship forced John Quincy to rebel and move to the other side of the political aisle.

On June 8, Adams called it quits on his seat in the Senate. He spent his hiatus from politics by serving from 1805 to 1809 as Rhetoric and Oratory professor at Harvard University.

John Quincy Adams joins the Democrat-Republican Party

Due to his sour relationship with several Federalist, Adams returned to politics under a new party – the Democrat-Republican Party. The Republicans were in power at the time while the Federalist Party was busy trying to remain relevant in the political landscape of America. The Federalists had just lost 4 successive presidential elections. With all the in-fighting amongst, it was just a matter of time before the party would collapse.

Ambassador to Russia

Adams, realizing that he could contribute more effectively in President James Madison’s administration accepted the position of Minister Plenipotentiary in the Russian imperial capital of St. Petersburg in 1809. By so doing, he became the first person to occupy the position.

In St. Petersburg, Adams was shocked to see Napoleon’s France match into Russia. It was a very tense period both in Europe and the United States. Hostilities between the U.S. and Great Britain had reached a boiling point that resulted in the War of 1812.

The Treaty of Ghent

President Madison placed his belief in Adams and tasked him to broker a peace treaty with the British. Kind courtesy to Adams deep diplomatic acumen, the Treaty of Ghent was signed in 1814, effectively bringing to an end the hostilities between Britain and the United States.

After the treaty, John Quincy would go on to occupy the position of Ambassador to Britain from June 8, 1815, to May 14, 1817.

Secretary of State under President James Monroe

By 1816, John Quincy’s party, the Democratic-Republicans, was firmly in control of both the federal government and the two houses. Under the leadership of James Monroe, they glided themselves into another presidential victory in 1816.

In 1817, the newly elected President James Monroe appointed John Quincy Adams to serve as the U.S. Secretary of State. This period would mark the greatest period of Quincy Adams’s life. Most of his greatest political achievements came during his 8-year term as secretary of state in Washington D.C.

First and foremost, Adams negotiated a very successful deal that saw the United States acquire the two Floridas (North and South Florida). This feat of his was captured on February 22, 1819, in the Adams-Onís Treaty between Spain and the U.S.

He followed this up and helped develop the Monroe Doctrine in 1823. Although the doctrine is named after James Monroe, it is commonly believed that Adams had a huge input in designing it. The doctrine went on to become the guiding principle in all U.S. foreign policies for the next hundred or so years. At the heart of the doctrine was the United States’ resolute stance against any attempts by Europe to further colonize the Americas. In effect, the Monroe Doctrine placed the U.S. the guardian of the whole Western Hemisphere against all sorts of European intervention in Latin America.

His rise to become President of the United States

When John Quincy contested the 1824 presidential election he was pit against four other presidential aspirants – William H. Crawford, Henry Clay, Andrew Jackson, and John C. Calhoun.

In both the popular and electoral vote, Adams came second behind Andrew Johnson, the astute military general.

However, a winner could not be declared. This was owing to the fact that no one candidate was able to secure a majority. By virtue of the rules at the time, the U.S. Congress stepped in to vote on who was to become the president of the U.S.

In the lead up to the House’s vote, Henry Clay tipped the scale in John Quincy’s favor. With this backing, Quincy was able to secure victory over Andrew Johnson. For his support, Quincy appointed Henry Clay Secretary of State.

However, the rivalry between John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson did not end there. The two would later have a go at each other during the 1828 presidential election. That time around, Jackson swept to victory.

John Quincy Adams’s Presidency and Accomplishments

Adams time in the White House was not as fruitful as he expected. He constantly received stiff opposition from Jackson and his supporters – Jacksonians. His accomplishments as president would go down unmemorable in the history of the United States.

In terms of infrastructural projects, Adams achieved relative success. He instituted a federal funding program that helped fund the construction of canals, bridges, roads and several universities. The most famous infrastructure put up by Adams has to be the Erie Canal. The Erie facilitated the production and transportation of grain and whiskey from the Great Lakes to the East Coast of the United States. Along with his Secretary of State Henry Clay, Adams helped develop a national market that brought the South and North together in a mutually beneficial trade deal.

However, many opposition figures questioned the constitutionality of such projects. His opponents argued that the federal government had no mandate or business in the infrastructure network of the country.

In the nutshell, Adams was an objective thinking man, very smart in so many ways; however, his inability to get friends and allies in both houses crippled all his plans for the country. His ideas were constantly shot down by the opposition in Congress. In the absence of support from Congress, Adams relied solely on his conscience and opted not to play the usual politics on Capitol Hill.

Perhaps, he was the kind of politician who did not tow to any political line. He simply tried to do what was best for the country, without any prejudice or biases. This philosophy of his was evident when he insisted on keeping key opposition figures in his cabinet. Adams strongly believed that an appointee’s political views should never come in the way of his public office and the ultimate good of the country.

In the truest sense, he was not really your typical politician. He was more of a diplomat and deal broker. As a result of this, and more other factors, John Quincy Adams bid for a second term in the White House came crashing down. He was resoundingly defeated by Andrew Jackson (7th US President) during the 1828 presidential election.

His loss meant that he became the second president to stay in the White House for only a single term. Coincidentally, the first president to lose his incumbency was none other than his father, John Adams.


Life after the Presidency

Adams left office on March 4, 1829, and retired to his home state of Massachusetts. But this was for only a couple of years or so. His state people implored and convinced him to come out of retirement. He listened to their beckoning and ran for a seat in Congress. Well, the rest they say is history. Adams went to serve a whopping 9 consecutive terms in Congress.

Many historians believe that he achieved greater acclaim in Congress than he did in the White House. Firstly, he was a vocal critic of slavery in the United States. And even in spite of Congress’ “gag rule” on introducing or discussing anti-slavery petitions, Adams simply could not be shut down when it came to the issue of slavery.

Along with a number of anti-slavery advocates in Congress, Adams successfully brought down the gag rule in 1844.

His passion on the issue was so great that he defended and helped get a vindication verdict for 53 slaves that were accused of mutiny against on the Amistad.

The famous Smithsonian Institute that we all have come to love and cherish was the product of Adams. Because of his strong passion for the sciences and arts, Adams beckoned Congress to put to good use the estate of British scientist James Smithson. The total value of the estate at the time was around half a million US Dollars at the time. Adams ensured that the U.S. followed to the letter the contents of Smithson’s will. Smithson stated that the money should be used to develop and propagate scientific ideas and inventions. After several debate sessions in the House, Adams successfully convinced Congress to put the money into an institution that did exactly what Smithson wanted. That institution is what would later become the Smithsonian Institution.

How John Quincy Adams Died

John Quincy Adams' death

John Quincy Adams’s tomb at Hancock Cemetery, Massachusetts.

Adams first brush with stroke came in 1841. At 78 years, it was apparent that he was at the twilight stage of his life. The stroke of 1841 left him a bit a paralyzed. However, that did not stop Adams from jumping back on the horse and making his way to Congress.

However, the ills of old age eventually caught up with him two years later. During the discussion of the bill related to U.S. Army veterans, John Quincy Adams suffered cerebral hemorrhage and collapsed on the floor of the House. This time around, the stroke left in a dire condition. Exactly two days later, on February 21, 1848, he died in Washington, aged 80. The exact place of his death was at the Speaker’s Room in the Capitol Building. He was survived by his wife and his son, Charles Francis Adams.

Famous Quotes by John Quincy Adams

John Quincy Adams quotes

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