Biography Of John Quincy Adams

John Quincy Adams was the first son of a President to become one also. His independent thinking on national government and anti-slavery upset the applecart in his party.

John Quincy Adams (1767-1848)

John Quincy Adams was born in Braintree (now Quincy) Massachusetts on July 11, 1767. He served as the 6th President of the United States and interestingly, was the eldest son of the 2nd President, John Adams. His political career was marked by two words, which summed up his passion: Independence and Union. He dreamed of the United States growing and becoming a "continental" republic of free men, which would stretch from the Gulf of Mexico to the Arctic.

The second Adams was the first son of a president to become one himself. His parent's ambition for young John Quincy was obvious in the way that he was trained from his early youth in the ways of politics, government and statesmanship. During the early part of the American Revolution, he received most of his education from his parents. At ten years of age he traveled with his father on diplomatic missions to Europe. He attended a private school in Paris, France between 1778-79 and became fluent in French. He studied in Holland the following year.

In 1782-1783 he served as secretary to Francis Dana, in Russia. At that time, French was the official language of the Russian court. He journeyed through the German states to St. Petersburg and to Holland via Scandinavia and Hanover. Adams had become very well educated in classical languages, history, and mathematics by the time he returned to the United States in 1785 to finish his education at Harvard (class of 1787). He studied law at Newburyport, Mass. and set up a law practice in Boston in 1790.

John Quincy Adams enjoyed three phases in his career as a public servant. His first phase was as an American diplomat who eventually became secretary of state. The second was as a member of the House of Representatives and outspoken opponent of slavery. In between those two careers he spent four years in the White House as president of The United States.


The young lawyer was publishing letters in Boston newspapers, defending some of president George Washington's positions on neutrality, when Washington took notice and rewarded Adams by appointing him minister to the Netherlands, where he served from 1794 to 1796. Adams reported to his government from the Netherlands and from his later posting as minister to Berlin between 1797-1801. While in England on diplomatic business, he married Louisa Catherine Johnson, the daughter of an American diplomat from Maryland, on July 26, 1797.

After the election of Thomas Jefferson in 1801, President John Adams recalled his son from Berlin. Once in Boston, John Quincy Adams immediately returned to law but was quickly elected to the Senate as a Federalist in 1803. As a Senator he did not always follow the party line. When he supported Jefferson's embargo, the Federalists chose a new Senator before Adam's term was up. At that time Adams was Boylston professor of oratory and rhetoric at Harvard (1806-1809). He returned again to law until President Madison selected him as the first minister of the United States to Russia, where he served his country from 1809 to 1814.

During that time, the War of 1812 broke out between Britain and the United States. Adams was summoned to the peace negotiations at Ghent, where he headed the American mission. His next posting was as minister of the United States to England from 1815 to 1817. As a diplomat John Quincy Adams influenced many people and decisions, and made important contacts for America, including Czar Alexander I. His European experience convinced him to advocate Washington's isolationist policies regarding European politics and wars.

Secretary of State

President James Monroe summoned Adams from England to become secretary of state in 1817. He held that position during both of Monroe's terms in office, until 1825. He was instrumental in crystallizing American foreign policy, including the Monroe

Doctrine. Adams' major achievement as secretary of state was the Transcontinental Treaty with Spain, signed on Feb. 22, 1819. Under this treaty Spain acknowledged East and West Florida to be part of the United States and agreed to a borderline running from the Gulf of Mexico to the Rocky Mountains along the 42nd parallel to the Pacific Ocean. The idea of extending the border through to the Pacific Ocean in the Spanish treaty was called "the greatest diplomatic victory ever won by a single individual in the history of the United States."


John Quincy Adams was a minority president, chosen by the House of Representatives instead of Andrew Jackson and William H. Crawford, following the inconclusive election of 1824. Jackson had received the plurality of votes at the polls and in the electoral colleges, but could not obtain a constitutional majority. Henry Clay, one of the defeated candidates, supported Adams in the House in February 1825, after secret meetings between the two. Adams was elected on the first ballot. This was called a "corrupt bargain" at the time, but it was not illegal.

President Adams believed that the American Revolution had won liberty and that this liberty was guaranteed by the Constitution. His policy was to use federal power to make freedom a concrete reality for all people. He called for strong central government policies under executive leadership. He would establish the Bank of the United States as the national fiscal authority; introduce national tariffs to protect domestic producers; national administration of public lands for controlled use and settlement; and nationwide protection of Indian tribes and lands against land grabs by the states.

Adams liked to swim naked in the Potomac River almost every day. He owned a pet alligator, which he kept in the East Room of the White House. He also kept silkworms as pets. Adams had the first pool table installed in the White House and was the first president to be photographed.

As a president, Adams was far ahead of his time. The citizens of the day wanted less government while he advocated a strong federal one. The South was afraid that his program of national power might lead to the abolition of slavery. The opposition, with Andrew Jackson as its leader combined to defeat him in the next election, 1828.


In November 1830, the voters of the Plymouth District of Massachusetts elected him to Congress. John Quincy Adams was the only ex-president elected to the House of Representatives. As a member of Congress the elder Adams enjoyed the most remarkable phase of his lifelong career. He favored a strong nationalism against states' rights and spoke out against the pro-slavery messages of John C. Calhoun. Adams considered himself "bonded" by the Constitution to work for emancipation. He argued before the Supreme Court on behalf of slaves from the ship Amistad, which mutinied during the journey from Africa.

In 1839 Adams tried to introduce constitutional amendments so that no one born in the United States after 1845 could become a slave. The "gag rule" prevented the discussion of anything relating to slavery. "Old Man Eloquent" strongly defended the right of petition and overthrew the gag in 1844. He attempted to postpone the divisive issue of slavery until the North was strong and united enough to abolish slavery, even, if necessary, by martial law.

His constituents regularly elected him to Congress from 1830 until he died in the House of Representatives on Feb. 23, 1848: "This is the last of earth. I am content."

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