John Quincy Adams

John Quincy Adams

6th President, 1825-1829

Early Life and Pre-presidency

John Quincy Adams Portrait by George Healy, 1858

John Quincy Adams Portrait by George Healy, 1858

  • Born on July 11, 1767 in Braintree (now Quincy), Massachusetts
  • Parents: John Adams and Abigail Smith; Siblings: Abigail, Susanna, Charles, Thomas Boylston, and Elizabeth (stillborn).
  • At age 10, accompanied his father, then Minister to France, to Paris, and for the next eight years he lived in Paris, Amsterdam, and St. Petersburg. He studied for one year at the University of Leiden, graduating in 1781.
  • From 1781 to 1783, only 14 years old, he was in Russia serving as secretary and translator for Francis Dana, who was sent as an emissary to St. Petersburg.
  • In 1783, he returned to Paris and served as his father’s secretary, who was negotiating a peaceful ending to the American Revolutionary War.
  • Returned to Massachusetts in 1785 and enrolled at Harvard College. He graduated two years later with a Bachelor of Arts degree. In 1790 he earned a Master of Arts degree from the same institution.
  • Studied law from 1787 to 1789, then was admitted to the bar in 1791 and practiced law in Boston.
  • In 1794, he was appointed Minister to the Netherlands by then President George Washington then Minister to Portugal in 1796. When his father became the second President, he was appointed Minister to Prussia from 1797 to 1801.
  • Married Louisa Catherine Johnson (1775–1852) on July 16, 1797. Children: George Washington (1801–1829), John (1803–1834), Charles Francis (1807–1886), and Louisa Catherine (1811–1812).
  • Elected to the Massachusetts State Senate in 1802, then elected to the U.S. Senate in 1803 where he served until 1808.
  • He entered the U.S. Senate as a member of the Federalist Party, but resigned his seat early in 1808 and joined the Democratic–Republican Party.
  • President Madison appointed him Minister to Russia in 1809 where he served until 1814.
  • Served as chief negotiator for the Treaty of Ghent in 1814 that ended the War of 1812 between the United States and Great Britain.
  • Served as Minister to the Court of St. James from 1815 to 1817 under Madison, then was appointed Secretary of State by James Monroe and served for two terms (1817–1825).
  • He negotiated the Florida Treaty (also known as the Adams–Onis Treaty), which ceded Florida from Spain to the United States in 1819. He was also the primary author of the Monroe Doctrine of 1823.


John Quincy Adams as a young man. Portrait by John Singleton Copley, 1796

John Quincy Adams as a young man.
Portrait by John Singleton Copley, 1796

  • Took his oath of office on March 4, 1825 at the House Chamber, U.S. Capitol.
  • Vice President: John C. Calhoun
  • The first President who was the son of a former President.
  • He became President by a U.S. House of Representatives vote after none of the candidates (four) garnered enough electoral votes to win the election.
  • Andrew Jackson, then a Senator and one of Adams’s opponents in the election, resigned his Senate seat and started a campaign to make Adams a one-term President.
  • His appointing Henry Clay as Secretary of State was seen as a “corrupt bargain” by Andrew Jackson because Clay had cast the deciding vote in the House of Representatives that made Adams the President.
  • Reduced the national debt from $16 million to $5 million.
  • Proposed a series of “internal improvements,” including the building of national roads, canals, and scientific institutions, that were blocked by Congress.
  • Supported the Tariff of 1828, which, in addition to putting tariffs on imported goods, intended to protect businesses in the northern states. The Tariff was opposed by southerners, who referred to it as the “Tariff of Abominations.”
  • Despite opposition from Congress, several national roads and canals were built during his term, including the extension of Cumberland Road from Missouri to Ohio.
  • Often took a morning walk or swim in the Potomac before starting his official duties.
  • Had the first pool table installed in the White House.
  • He was sympathetic to Native American rights, particularly the Cherokees, and refused calls to expand U.S. territory into the west by not forcibly removing Indians.
  • He obtained several reciprocity treaties with countries such as Austria, Prussia, the Scandinavian countries, Mexico, and Denmark.
  • His Presidency was marred by the hostility and opposition shown towards him by Congress, and he was blamed for not working to gain political support from the different factions.


Adams was the first president to be photgraphed. Photo by Phillip Haas, 1850

Adams was the first president to be photgraphed.
Photo by Phillip Haas, 1850

    • Did not attend his successor Andrew Jackson’s inauguration, just like his father, who did not attend Thomas Jefferson’s inauguration.
    • Lived in Washington for several months after the election, then retired to his hometown Quincy, Massachusetts.
    • In 1830, he was elected to the House of Representatives where he served for nine consecutive terms (17 years) becoming the first and only former President to serve in Congress.
    • As congressman, he fought many years to remove the “gag rule” in Congress, which prevented any discussions or debates about slavery. It was repealed in 1844.
    • He met Abraham Lincoln while both served at the House of Representatives in 1847.
    • In 1835, the U.S. government received a bequest of $500,000 dollars from the British scientist James Smithson “for the increase and diffusion of knowledge.” Adams campaigned for it to be used to build a national institution of science and learning, something he had proposed when he was President. As a result, the Smithsonian Institution was built.
    • The Smithsonian Institution has the original daguerreotype of Adams taken in 1843, which is the earliest known photograph of a President.
    • Earned the nickname “Old Man Eloquent” because of his eloquent speeches in the House.
    • When African slaves mutineed against their captors in the Spanish ship Amistad and were later captured by a U.S. warship near Long Island, Adams successfully argued for their freedom before the U.S. Supreme Court in 1841.
    • He was against the annexation of Texas in 1845 and opposed the Mexican–American War (1846–1848).
    • Died February 23, 1848 in Washington, D.C. after suffering a cerebral hemorrhage on the House floor two days earlier.
    • “This is the last of earth. I am content” were his last words.
    • Interred at the United First Parish Church in Quincy along with his parents, John and Abigail, and his wife, Louisa.
    • He bequethed his over 8,500-volume library and personal papers to his son Charles Francis Adams, who later built the first Presidential library in honor of his father.
    • From the age of 11 until his death, he kept a diary about his life and experiences. The collection of journals amounted to 50 volumes.