Sunday, October 9, 2016
John Quincy Adams was the son of John and Abigail Adams. As youth, he was basically home schooled by a cousin and spent a lot of time with his father on diplomatic envoys to France and the Netherlands. When he was 14, he traveled the world with Francis Dana to help gain recognition for the United States. Adams attended Harvard, passed the bar, and began practicing law in Boston.
Publishing a series of articles praising President George Washington for keeping out of the French Revolution, Adams was appointed Minister to the Netherlands by Washington thus entering Adams into the political field. It was while traveling back and forth between the Hague and London that Adams met his wife Louisa. Despite wanting to get out of public service, Washington appointed Adams to Minister to Portugal and when it was learned how highly Washington thought of Adams, ("the most valuable of America's officials abroad") he decided to devote his life to public service.
Adams was elected to the Massachusetts State Senate in 1802 until 1803 when he was elected to the U.S. Senate by the Massachusetts General Court. He supported the Louisiana Purchase and Embargo Act which upset the Federalist Party he was a member of and he was replaced in the Senate in 1808. Adams then became a Republican. While a member of the Senate, Adams was also a professor at Brown and then at Harvard. President James Madison then appointed Adams as the first ever Minister to Russia in 1809 and he, Louisa, and their young child lived in Russia until 1814. During this time, Adams was offered an appointment on the Supreme Court which he turned down. Adams also got to witness Napoleon's attack, and ultimate defeat, in Russia.
Adams was appointed Minister to the Court of St. James in Britain from 1815 until 1817 when he was appointed Secretary of State by President James Monroe. During his tenure, Adams helped write what became known as the Monroe doctrine, one of the longest-standing tenets of American foreign policy that has been referred to by numerous president since then. As the 1824 election drew closer, Adams was in a contentious race between Andrew Jackson, William Crawford, and Henry Clay. The election then went to the House of Representatives to decide and, despite Jackson having more electoral votes, Adams was elected president. Considering that Henry Clay was the Speaker of the House (he came in fourth in the election and thus was ineligible to be considered by the House for president) and Adams had promised to appoint him Secretary of State, many felt there had been a "corrupt bargain" in place, an idea that overshadowed his presidency and helped cause Adams to lose to Jackson four years later.
Adams took the oath of office on a book of constitutional law instead of the Bible and was constantly at odds with the Jacksonian opposition. Adams encouraged the building of factories, restricted land sales to slow growth in west, and lowered the debt from $16 million to $5 million, the rest of which would be paid off during Jackson's administration. Adams was a big proponent of infrastructure and generous to the Native Americans. Adams didn't face much foreign policy detail during his time as president, only overseeing a few treaties, most of his ideas were shot down by an oppositionist Congress. Due to Adams' eight years as Secretary of State, it is noted that most any major international affair was solved before he even became president.
Adams was defeated in the 1828 election by Andrew Jackson. At that time, candidates did not campaign on behalf of themselves and the race hit a low point when Adams' followers leaked to the press that Jackson's wife had committed bigamy. She died shortly after the election. Jackson said that he forgave those who attacked him, but not those that attacked his wife. After losing the election, Adams, instead of retiring like many U.S. presidents do, he ran for Congress again and was elected to the House of Representatives which he served in until his death in 1848. When James Smithson died in 1829, he left his entire estate to the U.S. to use to build an institute for learning. The government wanted to use that money for something else. Adams was instrumental in making sure the government used that money for what Smithson wanted and thus helped create the Smithsonian Institute.
Adams was a longtime opponent of slavery and even argued the case United States v. Amistad to the Supreme Court in 1841. Adams argued for four hours and the Court ruled in his, and the Africans who mutinied, favors. In 1846, Adams suffered a stroke but was fully recovered within a few months. On February 21, 1848, the House of Representatives was discussing the matter of honoring soldiers who had fought in the Mexican-American War. Adams, a critic of the war, voted no and, after answering a question from the Speaker, collapsed. Two days later, Adams died of a massive cerebral hemorrhage. First term Representative Abraham Lincoln was appointed to make the funeral arrangements. John Quincy Adams was buried, originally in the Congressional Cemetery but then moved to Hancock Cemetery in Braintree, Massachusetts. When Louisa died, their son moved his parents to the United First Parish Church family vault next to John and Abigail. A cenotaph remains at Congressional Cemetery and a simple marker reading "J.Q. Adams" remains at Hancock Cemetery.
Based on his political career, John Quincy Adams could be considered one of the most experienced presidents the United States has ever had. Even though most of his successes happened before or after his presidency, it's hard to imagine there ever being someone who could match the expertise that Adams had running for president in this day and age.