John Quincy Adams: 6th President of the United States

john quincy adams
President John Quincy Adams in 1840. Library of Congress

Born on July 11, 1767, in Braintree, Massachusetts, John Quincy Adams had a fascinating childhood. He grew up during the American Revolution. He lived and traveled throughout Europe. He was tutored by his parents and was an excellent student. He went to schools in Paris and Amsterdam. Back in America, he entered Harvard as a Junior. He graduated second in his class in 1787. He then studied law and was a voracious reader his whole life.

Family Ties

John Quincy Adams was the son of America's second President, John Adams. His mother Abigail Adams was highly influential as First Lady. She was extremely well read and kept up an erudite correspondence with Thomas Jefferson. John Quincy Adams had one sister, Abigail, and two brothers, Charles and Thomas Boylston.

On July 26, 1797, Adams married Louisa Catherine Johnson. She was the only foreign-born first lady. She was English by birth but spent much of her childhood in France. She and Adams married in England. Together they had three boys named George Washington Adams, John Adams II, and Charles Francis who had an illustrious career as a diplomat. In addition, they had a girl named Louisa Catherine who died when she was one. 

John Quincy Adam's Career Before the Presidency

Adams opened a law office before becoming a minister to the Netherlands (1794-7). He then was named Minister to Prussia (1797-1801). He served as a US Senator (1803-8) and was then appointed by James Madison as Minister to Russia (1809-14). He became Minister to Great Britain in 1815 before being named as James Monroe's Secretary of State (1817-25). He was the chief negotiator of the Treaty of Ghent (1814).

Election of 1824

No major caucuses or national conventions existed to nominate candidates for president. John Quincy Adams had three major opponents: Andrew Jackson, William Crawford, and Henry Clay. The campaign was full of sectional strife. Jackson was much more a "man of the people" than Adams and had widespread support. He won 42% of the popular vote versus Adams 32%. However, Jackson received 37% of the electoral votes and Adams got 32%. Since no one received a majority, the election was sent to the House.

Corrupt Bargain

With the election to be decided in the House, each state could cast one vote for president. Henry Clay dropped out and supported John Quincy Adams who was elected on the first vote. When Adams became president, he appointed Clay to be his Secretary of State. This led opponents to claim that a "corrupt bargain" had been made between the two of them. They both denied this. Clay even participated in a duel to prove his innocence in this matter.

Events and Accomplishments of John Quincy Adam's Presidency

John Quincy Adams served only one term as president. He supported internal improvements including the extension of the Cumberland Road. In 1828, the so-called "tariff of abominations" was passed. Its goal was to protect domestic manufacturing. It was strongly opposed in the South and led Vice President John C. Calhoun to argue again for the right of nullification - to have South Carolina nullify it by ruling it unconstitutional.

Post Presidential Period

Adams became the only President elected to the US House in 1830 after serving as president. He served there for 17 years. One key event during this time was his role in arguing before the Supreme Court to free the enslaved mutineers aboard the Amistad. He died after having a stroke on the floor of the US House on February 23, 1848.

Historical Significance

Adams was significant mainly for his time before being president as Secretary of State. He negotiated the Adams-Onis Treaty. He was key in advising Monroe to deliver the Monroe Doctrine without the joint agreement of Great Britain. His election in 1824 over Andrew Jackson had the effect of propelling Jackson into the presidency in 1828. He also was the first president to advocate federal support for internal improvements.

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Kelly, Martin. "John Quincy Adams: 6th President of the United States." ThoughtCo, Nov. 5, 2020, Kelly, Martin. (2020, November 5). John Quincy Adams: 6th President of the United States. Retrieved from Kelly, Martin. "John Quincy Adams: 6th President of the United States." ThoughtCo. (accessed February 5, 2023).