John Quincy Adams was born in Braintree (now Quincy), Massachusetts, the son of John Adams and Abigail Adams. He spent much of his youth in Europe where his father served on a variety of diplomatic missions, learning fluent French at a private school in Paris. His intellectual abilities were recognized early in life and at the age of 15 he was named the secretary to the U.S. minister in Russia, where French was the official court language. He returned to America and graduated from Harvard College in the class of 1787. He studied law and established his own practice in Boston in 1790.
John Quincy Adams came to the attention of George Washington through his authorship of newspaper articles in the Boston area, defending Washington's policy of neutrality. Washington appointed Adams to the first position in began a distinguished diplomatic career as America's minister to the Netherlands, where he served from 1794 to 1797. In his father's administration, he served as minister to Berlin until 1801. After Jefferson's electoral victory, he returned to Boston and the practice of law.
In 1802, he was elected to the Massachusetts assembly, but left the following year to take a U.S. Senate seat. Elected originally as a Federalist, Adams broke with the party when he supported Jefferson’s Embargo of 1807. He so angered the Federalist leaders in Massachusetts, particularly the Essex Junto, that they effectively recalled him by electing a successor two years early.
He went on to serve the Madison and Monroe administrations on a series of diplomatic assignments: America's first minister to Russia from 1809 to 1814, peace negotiator at Ghent during the War of 1812, and minister to Great Britain from 1815 to 1817. Adams' extensive experiences in Europe led to him to believe that America should isolate itself from the intrigues of European powers.
As secretary of state during Monroe's eight-year administration, Adams was successful in improving relations with Britain. He also skillfully negotiated with Spain, the result being the Transcontinental Treaty, also known as the Adams-Onis Treaty of 1819. According to the terms of the Transcontinental Treaty, Spain acknowledged that both West Florida and East Florida were part of the United States, and agreed to a frontier line running from the Gulf of Mexico to the Rocky Mountains, and thence along the 42nd parallel to the Pacific Ocean.
Adams was responsible for the first promulgation of American policy that was to become the Monroe Doctine. Concerned in the summer of 1823 that Russia had intentions in Alaska and perhaps beyond, Secretary Adams informed the Russian minister that the United States "should contest the right of Russia to any territorial establishment on this continent, and that we should assume distinctly the principle that the American continents are no longer subjects for any new European colonial establishments."
The British were interested in a joint declaration against European encroachment in South America. John Quincy Adams was inclined to doubt their good intentions and proposed to Monroe that the United States should issue a unilateral declaration. Adams' arguments persuaded the cabinet in November, and when on December 2, 1823, Monroe delivered his annual State of the Union address to Congress, he set out what later became known as the Monroe Doctrine.
Against the opposition of Henry Clay, speaker of the House of Representatives, Adams managed to delay recognition of Spain's erstwhile South American colonies until after the Transcontinental Treaty was safely ratified. Immediately afterwards, Columbia, Mexico, Chile, and the United Provinces of the Rio de la Plata were given diplomatic recognition.
The Election of 1824 was decided in favor of Adams by the House of Representatives despite the fact that Andrew Jackson received both more popular and electoral votes. In what was widely regarded as a “corrupt bargain,” Henry Clay was appointed Adams’ secretary of state.
Although arguably the greatest secretary of state in American history, Adams was an undistinguished president. As president, Adams wanted the federal government to take a leading role in fostering internal improvements. He tried to operate above politics, but his lack of concern for party affiliation only fostered bitterness among his supporters.
Adams policy was to exercise national power to make freedom more fruitful for the people. He advocated strong national policies under executive leadership, for instance the Bank of the United States as an instrument of national fiscal policy and national tariffs to protect domestic manufacturing. His ideas did not resonate with the public, which generally wanted less government, or in the South, where many feared that his idea of a strong national government would lead eventually to the abolition of slavery.
He was not reelected in 1828, but in 1830, he was elected to the U.S. Congress by the voters of Massachusetts. He was not strictly an abolitionist, but he worked for the emancipation of slaves within the framework of the constitution. In 1839, Adams attempted to introduce resolutions in Congress for constitutional amendments so that no one born in the United States after 1845 could be a slave, but the "gag rule" prevented the discussion of anything related to slavery. In 1843, he helped defeat President John Tyler's treaty for the annexation of Texas, although after James K. Polk's election, Texas was annexed in 1845.
In 1797, Adams married Louisia Catherin Johnson, daughter of the U.S. consul in London. With her he had four children, only one of whom outlived him. He died at his desk in the Capitol after answering a roll call on February 23, 1848, at the age of 80.
---- Selected Quotes ----
Quotes by John Quincy Adams.
Regarding Missouri Compromise
Take it for granted that the present is a mere preamble -- a title page to a great, tragic volume.
Noted in his diary, on passage of the Missouri Enabling Act in 1820
Regarding John Adams
This house will bear witness to his piety; this town, his birthplace, to his munificence; history to his patriotism; posterity to the depth and compass of his mind.
Written as an epitaph for his father, 1829
Regarding Marquis de Lafayette
Pronounce him one of the first men of his age, and you have yet not done him justice.
Oration in the US House of Representatives on Lafayette, 1834
Regarding Treaty of Ghent
Nothing was adjusted, nothing was settled.
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John Adams by David McCullough.
In this powerful, epic biography, David McCullough unfolds the adventurous life-journey of John Adams, the brilliant, fiercely independent, often iras...
John Quincy Adams: A Public Life, a Private Life by Paul C. Nagel.
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Mr. Adams's Last Crusade: The Extraordinary Post-presidential Life of John Quincy Adams by Joseph Wheelan.
Following his single term as President of the United States (1825�1829), John Quincy Adams, embittered by his loss to Andrew Jackson in the Election o...
The Birth of Modern Politics: Andrew Jackson, John Quincy Adams, and the Election of 1828 by Lynn Hudson Parson.
The 1828 presidential election, which pitted Major General Andrew Jackson against incumbent John Quincy Adams, has long been hailed as a watershed mom...
America's First Dynasty: The Adamses, 1735-1918 by Richard Brookhiser.
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