John Quincy Adams

JOHN QUINCY ADAMS, the second child and eldest son of John and Abigail (Smith) Adams was born 11 July 1767. As a young boy Adams accompanied his father on his diplomatic missions to Europe. He attended school at a private academy outside Paris, the Latin School of Amsterdam, and Leyden University. The years 1781–1782 he spent in St. Petersburg as private secretary and interpreter to Francis Dana, U.S. minister to Russia. In 1785 Adams returned to the United States to continue his formal education. He graduated from Harvard College in 1787, studied law for three years with Theophilus Parsons in Newburyport, Massachusetts, and then practiced law in Boston

            Adams’ own diplomatic career began in 1794 when President Washington appointed him minister to the Netherlands. Immediately following Adams’ arrival, French armies occupied the country. On 26 July 1797, in London, John Quincy Adams married Louisa Catherine Johnson, daughter of the U.S. consul. He was appointed minister plenipotentiary to Berlin in 1797 and recalled by his father after the elder Adams' defeat in the presidential election of 1800. 

            Adams served one year in the Massachusetts State Senate and in April 1803 was appointed to fill an unexpired seat in the U.S. Senate. His independent actions in the Senate, namely support for the Louisiana Purchase and the Embargo of 1807, quickly alienated him from the Federalist party in Massachusetts. When the state legislature, dominated by Federalists, prematurely named Adams’ successor in the Senate (six months before his term was to expire), Adams immediately resigned. 

            Commissioned minister plenipotentiary to Russia in 1809, Adams, his wife, and their youngest son Charles Francis spent five years in St. Petersburg. Adams was in a unique position to report Napoleon’s march across Europe and fatal attempt to conquer Russia. Within months of the United States’ declaration of war against Great Britain in 1812, John Quincy Adams was involved in efforts to bring about a peace—first through Russian mediation and later as a negotiator at Ghent in 1814. The Adamses’ stay in Europe was extended when John Quincy was appointed minister plenipotentiary to Great Britain (1815). Their two older sons (George Washington and John) joined the family in England.

            John Quincy Adams’ eighth and final voyage across the Atlantic was made in 1817 when he returned home to become secretary of state in the Monroe administration. Significant among his many accomplishments are the negotiation of the Transcontinental Treaty of 1819 with Spain, the completion of his authoritative Report on Weights and Measures (1821), and the development of the Monroe Doctrine (1823).

            Adams’ one term as president was not so successful. Although he ran second to Andrew Jackson in the 1824 election, he was chosen president by the U.S. House of Representatives when no candidate received a majority vote by the electoral college. He struggled as a minority president and received little support for an ambitious program of national improvements (federal support for the arts and sciences, creation of a Department of the Interior, and development of a system of roads and canals).

            Although defeated for reelection in 1828 by rival Andrew Jackson, Adams soon returned to national politics as representative from MassachusettsPlymouth district.  John Quincy Adams served in Congress from 1831 to 1848.  He became an increasingly vocal opponent of slavery and its expansion—opposing the annexation of Texas and war with Mexico, championing the freedom of petition in defiance of the congressional gag rule, and defending the Amistad captives before the Supreme Court. On 21 February 1848, Adams collapsed at his seat in the House and was carried to the Speaker’s Room in the Capitol, where he died on 23 February.

            Adams’ voluminous correspondence, both personal and public, can be found in the Adams Papers, along with the Diary that he kept for 68 years (from November 1779, when he was twelve, to December 1847, just a few months before he died), and his many literary endeavors.

Children of John Quincy Adams

The Diaries of John Quincy Adams: A Digital Collection contains all 51 volumes of his diary. The published volumes of John Quincy Adams's early diary are available online at the Adams Papers Digital Editions, although with the Adams Family Correspondence and Papers of John Adams. A timeline of John Quincy's life is viewable through the Adams Family Timeline.

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