John Quincy Adams
Adams, John Quincy
JOHN QUINCY ADAMS, the sixth president of the United States, was one of the most brilliant, learned, and able men who has ever held high office in the nation. Blessed with a strong character, high principles, unswerving integrity, an iron constitution, and a flair for hard work, Adams enjoyed not one but several luminous careers. Commencing as a precocious but strikingly able young diplomat whose work was invaluable to his father, John Adams, and earned the praise of President George Washington, Adams went on to great political and academic successes. An excellent student while at Harvard and a devoted reader of the classics, Adams later was for a time simultaneously Boylston Professor of Rhetoric and Oratory at Harvard and United States senator. A forceful nationalist and indomitable patriot, he established himself during the years of the Monroe administration as one of the truly great secretaries of state. After leaving the White House for what he mistakenly thought would be the quiet years of retirement and contemplation, he carved out still another illustrious career: as "Old Man Eloquent," he championed the antislavery cause in the House of Representatives, where he served for seventeen years as congressman from Massachusetts. And yet Adams was neither a great nor a successful president.
In this respect, Adams was very much like his father, for John Adams too was a man of the highest intellectual and characterological endowment who, although he served his country well and even brilliantly during a time of troubles, served it only with indifferent success when he was named to its highest office. Son, like father, lacked the common touch, appeared to suffer fools badly, and had neither zest for nor skill in playing the political games that evidently had to be played if a chief executive hoped to achieve success, whether in securing the enactment of a program or in assuring his continuation in the nation's highest political office. Both Adamses were one-term presidents.
Since the criteria for "presidential greatness" are indeterminate, historians' and political scientists' evaluations inevitably differ. Yet, interestingly, even one of John Quincy Adams' most knowledgeable as well as warmest scholarly admirers, Samuel Flagg Bemis, concedes the failure of his presidency, devoting no more than twenty-two words to it in his thirty-five-hundred-word essay on Adams in a recent edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica. In the conventional historians' wisdom, John Quincy Adams' presidency is worth remembering less for anything Adams may have done in administering the office than for the unprecedented manner by which he came to occupy it and the fascinating, if dismaying, political campaign by which, after one dismal term, he came to lose it.
As the first president in American history whose father had also held the office, Adams, who was born on 11 July 1767 in that part of Braintree, Massachusetts, which later became Quincy, had every advantage as a youngster. At the time of his birth, his father was an increasingly admired and prospering lawyer, and his mother, Abigail Smith Adams, was the daughter of an esteemed minister, whose wife's family combined two prestigious and influential lines, the Nortons and the Quincys. Accompanying his father on diplomatic missions in Europe, young John Quincy Adams received a splendid education at private schools in Paris, Leiden, and Amsterdam, early developing his penchant for omnivorous reading. From youth on, he began each day with a reading of several chapters of the Bible, first in one language and then another, and meticulously kept a diary that has endeared him to historians. For this careful and often fulsome record provides both an accurate description of important historical events and Adams' sometimes sour but always discerning and interesting responses to these events.
He seemed to serve an ideal apprenticeship for the office of chief executive, for in common with most of the presidents, he trained for the law after graduating from college and he made a "good marriage." The young woman Adams wed was Louisa Catherine Johnson, whose father had been a substantial merchant and whose uncle was the governor of Maryland. In addition to the positions already mentioned, Adams served as minister to the Netherlands and then to Prussia between 1797 and 1801. After serving in the Senate from 1803 to 1808, he was appointed the first United States minister to Russia in 1809, turning down an offer of membership on the Supreme Court during his half decade in St. Petersburg. Adding to his reputation was his brilliant and tough-minded performance as chief American peace commissioner in the negotiations at Ghent that ended the War of 1812 and his effectiveness as minister to Great Britain during the last two years of the Madison administration.
If Adams was in 1824 widely regarded as the most able and deserving of presidential candidates, it was not merely because he had held high diplomatic and political positions but because he had displayed such outstanding ability and such independence of mind and character in executing his assignments. The son of a leading Federalist and himself an early champion of the Federalist party, Adams proved to be anything but a slavish devotee to that political cause. When he thought the party was in the wrong, he stood ready to oppose it. In fact, as he told his father, if he thought the country was in the wrong, he could not bring himself to solicit God's approval for its course. President James Madison, a good Jeffersonian, awarded Adams the diplomatic plum of a ministry to Russia as a form of political reward for his break with his party in supporting the Jeffersonian Embargo Act of 1807, an act that was bitterly opposed throughout Adams' New England. The infuriated Massachusetts Federalists prematurely ended Adams' senatorial career. By 1808, Adams was attending the Republican party caucus that nominated Madison for the presidency.
Adams had also demonstrated his stubborn sense of independence while he was secretary of state. An uncompromising nationalist and patriot, he alone in President Monroe's cabinet opposed the censure of General Andrew Jackson for the latter's behavior in 1817. Jackson had violated the borders of Spanish Florida and came near embroiling the nation in another crisis with Great Britain over his execution of two British subjects during the course of his foray. Adams stuck to his guns, the censure motion was deflected, and within a year Florida fell into American hands for a song. And it was Adams who spurned the subsequent British offer that the two nations engage in a joint declaration against European intervention in South America; it was thus because of Adams that the Monroe Doctrine was put forward as a purely American conception.
A typical Adams in his evident conviction that he was not exceptional and that his performance of his various public tasks was inadequate, John Quincy Adams at age forty-five confided to his diary that with his life two-thirds completed, he had "done nothing to distinguish it by usefulness to [his] country or to mankind." In fact, he had demonstrated great capacity, high character, and much promise of yet greater achievement in whatever responsibilities might lie ahead. The portrait he drew of himself as a "man of reserved, cold, austere, and forbidding manners" whose adversaries ostensibly regarded him as a "gloomy misanthropist" and an "unsocial savage" may have had some point. He certainly seemed to believe that these were actual defects in his character and that he lacked the "pliability" to reform them. In truth, John Quincy Adams was not a pliable man. But in view of the austerity and near rigidity of Washington and the lack of what is nowadays called charisma in other of Adams' predecessors, Adams' defects of personality, if they were indeed that, were neither unique nor a certain obstacle to his rise.
Election of 1824
In the judgment of many historians, Adams' presidency was doomed to failure because of the manner in which he gained the high office. Adams never lived down the charge by his leading opponent that he had secured the necessary majority in the House only by agreeing to a "corrupt bargain," by which Adams allegedly rewarded Henry Clay with the post of secretary of state—then the stepping stone to the presidency—in return for Clay's intriguing and manipulating in the House to switch votes to Adams.
The fascinating presidential election of 1824 was a turning point in many ways. It followed a succession of three two-term presidents, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and James Monroe—the famous "Virginia Dynasty"—each of whom was identified with Jefferson's Republican party. Monroe had run unopposed in 1820, for the Federalist party of Washington, Hamilton, and John Adams had finally given up the ghost, unable to shake off the popular belief that, in opposing as it had the War of 1812, it had skirted perilously close to treason.
Even before the disintegration of Federalism, the Republicans had the presidential field pretty much to themselves, as party members in Congress would meet in closed caucus to name the candidate for the forthcoming presidential election. As Monroe's second term approached its end, the Republican congressional caucus by an almost unanimous vote recommended William H. Crawford of Georgia, secretary of the treasury in Monroe's cabinet, as its candidate for president. According to Martin Van Buren, the political genius who controlled Republican politics in New York State, acceptance of the caucus' choice for office was an "article of faith" or fundamental tenet of the Republican party. Not in 1824. Van Buren and not too many others dutifully threw their energies into the election of Crawford. But a number of other men, Republicans all, sensing that the caucus selection could this time be successfully opposed, threw their own hats into the ring. John Quincy Adams was one of this ambitious quartet.
By 1824, Crawford's rivals no doubt agreed with the newly skeptical attitude toward caucus selection that was expressed by Adams in his diary entry for 25 January 1824. He had come to believe that "a majority of the whole people of the United States, and a majority of the States [were] utterly averse to a nomination by Congressional caucus, thinking it adverse to the spirit of the Constitution and tending to corruption." Adams was no doubt sincere in his insistence that since he agreed with this sentiment, he could not accept a caucus nomination for the presidency, but he would have sounded more convincing had he had a realistic chance of securing such nomination. But he must have known that there was no such chance. Motivated as he was by soaring ambition, this pillar of rectitude sought to convince himself that he was breaking with tradition only for the loftiest and most principled of reasons. The other contestants simply saw their chance and took it.
Adams' several rivals constituted one of the most impressive constellations of political luminaries that ever vied for the presidency in any single election. In addition to the estimable Crawford, the group included John C. Calhoun of South Carolina, the brilliant Yale-educated nationalist who served as secretary of war under Monroe; Henry Clay of Kentucky, the master politician who had been the chief architect of the Missouri Compromise; and General Andrew Jackson of Tennessee, a man of slight political achievement, little education, and notorious temper, but widely admired for his exploits as an Indian fighter and above all for his stunning victory in 1815 over the British at New Orleans. Withdrawing from the race when it became clear that he had no real chance to win, Calhoun and his backers settled for second place under the presidency of either of the two leading candidates—Adams, the only northerner in the competition, and Jackson, the darling of the South and West.
The election returns make clear how decisively the latter two candidates outdistanced Crawford and Clay. The tallies were as follows:
|candidate||popular vote||% of total||electoral vote||% of electoral vote|
Since no candidate had won the required majority of electoral votes, the choice was turned over to the House of Representatives, in accord with Article II of the Constitution. Since, by Article XII, only the top three vote-getters qualify in such a circumstance, Clay's name was dropped from the list presented to the lower house. Since Crawford was known to have become physically incapacitated and unable therefore to perform the duties of the high office, there was very little chance that many in Congress would join the diehards who appeared ready to stand by Crawford, near-dead or fully alive. In his diary entry for 9 February 1825, Adams wrote, "May the blessing of God rest upon the event of this day," for earlier that day, Adams had been selected by the approving vote of thirteen states, with Jackson supported by seven states and Crawford by four.
Three weeks and two days later, Adams reported that he had suffered through two sleepless nights prior to inauguration day. His excitement and unease were induced not only by the fact that he was about to assume the great burden of the presidency but by the vilification that the Jacksonians had heaped on him for what they claimed were the sordid means by which he had won the election to the office in Congress.
The Corrupt Bargain
The charge of "corrupt bargain" began to be heard throughout the land as soon as Clay let it be known early in 1825 that he was supporting Adams for the presidency. What was earlier a murmur became a roar when Adams proffered, and Clay accepted, the position of secretary of state in Adams' cabinet. In a rage at the outcome of the House's "election," Jackson said of Clay that "the Judas of the West has closed the contract and will receive the thirty pieces of silver," and in Clay's home state he charged that "the people [had] been cheated," their will defeated by "corruptions and intrigues at Washington." The following year Clay engaged in a duel with Senator John Randolph of Virginia, putting a bullet through that erratic man's cloak after the Virginian had publicly denounced the "stinking" corruption and bargain between the "puritan and the black leg."
Nothing Adams or Clay might do or say thereafter ever removed completely the taint resulting from the incessant braying of "corruption" by their enemies. Jackson was understandably upset at faring so poorly in the House after getting the substantial popular vote he did. But if a substantial plurality were sufficient to election, the Constitution would have so indicated. The lower house of Congress had every right to consider the runoff as a brand new election and to choose, as it did, the man widely regarded as the best and most responsible candidate. Neither Jackson nor his allies were able, then or afterward, to offer a scintilla of evidence backing up their charge of a bargain.
Adams had every right to appoint the gifted and experienced Kentuckian to the State Department, just as Clay had every right to support Adams and to try to influence others to follow suit. Thomas Hart Benton and Francis P. Blair, ardent Jacksonians both, testified that Clay, to their personal knowledge, had indicated his preference for Adams over Jackson well before the matter was placed before the House. Clay had differed with Jackson over matters of policy and principle and had understandable reason to oppose a natural rival, popular with the same sectional constituency as the Kentuckian.
It is not at all certain either that the Jacksonians fully believed the charge or that they were as horrified as they pretended to be over a pragmatic arrangement of the sort many of them had themselves entered into. What is more clear is that they derived great political capital out of the charge. There is much evidence indicating that Adams' opponents would have opposed his administration and the measures it proposed no matter how it was installed or whom it named secretary of state. But with the appointment of Clay, supporters of Jackson, Calhoun, and Crawford had a marvelous pretext for mounting what was to be four years of incessant opposition to the Adams administration and all its works. John Quincy Adams had glaring faults as a political leader in an increasingly democratic and materialistic republic, but in view of the unyielding nature of his enemies, their cleverness in entering into their own dubious bargains in order to unify and solidify their opposition to him, and the broad geographical and financial support they were able to muster, it is doubtful that his administration would have been a success or he him. self reelected no matter how admirable his political program or how consummate his political skills.
Adams' Qualities as President
One outmoded interpretation held that "the victory of John Quincy Adams gave the business community its last chance," suggesting that the sixth president favored the propertied over the popular interest. In fact, Adams was an independent, as well as intelligent, thinker, a patriot who thought in national rather than class terms. His views were uncommonly humane for the major party politician that in a sense he was. This was a man who rejected the comforting notion that the United States was a classless society; who believed, as did few of his male contemporaries, that women in America were denied the equal opportunities that were their due; who, unlike the slaveholding Jackson, believed that slavery was "the great and foul stain upon the North American Union" and that "the Constitution's protection of slavery was intolerable" and that it should be amended. Like his predecessors in the chief executive's office, he believed that the presidential veto was a potentially despotic power that was to be rarely exercised (in accord with Hamilton's promise to this effect in The Federalist ).
In addition to his learning, intelligence, and independence of mind, Adams had a capacity for hard work that one would have thought boded well for the prospects of his presidency. His description of a day's work, written a month after he took office, tells something of his approach to the job:
Since my removal to the Presidential mansion, I rise about five; read two chapters of Scott's Bible and Commentary, and the corresponding Commentary of Hewlett; then the morning newspapers, and public papers from the several departments; write seldom and not enough; breakfast an hour, from nine to ten; then have a succession of visitors, upon business, in search of place, solicitors for donations, or from mere curiosity, from eleven till between four and five o'clock. The heads of department of course occupy much of this time. Between four and six I take a walk of three or four miles. Dine from about half past five to seven, and from dark till about eleven I generally pass the evening in my chamber, signing land grants or blank patents, in the interval of which, for the last ten days I have brought up three months of arrears in my diary index. About eleven I retire to bed. My evenings are not so free from interruption as I hoped and expected they would be.
By his fourth year in office he was, if anything, putting in an even longer day. His diary entry for 31 May 1828 notes that he would "rise generally before five—frequently before four" and "retire usually between eleven and midnight." When weather permitted, Adams would swim in the Potomac, tend his garden, and ride horseback. By the end of his tenure, perhaps because he was worn down—more by the unremitting sniping at his heels by political foes than by the tasks of office—he was nodding off, briefly but often, on his sofa.
Sadly, neither high intelligence nor hard work availed to ensure a successful presidential tenure. It has become a historian's commonplace to observe that once in the high office, Adams' stiffness of personality, his inability to make the necessary small compromises, and the fancifulness of his proposals combined to defeat his hopes, whether for a great presidency or for reelection. Yet the evidence can be otherwise interpreted. It is not necessary to distort the historical record to conclude that Adams' political rivals and enemies were simply intent on bringing him down, ready to exploit or distort every issue; magnify any error, no matter how trivial; and distort every statement and every action, all with an eye toward undermining his administration and ruining his chances for succession. That they succeeded with a vengeance doubtless indicates that Adams lacked at least some of the things that it takes to achieve a successful presidency. The success of Adams' enemies also suggests, disturbingly, that a successful presidency may be beholden more to an incumbent's opportunism and amorality than to intelligence and integrity.
The Adams Administration
Apart from the controversial Clay, Adams' cabinet appointments were unexceptional. Adams was practical politician enough to try to mend his fences with Crawford by offering him continued tenure in the Treasury Department; the Georgian was too ill to continue. Cabinet offers went to men who, as a group, represented a geographical cross section of the nation: Henry Clay (State), James Barbour (War), Richard Rush (Treasury), Samuel L. Southard (Navy), and William Wirt (Attorney General).
Adams' promise, in his inaugural message, ceaselessly to devote all of his faculties to the "faithful performance of the arduous duties" he was about to undertake was similarly unexceptional. But that Adams also said that he was "deeply conscious" that he was "less possessed of [the people's] confidence" than had been any of his predecessors betrayed his continuing anxiety about his unimpressive popular vote. Perhaps, too, it betokened his unease concerning the unprecedented route he had followed to reach the highest office and the dark mutterings that followed in its wake.
In his first annual message, delivered on 6 December 1825, Adams presented his administration's program to the Nineteenth Congress. A clue to the unrelenting hostility evoked by his almost every suggestion is afforded by the suspicion with which his opponents greeted what would appear to have been an unexceptionable and glittering generalization, to the effect that "the great object of the institution of civil government is the improvement of those who are parties to the social compact." To hear how some devotees of laissez-faire and states' rights republicanism told it, "improvement" came close to being subversive, if not un-American. Adams, of course, had some champions in Congress—the Clay-Adams "coalitionists," above all. But the great majority consisted of Jackson, Calhoun, and Crawford supporters—the last group led by the wily Martin Van Buren—all of them listening with jaundiced ears to Adams' proposals.
The conflict between John Quincy Adams and his congressional opposition was not entirely a matter of office and power, of simple hostility by the "outs" to the "ins." An element of political principle or ideology, broadly construed, was also present. Although their earlier and subsequent careers demonstrated the opportunism of Adams' chief opponents and their readiness to switch from one political position to another when they thought it expedient to do so—as Calhoun reversed himself on the tariff or as Jackson did on the propriety of appointing former Federalists to office—they did tend to be unsympathetic to the idea of activism by the federal government, whether in economic or other matters. The issue of slavery did not arise directly during the years of Adams' presidency, yet it rose indirectly, in the sense that many champions of the South's "peculiar institution" appear to have been hostile to federal intervention in any area of American life, largely because they feared that recognition of such a right might in the future lead to federal interference with slavery.
Anti-Adams men, in Congress and out, who both before and after his message displayed readiness to utilize federal funds to promote internal improvements, now professed to be shocked at his suggestion that the national government facilitate "communications and intercourse between distant regions and multitudes of men" by building and improving roads and canals. The president's enemies had a field day ridiculing his advocacy of scientific investigation and of "public institutions and seminaries of learning" as the essential instruments for achieving the "moral, political, [and] intellectual improvement" of the American people. Singled out for special scorn was his call for the "erection of an astronomical observatory [for] observation upon the phenomena of the heavens." They lampooned the suggestion that the United States build its first such observatory, although no one deigned to challenge the president's report that Europe had more than 130 of these "light-houses of the skies." Even a modern critic of Adams and his administration, while finding the message politically inept, concedes that it was "one of the great presidential papers sent to any Congress." But, inspired as they were by opportunism, unshaking determination to destroy the Adams administration, and what a modern historian calls their anti-intellectualism, Adams' congressional opponents were oblivious to any of the message's charms.
Adams did slip badly in one passage of his message. In urging that the Congress not be "palsied by the will of [their] constituents" in enacting the "public improvement" he called for, he left himself open to the charge that he had thereby revealed his contempt for democracy and the obligation of government to guide itself by the will of the people. The Jacksonians never let up in their subsequent campaign to portray Adams as an aristocrat at heart. His enemies took these words out of a context in which they were part of a ringing nationalistic appeal for the United States not to doom itself to "perpetual inferiority" to foreign nations "less blessed with . . . freedom." Actually, Adams was demonstrating his accord with the well-known proposition, earlier offered by Edmund Burke, that the responsible political leader owes his constituents not his industry but his talents. Andrew Jackson and other of Adams' enemies more than once acted in accord with this elitist principle. But Adams, characteristically, was frank and impolitic enough to state his beliefs openly and put them in the public record. Not surprisingly, in view of the circumstances, Adams' "bold proposals" got absolutely nowhere in Congress.
As the year ended, Adams confided to his diary that it had been a year "without disaster to the country; with an unusual degree of prosperity, public and private." He was right, yet he derived little political capital from the fact, for, as he discerningly noted, public opinion toward him continued to be negative. Aware of his own flaws as a public man, Adams put much of the blame for his lack of popularity on his personal deficiencies. Certainly he was woefully inept, whether at building an organized movement to agitate for his measures or at punishing foes, even when he had the power to do so because they had been appointed by and should have been beholden to him. But the lack of success of his administration appears to have been due above all to the amoral behavior of his political enemies. Its fate was sealed when under the masterful leadership of Martin Van Buren, Adams' opponents all across the country organized what has been called the first truly mass party in American history. Dedicated to the twin propositions of destroying the reputation of John Quincy Adams and his administration and electing Andrew Jackson president of the United States in 1828, the new Democratic party was to have its way, fortified by lavish expenditures of money, brilliant grassroots organization, a national press network that undeviatingly preached the new party's line, the constant reminder that Adams owed his presidency to a "corrupt bargain," unremitting congressional warfare against every administration measure, and Adams' own blunders.
Adams' Nonpartisan Appointments
It throws an interesting, if not strange, light on the politics of the time that one of Adams' chief blunders was simply his fair and high-minded treatment of his political enemies. The era of the "spoils system" did not reward political integrity of the sort that refused to kick men out of office merely because they were performing their jobs ably. The Jacksonians and their Whig successors judged political appointees not so much by the quality of their public performance as by their loyalty to the man or the party in power. Adams had the quaint notion that appointments should go not to the politically friendly but to the worthy.
At the outset of his administration, Adams said that he was "determined to renominate every person against whom there was no complaint"—no complaint, that is, about his professional performance. And he lived up to his promise, despite being impor-tuned to serve his friends and reproved for overlooking them. He indeed would not—and did not—replace "able and faithful political opponents to provide for [his] own partisans." By Adams' old-fashioned standards, partisan appointments would have been a misuse of his presidential powers. He removed only twelve officeholders during his presidency and did so in each case on the grounds of the incumbent's "gross negligence." Clay and other of Adams' astute supporters bemoaned the president's unwillingness to remove John McLean, the postmaster general, and a host of lesser-known officials, all of them working behind the scenes to undermine the Adams administration. Adams brushed aside all evidence of the political disloyalty of these men as irrelevant: the only thing that mattered was whether they were performing their jobs ably. Of course, as Clay rightly argued, it mattered a great deal to Adams' chances for success in the 1828 presidential election that his administration was in effect filled with traitors to his cause, men working to bring about his downfall.
Adams was not unaware of the force of this argument, but he was too principled to let it affect his appointments policy. He appears to have contemplated his forthcoming political disaster reflectively, fortified by his conviction that the path he had taken was the moral one. Indeed it was and therein lay one of the chief causes of his subsequent undoing. That one of the Jacksonian leaders regaled the Senate with a thundering denunciation of Adams' allegedly partisan appointments policy only provides an example of the indifference of the president's enemies to the facts of the case.
The Panama Congress
Some of what historians have called Adams' blunders were blunders only in a manner of speaking; that is, they were proposals or policies that failed and even hurt him politically not because of their lack of merit but because his congressional opponents artfully and effectively made them objects of ridicule. Adams' support of American participation in the Panama Congress of 1826 is a nice case in point.
In a special message on 26 December 1825, Adams told Congress that he had accepted the invitation from Simón Bolívar, the "Liberator" of South America, that the United States send a delegation to the congress of American nations called for the early summer of 1826 in Panama. As Adams carefully explained, although he "deemed [his acceptance of the invitation] to be within the constitutional competency of the Executive," he thought it advisable to ascertain Congress' opinion of the expediency of participating in the proposed congress before naming delegates to it. In an attempt to help the United States Congress better understand the value of attendance, Adams presented a number of reasoned arguments: it would, among other things, be in the national interest; it would strengthen commercial ties with, and opportunities in, South America; it would fortify the Monroe Doctrine's warnings against European intervention in the hemisphere; and it would enhance the popularity of the United States among the nations south of the border. The response of the anti-Adams majority in Congress was predictable.
House and Senate alike denounced the alleged subversion of the powers of Congress and the betrayal of George Washington's warning against foreign entanglements. They claimed to discern, too, a plot to enter, unconstitutionally, into a secret alliance. Southern congressmen warned that the Panama Congress would doubtless express criticism of the slave trade, and they voiced dark forebodings about the presence of black Haitians in Panama and the dangers that would flow from recognition of Haitian independence from France. Adams responded by avowing his veneration of Washington's Farewell Addressington's farewell address, his continuing opposition to foreign entanglements, and his doubts that Haiti "ought to be recognized as an independent sovereign power," in view of its continued economic subservience to France. But what was wrong, he asked, with the United States cementing ties with its southern neighbors, strengthening the Monroe Doctrine, further dissuading European intervention, and enhancing American financial prospects?
Of course, nothing Adams said could mollify his critics. But on 22 April 1826 he won what Samuel E Bemis calls his "first and only victory in Congress," when the House of Representatives approved the appropriation of $40,000 to cover the expenses of sending an American delegation to Panama. The victory was a hollow one, since nothing came of it. One of the delegates Adams selected, Richard Anderson, died en route; the other delegate, John Sergeant, did not arrive until the congress was essentially over. At Henry Clay's request, Adams, on his very last day in office, communicated to the United States Congress the administration's instructions to Anderson and Sergeant in order to include in the enduring record proof of the baselessness of the smears and innuendos leveled against the Adams administration's role in the matter.
Toward the end of his life, Adams, in a reflective mood, dismissed the event and the controversy it engendered as a slight thing at best and a fiasco at worst. Bemis is more appreciative, viewing Adams' support of the Panama Congress and the administration's Latin American policy, of which attendance in Panama was a part, as a "noble experiment that led to nothing in its [own] day." But the underlying idea of United States involvement in Latin America was to bear fruit at a later day.
The Last Two Years
It is not clear whether the last two years of John Quincy Adams' presidency are better described as tragedy or farce. A sympathetic biographer, Marie B. Hecht, faults him for what she calls the "sin of pride," not only in failing to exercise the powers available to him in order to marshal support for his programs but for failing to build an effective party machinery that might have organized support for the Adams programs. Although Henry Clay and other Adams supporters did belatedly create a fairly efficient organization to wage Adams' election campaign in 1828, the criticism of Adams no doubt has merit. And yet, in view of the unrelenting efforts of his opponents in Congress, out to ridicule his administration and to frustrate its every initiative, one wonders whether his employment of even the most artful tactics could have sufficed to turn the tide. In a letter to his son, Charles Francis Adams, Adams described the majority in both houses of the Twentieth Congress as a coalition of factions "united by a common disappointment into one mass envenomed by one spirit of bitter and unrelenting persecuting malice" against him. These were, of course, the words of a beaten man. Interestingly, Robert V. Remini, a historian highly sympathetic to Adams' enemies, agrees that the sole object of the pro-Jackson Twentieth Congress either in passing or opposing legislation was to bring about the victory of Jackson over Adams in 1828.
In his third annual message, presented at the end of 1827, Adams proposed a modest program, urging that sympathetic attention be given to the remaining debt the nation owed veterans of the Revolutionary War and to the need for enlarging the judiciary in order to meet the expanding nation's needs. This man, ostensibly unsympathetic to the plight of the needy, also advocated amelioration of the nation's harsh bankruptcy laws. But it mattered not whether his proposals were slight or weighty, reflective of this ideological viewpoint or that. They were all given equally short shrift by a Congress seemingly indifferent to the merits of legislative proposals, in its preoccupation with undermining the administration that presented them.
Adams appears to have been worn down by the unrelenting harassment of his political enemies. In a diary entry for 1827, Adams complained about the unending chores and the unceasing stream of visitors that made his life so irksome. Yet one feels that his malaise was caused more by his growing conviction that his presidency was doomed to failure than by the mundane burdens of the high office—burdens that he, as a highly experienced national leader, had every reason to know were unavoidable in the performance of the job. It seems unlikely that a successful president would have been quite so distraught at the multitude of chores, no matter how mundane or monotonous, to have felt that nothing could be "worse than this perpetual motion and crazing cares" or that the "weight grows heavier from day to day." Ever the gentleman, Adams continued to receive gracefully the constant stream of congressmen who paid social visits to the White House or sought favors from its chief occupant, many of whom were not only hostile but, in his own phrase, "bitter as wormwood" in their opposition to him. Only what Adams called the "besotted" and violent John Randolph, the calumniator of Adams and Clay, was not welcome.
Randolph may not have been personally acceptable to Adams, but no one described as well the true purpose of the complicated tariff measure constructed and steered through the Twentieth Congress in 1828 by Van Buren and the Jacksonians than did the erratic Virginian. An inconsistent and seemingly contradictory set of protective schedules that was transparently designed to widen further the breach between the president and the nation's diverse sectional and economic interests, the tariff was characterized by Randolph as a measure truly concerned with no manufactures except the manufacture of the next president of the United States.
Remini, the modern authority on this "Tariff of Abominations," has described the bill as a "ghastly, lopsided, unequal bill, every section of which showed marks of political preference and favoritism," and as the "supreme example of political horsetrading in the 20th Congress." He has refuted the long-accepted notion that the authors of the measure actually sought its defeat. Its managers frankly conceded that their chief purpose was to overthrow Adams in 1828 by bringing Ohio, Kentucky, and Missouri into the Jackson camp while keeping New York and Pennsylvania within the military hero's fold.
An unanticipated political effect of the bill was the sharp reaction its passage evoked from South Carolina and its leading statesman. In 1828, John C. Calhoun's South Carolina Exposition and Protest argued that a tariff for protection rather than for raising revenue was unconstitutional; the passage of the tariff left his state no alternative but to assert its right of "interposition" against the "despotism of the many." Four years later, the nullification crisis erupted. Adams, who for all his nationalism and the loose constructionism of some of his principles was no champion of protectionism, was simply bypassed throughout the controversy over the tariff. There can be no doubt that he was badly hurt by the Tariff of Abominations.
The cynicism of Adams' congressional opponents manifested itself, too, in other measures. The same men who expressed their horror at the alleged unconstitutionality of Adams' nationalistic economic proposals thumbed their noses at the strict-constructionist proposals they professed to revere, passing a great array of "pork barrel" bills, which tapped the federal treasury in order to finance construction, bonuses, land giveaways, and harbor installations that were dear to their hearts because they were likely to be politically useful. Committed as they were to harassing the president, Van Buren's legions deluged Adams as no earlier president ever had been, with requests for official statements from his office to justify his position on issues. It has been estimated by Hecht that committees of the Twentieth Congress "sent to the executive office about five times more requests for facts and opinions" than had been sent by earlier Congresses to Adams' predecessors.
Although Adams had shown himself a great secretary of state, ready to resort to vigorous measures to enlarge both the nation's territorial expanse and its influence in the world, he fared as poorly in foreign policy as in domestic. His presidency must have been a disappointment to nationalists, who expected even greater successes of him when he was able to make, rather than merely execute, foreign policy. His attempts to secure Texas peacefully were thwarted, in part because of the excessively aggressive, meddlesome behavior of Joel Poinsett, the first United States minister to Mexico. In this instance, it is possible that Adams refused to punish an errant appointee not out of a high-minded insistence on disregarding the politics of officials but out of private agreement with Poinsett's blatant interference in Mexico's internal politics.
Although Adams did succeed in inducing Great Britain to pay an indemnity of more than $1 million for the slaves it carried away during the War of 1812, he failed to achieve the more significant objective of bringing Great Britain to the bargaining table to negotiate the restoration of trade by American ships with the British West Indies. Bemis, the outstanding authority on the subject, attributes the defeat of Adams' attempt to retaliate against British shipping to Van Buren's "sniping." Adams' refusal to back off from the forty-ninth parallel as the dividing line between Britain and the United States in the Oregon Territory killed chances for an agreement on the issue in Adams' own time, but of course, it meant that the United States two decades later would secure most of what became the new state of Washington.
A nice example of the conflict between principle, represented by President Adams, and amorality, represented by his Jacksonian opponents, is afforded by the controversy that arose between the Creek Indians and the state of Georgia. Like his presidential predecessors, Adams was no inveterate or humanitarian champion of Indian rights. He, too, sought the removal of the southern tribes to west of the Mississippi, and he countenanced threats and unlovely inducements to accomplish it. But, unlike his successor in the White House, Adams recognized limits to the American disregard of Indian rights guaranteed by federal treaties. When in 1827 Georgia improperly conducted surveys in treaty-guaranteed Indian lands, Adams issued an ultimatum warning that "the Executive of the United States [would] enforce the laws . . . by all the force committed for that purpose." The House of Representatives supported Adams, insisting that purchase, not crude annexation, was the only proper means by which Georgia might acquire Indian lands. But the Senate, led by arch-Jacksonian Thomas Hart Benton, thwarted the president.
Election of 1828
Confronted by a brilliantly organized opposition that had created the first truly modern political party network in American history, Adams harbored no illusions about his chances for reelection in 1828. He would not stoop to making personal appearances before citizens whose votes he needed. In turning down a proposal that he speak to German farmers on the occasion of the opening of a canal in Pennsylvania, Adams said he thought such behavior "unsuitable to [his] personal character and to the station in which [he was] placed." To the modern critics who attribute Adams' decisive defeat in the presidential election largely to his own failure to match the organization and the tactics of his opponents, Adams would have answered that his principles meant more to him than did reelection. It was Henry Clay who later said he would rather be right than president, but it was John Quincy Adams who best lived up to the ideal. Certainly Adams would have rudely dismissed any suggestion that he should have modified or watered down the proposals his administration presented to Congress, with an eye toward broadening the base of his electoral support in 1828. He labored under the antique notion that there were things more important to a president than his reelection.
The 1828 campaign was a vicious one. A political ally of Adams' wrote him that he had never seen an opposition so "malignant and unprincipled as that which is organized against you." Over seventy years ago the historian Edward Channing, in attributing Adams' defeat to Jackson's overwhelming support in the South "combined with the employment of most unjustifiable methods by his partisans in Pennsylvania and New York," concluded that "possibly it was more honorable to have been defeated in 1828 than to have been elected." Writing a half century later, Remini concurs with this estimate, concluding that "this election splattered more filth . . . upon more innocent people than any other in American history." Jackson's opponents did not wear kid gloves, charging the Hero of New Orleans with murder and adultery, among other things. (Both charges were true, if only in a technical sense.) But these attacks paled in comparison to the smears leveled at Adams, who was charged, falsely, with adultery, using public funds to buy personal luxuries, and pimping for the czar during his ministry in Russia. Neither was the infamous "corrupt bargain" neglected.
Inevitably, the election returns can be variously interpreted. Jackson won a decisive victory in the electoral college, 178 to 83. When the popular vote is examined, Jackson's small majority in the West and the Middle Atlantic states and his decisive defeat in the New England states suggest that his smashing three-to-one majority in the South was the vital element in his election. Jackson's friends congratulated him on the outcome, one claiming that it was a victory for virtue. It was more surely a victory for the South. The popular totals also suggest that voters were not altogether indifferent to what they discerned as the principles of the two candidates—one a large slaveholder, the other a critic of slavery—for all the campaign's emphasis on parades, rallies, the dispensation of liquor, and other forms of ballyhoo.
Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., the author of perhaps the most popular and influential book on the age of Jackson, attributes Adams' "overthrow in 1828" to his failure "to meet the problem" of an alleged widespread discontent among the American people. Historians' interpretations of such matters are bound both to differ and to change over time. The weight of the evidence seems to be that the chief "problem" Adams failed to confront was one posed not by the discontent of the people but rather by the ambition of political rivals determined under no circumstances to permit the sixth president to succeed himself in office.
Adams as Congressman
Adams himself appears not to have regarded his defeat in 1828 as a tragedy. When his Quincy neighbors elected him to the House of Representatives in 1830, he proceeded to throw himself heart and soul into
the performance of his new duties for the last seventeen years of his life. When friends wondered whether acceptance of membership in Congress might be degrading for a former president, Adams responded that no one could be degraded for serving the people, no matter in what capacity. It would be under-statement to say that Old Man Eloquent served with distinction in Congress.
As congressman, John Quincy Adams was the stuff of legend. He spoke truth when he said of his congressional years, "I shall be as I have been—a solitary." But the stubbornness, devotion to principle, willingness to go it alone, and the seeming indifference to hostile critics that had availed him so little when he occupied the White House, served to make him the center of attention and controversy when he sat in the House of Representatives. Where his presidential performance earned him contempt or disdain, his congressional labors won him either bitter opposition or enthusiastic acclaim, but never indifference.
The lofty principle he now championed was antislavery. In fairness to his total congressional record, it must be said that Adams was a heroically conscientious representative, actively participating in debate on issues ranging from tariffs and banking to crucial foreign policy controversies. He was awarded the sobriquet Old Man Eloquent for a nationalistic speech urging military appropriations during the war crisis with France of the mid-1830s. But his claim to a place in the pantheon of Congress rests almost entirely on his twin campaigns to win congressional acceptance of the antislavery petitions he presented in behalf of his constituents (and other Americans) and to end the "gag rule" under which the House regularly voted to table petitions bearing on slavery or its abolition.
Commencing on 9 January 1837, when he presented an antislavery petition in behalf of 150 women from his district, Adams persisted in his one-man campaign in behalf of thousands of subsequent petitioners, year after year defying votes to table, insults, censure resolutions, and even death threats until finally, on 3 December 1844, the House passed a resolution rescinding the gag rule. Although he had for a while been decried by abolitionists because of his opposition to what he felt was the impractical goal of an immediate, uncompensated end to slavery, Adams ultimately won the respect of almost all persons who believed as did he that slavery was "a sin before the sight of God." He died dramatically after he suffered a stroke almost immediately after voting on 21 January 1848 to oppose a resolution thanking military officers for their services during what he regarded as the proslavery Mexican War. He lapsed into a coma and died on 23 February 1848.
Adams' onetime political opponent, Martin Van Buren, called him honest and incorruptible, the least venal of men. The praise may be justified, but it has, of course, done nothing for the reputation of the Adams administration. Undervalued in his own time, Adams' service to the nation as president continues to be undervalued in the present age. It is a disquieting testimony to our scale of values that honoring, as we do, political "success" achieved at whatever price and for whatever small or unlovely purposes, we continue to be indifferent to great integrity and devotion to lofty principles displayed by our highest officeholders—even when their failures seem largely to have been due precisely to their manifestation of these admirable qualities.
Charles Francis Adams, ed., Memoirs of John Quincy Adams, Comprising Portions of His Diary from 1795 to 1848, 12 vols. (Philadelphia, 1874–1877), is an indispensable record of Adams's reactions to events. Allan Nevins, ed., The Diary of John Quincy Adams, 1794–1845: American Diplomacy, and Political, Social, and Intellectual Life, from Washington to Polk (New York, 1969), is a selection from the diary by an informed historian. Walter La Feber, ed., John Quincy Adams and American Continental Empire: Letters, Papers, and Speeches (Chicago, 1965), contains other important documents. Marie B. Hecht, John Quincy Adams: A Personal History of an Independent Man (New York, 1972), is competent, fact-filled, and sensible. Mary W. M. Hargreaves, The Presidency of John Quincy Adams (Lawrence, Kans., 1985), is a useful single-volume summary of his term. Lynn H. Parsons, John Quincy Adams: A Bibliography (Westport, Conn., 1993), is a thorough book-length list of sources for further research.
Marcus Cunliffe, The Nation Takes Shape, 1789–1837 (Chicago, 1959), is a well-written account of the political background. George Dangerfield, The Era of Good Feelings (New York, 1952), and The Awakening of American Nationalism, 1815–1828 (New York, 1965), are gracefully written, highly informed, and intellectually sophisticated. Daniel Walker Howe, The Political Culture of the American Whigs (Chicago, 1979), is an unconvincing but interesting analysis of Adams's beliefs. Samuel Flagg Bemis, John Quincy Adams and the Foundations of American Foreign Policy (New York, 1949), and John Quincy Adams and the Union (New York, 1956), present perceptive evaluations of Adams's contributions by a pioneer American diplomatic historian. A more recent consideration is William E. Weeks, John Quincy Adams and American Global Empire (Lexington, Ky., 1992).
Robert V. Remini, The Election of Andrew Jackson (Philadelphia, 1963), and Andrew Jackson and the Course of American Freedom, 1822–1832 (New York, 1981), provide respectively an invaluable study of how the new Jacksonian party organized to defeat Adams and an informed and controversial interpretation of the politics of the period. Edward Pessen, Jacksonian America: Society, Personality, and Politics, rev. ed. (Homewood, Ill., 1978), gives the social, cultural, and economic as well as political background of the antebellum decades. Glyndon G. Van Deusen, The Jacksonian Era, 1828–1848 (New York, 1959), is a balanced account of national politics during that period.
Recent works include Paul C. Nagel, John Quincy Adams: A Public Life, A Private Life (New York, 1997), which draws extensively upon the lifelong journals kept by Adams. Richard Brookhiser, America's First Dynasty: The Adamses, 1735–1918 (New York, 2002), profiles four generations of the Adams family, focusing on the two presidents, John Quincy's son Charles, and Charles's son Henry. See also Robert V. Remini, John Quincy Adams (New York, 2002).
Adams, John Quincy
Adams, John Quincy
6th president, 1825–1829
Born: July 11, 1767
Died: February 23, 1848
First Lady: Louisa Johnson Adams
Children: George Washington, John, Charles Francis, Louisa
Until George W. Bush took office in 2001, John Quincy Adams was the only son of a president to become a president. He was one of four candidates in the 1824 presidential race. When no candidate won a majority, the House of Representatives had to choose a winner. One candidate, Henry Clay of Kentucky, gave his electoral votes to Adams, and the House chose him on the first ballot. When Adams later named Clay the secretary of state, many Americans accused both men of dishonesty. This "corrupt bargain" overshadowed much of his presidency.
Adams was born on July 11, 1767, in Braintree, Massachusetts. A graduate of Harvard College, Adams became both a lawyer and political journalist. In 1797, he married Louisa Johnson, and the couple eventually had four children, one of whom, Louisa, died in infancy.
- John Quincy Adams was the first president to be interviewed by a female journalist, Anne Royall.
- Adams was the first man to be elected president having received neither the most popular votes nor the most electoral votes.
- Adams was the first president to have his photograph taken.
- Adams was the first president not to win re-election and the first elected to Congress after his presidential term ended.
- During his term, Adams established the Smithsonian Institution.
Adams ran for re-election in the race of 1828, but was defeated by challenger Andrew Jackson, who had won the popular vote four years earlier.
When Adams Was in Office
- The Erie Canal, connecting the Hudson River and Lake Erie, opened.
Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 was first performed.
- Thomas Jefferson and John Adams (John Quincy Adams's father) both died on July 4, the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence.
- Fort Leavenworth was founded to keep peace among Indian tribes and protect travelers along the Santa Fe trail.
- Noah Webster published the American Dictionary of the English Language.
The first American passenger railroad, the Baltimore & Ohio, began service.
The Cherokee Phoenix, the first U.S. newspaper written entirely in a Native American language, began publication.
After leaving the White House, Adams was elected to the House of Representatives, where he served for nine consecutive terms. During that time, he became well known for his opposition to slavery. Adams suffered a stroke and died in 1848. He was 80 years old.
On Adams's Inauguration Day
When John Quincy Adams took the oath of office, few Americans except those in the Northeast were happy. Many suspected that deals between Adams and Henry Clay had taken the office away from the "people's candidate," Andrew Jackson.
John Quincy Adams's Inaugural Address
In Washington, D.C., Friday, March 4, 1825
IN compliance with an usage coeval with the existence of our Federal Constitution, and sanctioned by the example of my predecessors in the career upon which I am about to enter, I appear, my fellow-citizens, in your presence and in that of Heaven to bind myself by the solemnities of religious obligation to the faithful performance of the duties allotted to me in the station to which I have been called.
In unfolding to my countrymen the principles by which I shall be governed in the fulfillment of those duties my first resort will be to that Constitution which I shall swear to the best of my ability to preserve, protect, and defend. That revered instrument enumerates the powers and prescribes the duties of the Executive Magistrate, and in its first words declares the purposes to which these and the whole action of the Government instituted by it should be invariably and sacredly devoted—to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquillity, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to the people of this Union in their successive generations. Since the adoption of this social compact one of these generations has passed away. It is the work of our forefathers. Administered by some of the most eminent men who contributed to its formation, through a most eventful period in the annals of the world, and through all the vicissitudes of peace and war incidental to the condition of associated man, it has not disappointed the hopes and aspirations of those illustrious benefactors of their age and nation. It has promoted the lasting welfare of that country so dear to us all; it has to an extent far beyond the ordinary lot of humanity secured the freedom and happiness of this people. We now receive it as a precious inheritance from those to whom we are indebted for its establishment, doubly bound by the examples which they have left us and by the blessings which we have enjoyed as the fruits of their labors to transmit the same unimpaired to the succeeding generation.
In the compass of thirty-six years since this great national covenant was instituted a body of laws enacted under its authority and in conformity with its provisions has unfolded its powers and carried into practical operation its effective energies. Subordinate departments have distributed the executive functions in their various relations to foreign affairs, to the revenue and expenditures, and to the military force of the Union by land and sea. A coordinate department of the judiciary has expounded the Constitution and the laws, settling in harmonious coincidence with the legislative will numerous weighty questions of construction which the imperfection of human language had rendered unavoidable. The year of jubilee since the first formation of our Union has just elapsed; that of the declaration of our independence is at hand. The consummation of both was effected by this Constitution.
Since that period a population of four millions has multiplied to twelve. A territory bounded by the Mississippi has been extended from sea to sea. New States have been admitted to the Union in numbers nearly equal to those of the first Confederation. Treaties of peace, amity, and commerce have been concluded with the principal dominions of the earth. The people of other nations, inhabitants of regions acquired not by conquest, but by compact, have been united with us in the participation of our rights and duties, of our burdens and blessings. The forest has fallen by the ax of our woodsmen; the soil has been made to teem by the tillage of our farmers; our commerce has whitened every ocean. The dominion of man over physical nature has been extended by the invention of our artists. Liberty and law have marched hand in hand. All the purposes of human association have been accomplished as effectively as under any other government on the globe, and at a cost little exceeding in a whole generation the expenditure of other nations in a single year.
Such is the unexaggerated picture of our condition under a Constitution founded upon the republican principle of equal rights. To admit that this picture has its shades is but to say that it is still the condition of men upon earth. From evil—physical, moral, and political—it is not our claim to be exempt. We have suffered sometimes by the visitation of Heaven through disease; often by the wrongs and injustice of other nations, even to the extremities of war; and, lastly, by dissensions among ourselves—dissensions perhaps inseparable from the enjoyment of freedom, but which have more than once appeared to threaten the dissolution of the Union, and with it the overthrow of all the enjoyments of our present lot and all our earthly hopes of the future. The causes of these dissensions have been various, founded upon differences of speculation in the theory of republican government; upon conflicting views of policy in our relations with foreign nations; upon jealousies of partial and sectional interests, aggravated by prejudices and prepossessions which strangers to each other are ever apt to entertain.
It is a source of gratification and of encouragement to me to observe that the great result of this experiment upon the theory of human rights has at the close of that generation by which it was formed been crowned with success equal to the most sanguine expectations of its founders. Union, justice, tranquillity, the common defense, the general welfare, and the blessings of liberty—all have been promoted by the Government under which we have lived. Standing at this point of time, looking back to that generation which has gone by and forward to that which is advancing, we may at once indulge in grateful exultation and in cheering hope. From the experience of the past we derive instructive lessons for the future. Of the two great political parties which have divided the opinions and feelings of our country, the candid and the just will now admit that both have contributed splendid talents, spotless integrity, ardent patriotism, and disinterested sacrifices to the formation and administration of this Government 1, and that both have required a liberal indulgence for a portion of human infirmity and error. The revolutionary wars of Europe, commencing precisely at the moment when the Government of the United States first went into operation under this Constitution, excited a collision of sentiments and of sympathies which kindled all the passions and imbittered the conflict of parties till the nation was involved in war and the Union was shaken to its center. This time of trial embraced a period of five and twenty years, during which the policy of the Union in its relations with Europe constituted the principal basis of our political divisions and the most arduous part of the action of our Federal Government. With the catastrophe in which the wars of the French Revolution terminated, and our own subsequent peace with Great Britain, this baneful weed of party strife was uprooted. From that time no difference of principle, connected either with the theory of government or with our intercourse with foreign nations, has existed or been called forth in force sufficient to sustain a continued combination of parties or to give more than wholesome animation to public sentiment or legislative debate. Our political creed is, without a dissenting voice that can be heard, that the will of the people is the source and the happiness of the people the end of all legitimate government upon earth; that the best security for the beneficence and the best guaranty against the abuse of power consists in the freedom, the purity, and the frequency of popular elections; that the General Government of the Union and the separate governments of the States are all sovereignties of limited powers, fellow-servants of the same masters, uncontrolled within their respective spheres, uncontrollable by encroachments upon each other; that the firmest security of peace is the preparation during peace of the defenses of war; that a rigorous economy and accountability of public expenditures should guard against the aggravation and alleviate when possible the burden of taxation; that the military should be kept in strict subordination to the civil power; that the freedom of the press and of religious opinion should be inviolate; that the policy of our country is peace and the ark of our salvation union are articles of faith upon which we are all now agreed. If there have been those who doubted whether a confederated representative democracy were a government competent to the wise and orderly management of the common concerns of a mighty nation, those doubts have been dispelled; if there have been projects of partial confederacies to be erected upon the ruins of the Union, they have been scattered to the winds; if there have been dangerous attachments to one foreign nation and antipathies against another, they have been extinguished. Ten years of peace, at home and abroad, have assuaged the animosities of political contention and blended into harmony the most discordant elements of public opinion. There still remains one effort of magnanimity, one sacrifice of prejudice and passion, to be made by the individuals throughout the nation who have heretofore followed the standards of political party. It is that of discarding every remnant of rancor against each other, of embracing as countrymen and friends, and of yielding to talents and virtue alone that confidence which in times of contention for principle was bestowed only upon those who bore the badge of party communion.
The collisions of party spirit which originate in speculative opinions or in different views of administrative policy are in their nature transitory. Those which are founded on geographical divisions, adverse interests of soil, climate, and modes of domestic life are more permanent, and therefore, perhaps, more dangerous. 2 It is this which gives inestimable value to the character of our Government, at once federal and national. It holds out to us a perpetual admonition to preserve alike and with equal anxiety the rights of each individual State in its own government and the rights of the whole nation in that of the Union. Whatsoever is of domestic concernment, unconnected with the other members of the Union or with foreign lands, belongs exclusively to the administration of the State governments. Whatsoever directly involves the rights and interests of the federative fraternity or of foreign powers is of the resort of this General Government. The duties of both are obvious in the general principle, though sometimes perplexed with difficulties in the detail. To respect the rights of the State governments is the inviolable duty of that of the Union; the government of every State will feel its own obligation to respect and preserve the rights of the whole. The prejudices everywhere too commonly entertained against distant strangers are worn away, and the jealousies of jarring interests are allayed by the composition and functions of the great national councils annually assembled from all quarters of the Union at this place. Here the distinguished men from every section of our country, while meeting to deliberate upon the great interests of those by whom they are deputed, learn to estimate the talents and do justice to the virtues of each other. The harmony of the nation is promoted and the whole Union is knit together by the sentiments of mutual respect, the habits of social intercourse, and the ties of personal friendship formed between the representatives of its several parts in the performance of their service at this metropolis.
Passing from this general review of the purposes and injunctions of the Federal Constitution and their results as indicating the first traces of the path of duty in the discharge of my public trust, I turn to the Administration of my immediate predecessor as the second. It has passed away in a period of profound peace, how much to the satisfaction of our country and to the honor of our country's name is known to you all. The great features of its policy, in general concurrence with the will of the Legislature, have been to cherish peace while preparing for defensive war; to yield exact justice to other nations and maintain the rights of our own; to cherish the principles of freedom and of equal rights wherever they were proclaimed; to discharge with all possible promptitude the national debt; to reduce within the narrowest limits of efficiency the military force; to improve the organization and discipline of the Army; to provide and sustain a school of military science; to extend equal protection to all the great interests of the nation; to promote the civilization of the Indian tribes, and to proceed in the great system of internal improvements within the limits of the constitutional power of the Union. Under the pledge of these promises, made by that eminent citizen at the time of his first induction to this office, in his career of eight years the internal taxes have been repealed; sixty millions of the public debt have been discharged; provision has been made for the comfort and relief of the aged and indigent among the surviving warriors of the Revolution; the regular armed force has been reduced and its constitution revised and perfected; the accountability for the expenditure of public moneys has been made more effective; the Floridas have been peaceably acquired, and our boundary has been extended to the Pacific Ocean; the independence of the southern nations of this hemisphere has been recognized, and recommended by example and by counsel to the potentates of Europe; progress has been made in the defense of the country by fortifications and the increase of the Navy, toward the effectual suppression of the African traffic in slaves; 3 in alluring the aboriginal hunters of our land to the cultivation of the soil and of the mind, in exploring the interior regions of the Union, and in preparing by scientific researches and surveys for the further application of our national resources to the internal improvement of our country.
In this brief outline of the promise and performance of my immediate predecessor the line of duty for his successor is clearly delineated. To pursue to their consummation those purposes of improvement in our common condition institute or recommended by him will embrace the whole sphere of my obligations. To the topic of internal improvement, emphatically urged by him at his inauguration, I recur with peculiar satisfaction. It is that from which I am convinced that the unborn millions of our posterity who are in future ages to people this continent will derive their most fervent gratitude to the founders of the Union; that in which the beneficent action of its Government will be most deeply felt and acknowledged. The magnificence and splendor of their public works are among the imperishable glories of the ancient republics. The roads and aqueducts of Rome have been the admiration of all after ages, and have survived thousands of years after all her conquests have been swallowed up in despotism or become the spoil of barbarians. Some diversity of opinion has prevailed with regard to the powers of Congress for legislation upon objects of this nature. The most respectful deference is due to doubts originating in pure patriotism and sustained by venerated authority. But nearly twenty years have passed since the construction of the first national road was commenced. The authority for its construction was then unquestioned. To how many thousands of our countrymen has it proved a benefit? To what single individual has it ever proved an injury? Repeated, liberal, and candid discussions in the Legislature have conciliated the sentiments and approximated the opinions of enlightened minds upon the question of constitutional power. I can not but hope that by the same process of friendly, patient, and persevering deliberation all constitutional objections will ultimately be removed. The extent and limitation of the powers of the General Government in relation to this transcendently important interest will be settled and acknowledged to the common satisfaction of all, and every speculative scruple will be solved by a practical public blessing.
Fellow-citizens, you are acquainted with the peculiar circumstances of the recent election, which have resulted in affording me the opportunity of addressing you at this time. 4 You have heard the exposition of the principles which will direct me in the fulfillment of the high and solemn trust imposed upon me in this station. Less possessed of your confidence in advance than any of my predecessors, I am deeply conscious of the prospect that I shall stand more and oftener in need of your indulgence. Intentions upright and pure, a heart devoted to the welfare of our country, and the unceasing application of all the faculties allotted to me to her service are all the pledges that I can give for the faithful performance of the arduous duties I am to undertake. To the guidance of the legislative councils, to the assistance of the executive and subordinate departments, to the friendly cooperation of the respective State governments, to the candid and liberal support of the people so far as it may be deserved by honest industry and zeal, I shall look for whatever success may attend my public service; and knowing that "except the Lord keep the city the watchman waketh but in vain," with fervent supplications for His favor, to His overruling providence I commit with humble but fearless confidence my own fate and the future destinies of my country.
Quotes to Note
- "Of the two great political parties..." In truth, there was one main party, the Republicans, which was divided among several candidates in the election.
- "Those which are founded on geographical divisions..." The election of 1824 was notable for candidates from New England, the West, and the South.
- "toward the effectual suppression..." Adams was the first president to refer to slavery in an inaugural speech. In this case, he refers to the banning of bringing more slaves into the United States from Africa, which had been prohibited but was still taking place.
- "Fellow-citizens..." The "peculiar circumstances" made Adams the first president to win office without winning either the popular vote or a majority in the electoral college.
Adams, John Quincy
ADAMS, JOHN QUINCY
John Quincy Adams was more than just the sixth president of the United States. He was a child of the American Revolution, having witnessed the Battle of Bunker Hill. He was the son of the nation's second president, john adams. And he was a successful diplomat. Chosen president by the House after finishing second in the electoral college, Adams became the first president to wear long trousers, rather than breeches, at his inauguration, on March 4, 1825. After one term as president, he went on to serve with distinction for 17 years in the House of Representatives.
Adams was born on July 11, 1767, in Brain-tree, Massachusetts (now Quincy, Massachusetts). As the son of one of the nation's founders, he had many opportunities not available to other young men. Before reaching the age when young people today graduate from high school, Adams had established himself as a diplomat. He accompanied his father on diplomatic missions to Europe in 1778 and 1780, where he studied in Paris, France, and in Amsterdam and Leiden, the Netherlands. In 1781, at the age of 14, Adams traveled with Francis Dana, the first American minister to Russia, as Dana's private secretary and French interpreter. In 1783, the young Adams joined his father in Paris, where he served as one of the secretaries to the American commissioners in the negotiations of the peace treaty that concluded the American Revolution. Fearing alienation from his own country, Adams returned home in 1785 and, by virtue of his earlier studies, was able to enroll as a junior at Harvard College, from which he graduated in 1787.
For three years, Adams read law at Newburyport, Massachusetts, under theophilus parsons, and in 1790, he was admitted to the bar. While struggling to find clients, Adams engaged in political journalism. He wrote a series of 11 articles controverting some of the doctrines presented in Thomas Paine's Rights of Man (1791–92). In a second series of articles, he defended President george washington's policy of neutrality in the war between France and England in 1793. His third series of articles attacked those who wanted the United States to join France in a war against Britain. These articles impressed Washington so much that he appointed Adams U.S. minister to the Netherlands in May 1794.
President Washington thought Adams one of the ablest officers in the foreign service. In 1796, he appointed Adams minister to Portugal. Before Adams's departure for that new post, however, his father became president. Both Adamses felt that it was undesirable for the son of a president to hold a post in the father's administration, but Washington urged that the younger Adams remain in the diplomatic corps, calling him the most valuable public person abroad. President Adams then appointed his son minister to Prussia.
Before taking up his new post in Prussia, Adams was married, in London, to Louisa Catherine Johnson (1775–1852), daughter of the U.S. counsel in London.
In September 1801, with new president thomas jefferson in the White House, Adams was called back from Prussia. In 1802, he was elected to the Massachusetts senate. One year later, the state senate elected him to the U.S. Senate. (Prior to the passage of the seventeenth amendment in 1913, U.S. senators were elected by the senates of the individual states.)
"To furnish the means of acquiring knowledge is … the greatest benefit that can be conferred upon mankind."
—John Quincy Adams
Adams had always considered himself a political independent, and he was given a chance to prove this in the U.S. Senate. After his election, he was set upon by forces opposed to the federalist party, of which Adams was considered a member, and political enemies of his father. Instead of accepting his fate as a powerless and unpopular member of an unpopular political minority, Adams asserted his political independence. He began to vote with President Jefferson and the opposition Democratic-Republicans, and broke with his party completely in 1807 by supporting the embargo act (46 App. U.S.C.A. § 328). This act, backed by Jefferson, placed an embargo on all foreign commerce. The act was opposed by the Federalists and the New England states, who wanted to encourage trade with the British. They feared that the Embargo Act would stifle New England's economy. Adams voted for the Embargo
Act, against the wishes of his party and region, believing that it benefited the nation as a whole.
Adams paid the price for breaking with his party. Federalist leaders in Massachusetts—who felt that Adams had betrayed them—elected another man to the Senate several months before the 1808 elections. Adams resigned, and later that year, in a move indicative of his political independence, attended a Democratic-Republican congressional caucus meeting, where james madison was nominated for president, thus allying himself with that party.
Adams attempted to retire from public life and devote himself to a teaching position at Harvard College, but the lure of public service was too strong. In 1809, President Madison persuaded him to accept an appointment as minister to Russia. In 1814 and 1815, Adams played a key role in the negotiations resulting in the Treaty of Ghent, with the British, ending the war of 1812. The negotiations helped Adams gain respect as a diplomat.
In 1817, President james monroe called Adams back to the United States to serve as his secretary of state. Adams's most important achievement in this office was the development of the monroe doctrine. It was Adams who made the first declaration of that policy in July 1823, several months before Monroe formally announced it in his annual message to Congress, on December 2, 1823. At that time, the United States feared that Russia intended to establish colonies in Alaska and, more important, that the continental European states would intervene in Central and South America to help Spain recover its former colonies, which had won their independence in a series of wars in the early nineteenth century. Adams believed that the Americas were no longer subject to any European colonial establishment and that they should make their own foreign policies. The Monroe Doctrine set forth three basic policy statements aimed at protecting the Western Hemisphere from European intervention: North and South America were closed to further European colonization; the United States would not intervene in wars in Europe and would not interfere with European colonies and dependencies in the Americas; and the United States would regard any intervention by a European power in the independent states of the Western Hemisphere as the manifestation of an unfriendly disposition toward the United States.
Adams served as secretary of state for the entire eight years under President Monroe. When the presidential election of 1824 came around, Adams was considered a favorite; after all, the previous two presidents, Madison and Monroe, had also served as secretaries of state. But 1824 was no normal year for politics in the United States. All four candidates were members of the same political party, the democratic-republican party, and party affiliation had given way to sectionalism. Secretary of the Treasury William Harris Crawford, of Georgia, who had recently suffered a paralytic stroke, was nominated by a congressional caucus. The Tennessee legislature nominated andrew jackson, and the Kentucky legislature nominated henry clay. Adams was nominated by an eastern faction of the party in Boston. On Tuesday, November 9, 1824, voters went to the polls and cast 153,544 votes for Jackson, 108,740 for Adams, 46,618 for Clay, and 47,136 for Crawford. (Figures from Kane, Facts about the Presidents; figures in other sources differ.) The electoral vote results were as follows: Jackson, 99; Adams, 84; Crawford, 41; and Clay, 37. As no candidate received a majority of the electoral votes, the House of Representatives was called upon to choose the president, as set forth under Article II, Section 1, Clause 3, of the Constitution. After Clay gave his support to Adams, the House elected Adams the sixth president in February 1825.
For one who had led so accomplished a life, Adams must have viewed his presidency as a failure. He got off to a rocky start when Jackson's supporters in Congress decried what they called a corrupt bargain between Adams and Clay. Only days after the House selected Adams president, Clay was offered the office of secretary of state, which he accepted. This deal split the Democratic-Republican Party, and Adams's group became known as the National Republicans. Jackson's group fought with Adams for the next four years.
Adams threw all his energies into the presidency. In his inaugural address, he called for an ambitious program of national improvements including the construction of highways, canals, weather stations, and a national university. He urged Congress to use the powers of government for the benefit of all people. Congress disagreed. Many of the programs advocated by Adams were not realized until after his death.
Despite his best efforts, Adams felt worn down by the burdens and demands of the presidency. His personal reserve, austerity, and coolness of manner prevented him from appealing to the imagination and affections of the people. He had not even tried to defend himself against the attacks of Jackson and his followers, feeling that it was below the dignity of the president to engage in political debate. Throughout Adams's presidency, Jackson gained in popularity, so much so that in the elections of 1828, he defeated Adams by 178 electoral votes to 83. Jackson won a popular vote proportionally larger than that of any other presidential candidate during the rest of the 1800s.
Once again, Adams sought to retire from public life, but the people of Massachusetts called him back. In 1830, he defeated two other candidates and was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, representing a district from Plymouth. When it was suggested to him that his acceptance of this position would degrade a former president, Adams replied that no person could be degraded by serving the people as a representative in Congress, or, he added, as a selectman. Indeed, Adams said that his election as president was not half so gratifying as his election to the House.
Adams shone brightly from 1831 to his death in 1848. He remained independent of party politics, and held important posts in Congress, serving at times as chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee and of the Committee on Manufactures. Adams was conspicuous as an opponent of the expansion of slavery and was at heart an abolitionist, though he never became one in the political sense of the word. He took center stage during debates over the gag rules, which resulted when abolitionists sent many petitions to Congress urging that slavery be abolished in the District of Columbia and the new territories. Southern members of Congress who did not want to discuss slave issues passed a series of rules, known as the gag rules, that kept the abolitionists' petitions from being read on the House floor, effectively blocking any discussion of slavery. Adams fought the gag rules as violations of the right of free speech and the right of citizens to petition their government as guaranteed in the first amendment. As the leading opponent of the gag rules, Adams became the person abolitionists sent their petitions to. He, in turn, tried to have the House consider those petitions, only to run up against the gag rules. For several years, Adams tried unsuccessfully to have the rules repealed, but he was able to win supporters to his side each time he tried, and in 1844, he finally succeeded in having the rules abolished.
Another contribution of Adams to the antislavery cause was his championing of Africans on the slave ship amistad. The slaves had mutinied off the coast of Cuba, capturing their masters. The slaves, unfamiliar with navigation, asked their captives to help them sail to a country where slave trade was illegal. The former masters took advantage of the slaves' navigational inexperience and directed the ship into U.S. waters near Long Island, hoping to find sympathetic U.S. authorities. Adams was one of two attorneys who argued the case of the Africans before the U.S. Supreme Court, defending the blacks as free people. President martin van buren had taken the position that the slaves must be returned to their masters and to their inevitable death. Adams helped win their freedom (United States v. Libellants of Schooner Amistad, 40 U.S. [15 Pet.] 518, 10 L. Ed. 826).
Adams's support of the arts and sciences was evident in his battle to uphold the dying wishes of an eccentric Englishman named James Smithson. Smithson was the illegitimate son of the first duke of Northumberland. At his death in 1829, he bequeathed his entire estate to his nephew. His will further provided that if the nephew were to die without heirs, which he did in 1835, the entire estate was to be given to the U.S. government to found what Smithson asked be called the Smithsonian Institution, an establishment for the increase and diffusion of knowledge. Adams led a ten-year fight for acceptance of the endowment, which was valued at $508,000 in 1835, and the Smithsonian Institution was established on August 10, 1846.
On November 19, 1846, Adams suffered a stroke, from which he never fully recovered. He continued to serve in Congress until he suffered a second stroke and collapsed in the House of Representatives. He was carried from his seat to the Speaker's room, where he lay until his death two days later, on February 23, 1848.
Kane, Joseph N. 2001. Facts about the Presidents: A Compilation of Biographical and Historical Information. 7th ed. New York: Wilson.
Nagel, Paul C. 1997. John Quincy Adams: A Public Life, A Private Life. New York: Knopf.
Parsons, Lynn H. 1998. John Quincy Adams. Madison, Wis.: Madison House.
Remini, Robert Vincent. 2002. John Quincy Adams. New York: Times Books.
John Quincy Adams
John Quincy Adams
John Quincy Adams (1767-1848) was the sixth president of the United States. A brilliant statesman and outstanding secretary of state, he played a major role in formulating the basic principles of American foreign policy.
Born in Braintree (now Quincy), Mass. on July 11, 1767, John Quincy Adams was the eldest son of John and Abigail Smith Adams. In 1779, at the age of 12, he accompanied his father to Europe. Precocious and brilliant—at 14 he accompanied Francis Dana, the American minister, to Russia as a French translator—he served as his father's secretary during the peace negotiations in Paris. Except for brief periods of formal education, he studied under his father's direction. When he entered Harvard in 1785, he was proficient in Greek, Latin, French, Dutch, and German.
After his graduation Adams studied law and began to practice in Boston in 1790. More interested in politics than the law, he made a name for himself with political essays supporting the politics of President George Washington. Those signed "Publicola" (his answer to Thomas Paine's Rights of Man) were so competent that they were ascribed to his father, who was then vice president.
In 1793 Washington appointed young Adams minister to the Netherlands. From this vantage point he supplied the government with a steady flow of information on European affairs. Sent to London in connection with Jay's Treaty, he met Louisa Catherine Johnson, the daughter of the American consul, and married her on July 26, 1797. Although it was not a love match, the marriage was a happy one marked by deep mutual affection. In 1797 Adams became minister to Prussia, concluding a commercial treaty incorporating the neutral-rights provisions of Jay's Treaty.
On his return to the United States in 1801, Adams was elected to the Massachusetts Senate. Two years later he became a U.S. senator. Nominally a Federalist, he pursued an independent course. He was the only Federalist senator from New England to vote for the Louisiana Purchase. The Massachusetts Federalists forced him to resign in 1808 because they were angered by his support of Jefferson's commercial warfare against Great Britain and his presence at a Republican presidential nominating caucus.
Adams severed his connections with the Federalists and in 1809 accepted an appointment from Republican president James Madison as minister to Russia. He did much to encourage Czar Alexander's friendly disposition toward the United States. It was partly due to Adams's encouragement that Russia made an offer to mediate between Great Britain and the United States, which led to direct peace negotiations to end the War of 1812. As a member of the peace commission at Ghent, Adams and his colleagues (Henry Clay, Albert Gallatin, James A. Bayard, and Jonathan Russell) found the British commissioners so intransigent that they were obliged to conclude a treaty short of American expectations. In 1815, as minister to great Britain, Adams worked to lessen the tension between the two nations by welcoming Lord Castlereagh's friendly overtures.
In March 1817 President James Monroe appointed Adams secretary of state. Adams, who was then 50, was not a prepossessing figure. He was short, plump, and bald; his best feature was his penetrating black eyes. Inclined to be irascible, and very much aware of his own intellectual powers, he disciplined himself to conceal his impatience. "I am," he wrote in his diary, "a man of reserved, cold, austere, and forbidding manners…"Hewasillat ease in large gatherings, but in intimate circles he could be an entertaining companion. Imposing rigid moral standards on himself, he was inclined to judge others harshly. He had an almost Puritan sense of duty and a passion for work, which kept him at his desk for long hours not only in connection with official duties but in the scholarly researches that gave him so much pleasure. Every day he found time to make lengthy entries in his diary, which constitutes one of the most revealing sources for the political events of his era. His wife, witty and gracious, somewhat compensated for her husband's social shortcomings; Louisa Adams's weekly evening parties were among the most popular in the capital.
Adams and Monroe worked together in the greatest harmony and understanding, for they were in complete agreement on the basic objectives of American foreign policy. They wished to expand the territorial limits of the nation, to give American diplomacy a direction distinct from that pursued by the European states, and to compel the other powers to treat the United States as an equal. Monroe closely controlled foreign affairs, but he relied heavily on Adams, who proved a shrewd adviser, an adroit negotiator, and a talented writer whose state papers formulated administration policy with logic and a tremendous command of the relevant facts.
The most difficult negotiations undertaken by Adams were those culminating in the acquisition of Florida and the definition of the western boundary of Louisiana. In 1819 Adams was able to exploit Andrew Jackson's invasion of Florida to force Spain to settle both issues in the Transcontinental Treaty, which Spain ratified in 1821. Adams's familiarity with the complexities of the history of Louisiana enabled him to obtain a boundary settlement favorable to the United States and to fix the northern boundary so that American interests in the Columbia River region were protected. During the crisis precipitated by Jackson's unauthorized seizure of Spanish posts in Florida, Adams was the only Cabinet member to recommend that the administration completely endorse the general's conduct.
Equally taxing and less successful were the prolonged negotiations with the French minister over indemnities for confiscation of American ships and cargoes during the Napoleonic Wars, France's commercial rights in Louisiana, and trade relations in general. In 1822 Adams concluded a treaty providing only for a gradual reduction of discriminatory duties. His efforts to persuade Great Britain to open West Indian trade to American ships were unsuccessful. In the midst of these demanding negotiations, Adams conducted an extensive correspondence with American diplomats, reorganized the State Department, and drafted a masterly report for Congress on a uniform system of weights and measures. In 1822 Monroe formally recognized the new independent states in Latin America. Adams's instructions to the first American emissaries reflected his misgivings about the future of these states, which were largely dominated by authoritarian regimes.
When France intervened in Spain in 1823 to suppress a revolution, Adams did not share the view that this presaged a move on the European powers, who had banded together in the Holy Alliance, to restore Spanish authority in South America. He was far more concerned about Russian attempts to expand along the Pacific coast. Consequently, he welcomed Monroe's decision in 1823 to make a policy declaration expressing American hostility to European intervention in the affairs of the Americas. To the President's declaration, later known as the Monroe Doctrine, Adams contributed the noncolonization principle, which affirmed that the United States considered the Americas closed to further European colonization. In 1824 the American minister in Russia, acting on instructions from Adams, obtained an agreement in which Russia withdrew north of latitude 54'40", but Adams was not able to persuade the British to vacate the Columbia River region.
In 1824 Adams was involved in a bitter four-cornered presidential contest in which none of the candidates received a majority of the electoral votes. Adams with 84 votes, largely from New England and New York, ran behind Andrew Jackson with 99 but ahead of William H. Crawford with 41 and Henry Clay with 37. The contest was resolved in Adams's favor in the House of Representatives when Clay decided to support him. Adams's subsequent choice of Clay as secretary of state raised a cry of "corrupt bargain"; there was no overt agreement between them, but the charge was most damaging.
Adams's presidency added little to his fame. In the face of the absolute hostility of the combined Jackson-Crawford forces, he was unable to carry out his nationalist program. His proposals for Federal internal improvements, a uniform bankruptcy law, federally supported educational and scientific institutions, and the creation of a department of the interior were rebuffed. His sole success in dealing with Congress was the appointment in 1826 of two delegates to attend the Panama Congress, arranged by Simón Bolívar. This Adams achieved only after acrimonious debates in which hostile congressmen made much of the fact that American delegates would be participating in a conference attended by black representatives from Haiti.
Committed to a protectionist policy, Adams signed the Tariff of Abominations (engineered by the Jacksonians in 1828), although it was certain to alienate the South and displease New Englanders, whose manufactures were not granted additional protection. He never permitted political expediency to override his rigid sense of justice. Consequently, he alienated much Southern and Western opinion by his efforts to protect the interests of the Cherokees in Georgia. He also declined to use the power of patronage to build up a national following, although Postmaster General John McLean was appointing only Jackson men. Pilloried as an aristocrat hostile to the interests of the "common man," Adams was overwhelmingly defeated by Jackson in the election of 1828.
At the end of his presidency, Adams expected to concentrate on the scholarly interests which had always absorbed so much of his time, but his retirement was brief. In 1831 he was elected to the House of Representatives, where he served for eight successive terms until his death. Although generally associated with the Whigs, he pursued an independent course. For 10 years he was chairman of the Committee on Manufactures, which drafted tariff bills. He approved Jackson's stand on nullification, but he considered the compromise tariff of 1833, which was not the work of his committee, an excessive concession to the nullifiers. After 1835 he was identified with the antislavery cause, although he was not an abolitionist. From 1836 to 1844, when his efforts were finally successful, he worked to revoke the gag rule that required the tabling of all petitions relating to slavery. Session after session "old man eloquent," as he was dubbed, lifted his voice in defense of freedom of speech and the right to petition. True to his nationalist convictions, he continued to advocate internal improvements and battled to save the Bank of the United States.
Adams suffered a stroke on the floor of the House of Representatives on Feb. 21, 1848. He was carried to the Speaker's room, where he died 2 days later without regaining consciousness.
The most important printed sources are Adams's diary, Memoirs of John Quincy Adams…, edited by Charles Francis Adams (12 vols., 1874-1877), and Worthington Chauncey Ford's edition of The Writings of John Quincy Adams (7 vols., 1913-1917), which stops in 1823. The best biography is Samuel Flagg Bemis's two volumes, John Quincy Adams and the Foundations of American Foreign Policy (1949) and John Quincy Adams and the Union (1956). Adams's election to the presidency is covered fully by Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., ed., History of American Presidential Elections (4 vols., 1971). Studies of Adams's diplomacy are Dexter Perkins, The Monroe Doctrine, 1823-1826 (1927; new ed. 1966); Philip C. Brooks, Diplomacy and the Borderlands: The Adams-Onis Treaty of 1819 (1939); Arthur Preston Whitaker, The United States and the Independence of Latin America, 1800-1830 (1941); Bradford Perkins, Castlereagh and Adams: England and the United States, 1812-1823 (1964). See also George A. Lipsky, John Quincy Adams: His Theory and Ideas (1950). □
John Quincy Adams
John Quincy Adams
The four years spent in the White House by John Quincy Adams, the nation's sixth president (1825–1829), was a miserable experience for him both politically and personally. Adams, while a man of great personal integrity and intelligence, was completely lacking in the political skills necessary to be even mildly successful as president.
As a political candidate, Adams did not inspire or excite attention and seemed to be above the politicking required for public officeholders. He was elected president in 1824 in one of the most peculiar elections in U.S. history. None of the four candidates—William Crawford of Georgia, Henry Clay of Kentucky, Andrew Jackson of Tennessee, and Adams of Massachusetts—received the majority of electoral votes required to be elected president. It was, by the terms of the Constitution, left to the House of Representatives to choose the nation's next president. Clay, then the Speaker of the House, threw his support behind Adams, whom he personally disliked but thought to be the most qualified of the three remaining candidates. Once elected, Adams showed his political ineptitude by nominating Clay to be secretary of state. Supporters of the other two candidates, as well as those of newly elected vice president, John C. Calhoun, spoke and wrote of "corruption and bargain," charging a deal had been struck between Adams and Clay.
Another early example of Adams's political naiveté, yet also of his great character, involved his attempt to set an example of integrity in government by declaring that no employee of the executive branch would lose his job for any reason other than incompetence. He was, in other words, willing to leave political opponents in office, provided they performed competently. Crawford and Jackson refused offers to serve in Adams's cabinet, though Jackson supporter John McLean, originally appointed postmaster general by President Monroe, continued to serve in that capacity in the Adams administration. In that post he actively aided the Jackson coalition through the influence and patronage of his office. When Jackson later became president, he used the first vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court to reward McLean for his efforts.
domestic policy and affairs
Adams's first annual message, delivered to Congress in December 1825 (in written form, as State of the Union speeches were not given at the time), was grandiosely ambitious; it failed to take into consideration the political dynamics of the day. The type of message he gave was suitable for a president who had been elected with a mandate, not one elected against the wishes of nearly two-thirds of the nation. Prior to sending the message to Congress, Adams assembled his cabinet, but he ignored its members' caution about its overambitiousness.
The message, a bold declaration of what the national government could do to advance the wellbeing of the nation, proposed an extensive system of roads, canals, bridges, and highways, known then as internal improvements. Adams called for the founding of a national university and a naval academy, along with the erection of an astronomical observatory. Few of his domestic proposals were ever adopted. For example, his proposal for an observatory was laughed at and then voted down. The proposal for a Naval Academy passed the Senate but not the House, while the national university plan passed neither house. A few ideas in his message of 1825 became reality, mainly infrastructure improvements that passed because congressmen saw a chance to bring money and new projects home to their constituents. Congress defeated virtually everything else that promoted national development through federal funds.
Adams failed to take advantage of an opportunity to get public support for his programs when he opposed lowering the price of public land sold to settlers. He wanted to maintain the price and use the proceeds for internal improvements, such as those proposed in his 1825 message. Senator Thomas Hart Benton of Missouri wanted to make obtaining the land easier by either lowering the price or simply giving it away. Benton's proposal failed, with Adams getting most of the blame, which resulted in a further decline in his support in Missouri, Illinois, and Indiana.
The midterm congressional elections of 1826 enlarged the anti-Adams faction in Congress, whose primary goal was making life even more difficult for the president. An extremely unfair tariff bill was written in the House Committee on Manufactures. It was quite favorable to farmers, but not so to manufacturers. The tariff had been drafted to make Jackson appear as a free trade advocate in the South and a protectionist in the North. Behind this was a Jacksonian strategy based on the expectation that New England congressmen would defeat the bill so that the Jacksonians could then claim that they had tried to meet the needs of farmers and manufacturers but were blocked by Adams and his supporters. Adams reluctantly signed the bill, recognizing he was being made a scapegoat by his enemies. He gave little if any thought to vetoing the measure, because at that time the veto was rarely used. This bill, the Tariff of 1828, bearing Adams's signature, effectively ended whatever slim hopes he had of reelection.
foreign policy and affairs
John Quincy Adams was one of the greatest diplomats in U.S. history. His exemplary service as a diplomat, along with his eight years of effective service as secretary of state during the Monroe administration, matches the career of any government servant. But not even in foreign affairs could he be successful as president, in part because of a coalition against him of Jackson, Crawford, and even Vice President Calhoun.
In his December 1825 message to Congress, Adams wrote that the United States had accepted an invitation to the Panama Congress. There was much opposition, with Jacksonians and others claiming that Adams was getting involved in the affairs of other nations and arguing that this was contrary to the principle of avoiding unnecessary foreign entanglement put forth in George Washington's farewell address. Congress eventually authorized the necessary funds for the mission, but purposely did so too late for the United States actually to participate.
One foreign policy success during the Adams administration was blocking Colombian and Mexican efforts to seize Puerto Rico and Cuba from Spain, which could have resulted in independence for Cuba. Adams and Clay deemed it in the best interest of the United States to keep Cuba in the hands of Spain. Another foreign policy success was the promotion of free trade. With several countries in Europe as well as Mexico, Adams and Clay negotiated deals giving the United States either most-favored-nation trading status or, at least, reciprocity in trade with those countries.
International trade, however, was also the realm in which the Adams administration made quite possibly its greatest diplomatic blunder. Britain and the United States were in an ongoing dispute about whether the United States should have the same trading rights with the British West Indies as did Britain and its colonies. Clay, however, disagreed with this position, and so Adams sought help from Congress, which provided none with the intent of leaving Adams to dangle by himself. Congress then watched Adams lose a great economic opportunity by "forcing" Britain to close its ports to the United States and then having to reciprocate in kind, again without congressional support. From Jacksonian supporters there then came sarcastic description of the president as "Adams the Great American Diplomat." The entire reason for the action, or inaction, of Congress was the humiliation of the administration and the demonstration of its ineptitude.
native american affairs
Adams's handling of Native American affairs was no more successful than any other area of activity during his presidency. The primary reasons for his failure were lack of support from Congress; the disposition of George Troup, the governor of Georgia, against cooperating with the federal government; and the lack of political savvy or capital on Adams's part to do what he knew was right.
The Treaty of Indian Springs with the Creek Indians was approved by the Senate the day before Adams took office in March 1825. Adams signed the treaty although warned that it had been unethically negotiated. The treaty involved the Creeks leaving their land in return for compensation and a delay in leaving it until Georgia began to survey the land for settlement. As time passed, Adams realized the Creek Nation in Georgia had been cheated by chiefs of other Indian groups and their white allies, led by Troup. An investigation was ordered by Adams, as well as instructions to Georgia on how to proceed, which were ignored. Only through the threat of force could Adams get Troup to cooperate. Had the Treaty of Indian Springs been allowed to remain in effect, it would have resulted in bloodshed, so a new treaty was negotiated in Washington, D.C., and submitted to the Senate, where it lacked sufficient support. Negotiations were reopened, the Treaty of Washington was modified, and the Treaty of Indian Springs was declared void. Conflict continued between Georgia and the Adams administration, with Congress giving only limited, and sometimes no, support to Adams in the matter. In the end, Adams's lack of political skills prevented him from helping the Creeks in any significant way.
a failed administration
The presidency of John Quincy Adams was clearly not a success. All that he wished to accomplish was blocked by an antagonistic Congress. The public perceived the manner of his election to be questionable, and one political blunder after another did nothing but embolden his opponents. Yet while the great majority of the domestic proposals contained in his message to Congress in 1825, as well as the overriding philosophy behind them, seemed grandiose at the time, many were eventually implemented over the course of the next 125 years.
Hargreaves, Mary W. M. The Presidency of John Quincy Adams. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1985.
Nagel, Paul C. John Quincy Adams: A Public Life, a Private Life. New York: Knopf, 1997.
Remini, Robert V. John Quincy Adams. New York: Times Books, 2002.
J. Mark Alcorn
Adams, John Quincy (1767-1848)
John Quincy Adams (1767-1848)
Sixth president of the united states
Background. Perhaps no nineteenth-century president was more groomed for the office than John Quincy Adams. The eldest son of John and Abigail Adams, he was born on 11 July 1767 in Braintree, Massachusetts. His earliest formal schooling was in French and Latin in Passy, France, where he had accompanied his father on a diplomatic mission in 1778. In 1779 he attended the Latin School in Amsterdam and eventually matriculated at Leyden University in 1781. After spending time as the secretary to the United States minister to Russia and as secretary to his father as he negotiated the Treaty of Paris in 1783, he entered Harvard and graduated in 1787. After graduation he studied law and was admitted to the bar in 1791. Having traveled the world before his twentieth birthday, a modest law career must have been unappealing.
Diplomat and Politician. President George Washington appointed Adams minister to the Netherlands. While in Europe he met Louisa Johnson; they married in London on 26 July 1797. In 1801 he resumed his Boston law practice, won a state senate seat, and ran unsuccessfully for Congress. In 1803 Adams was selected for the United States Senate, where he demonstrated his disregard for party lines by opposing the Louisiana Purchase on constitutional grounds but voting for Thomas Jefferson’s 1807 embargo. He was disavowed by the Federalists, who forced him to resign in 1808. Adams gravitated toward the Democratic-Republicans and was nominated by James Madison as minister to Saint Petersburg. When Britain agreed to negotiate an end to the War of 1812, Adams joined Henry Clay and Albert Gallatin in Ghent as peace commissioners. Though the three frequently fought with each other, they succeeded in securing a peace treaty on 24 December 1814. The treaty ended the war without resolving its causes, and Adams feared that it would end his career, but to his surprise the treaty was well received by the American public.
Secretary of State. Adams probably ranks as the best nineteenth-century secretary of state. During his tenure he negotiated treaties with Great Britain that demilitarized the Great Lakes, fixed the border between the United States and Canada, and agreed to a renewable ten-year joint occupation of the Oregon Territory. When Spain’s American colonies revolted, Adams sympathized with the principles of the revolutionaries but moved with caution so as not to jeopardize the United States’ efforts to secure Florida from Spain. At the same time, Adams supported Gen. Andrew Jackson’s aggressive invasion of Florida, ostensibly to quell the Seminole Indian threat and end British meddling in the Southeast, as evidence of Spain’s inability to police the region. Adams’s maneuvering led Spain to cede Florida to the United States in the Adams-Onís Treaty (1819). When President James Monroe subsequently recognized Spain’s former colonies as independent nations, several European countries threatened to invade the new republics and restore them to Spain. Adams resisted a proposal from Great Britain to issue a joint declaration against foreign interference, which he compared to a United States rowboat following the wake of a British man-ofwar. He instead persuaded the president to act independently; the result was the Monore Doctrine, which rejected any further European colonization in the Western Hemisphere.
Unpopular President. Adams’s election in 1824 was tainted by charges of a “corrupt bargain” with rival candidate Clay that led the House of Representatives to choose Adams over Jackson. Adams’s dourness and coldness contrasted sharply with Jacksons’s formidable popularity, and as president Adams found himself challenged at every turn by a Congress controlled by his opponents. Adams believed in expansive and expansive government, including Clay’s “American System” of internal improvements financed by high protective tariffs. In his inaugural address he outlined an ambitious plan for the construction of roads, canals, and bridges, promotion of arts and sciences, establishment of a national university, and building of astronomical observatories (which he described as “lighthouses in the sky”). His opponents ridiculed his visionary plans, none of which were implemented. Adams’s administration was generally regarded as a complete failure, and he was defeated for reelection by Jackson in 1828.
“Old Man Eloquent.” Adams retired to Braintree (now Quincy), Massachusetts, to read and write history, considering his political career at an end. Instead, he was elected to Congress in 1830 and served in the House for the next seventeen years. He held several committee appointments and eloquently debated many important questions, including nullification, the gag rule, and Texas’s annexation. Adams became one of the most vocal antislavery northerners and risked censure for presenting a satirical petition advocating Northern secession from the slave South. On 19 November 1846 he had a mild stroke and recovered in time to resume his seat in February 1847. On 21 February 1848, after answering a roll call, he had another stroke on the House floor, He was carried to the Speaker’s room (ironically, the same room where Clay had “arranged” for his election twenty-three years earlier) and died there on 23 February without regaining consciousness.
Paul C. Nagel, John Quincy Adams: A Public Life, a Private Life (New York: Knopf, 1997).
Adams, John Quincy
ADAMS, JOHN QUINCY
The eldest son and second child of John and Abigail Smith Adams of Brain-tree, Massachusetts, John Quincy Adams (1767–1848) had one of the longest and most diverse careers in American political history. Between 1781, when he accompanied Francis Dana on his mission to Russia, to his collapse and death in the U.S. House of Representatives in 1848, Adams served as a diplomat abroad (1794–1801, 1809–1817), Massachusetts state senator (1802–1803), a member of the U.S. Senate (1803–1808), secretary of state (1817–1824), and president of the United States (1825–1829). He was a congressman from 1831 until his death. Like his father, he received a bachelor's degree from Harvard College (1787) and was admitted to the bar in Massachusetts (1790). Adams was also a gifted rhetorician, a student of the classics, a diarist, and a scientist. He was Harvard's first Boylston Professor of Rhetoric (1806–1809), and, while serving as secretary of state, he compiled a report on weights and measures that is a classic in the field.
Adams first gained political notoriety in 1791 when he published the letters of "Publicola"—a series of essays defending his father in particular and the Federalist Party in general against Jefferson's charge of political "heresy." Publicola and subsequent writings impressed President Washington, and in 1794 he made young Adams U.S. minister to the Netherlands. Washington raved about Adams's talents, proclaiming that, "I shall be much mistaken if, in as short a period as can well be expected, he is not found at the head of the diplomatic corps, let the government be administered by whomsoever the people may choose." Adams remained in the Hague throughout the rest of Washington's tenure and
served in Berlin during his father's presidency (1797–1801). Throughout these years Adams sought to maintain America's independent yet engaged stance in Europe.
Rather than serve under President Jefferson, Adams returned to the United States with his bride, Louisa Catherine Adams, the daughter of the American consul in London, whom he had married in 1797. (They would have three sons—George Washington Adams, John Adams II, and Charles Francis Adams.) Adams soon found his way back into politics, winning a seat in Massachusetts's state senate in 1802. Federalist Party managers had trouble with Adams, so they moved him up and out, to a seat in the U.S. Senate in 1803. Adams's term was stormy, for he was too independent to be a good partisan. He believed in a party system in the abstract but never could work within a party himself. Republicans were disinclined to trust the son of the man they had just defeated for president. Meanwhile, the growing anti-Unionist sentiment in the Federalist Party dismayed Adams. The final break came in 1808 when he attended a Republican caucus to nominate a presidential candidate. Massachusetts Federalists thereupon repudiated Adams, appointing his successor before Adams had even finished his term. Facing dishonor, Adams resigned.
President Madison named Adams the American minister to Russia in 1809. He remained there until 1814 when Madison sent him to Ghent to chair America's peace commission to negotiate an end to the War of 1812. After Adams and his colleagues signed the Treaty of Ghent on 24 December 1814, Madison sent Adams to London to serve as America's minister. While there, he began the negotiations that would culminate in the Rush-Bagot Treaty of 1817. That treaty, which removed armed ships from the Great Lakes, was a landmark in the history of disarmament.
In 1817 Adams returned home to serve as secretary of state under President Monroe. Seeing Spain's weakness in America, Adams pushed every advantage. Hence, in a negotiation that at first concerned only the Florida territory, Adams secured America's claim to land from Florida to the edge of Texas, and then across the West to the Oregon territory along the Pacific Ocean. Samuel Flagg Bemis notes that the Adams-Onís, or Transcontinental, Treaty "was the greatest diplomatic victory won by any single individual in the history of the United States."
Secretary of State Adams also played a key role in the creation of the Monroe Doctrine. He thought America should play an active role in the Western Hemisphere but a passive one outside of it. In an oration delivered on 4 July 1821, he described how the United States should respond to the Greek independence movement: America "goes not abroad in search of monsters to destroy. She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all. She is the champion and vindicator only of her own."
The presidential election of 1824 was the first closely contested election since 1800. No candidate received a majority, so the decision went to Congress; after much arm-twisting by Henry Clay, Congress made Adams president, even though Andrew Jackson had a plurality of votes. Adams thereupon made Clay secretary of state. For the next four years Jackson and his allies made an issue of the "corrupt bargain." Adams was an ineffective president. Wishing to be above party politics, he kept some of Jackson's partisans in office, and they actively campaigned against him. Meanwhile, he called for an extensive plan of internal improvements, claiming that "liberty is power" to improve the nation. He wanted to use the latent powers of the federal government to integrate the nation, which he feared was too divided among North, South, and West. Even though some of Adams's specific programs were popular, his overall scheme was not, and Jackson crushed him in the election of 1828.
Adams took defeat hard. In 1837 he wrote, in a letter to Charles W. Upham, that "the great object of my life … as applied to the administration of the Government of the United States has failed." The American union, he feared, would be the plaything of slaveholders rather than an engine for the spread of liberty. In 1830 he entered Congress, representing his native district in Massachusetts. He held the seat until his death in 1848. Throughout these years he sought, with some success, to return the Union to its antislavery foundation. Antislavery forces would dub him "old man eloquent" for his rhetorical service in their cause.
——. Memoirs of John Quincy Adams, Comprising Portions of His Diary from 1795 to 1848. Edited by Charles Francis Adams. Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1874–1877.
——. Writings of John Quincy Adams. 7 vols. Edited by Worthington Chauncey Ford. New York: Greenwood Press, 1968.
Bemis, Samuel Flagg. John Quincy Adams and the Foundations of American Foreign Policy. New York: Norton, 1973.
——. John Quincy Adams and the Union. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1980.
Richards, Leonard L. The Life and Times of Congressman John Quincy Adams. New York: Oxford University Press, 1986.
Adams, John Quincy
John Quincy Adams was more effective in his term as secretary of state than he was during his one term in the White House. His efforts as president were frustrated by opponents and by his inability to compromise. An intelligent and committed politician, he went on to a distinguished eighteen-year career in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Growing up in the Revolutionary War years
Adams was born on July 11, 1767, into a highly distinguished New England family in Braintree, Massachusetts . His father, John Adams (1735–1826; served 1797–1801), would become the second president of the United States. As a young boy, Adams was intrigued with all that was happening in the years leading up to the American Revolution (1775–83), the war for independence from Great Britain. Adams was an exceptionally intelligent young man. He attended private schools in Europe, graduated from Harvard College, and then studied law.
While still in school, Adams served as secretary to his father in Paris, France, during negotiations in 1783 to end the American Revolution. In 1794, President George Washington (1732–1799; served 1789–97) appointed him minister to the Netherlands. After his father became president in 1796, Adams served as minister to Prussia, in present-day Germany.
A change in political course
In 1803, Adams was elected to the U.S. Senate. His father was one of the founders of Federalism —a school of political thought that supported a strong national government and an industrial (business and manufacturing) economy. Adams's supporters in Massachusetts fully expected him to support Federalist Party policies, but as he watched the new nation
take shape, his sympathies turned toward theDemocratic-Republican Party , which favored states’ rights over federal power and an agrarian (farming) economy. Adams frequently voted in favor of the policies of the Democratic-Republican president, Thomas Jefferson (1743–1826; served 1801–9), including the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, which nearly doubled the size of the United States. Having infuriated many of the people who elected him, he joined the Democratic-Republican Party (which was also known as the Jeffersonian Republican Party) at the end of his term in the Senate.
Secretary of state
Adams served in important overseas missions under President James Madison (1751–1836; served 1809–17) and was appointed secretary of state under President James Monroe (1758–1831; served 1817–25) from 1817 to 1825. In this position, he used his keen diplomatic skills to build and strengthen the United States. In the aftermath of the War of 1812 (1812–15), a conflict over trade between Great Britain and the United States, he hammered out an arms-reduction agreement with Great Britain. He also negotiated with Great Britain to establish the boundary between British Canada and the United States. In 1819, Adams convinced Spain to cede Florida to the United States.
In 1823, President Monroe presented the Monroe Doctrine to Congress, which declared that the United States would not tolerate European interference in, or colonization of, the independent countries in the Western Hemisphere. Adams was a principal author of the Monroe Doctrine, which has served as the foundation of U.S. foreign policy since that time.
Adams joined the race for the presidency in 1824, running against four other Democratic-Republican nominees, one of whom was the popular military general Andrew Jackson (1767–1845). Although a majority of the popular vote went to Jackson, the race was close, and it fell to the House of Representatives to choose the new president. The House chose Adams as the sixth U.S. president. Many felt that Jackson was robbed of the presidency.
Adams moved into the White House full of ideas. He planned to expand the country's roads and canals, build a national university, improve bankruptcy laws, create a standard system of weights and measures for American business, and much more. Once in office, though, he discovered that every move he made was fiercely opposed by Jackson's supporters in Congress. The Jacksonians were not his only problem. Adams refused to play the customary political game in Washington, D.C., neglecting to reward his supporters with the political appointments they expected. His instincts were honorable, but his lack of charm and unwillingness to compromise prevented him from gaining a popular following. He lost the election of 1828 to Jackson.
In 1830, the former president was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. Adams served with distinction from 1831 until his death in 1848, earning the nickname “Old Man Eloquent” for his speeches. His crowning achievement was his opposition to the “gag rules” that prevented antislavery petitions from being read on the floor of the House. Adams argued that the rules violated the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution , which protects the freedom of speech and the right to petition the government. The House discarded the “gag rules” in 1844. While never officially declaring himself to be in favor of abolishing slavery , Adams became an outspoken champion of the antislavery movement in Congress.
In 1848, Adams suffered a stroke on the House floor. He was carried to the Speaker's room, where he died two days later.
Adams, John Quincy