John Quincy Adams
John Quincy Adams was the sixth president of the United States and an influential politician. He was influential in negotiating the end to the War of 1812, an ambassador to many European nations, and a scholarly man.
Born on July 11, 1767, in Braintree (now Quincy) Massachusetts, John Quincy Adams was the son of John and Abigail Adams, whom his father would become the second US President. Adams (John Quincy Adams) received private tutelage as a child from his cousin and John Adams’ law clerk. At the age of eight, he witnessed the famous Battle of Bunker Hill from a hill near the family farm with his mother Abigail Adams. Two years later, Adams accompanied his father on diplomatic trips to Europe. While there, he learned to speak French, Dutch (which he struggled with), and Swedish, and also attended the Leiden University in the Netherlands. Adams later earned a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree at Harvard.
Adams’ political career began when he defended George Washington’s position in staying out of the bloody French Revolution. As a result, he was appointed to become the official Ambassador to the Netherlands, a position he only accepted when his father urged him to go. After his time in the Netherlands, Adams became the Minister to Portugal. For some time after that he became the Professor of Logic at Brown University in Rhode Island.
Adams then became used to a lifestyle of public service, and in 1809 was appointed by James Madison to become the Minister to Russia a new position that he was the first to have. Adams voyage to Russia was much longer than expected. He was frequently stopped by British and Norwegian ships, who demanded his identity. One Norwegian vessel ordered his ship to Kristiansand, where he found over 30 captured vessels, all American. The reason why the British and Norwegians stopped Madison was because Britain and Denmark-Norway were embroiled in the Gunboat War, a small part of the larger Napoleonic Wars between Napoleon’s French Empire and his allies1 and the Coalition including Britain, Sweden, Russia, and Portugal. Madison stayed in St. Petersburg, at the time the capital of Russia, and was warmly greeted by Tsar2 Alexander I. Adams sent letters back home, and described Napoleon’s invasion of Russia and his disastrous retreat in his letters. While in Russia, Alexander held many parties and balls (which often lasted until 4 AM), which Madison attended some, but he stopped attending ones that he didn’t have to go to because they took up too much time from his duties as ambassador. Adams did not openly criticize the tsar or his policies, for the simple reason that he would be expelled from Russia if he did. During a walk with Alexander I, Adams’ was asked (by Alexander I) if he wanted to buy a residence in Russia. Adams, being one devoted to his work, hesitated, but luckily for him, the tsar humorously replied that it was a financial consideration, and Adams was able to reply to the tsar. During his time spent, he was able to negotiate and improve trade between Russia and the U.S. Adams was recalled to Belgium3 to negotiate the Treaty of Ghent, which officially ended the War of 1812 between the U.S. and Britain. For two years Adams served in Britain, and in 1817 was appointed Secretary of State by James Monroe.
Adams’ time as Secretary of State ran very smoothly, and most of Monroe’s beliefs and opinions Adams’ agreed with. The one time Adams disagreed was extremely powerful. The story goes like this; General Andrew Jackson is chasing down some Seminole Indians who have been causing lots of trouble in the U.S. The Indians retreat to Florida, a Spanish territory that is a refuge for runaway slaves, mainly because the Spanish have no presence in Florida, just a claim. Jackson chases them into Florida, where he finds British merchants who supplied arms to the Indians, and kills them, in order to prevent any more trouble from the Indians. Jackson also sets up a garrison in Florida too. Monroe and everyone else in cabinet say that Jackson went too far. Adams, on the other hand, boldly disagrees and states that Jackson was doing his job of securing American borders. He spoke so well that Jackson wasn’t punished and revolts from Britain and Spain were stopped. This allowed him to negotiate adding Florida to the U.S. and settle border disputes between Spain and the U.S. in the American West.
In 1824, Adams ran for president as a Democrat-Republican4. The election had no clear victor, so congress picked Adams to be president. Andrew Jackson, sure he would win, was furious and spent Adams’ entire term “plotting revenge” or plotting to win the 1828 election, which he would win. During his presidency, Adams improved roads and canals, and supported Native American’s claims to their tribal land. After his presidency, Adams retired to his farm only to find he was elected to the House of Representatives two years later. He served in the house for the rest of his life, and fought against slavery. He died on February 23, 1848 from a heart attack while in congress. His tombstone is located next to his father’s in the Adams National Historical Park in Quincy, Massachusetts.
John Quincy Adams made a lot of contributions to the U.S. and is often overlooked as a president, but he was the first president to work on the internal condition of the U.S. and was smart and humble, unlike other presidents in our history.
1: Napoleon’s allies were Austria, Prussia, and Denmark-Norway.
2: Initially, Tsar was meant to be emperor, but Western Europeans saw the title as a word for king.
3: Belgium was part of the Netherlands at this time.
4: At this time every canidate was Democrat-Republican, but each usually had their region of loyal voters.