John Quincy Adams

John Quincy Adams, 1767–1848, 6th President of the United States (1825–29), b. Quincy (then in Braintree), Mass.; son of John Adams and Abigail Adams and father of Charles Francis Adams (1807–86). He accompanied his father on missions to Europe, gaining broad knowledge from study and travel—he even accompanied (1781–83) Francis Dana to Russia—before returning home to graduate (1787) from Harvard and study law. Washington appointed (1794) him minister to the Netherlands, and in his father's administration he was minister to Prussia (1797–1801).

In 1803 he became a U.S. senator as a Federalist, but his independence led him to approve Jeffersonian policies in the Louisiana Purchase and in the Embargo Act of 1807; the Federalists were outraged, and he resigned (1808). Sent as minister to Russia in 1809, he was well received, but the Napoleonic wars eclipsed Russian-American relations. He then helped to draw up the Treaty of Ghent (1814), and served as minister to Great Britain. As secretary of state (1817–25) under James Monroe, Adams gained enduring fame. He negotiated a major treaty with Spain, which secured for the United States a great expanse of land that stretched to the Pacific. Perhaps most notably, Adams was also the architect of the somewhat misleadingly named Monroe Doctrine (1823).

In 1824 Adams was a candidate for the U.S. presidency. Neither he, nor Andrew Jackson, nor Henry Clay received a majority in the electoral college, and the election was decided in the House of Representatives. There Clay supported Adams, making him president. Adams appointed Clay secretary of state, over the Jacksonians' cry that the appointment fulfilled a corrupt bargain. With little popular support and without a party, Adams had an unhappy, ineffective administration, despite his attempts to institute a broad program of internal improvements.

After Jackson won the 1828 election, Adams retired to Quincy, but returned to new renown as a U.S. representative (1831–48). His eloquence, persistence, and moral forcefulness brought an end (1844) to the House gag rule on debate about slavery, and he attacked all other measures that would extend that institution, as well as Jackson's forced removal of southeastern tribes (1837) and the 1846 invasion of Mexico.

Cold and introspective, Adams was not generally popular, but he was respected for his high-mindedness and knowledge. His interest in science led him to promote the Smithsonian Institution. His diary (selections ed. by C. F. Adams, 12 vol., 1874–77, repr. 1970; abridged by A. Nevins, 1928 and 1951) is a valuable document. Most of his writings were edited by W. C. Ford (7 vol., 1913–17); some appear in The Selected Writings of John and John Quincy Adams (ed. by A. Koch and W. Peden, 1946).

See the definitive biography by S. F. Bemis (2 vol., 1949–56) and biographies by J. T. Morse (1883, repr. 1972), B. C. Clark (1932), P. C. Nagel (1997), R. V. Remini (2002), and F. Kaplan (2014); J. T. Adams, The Adams Family (1930); M. B. Hecht, John Quincy Adams: A Personal History of Independence (1972); R. Brookhiser, America's First Dynasty: The Adamses, 1735–1918 (2002).

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2014, The Columbia University Press.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

FREE! Writings of John Quincy Adams
Worthington Chauncey Ford; John Quincy Adams.
Macmillan, vol.1, 1913
Librarian’s tip: Questia has multiple volumes of the writings of John Quincy Adams
Empire for Liberty: A History of American Imperialism from Benjamin Franklin to Paul Wolfowitz
Richard H. Immerman.
Princeton University Press, 2010
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 2 "John Quincy Adams and America's Tortured Empire"
To Provide for the General Welfare: A History of the Federal Spending Power
Theodore Sky.
University of Delaware Press, 2003
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 8 "John Quincy Adams's 'Spirit of Improvement'"
John Quincy Adams and American Conservatism
Mattie, Sean.
Modern Age, Vol. 45, No. 4, Fall 2003
Presidential Campaigns
Paul F. Boller Jr.
Oxford University Press, 1996 (Revised edition)
Librarian’s tip: Chap. Ten "1824: John Quincy Adams and the 'Corrupt Bargain'" and Chap. Eleven "1828: Jackson vs. Adams"
American Statesmen: Secretaries of State from John Jay to Colin Powell
Edward S. Mihalkanin.
Greenwood Press, 2004
Librarian’s tip: "John Quincy Adams" begins on p. 20
U.S. Presidents as Orators: A Bio-Critical Sourcebook
Halford Ryan.
Greenwood Press, 1995
Librarian’s tip: "John Quincy Adams" begins on p. 54
Presidential Anecdotes
Paul F. Boller Jr.
Oxford University Press, 1996 (Revised edition)
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 6 "John Quincy Adams"
John Quincy Adams: His Theory and Ideas
George A. Lipsky.
Thomas Y. Crowell, 1950
FREE! Life and Public Services of John Quincy Adams: Sixth President of the United States: with the Eulogy Delivered before the Legislature of New York
William H. Seward.
C.M. Saxton, Barker, 1860
FREE! Memoir of the Life of John Quincy Adams
Josiah Quincy.
Phillips, Sampson, 1858
Travel Experience in the Formation of Leadership: John Quincy Adams, Frederick Douglass and Jane Addams
Hunt, James B.
Journal of Leadership Studies, Vol. 7, No. 1, Winter 2000
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