John Quincy Adams

July 11, 1767–February 23, 1848

John Quincy Adams was the sixth President of the United States from 1825 to 1829, He was the son of John Adams and Abigail Adams and had a long career as a lawyer, diplomat, and politician. He played a key role in helping President James Monroe shape the foreign policy of the United States, which is known as the Monroe Doctrine.

John Quincy Adams, Portrait, Photograph

John Quincy Adams was the son of Founding Father John Adams and the 6th President of the United States of America. Image Source: Wikipeida.

Biography of John Quincy Adams

John Quincy Adams was the sixth President of the United States of America. He was born near Boston in the early days of the American Revolution. His father, John Adams, was a Founding Father and John Quincy served as his secretary during the negotiations to end the American Revolutionary War, which ended with the Treaty of Paris. When Adams returned to America, he become a lawyer, started a family, and also served as Minister to Prussia when his father was President of the United States. He became a member of the Federalist Party and was elected to Congress, but eventually changed parties and became a Democrat-Republican. He helped negotiate the Treaty of Ghent, which ended the War of 1812. Afterward, he served as Minister to England and then as Secretary of State under President James Monroe. With Monroe, he helped develop the Monroe Doctrine. In 1824, Adams was elected President over Andrew Jackson in a disputed election that was decided by the House of Representatives. His presidency was troubled by ongoing disputes with supporters of Jackson and Adams was viewed by many as an elitist. When he supported the Tariff of 1828, it ended his chances to be re-elected and he lost the 1828 election to Andrew Jackson in a landslide. Two years later, he was elected to the House of Representatives where he fought for nearly a decade against the expansion of slavery. Although he was retired as a lawyer, he successfully argued on behalf of 53 African slaves in the case of United States v. The Amistad. The Africans were allowed to return to their homeland. Adams died in the Capitol Building while performing his duties as a congressman.

John Adams, Portrait, Stuart

Founding Father John Adams took his son, John Quincy, with him to Europe during the American Revolutionary War. Image Source: Wikipedia.

Quick Facts About John Quincy Adams

Here are 5 important facts from the life and career of John Quincy Adams.

  1. Born: John Quincy Adams was born on July 11, 1767, in Braintree, Massachusetts.
  2. Parents: His parents were John Adams and Abigail Smith Adams.
  3. Died: He died on February 23, 1848, at the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, D.C.
  4. Spouse: He married Louisa Catherine Johnson on July 26, 1797.
  5. Presidential Term: He served as the 6th President of the United States from March 4, 1825, to March 3, 1829.

Life and Career of John Quincy Adams

Early Life

The sixth President of the United States, John Quincy Adams, was born on July 11, 1767, in Braintree, Massachusetts, near Boston. He was the second of five children born to John Adams and Abigail Adams. His father was a signer of the Declaration of Independence, first Vice, President of the United States, second President of the United States, and a Founding Father. His mother was an influential voice during the American Revolution.

As a youth, Adams reportedly witnessed the Battle of Bunker Hill from the top of a hill next to his family’s farm. While accompanying his father, who served several diplomatic missions during and after the American Revolution, Adams received a classical education at private academies in Europe. By age fourteen, Adams’s fluency in several European languages led Francis Dana to engage him as secretary and interpreter during a diplomatic assignment in Russia. In 1783, he served as a personal secretary to his father while he was in Europe negotiating the Treaty of Paris, which ended the American Revolutionary War.

Upon returning to America, Adams enrolled at Harvard College in 1785, earning a bachelor’s degree two years later and a master’s degree in 1790. After being admitted to the Massachusetts bar in 1791, Adams practiced law in Boston for three years.


In 1794, President George Washington appointed Adams as Minister to the Netherlands. While in Europe, Adams renewed acquaintances with Louisa Catherine Johnson, the foreign-born daughter of Joshua Johnson, the U. S. consul to Great Britain. The two had met eighteen years earlier in France when he was twelve and she was four years old. When Adams’s father assumed the presidency of the United States in 1797, he appointed his son as U. S. Minister to Prussia, where he served for three years. Before assuming his post in Berlin, the younger Adams traveled to London, where he married Johnson on July 26, 1797. Their marriage produced four children, three of whom survived to adulthood.

Politics and Elected Service

When John Adams lost his reelection bid for a second presidential term in 1800, John Quincy returned to the United States. Resuming his law practice in Massachusetts, he entered the local political arena. Like his father, Adams was a member of the Federalist Party. In 1801, Massachusetts voters elected Adams to the state legislature.

In 1803, the Massachusetts legislature elected Adams to a seat in the United States Senate. Adams began his service with the 8th U. S. Congress on March 4, 1803. During his first year in office, Adams was one of only two Federalist senators to support President Thomas Jefferson and the decision to purchase the Louisiana Territory from France. When he also supported Jefferson’s Embargo Act of 1807, Adams fell out of favor with the Federalist-dominated Massachusetts legislature. Consequently, Adams resigned his senate seat in the 10th U. S. Congress on June 8, 1808, and he switched his allegiance to the Democratic-Republican Party.

Return to Diplomatic Duties

After leaving the Senate, Adams served briefly as a professor at Harvard College before returning to diplomatic duties for nearly another decade. In 1809, President James Madison appointed Adams as Minister to Russia, where he represented U. S. interests for five years. In 1814, Madison sent Adams to Belgium as chief arbiter of the five-person U. S. team that negotiated the Treaty of Ghent, which officially ended the War of 1812 between Great Britain and the United States, after the U. S. Senate ratified the agreement on February 18, 1815. Adams’ success in dealing with the British in Belgium led Madison to appoint him as Minister to England in 1815. During the two years that Adams held that post, he negotiated several agreements that resolved boundary disputes and helped improve Anglo-American relations.

Secretary of State

From 1817 to 1825, Adams served as U. S. Secretary of State throughout James Monroe’s two terms as president. Early in his tenure, Adams resolved a border dispute between Canada and the U. S. at the northern reaches of the Louisiana Purchase through the Treaty of 1818 with Great Britain. In 1819, he negotiated the Onís-Adams Treaty with Spain, acquiring Florida and territory in Oregon from Spain, in return for U. S. recognition of Spanish sovereignty in Texas. The capstone of Adams’ tenure as Secretary of State was the Monroe Doctrine, developed in concert with President Monroe. On December 2, 1823, during the president’s seventh annual message to Congress, Monroe proclaimed that “the American continents . . . . are henceforth not to be considered as subjects for future colonization by any European powers.” He also warned that the United States would consider any attempt by European nations “to extend their system to any portion of this hemisphere as dangerous to our peace and safety.” The dictum that the United States would not tolerate European interference in the Western Hemisphere, now known as the Monroe Doctrine, has served as a cornerstone of U. S. foreign policy ever since.

James Madison, Painting

Adams helped President James Madison shape the foreign policy of the United States as Secretary of State. Image Source: Wikipeida.

Presidential Election of 1824

As the curtain began falling on President Monroe’s second term, five members of the Democratic-Republican Party, including Adams, sought to succeed him. Adams’s competitors were Secretary of War John C. Calhoun, House Speaker Henry Clay, Secretary of the Treasury William H. Crawford, and Senator Andrew Jackson. Calhoun dropped out of the race early. When election officials tabulated the results from the November 1824 election, Jackson emerged as the clear winner, garnering 40.1% of the popular vote compared to Adams’ 30.9%, Clay’s 13%, and Crawford’s 11.2%. In the Electoral College balloting, Jackson again came out on top receiving 99 votes compared with 84 for Adams, 41 for Crawford, and 37 for Clay. Despite Jackson’s obvious popularity, his victory was illusory because he failed to receive a majority of electoral votes cast. Without a decisive winner in the Electoral College, the House of Representatives chose the new president, as required by law.

The Twelfth Amendment to the U. S. Constitution specified that the House must elect a president only “from the persons having the highest numbers not exceeding three on the list of those voted for as President;” thus they eliminated Henry Clay as a candidate. As deliberations began, Clay, who wielded considerable influence because he was Speaker of the House, swung his support to Adams. On February 9, 1825, the House elected Adams as President of the United States. Soon thereafter, Adams appointed Clay as his successor as Secretary of State (a position Clay coveted because Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and James Monroe had each used the office as a springboard to the presidency). Jackson’s supporters cried “foul,” but government officials never investigated what Jacksonians termed the “corrupt bargain.”

President of the United States

Adams took the oath of office as President of the United States on March 4, 1825. During his four years in office, Adams proposed constructing a federally financed network of canals and highways to remedy the increasing sectionalism that was slowly dividing the nation. A coalition of embittered Jackson’s supporters in Congress, and members of Adams’ own party who found his ideas too similar to their former rivals in the defunct Federalist Party, thwarted that initiative, like many of Adams’ other ideas.

Presidential Election of 1828

By 1828, many Americans viewed Adams as an ineffective, elitist, and unpopular president. Jackson and his followers had not forgotten how Adams’ “corrupt bargain” had cheated the Hero of New Orleans of the White House in 1824. In addition, Adams’ support of the Tariff of 1828 — also known as the “Tariff of Abominations” — earned Adams the wrath of Southern and New England voters. By the time voters went to the polls in the fall of 1828 to choose a president, the Democratic-Republican Party of Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe had split into two factions, Jacksonian Democrats and the group who supported Adams (later known as National Republicans). When election officials tabulated the popular votes, Jackson upset the incumbent president by receiving over 56% of the votes cast. The votes in the Electoral College were even more one-sided; Jackson more than doubled Adams’s total votes, 178-83. Outside of New England, Adams carried only New Jersey and Maryland.

Andrew Jackson, Portrait, Painting

Andrew Jackson was a political rival of John Quincy Adams. Image Source: Wikipedia.

Post-Presidential Career

Adams left the presidency on March 4, 1829, refusing to attend President Jackson’s inauguration. Adams returned to private life in Massachusetts, but he did not remain out of the political arena. In 1830, voters in his home district elected Adams to the United States House of Representatives. Adams is the only ex-president to sit in the House, and one of only two former presidents to serve in Congress (the other was Andrew Johnson).

Adams served nine consecutive terms in the House starting on March 4, 1831, with the 22nd Congress and ending with his death on February 23, 1848, while serving in the 30th Congress. Originally elected as a member of the National Republican Party, Adams joined the Whig Party in 1834 and remained a member for the rest of his life.

During his tenure in the House of Representatives, Adams was an early opponent of the expansion of slavery in the United States. After the House passed its infamous “gag rule” in 1836 prohibiting the introduction of petitions related to slavery, Adams fought tirelessly over the next eight years for its repeal. He succeeded in 1844 when the House endorsed his resolution to overturn the onerous regulation. Southern members never mustered enough support to silence the voices of anti-slavery forces in the House again. Later, Adams’ opposition to the extension of slavery also led him to vote against the annexation of Texas in 1845, and against the declaration of war against Mexico on May 13, 1846, which started the Mexican-American War.

United States v. The Amistad

In 1841, Adams briefly came out of retirement as a lawyer when he joined the case of United States v. The Amistad. On February 21, Adams appeared before the United States Supreme Court to argue the case of fifty-three African slaves who had revolted and seized the Spanish ship Amistad off of the coast of Connecticut. During his four-hour defense, Adams reasoned that because the Africans had been illegally captured and bound into slavery, their rights as freemen outweighed any treaty obligations the United States had to Spain. The court agreed and ordered the Africans returned to their homeland.

Death of John Quincy Adams

On February 21, 1848, Adams suffered a stroke in the House of Representatives while considering a bill related to the Mexican-American War. Members moved him to the rotunda and then to the speaker’s office, where he lapsed into a coma. He died in the Capitol Building two days later, on February 23, 1848.

Following public services attended by thousands, Adams’s remains were temporarily interred in the public vault at the Congressional Cemetery in Washington, D.C., which was used to store the bodies of public officials while burial arrangements were made. A few days later, Adams’s body was taken to Quincy, Massachusetts, and interred in Hancock Cemetery next to the grave of President John Adams. On December 16, 1852, the remains of John Quincy Adams and his wife were moved across the street, to the basement of First Parish Church, where they now rest in the Adams family crypt next to the bodies of John and Abigail Adams.

Significance of John Quincy Adams

John Quincy Adams was important to United States history because of his political service and contribution to the development of the Monroe Doctrine, which set the foreign policy of the United States of America.

Interesting Facts About John Quincy Adams

John Quincy Adams was an attorney, diplomat, and politician his entire life.

During his political career, he served as:

  • 6th President of the United States
  • U.S. Congressman
  • U.S. Senator
  • U.S. Minister to Prussia
  • U.S. Minister to Russia
  • U.S. Minister to England
  • U.S. Secretary of State

Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations, including APA Style, Chicago Style, and MLA Style.

  • Article Title John Quincy Adams
  • Date July 11, 1767–February 23, 1848
  • Author
  • Keywords sixth u. s. president, minister to russia, minister to prussia, minister to england, congressman, secretary of state, treaty of ghent, amistad case, monroe doctrine, election of 1824, gag rule
  • Website Name American History Central
  • Access Date July 14, 2024
  • Publisher R.Squared Communications, LLC
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update August 11, 2023