JOHN QUINCY ADAMS | 1825-1829
A president who was the son of a president, John Quincy Adams’ career in many repects paralleled that of his father. Born in Braintree, Massachusetts, on July 11, 1767, he watched the Battle of Bunker Hill from a hill above the family farm. As secretary to his father in Europe, he became an accomplished linguist and assiduous diarist.
After graduating from Harvard College, he became a lawyer. At age 35 he was elected to the Senate. Six years later President Madison appointed him minister to Russia. Serving under President Monroe, Adams was one of the great secretaries of state. He arranged with England for the joint occupation of the Oregon country, obtained the cession of the Floridas from Spain and formulated, with the president, the Monroe Doctrine.
Traditionally, secretaries of state were considered the political heirs to the presidency. But by 1824 the old ways of choosing a president were giving in to the clamor for a popular choice. Within the only party – Republican – sectionalism was developing. Each section put up its own candidate for president. No candidate won a majority of electoral votes, so the election was decided by the House of Representatives. Henry Clay, who favored a program similar to that of Adams, threw his support to the New Englander.
President Adams appointed Clay as secretary of state. Andrew Jackson and his angry followers charged that a “corrupt bargain” had taken place and immediately began their campaign to take the presidency from Adams. Aware that he would face hostility, Adams proclaimed in his first annual message a spectacular national program. He proposed that the Federal Government bring the sections together with highways and canals, and that it develop and conserve the public domain, using funds from the sale of public lands. In 1828, he broke ground for the 185-mile C & 0 Canal. Adams also established a national university, financed scientific expeditions and erected an observatory. His critics declared such measures transcended constitutional limitations.
In the campaign of 1828, his opponents charged him with corruption and public plunder. Adams went home to Massachusetts after his defeat. In 1830, his district elected him to the House of Representatives where, above all, he fought against circumscription of civil liberties. In 1836 southern congressmen passed a “gag rule” providing that the House automatically table petitions against slavery. Adams tirelessly fought the rule for eight years until finally he obtained its repeal.
In 1848, he collapsed on the floor of the House from a stroke. He soon died. To the end, “Old Man Eloquent” had fought for what he considered right.
Permission granted to re-post by The White House Historical Association