President who was the son of a President, John Quincy Adams in many respects
paralleled the career as well as the temperament and viewpoints of his
illustrious father. Born in Braintree, Massachusetts, in 1767, he watched the
Battle of Bunker Hill from the top of Penn's Hill above the family farm. As
secretary to his father in Europe, he became an accomplished linguist and
After graduating from Harvard College, he became a
lawyer. At age 26 he was appointed Minister to the Netherlands, then promoted
to the Berlin Legation. In 1802 he was elected to the United States Senate. Six
years later President Madison appointed him Minister to Russia.
Serving under President Monroe, Adams was one of America's great Secretaries of
State, arranging with England for the joint occupation of the Oregon country,
obtaining from Spain the cession of the Floridas, and formulating with the
President the Monroe Doctrine.
In the political tradition of the early
19th century, Adams as Secretary of State was considered the political heir to
the Presidency. But the old ways of choosing a President were giving way in
1824 before the clamor for a popular choice.
Within the one and only
party--the Republican--sectionalism and factionalism were developing, and each
section put up its own candidate for the Presidency. Adams, the candidate of
the North, fell behind Gen. Andrew Jackson in both popular and electoral votes,
but received more than William H. Crawford and Henry Clay. Since no candidate
had a majority of electoral votes, the election was decided among the top three
by the House of Representatives. Clay, who favored a program similar to that of
Adams, threw his crucial support in the House to the New Englander.
Upon becoming President, Adams appointed Clay as Secretary of State. Jackson
and his angry followers charged that a "corrupt bargain" had taken place and
immediately began their campaign to wrest the Presidency from Adams in 1828.
Well aware that he would face hostility in Congress, Adams
nevertheless proclaimed in his first Annual Message a spectacular national
program. He proposed that the Federal Government bring the sections together
with a network of 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 urged the United
States to take a lead in the development of the arts and sciences through the
establishment of a national university, the financing of scientific
expeditions, and the erection of an observatory. His critics declared such
measures transcended constitutional limitations.
The campaign of 1828,
in which his Jacksonian opponents charged him with corruption and public
plunder, was an ordeal Adams did not easily bear. After his defeat he returned
to Massachusetts, expecting to spend the remainder of his life enjoying his
farm and his books.
Unexpectedly, in 1830, the Plymouth district
elected him to the House of Representatives, and there for the remainder of his
life he served as a powerful leader. 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 and was carried to the Speaker's Room, where two days later he
died. He was buried--as were his father, mother, and wife--at First Parish
Church in Quincy. To the end, "Old Man Eloquent" had fought for what he