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John Quincy Adams

Adams, John Quincy, 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 and 1956), other biographies by J. T. Morse (1883, repr. 1972), B. C. Clark (1932), P. C. Nagel (1997), and R. V. Remini (2002); 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 Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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