John Quincy Adams (1767–1848) was the sixth president of the United States, following in his father’s (John Adams) footsteps. He was born on July 11, 1767, in Quincy, Massachusetts – which was called Braintree at the time, not to be confused with the modern small town of Braintree. As a young child in June 1775, he sat on a hilltop with his mother near the family farm and watched the famous Battle of Bunker Hill.
John was introduced to politics at a young age. When he was ten, his father took him on a diplomatic mission to France. He studied at European universities and was fluent in seven languages. In 1785, he entered Harvard College, graduating two years later. He then studied law and was admitted to the bar in 1790. He practiced his trade in Boston.
In 1794, President George Washington appointed him as a U.S. minister to the Netherlands. When John Adams was elected president in 1796, he appointed his son, John Quincy Adams, as minister to Prussia (Germany). When his father lost the presidency to Thomas Jefferson in 1800, young John returned and reopened his practice in Boston. In 1802, he was elected to the Massachusetts State Senate, and the following year the U.S. Senate.
Although John was a Federalist, he began to sour on party politics and even voted against his party on several issues, including Jefferson’s Embargo Act of 1807. Disgusted with the political scene, in 1808 he returned to Harvard where he had been made a professor. But not for long. The next year, President James Madison appointed John as ambassador to the Russian court of Czar Alexander I. War broke out between the United States and Britain, and, in 1814, John went to Belgium and negotiated the Treaty of Ghent, which ended the War of 1812.
President James Monroe named John his secretary of state in 1817. During that appointment, he was instrumental in negotiating the joint occupation of Oregon with England and obtaining Florida from Spain.
It was time for John to seek his chance at the presidency, and in 1824 he entered a five-way race for the coveted office. Opposing John Quincy Adams were Secretary of War John C. Calhoun, Secretary of the Treasury William H. Crawford, Speaker of the House Henry Clay, and General Andrew Jackson. For the first time, however, no candidate received a majority of electoral votes, so the House of Representatives made the decision. Clay threw his support behind Adams, and the new president later named Clay his secretary of state.
This was the beginning of conflict between John Quincy Adams and those who supported Andrew Jackson. Jackson’s followers called the outcome a corrupt bargain, and Jackson even resigned from the Senate. The hostility continued through John’s presidency and may have been responsible for keeping him from accomplishing very much. He initiated an interstate system of roads and canals and the creation of a national university, which critics argued exceeded federal authority. However, the Erie Canal was completed during his term, linking the Great Lakes to the East Coast.
Although John Quincy Adams ran for a second presidential term, he became only the second president to fail to win; the first had been his father in 1800. He returned home and then in 1830 won an election to the House of Representatives, where he served for the rest of his life. His longevity with the House earned him the nickname “Old Man Eloquent” because he passionately supported freedom of speech and was strongly against the “peculiar institution” of slavery. After suffering two strokes, John passed away at the age of 80 on February 23, 1848.