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Useful Notes: John Quincy Adams

"I am a man of reserved, cold, austere and forbidding manners. My political adversaries say a gloomy misanthrope, my personal enemies, an unsocial savage."
Adams' opinion on himself, long before he became president.

John Quincy Adams (July 11, 1767 — February 23, 1848) was the sixth U.S. President in 1825 to 1829. A Democratic-Republican, he served between James Monroe and Andrew Jackson. He was the first son of a former President to enter the White House, and only George W. Bush has done so since.

Before becoming president, Adams served as a prominent statesman, having gained experience when he went with his father to Europe during the Revolutionary War. He served as a respected ambassador to several countries in Europe, and later helped negotiate the treaty that ended the War of 1812. As James Monroe's Secretary of State, Adams authored most of the Monroe Doctrine, bought Florida from the Spanish, and helped negotiate the border of the United States and British Canada (gaining America parts of present-day Minnesota, North Dakota, and South Dakota in the process). He is widely considered to be one of the most successful statesmen and diplomats in American history. Adams was also a professor at Harvard for some time.

After Monroe's second term election, Adams was one of four men to run for the presidency in 1824. Andrew Jackson was one of the other four, and he won a plurality of both the popular vote and the Electoral College, but not enough to win the election. As the Constitution dictates, the decision then went to the House of Representatives. Speaker of the House Henry Clay, who was the fourth-placed nominee and Jackson's sworn nemesis, swung the election in Adams' favor by convincing enough representatives to vote for him. Upon entering office, a gracious Adams nominated Clay to be his Secretary of State. The Jacksonians in Congress were outraged, and for the next four years they complained of the "Corrupt Bargain" which stole the election, but neither Adams nor Clay were corrupt. Clay believed that Jackson was unfit for the presidency, and the third-placed nominee, William Crawford, has just suffered a severe stroke. Adams also made a good choice when he nominated Clay, since he was one of the most qualified politicians in the country. Still, this did start things on the wrong foot, and it proved that, like his father before him, Adams was often oblivious to how politics work in practice. Jackson vowed to do whatever it took to win the presidency in 1828.

Refusing to mix religion into American politics, Adams took the oath of office with one hand on the Constitution and another on a law book. Despite his diplomatic and political skills, he achieved very little during his time in office. When he entered the White House, Adams proposed to Congress an ambitious series of "internal improvements" sponsored by the federal government, including more roads and canals, stronger industries, national parks, federal support for the arts and sciences, and a national university. Jackson's allies in Congress tried to deadlock every single one of these suggestions, and only some of the roads and canals were passed. Additionally, Adams had already solved most major foreign policy issues before he became President, so not much really happened on that front besides some trade agreements with countries in Europe and Latin America. In an ironic echo of the situation his father faced, his Vice President, John C. Calhoun, was a political enemy who had been on Jackson's side during the election. Still, Adams did manage to pay off almost two thirds of the national debt in just four years - mostly, though, because the Jacksonians would not let him spend money on anything and paying off the debt was the only option. His successor, Jackson, paid off the rest during his time in office. The Jacksonians kept portraying Adams as a corrupt aristocrat and Jackson as an honest hero of the common man, and Adams, who had a very poor ability to communicate with people and honestly was pretty stubborn, could do little to convince people otherwise. The criticisms and insults thrown at Adams are absolutely insane, way worse than even the worst mudslinging in today's politics. To the surprise of absolutely no one, Adams was utterly crushed when Jackson went up against him again in the election of 1828.

He was one of the most active ex-Presidents, though, and probably did more than he did while he was in the White House. After leaving office, Adams ran for and won a seat in the House of Representatives from a Massachusetts district. There, he was much more successful and popular, earning the nickname "Old Man Eloquent" for his speeches against slavery and the Mexican-American War. Even in his old age, he was a great lawyer and a shrewd negotiator, his most famous case being when he successfully argued at the US Supreme Court that the Amistad Africans were illegally enslaved and had every right to fight for their freedom. One of the most vocal opponents in slavery in America, Adams correctly predicted that slavery would eventually cause the Southern states to secede and start a bloody war between the two halves of the nation and that, during this war, the president would use his war powers to abolish slavery. On the other hand, he was fairly racist in private, as evinced by several comments he made about the Maligned Mixed Marriage in Othello: "a runaway match with a blackamoor!" He had a heart attack on the House floor during a passionate debate, and he died a few days later.

He was an Bunny-Ears Lawyer, and is rivalled only by Lyndon Johnson when it comes to the title of "Weirdest American President". Allegedly enjoyed skinny-dipping in the Potomac in the early morning during his presidency and pimped for the Russian Czar (at least that's what the Jacksonians believe). He was also ugly as sin and is considered the scariest-looking president ever. He funded an expedition to go to the North Pole and find a hole leading to the center of the Earth and contact the Mole People, and kept a pet alligator in the East Wing of the White House. That alligator probably came in handy for some of that shrewd negotiating we mentioned earlier. He was also the earliest president to be photographed, albeit not until several years after he left office. William Henry Harrison would be the first president to be photographed while in office.

John Quincy Adams provides examples of:

  • Arch-Enemy: Understandably not too fond of Jackson, and was apparently even less fond of John C. Calhoun.
  • Badass Bookworm
  • Bunny-Ears Lawyer: Did you read the part about the alligators and the Mole People? He also liked making love outside in zero degree weather.
  • But Not Too Foreign: Adams' wife Louisa was born in London to an English mother and an American father, and grew up in England and France. Although technically an American citizen from birth, she did not set foot in the United States for the first time until she was 25, which led to some nativist suspicion about her true loyalties; even John Quincy Adams' parents had reservations until they finally met her. John Quincy and Louisa tried to counter this issue politically by emphasizing the American side of her family as much as possible (her uncle served in the Continental Congress and was the first Governor of Maryland) and downplaying her European connections.
  • Gallows Humor: He had a pet alligator which he often placed in different White House bathrooms to prank his guests.
  • Magnum Opus: The Monroe Doctrine.
  • Obfuscating Stupidity: While in the House, he would often appear to be sleeping at his desk — yet he always knew more about the other parties' arguments than they wanted him to, and was always impeccably prepared to counter. His secret? His desk was in the perfect location for the talk from across the aisle to bounce off the ceiling and echo off the floor where he was sitting. There's a plaque in the Capitol building to mark its location.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure
  • Red Baron: The Abolitionist.
  • Values Dissonance: He said some rather unpleasant things about Desdemona from Shakespeare's Othello because of her "runaway match with a blackamoor".


John Quincy Adams in fiction:

  • In an episode of 3rd Rock from the Sun:
    Mary: You and your family... I know you mean well, but sometimes it's like being around The Addams Family.
    Dick: Well, I admit John Adams' views of a strong central government may have been ahead of their time.
    Mary: That's not who I meant!
    Dick: John Quincy Adams? You're comparing me to that freak show!
  • Anthony Hopkins received an Academy Award nomination for his portrayal of him in Amistad.
  • A secondary character in the HBO's miniseries about his father John Adams. The show watches John Quincy from a young, bookish little boy all the way to ascending to the presidency.

James MonroeThe PresidentsAndrew Jackson

alternative title(s): John Quincy Adams
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