John Quincy Adams, the sole son of a president, later became a president too.
Despite possessing extensive political experience from a young age, intelligence, hardworking nature, and a strong character with an unwavering commitment to high principles, these qualities were insufficient in preventing his presidency from concluding in failure.
The presidency of John Quincy Adams was deemed a disappointment and marked by frustrating experiences. This was primarily due to the scandal surrounding his election, the petty behavior exhibited by his political adversaries, and his own resolute character. The birthplace of John Quincy Adams was Braintree, Massachusetts in July 1767. His parents were John and Abigail Adams. As a young person, Quincy was fortunate to have various advantageous opportunities.
During the time he was born, his father was a successful and respected lawyer, while his mother, Abigail Smith Adams, came from a prominent family with influential lineage, combining the Nortons and the Quincys. As he accompanied his father on diplomatic trips to Europe, young John Quincy Adams received an excellent education at private institutions in Paris, Leiden, and Amsterdam. His love for reading grew during this time. He also became proficient in multiple languages. At just fourteen years old, he was appointed as the secretary and translator for Francis Dana, the initial ambassador of the United States in Russia.
Although Adams was young, he served as a valuable aid to the consul and had a strong affection for Russia. He enjoyed the chance to socialize in diplomatic circles. Upon his return to the United States, he quickly finished his studies at Harvard within two years. Subsequently, Adams became part of Theophilus Parsons’ law offices in Newburyport, Massachusetts. After successfully passing the bar exam in 1790, he set up his own practice in Boston.
John Quincy Adams began his political career in 1794 when he became an Ambassador to the Netherlands, appointed by George Washington. However, because his father was elected as the second president of the United States, John was later reassigned to serve as minister to Prussia for the entire duration of his father’s presidential term.
Following his father’s loss to Thomas Jefferson, he returned home. In 1802, he secured a role in the Massachusetts Senate and later advanced to the U.S. Senate in the subsequent year. Furthermore, despite being offered a position on the Supreme Court, he declined it.
President James Madison later appointed him as a minister to Russia in 1809. He maintained his service to the country and earned a respected reputation. His outstanding performance as the chief American peace commissioner during the negotiations in Gent that concluded the War of 1812, along with his effectiveness as the minister to Great Britain in the final two years of the Madison administration, further added to his reputation. Additionally, he showcased his skills by successfully negotiating a treaty with Spain.
The Adams-Onis Treaty, which was signed on February 22, 1819, resulted in the transfer of East and West Florida to the United States. Additionally, it established a border between Spanish territory and that of the US. This border stretched from the Gulf of Mexico all the way to the Rocky Mountains and followed along the forty-second parallel until reaching the Pacific Ocean. Many historians view this treaty as a major accomplishment in diplomacy, with Adams himself considering its resolution as “the most important event of my life.” Moreover, Adams is renowned for his contribution in shaping the Monroe Doctrine.
“Adams, the initiator of the Monroe Doctrine, cautioned against European interference in the internal matters of American nations or additional European colonization in the Western Hemisphere.” It was evident that Adams was a worthy contender for the 1824 presidential election, having served in important diplomatic roles and exhibiting competence and skill. “Despite his desire to become President, Adams faced challenges due to his limited support network and absence of organized backing,” while also being known for his inflexibility and stubbornness.
Regardless of his father’s affiliation with the Federalist Party, Adams fearlessly voiced his opinions on what he deemed unjust matters, even if it meant going against his own party. He did not blindly support their agenda and was willing to dissent when he believed they were mistaken.
Adams confessed to his father that he couldn’t bring himself to ask for God’s approval if he believed the country’s course was incorrect. The separation from the Federalist Party happened when Adams chose to endorse President Jefferson’s Embargo act of 1807. Despite upsetting his fellow Federalists by voting independently on every matter instead of siding with the party, Adams remained a supporter of the Embargo act. Consequently, his replacement in the Massachusetts legislature was elected six months prior to his term completion.
“He later resigned in protest and returned to teach at Harvard. Despite his break with the Federalist Party, he remained active in politics. He was appointed Minister to Russia and later appointed as Secretary of State under President Monroe. President Monroe, like the Presidents before him served two consecutive terms.”
In 1824, as he was prepared to retire, the Presidential candidates included William Crawford from Georgia, Andrew Jackson from Tennessee, Henry Clay from Kentucky, and John Quincy Adams. However, Crawford’s health declined and his nomination by a small congressional caucus was more of a symbolic act of respect and friendship. Ultimately, the electoral votes were divided due to the four-candidate competition.
Although no candidate won the election with a majority of votes, Jackson received the highest number of votes. “The electoral vote was divided among four candidates, and none of them received the necessary majority for election. Jackson had 99 votes, Adams had 84 votes, while Crawford and Clay received 41 and 37 votes respectively. This impasse led to the election being determined by the House of Representatives.”
Despite receiving less than one-third of the popular vote, John Quincy Adams became president thanks to the support of powerful House member Henry Clay. This outcome angered Jackson and his followers, but they were unable to retaliate. As a result, Adams assumed the presidency, although his election and subsequent term were quickly labeled as corrupt.
Adams appointed Clay as his Secretary of State, which caused much controversy. The House’s “election” outcome angered Jackson, who called Clay the “Judas of the West” and accused him of accepting bribes. In Clay’s home state, it was believed that the people had been cheated due to corruption and intrigues in Washington.
The scandal brought a stain to Adams’ presidency and damaged his reputation. Neither Adams nor Clay could recover from the scandal, as it had lasting consequences. It marked a turning point for Adams, as his proposals and ideas were met with immediate opposition from disloyal Jackson supporters within his cabinet.
“Despite the ridicule and ignorance of Adams’ schemes, he lacked the support of a party organization and the personal magnetism needed to inspire the nation and assert his authority.” Nevertheless, Adams persisted in his diligent work and dedication to serving his country.
Serving his country involved not dismissing his political rivals as long as they performed their duties, despite their efforts to sabotage his presidency. Adams’ main mistake was treating his political enemies fairly and honorably. During the era of the “spoil-system,” this kind of political integrity, which refrained from removing competent individuals from office solely because they were doing their job well, was not valued.
The Jacksonians and the Whig successors assessed political appointees based on their loyalty to the individual or party in power rather than their performance. Adams, in particular, refused to replace or condemn his political foes, refraining from self-defense or counteraccusations. Instead, he maintained his composure and integrity, ultimately suffering a decisive defeat. In his diary, Adams expressed that his political career had come to an end in a state of profound despondency.
“He remained a man of strong conviction and high moral standards. He believed that his integrity was more important than being reelected for a second term. Despite anticipating his impending political downfall, he reflected on his decision with confidence, knowing that he had chosen the right moral path.” Adams ultimately lost the subsequent presidential election.
Despite dedicating a considerable amount of time to his country, both he and his country unfortunately failed to recognize the noteworthy impact he had. He expressed his disappointment by stating, “I should have been acknowledged as one of the most influential benefactors of my country.”
Despite being granted the ability to connect with others by my Creator, I have not fully utilized these limited abilities as I should. Many individuals believe that his presidency was unsuccessful primarily because he could not overcome a scandal that tarnished his reputation.
His opponents managed to continuously remind the public of his “Corrupt Bargain” with Clay and obstructed nearly all of his significant legislative efforts, ensuring that it remained a vivid memory. Adams’ adversaries were given unrestricted authority due to his unwavering integrity.
The retention of power by his rivals resulted from his commitment to high standards and refusal to abuse his office. However, the presence of scandal, political rivals, and his own integrity ultimately led to the failure of his presidency.