The New International Encyclopædia/Adams, John Quincy
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Adams, John Quincy
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ADAMS, John Quincy (1767-1848). The sixth President of the United States and son of the second President, John Adams. He was born in Quincy, Mass., July 11, 1767. In 1778 he was taken abroad by his father when the latter visited Paris on a diplomatic mission, and only three years later, after studying for brief periods at Paris, Leyden, and Amsterdam, the youth was appointed private secretary to Francis Dana, the American minister to Russia. After some service at St. Petersburg, Adams again joined his father, then negotiating the final peace at Paris; but when, after the conclusion of that important work, the elder Adams was rewarded with the English mission, the younger Adams adopted the significant and even remarkable course of returning home and entering Harvard College.
Upon his graduation there in 1787 he began the study of law with Theophilus Parsons (q.v.), and was admitted to the bar in 1790. He contributed to the political literature of the time, discussing the theories of Tom Paine, and especially the Genet incident (see Genet, E. C.), and our relations with France. His unusual opportunities and training were readily recognized, and in 1794 Washington sent him as minister to The Hague. Later he was appointed to the Portuguese mission, but before he had entered upon the duties of that office his father had become President, and the son, upon the recommendation of Washington himself, was transferred to the more responsible post of minister to Prussia. His father recalled him in 1801, in order that his successor in the presidency might be under no embarrassment. In the year following his return Adams was sent to the State Senate, and in 1803 the Massachusetts legislature sent him to the United States Senate in preference to Timothy Pickering (q.v.).
While in the Senate he gave his support to the purchase of Louisiana (q.v.), although he disagreed with the administration upon some of the ensuing problems, and also approved the policy of the embargo and the non-importation acts. The result was that the former Federalist and the representative of a strongly Federalist State became a hearty advocate of the Republican administration, and in consequence the attitude of his constituents became so critical that in 1808 Adams resigned his seat. He was, however, so identified with the party in power that in 1809 President Madison appointed him Minister to Russia. While there he was named as one of the commissioners who were to act in connection with the mediation proposed by Russia, but which was made impossible by the declination of England. He was soon appointed, however, one of the five negotiators who concluded the Treaty of Ghent (q.v.) at the close of the War of 1812.
From that work Adams proceeded to London, where he served as Minister to England until his varied and remarkable diplomatic career was ended in 1817 by his appointment by President Monroe to the post of Secretary of State. His work as secretary was concerned with the difficult negotiations which in 1819 ended in the purchase of Florida, the more delicate relations with England with reference to the fisheries convention of 1818 and the conflicting claims in the Columbia River basin, and the more far-reaching steps taken to counteract the encroachments of the Holy Alliance, in connection with which was announced the Monroe Doctrine (q.v.), so that some credited the latter to Adams. As a member of the cabinet, aside from matters of diplomacy, he took a unique position in upholding General Jackson for his conduct in the Florida War, and in rendering a highly valuable service to his later antagonist.
By virtue of his position, the friends of Adams expected that in 1824 he would be advanced in the same manner as Madison and Monroe, who had each in turn passed from the state department to the presidency. The nominations, however, were still made by the congressional caucus, which at this time was controlled by Crawford. Moreover, the newly formed trans-Alleghany States were pressing their claims for recognition, so that the revolt against the old nominating system and the crystallizing of the various factions within the one great party alone remaining active led to the candidacy of four Republicans in 1824. Of these, Jackson received 99 electoral votes, Adams 84, Crawford 41, and Clay 37. When the vote, according to the Constitution, was thus given to the House of Representatives, choosing from among the three highest, the Clay interests joined with those of Adams and effected the defeat of Jackson. Adams, upon his accession, made Clay his Secretary of State, and not only brought upon himself charges of corruption, but also secured the vigorous enmity of the rapidly increasing Jackson wing of the Republican party. To offset this, Adams was not qualified to exert the influence usually attaching to a political leader, nor was he able so to make use of his office as to build up an Adams faction that could hope to wage a successful warfare with the embittered Jacksonians. It was natural, therefore, that after four troublous and not particularly profitable years, Adams should be overwhelmed in the election of 1828. Instead of going into retirement, he adopted the unprecedented course of returning to Washington as a member of the House of Representatives, and in that capacity rendered still further and conspicuous service to the nation from 1830 until his death. Being practically above party restraints, he was free to do a work which made notable the later years of “the old man eloquent.” The slavery issue appeared in Congress in two forms, involving the question of the right of the government or of its officials to exclude abolitionist literature from the mails, and involving the question whether petitioners to the House of Representatives might demand that their petitions should be read, even if not considered. The former problem provoked a long and severe dispute, while the second controversy was made acute by the introduction of the “Gag Rules” (q.v.), which, Adams contended, substantially destroyed the right of petition, and against which he labored vigorously, and in the end successfully. Late in 1846 he was stricken with paralysis, and early in 1848 he was again stricken, while in his seat in the House, and died two days later, on February 23, 1848.
Adams followed the example of his father in keeping an extensive diary, which is included in his Memoirs, edited by C. F. Adams (12 volumes, Philadelphia, 1874-77). For his biography consult: W. H. Seward, Life of Adams (Auburn, 1849), and Quincy, Memoir (Boston, 1858); or, for the most recent work, Morse, John Quincy Adams (Boston, 1882).