John Quincy Adams Biography Page 2

John Quincy Adams Early Diplomatic Career
President Washington appreciated the younger Adams' support so much that he appointed John Quincy Adams as U.S. Minister to Holland. John Quincy wrote frequent reports to the State Department detailing the military and diplomatic activities in Europe and warned against U.S. involvement. Adams' views were so valued that some of his phrases appeared in George Washington's "Farewell Address" of 1796. President Washington praised John Quincy Adams as "the most valuable public character we have abroad."

When John Adams was elected President in 1797, he appointed his son as U.S. Minister to Prussia (which consisted of portions of present day Germany and Poland). Before John Quincy Adams left for Prussia, he traveled to England in order to marry Louisa Catherine Johnson, the daughter of Joshua Johnson, who served as the United States' first Consul to Great Britain. Louisa was born and raised in Europe and is the United States' only foreign-born First Lady. While she was not as strong in spirit as Abigail Adams, Louisa brought other qualities to her marriage that made her an ideal partner for John Quincy Adams. The future First Lady's charm and warmth endeared her to all she met, and offset John Quincy's cold and serious manner. The affirmation of Louisa Catherine's popularity as First Lady was the adjournment of both the Senate and the House of Representatives upon her death in 1852.

John Quincy Adams and his new bride traveled to Prussia after their wedding in 1797. Before Adams started his duties as U.S. Minister, he took his wife on a trip through part of Prussia called Silesia (today part of Poland). The countryside in this region reminded John Quincy of his home far away in Braintree and Louisa received her first glimpse of what the terrain in Massachusetts was like. After this brief trip John Quincy set out to improve relations between the U.S. and Prussia. In order to achieve this objective, Adams worked hard to master the German language, the native tongue of Prussia, and he translated a number of articles from German to English to perfect his ability. Fluency in Prussia's native language made John Quincy's diplomatic work easier and he successfully concluded a Treaty of Amity and Commerce in Prussia's capital city of Berlin in 1799.

Statesmanship At Home and Abroad
When he lost the Presidential election of 1800 to Thomas Jefferson, John Adams recalled his son from Berlin. John Quincy arrived in Massachusetts in 1801 and the next year was elected to the Massachusetts Senate. In 1803 the Massachusetts legislature elected him as a member of the United States Senate. John Quincy Adams up to this time was commonly regarded as a member of the Federalist Party, but he found its general policy less and less appealing. Moreover, he was frowned upon as the son of John Adams by the followers of Alexander Hamilton and the other strident Federalists.

Actually, John Quincy Adams was never a strict party man. Ever aspiring to higher public service, he considered himself "a man of my whole country." As U.S. Senator, Adams approved the Louisiana Purchase (1803), refused to take a pro-British stance as the Napoleonic Wars reached their climax, and increasingly aligned himself with the policies of Thomas Jefferson's Secretary of State, James Madison. John Quincy's adherence to his own principles in supporting President Jefferson's Embargo Act (1807), at once gained him the gratitude of the Republican Party, the bitter hostility of the Federalists; and 150 years later - a place in John F. Kennedy's book, Profiles in Courage. Although Adams understood that the Embargo was extremely unpopular in New England because of its harmful effect on the region's economy, he bravely supported the measure because he felt it was the best method to gain British respect of American maritime rights. Adams' devotion to the nation's interest made him an easy target for sectionalist politicians in Massachusetts, who conspired to oust the young Senator at the next election. John Quincy's successor was chosen on June 3, 1808, several months before the usual time for electing a senator for the next term, and five days later Adams resigned. In the same year he attended the Republican congressional caucus, which nominated James Madison for the presidency, and thus loosely allied himself with the Republican Party. From 1806 to 1809 Adams was Boylston professor of rhetoric and oratory at Harvard College.

In 1809 President Madison appointed John Quincy Adams as the first United States Minister to Russia. Adams arrived in Russia's capitol city of St. Petersburg at the time when Tsar Alexander broke off his alliance with Napoleon. John Quincy therefore met with a favorable reception and was told by Alexander that Russia would do all in its power to further the interests of U.S.-Russian relations. The Tsar fulfilled his promise and with the hard work of Adams the United States soon surpassed England as Russia's leading trading partner. From his vantage point in St. Petersburg, John Quincy watched and reported to Washington of Napoleon's invasion of Russia and the final disastrous retreat and dissolution of France's grande armée. On the outbreak of war between England and the United States in 1812, John Quincy became involved in efforts to negotiate an end to hostilities. That September, the Russian government suggested that Tsar Alexander was willing to act as mediator between the two belligerents. While England refused the Russian mediation offer, they eventually entered into direct negotiations with the United States. John Quincy Adams was one of the U.S. representatives at these negotiations, which started in August of 1814, and resulted in the signing of the Treaty of Ghent on December 24 of that year, that ended the War of 1812. Adams then visited Paris, where he witnessed the return of Napoleon from Elba for the Hundred Days War. The French Emperor was ultimately defeated at Waterloo. From Paris, John Quincy Adams traveled to London where he and two other U.S. representatives (Henry Clay and Albert Gallatin) negotiated a "Convention to Regulate Commerce and Navigation" with Great Britain.

John Quincy completed his long and brilliant career as a diplomat by serving for two years as U.S. Minister to England, a post held by his father after the American Revolutionary War with Great Britain and later to be held by his son, Charles Francis Adams, during the United States Civil War. In 1817, John Quincy returned to the United States to become Secretary of State in President James Monroe's Administration. John Quincy's service there, 1817-1825, has rightfully earned him standing as one of the United States' finest Secretaries of State. He guided negotiations with Great Britain that resolved the remaining disputes between the two countries and began an era of friendly relations between both nations, which continues today. Included in the settlement was a prohibition on armaments, along the border of the United States with Canada that has made it the longest-lasting unfortified boundary in the world. He also arranged for the purchase of Florida from Spain and negotiated a transcontinental treaty with that nation which established the boundary between Spanish and American possessions from the Gulf of Mexico to the Pacific Ocean. He guided U.S. efforts aimed at resisting European efforts to thwart independence movements in the New World that resulted in the pronouncement of the Monroe Doctrine in 1823. Adams was proud of his accomplishments in the State Department; regarding them as fulfilling the goals of the new nation that he had seen take shape in the battles around Boston a half-century earlier. These goals included equal standing in the family of nations, security within transcontinental boundaries, and sympathy for the national independence and republican aspirations of all the countries of the New World. more...

Last updated: March 31, 2012

Park footer

Contact Info

Mailing Address:

135 Adams Street
Quincy, MA 02169


Marianne Peak, Superintendent

Contact Us