John Quincy Adams was born on 11 July 1767, in Braintree, Massachusetts, to John Adams, second president of the United States of America, and Abigail Adams. He would grow up to become the sixth president of the United States, the first American president to be the son of a president.
Accompanying his father to Europe at the age of ten, John Quincy Adams was educated in France and the Netherlands. For several years he remained abroad, becoming proficient in French as well as several other languages. As a young teenager, his language talents garnered him a position with the U.S. envoy to Russia, Francis Dana, as an interpreter. He accompanied Dana to St. Petersburg, Russia, in that capacity, and remained there for almost two years. Eventually, John Quincy Adams returned to the United States to graduate from Harvard College in 1787, and afterward established a law practice.
Raised in an atmosphere of politics and public service, it was not long before John Quincy Adams began to be dissatisfied with law and sought to make his own foray into the world of politics. In 1794, he was appointed by George Washington to serve as minister to the Netherlands. He was well qualified for the position, speaking both French and Dutch. It is during this period that he would meet and eventually wed Louisa Catherine Johnson, on 26 July 1797. They would have four children: George Washington, John, Charles Francis, and Louisa Catherine.
In 1796, John Adams, John Quincy Adams’s father, became president of the United States. At George Washington’s urging, Adams Sr. appointed John Quincy Adams to the post of minister to Prussia, in which capacity he served until 1801.
In 1802, John Quincy Adams was elected to serve in the Massachusetts State Senate. The following year, with support from the Federalist Party, he was elected to serve in the U.S. Senate. As a senator, Adams was determined to pursue the interests of the entire country, not just the Federalist Party, a position that left him out of favor with his New England supporters. Two events in particular diverged from Federalist/New England preference: Adams voted in favor of the Louisiana Purchase, and he voted to support the Embargo Act, both of which damaged New England interests.
In 1808, John Quincy Adams resigned his seat in the Senate, finally breaking with the Federalists and becoming a Republican. Under President James Madison, he served as minister to Russia until 1814, witnessing Napoleon’s invasion of that country in 1812.
From 1815 to 1817, Adams served as diplomatic representative to Great Britain. In 1817, Adams was granted the position of secretary of state under President James Monroe. During his tenure, Adams played a crucial role in the annexing of Florida to the United States, and helped to craft the Monroe Doctrine.
In 1824, John Quincy Adams followed in his father’s footsteps and ran for president. With five candidates, including Andrew Jackson, and no favorite, the election was decided in the House of Representatives. Adams was inaugurated on 4 March 1825. He would serve one term only — turning out to be ill-equipped to contend with the social and partisan demands of the office.
Although an experienced diplomat, he eschewed political machinations and cared more for personal competence than party politics. He lacked the warmth and personal magnetism necessary to invigorate the office of the presidency, and did not enjoy courting and entertaining party supporters. He was plagued by opposition from Jackson’s supporters, who were still angry over the events of the 1824 election.
As president, John Quincy Adams was forward thinking in his beliefs that federal money should be spent to improve and cohere the entire nation. To this end, he advocated federal funding of harbor and highway renovations, new canals, naval fortifications, and military academies. He supported funding of the arts, scientific research, and the creation of astronomical observatories — all of which were ill received.
The presidential campaign of 1828 was a malicious one, with supporters of both Adams and Jackson resorting to personal attacks to gain support for their candidates. When the dust settled, Jackson emerged the victor. Bitter over the defeat, Adams did not attend Jackson’s inauguration on 4 March 1829. Adams left Washington and returned to Massachusetts, intending to retire from politics and devote himself to writing.
In 1831, however, John Quincy Adams emerged from retirement to once again enter the political realm, this time as a Whig congressman. He served in Congress for seventeen years, an important voice in the fight against slavery. Also, Adams’s efforts helped to establish the Smithsonian Institution.
On 21 February 1848, John Quincy Adams suffered a stroke in the House of Representatives. Two days later, he passed away. He is interred in the United First Parish Church, in Quincy, Massachusetts, along with his father, mother, and wife.