Presidency of John Quincy Adams
The presidency of John Quincy Adams began on March 4, 1825, when John Quincy Adams was inaugurated as President of the United States, and ended on March 4, 1829. Adams, the sixth United States president, took office following the 1824 presidential election, in which he and three other Democratic-Republicans—Henry Clay, William H. Crawford, and Andrew Jackson—sought the presidency. No candidate won a majority of Electoral College votes, and so the United States House of Representatives chose the president in a contingent election. With the help of Clay, Adams was elected by the House, and Clay became Adams's Secretary of State.
Upon taking office, Adams articulated an ambitious domestic agenda. He envisioned a national marketplace in which North and South, town and country, were tied together by trade and exchange. A supporter of Henry Clay's proposed American System, he proposed major investments in internal improvements (involving the construction of roads and canals), and the creation of educational institutions such as a national university, among other initiatives, to bring this vision to life. Due to meager support from congressional leaders, however, his agenda was largely blocked by Congress. His support of the "Tariff of Abominations," a protective tariff approved by Congress in 1828, hurt his popularity among voters.
The foreign affairs initiatives of the Adams administration fared only slightly better. It did conclude reciprocal trading rights treaties with several nations, arranged to extend indefinitely a commercial convention with Britain and resolved outstanding questions regarding British seizure of property during the War of 1812. The administration was, however, prevented from resolving several ongoing trade issues, which only served to heighten tensions with Britain and negatively impacted U.S. trade. When Adams wished to send a delegation to the 1826 Congress of Panama, a gathering of the new republics of Latin America, his request for funding was blocked by Congress.
The contentious nature of the 1824 election brought about the demise of the Democratic-Republican Party and the emergence of a new era in American politics. Characterizing Adams's victory as the result of a "corrupt bargain" between Adams and Clay, Jackson and his supporters, including Martin Van Buren and Vice President John C. Calhoun, spent the ensuing three years constructing the organization that would become the modern Democratic Party. The followers of Adams organized themselves more loosely as the National Republican Party, but were unable to match the efforts of the Democrats under Jackson, who won the 1828 election in a landslide.
1824 presidential election
Immediately upon becoming Secretary of State, Adams emerged as one of Monroe's most likely successors, as the last three presidents had all served in the role (although Jefferson also served as vice president) before taking office. As the 1824 election approached, Adams, Clay, Secretary of War John C. Calhoun, and Secretary of the Treasury William H. Crawford positioned themselves to succeed Monroe. Adams felt that his own election as president would vindicate his father, while also allowing him to pursue an ambitious domestic policy. Though he lacked the charisma of his competitors, Adams was widely respected and benefited from the lack of other prominent Northerners.
The Federalist Party had nearly collapsed in the aftermath of the War of 1812, and all of the major presidential candidates were members of Monroe's Democratic-Republican Party. As 1824 approached, Jackson jumped into the race, motivated in large part by his anger over Clay and Crawford's denunciations of his actions in Florida. The congressional nominating caucus had decided upon previous presidential nominees, but it had become largely discredited. Candidates were instead nominated by state legislatures or nominating conventions, and Adams received the endorsement of several New England legislatures. Seeing Jackson's strength, Calhoun dropped out of the presidential race and instead sought the vice presidency. The remaining candidates relied heavily on regional strength. Adams was popular in New England, Clay and Jackson were strong in the West, and Jackson and Crawford competed for the South, despite the latter's health problems. In the 1824 presidential election, Jackson won a plurality in the Electoral College, taking 99 of the 261 electoral votes, while Adams won 84, Crawford won 41, and Clay took 37. As no candidate won a majority of the electoral vote, the House was required to hold contingent election under the terms of the Twelfth Amendment. The House would decide among the top three electoral vote winners, with each state's delegation having one vote. Despite Clay's significant share of the electoral vote, he was not eligible to be selected by the House.
|1825 contingent presidential election vote distribution|
|States for Adams||States for Jackson||States for Crawford|
|Total: 13 (54%)||Total: 7 (29%)||Total: 4 (17%)|
Adams knew that his own victory in the contingent election would require the support of Clay, who despite being eliminated from the deliberation, would, as Speaker of the House, still be the most important player in determining the outcome of the election. In contrast with Clay, Crawford believed in a weak, limited federal government. Jackson's policy views were unclear, but Clay had been outraged by Jackson's actions in Florida, and he feared what Jackson would do in office. Clay's American System called for high tariffs, federally-funded internal improvements, and a national bank, all of which were supported by Adams. Adams and Clay met prior to the contingent election, and Clay agreed to support Adams.
On February 9, 1825, Adams became the second president elected by the House of Representatives (after Thomas Jefferson in 1801), when he won the contingent election on the first ballot, taking 13 of the 24 state delegations. Adams won the House delegations of all the states in which he or Clay had won a majority of the electoral votes, as well as the delegations of Illinois, Louisiana, and Maryland. After the election, many of Jackson's supporters claimed that Adams and Clay had reached a "Corrupt Bargain" in which Adams promised Clay the position of Secretary of State in return for Clay's support.
Adams was sworn in as president by Chief Justice John Marshall on March 4, 1824, in a ceremony held in the House of Representatives Chamber at the United States Capitol. He took the presidential oath upon a volume of Constitutional law, instead of the more traditional Bible. In his inaugural address, adopted a post-partisan tone, promising that he would avoid party-building and politically-motivated appointments. He also proposed an elaborate program of "internal improvements": roads, ports, and canals. Though some worried about the constitutionality of such federal projects, Adams argued that the General Welfare Clause provided for broad constitutional authority. While his predecessors had engaged in projects like the building of the National Road, Adams promised that he would ask Congress to authorize many more such projects.
Administration and cabinet
|The Adams Cabinet|
|President||John Quincy Adams||1825–1829|
|Vice President||John C. Calhoun||1825–1829|
|Secretary of State||Henry Clay||1825–1829|
|Secretary of Treasury||Richard Rush||1825–1829|
|Secretary of War||James Barbour||1825–1828|
|Peter B. Porter||1828–1829|
|Attorney General||William Wirt||1825–1829|
|Secretary of the Navy||Samuel L. Southard||1825–1829|
Adams chose to retain many of Monroe's officials, including most of the remaining members of Monroe's cabinet. William Wirt and Samuel L. Southard remained as Attorney General and Secretary of the Navy, respectively. John McLean also remained in the important role of United States Postmaster General. After Crawford declined to remain Secretary of the Treasury, Adams appointed former ambassador Richard Rush to the position. Adams chose Henry Clay, who had backed Adams in the 1825 contingent election, as Secretary of State, leading to accusations of a "Corrupt Bargain" from followers of Jackson. To fill the position of Secretary of War, which Calhoun had vacated upon his election as vice president, Adams chose Senator James Barbour of Virginia. Opposing Adams's expansive vision for the federal government, Vice President Calhoun quickly broke with the president. In 1826, he informed Jackson that he would support him for president, and Calhoun became a key opponent of Adams in the Senate. Though Adams avoided the use of patronage to build his own political following, his congressional opponents accused him of numerous politically-motivated appointments.
Adams appointed one Justice to the Supreme Court of the United States and eleven judges to the United States district courts. The lone Supreme Court Justice, Robert Trimble, served from May 1826 to his death in August 1828. Adams nominated John J. Crittenden to replace Trimble, but the Senate never voted on Crittenden's nomination.
Formation of political parties
After the War of 1812, the Federalists ceased to function as a national party, failing to put forth a presidential candidate in 1820 or 1824. Some, including Monroe, celebrated this Era of Good Feelings and its lack partisan disputes. But others thought that it merely papered over the real ideological differences in the country, and former president Thomas Jefferson and other conservative "Old Republicans" disliked what they saw as Federalist policies proposed by those calling themselves Democratic-Republicans. While most of Jefferson's generation had seen parties as undesirable, a new generation of politicians that included Senator Martin Van Buren thought that parties could serve as an important ingredient in a thriving democratic republic. The United States had moved closer to a democracy during the 1810s and early 1820s, as states loosened their voting restrictions. This contributed to an emerging egalitarian sentiment in politics, with elitism increasingly disdained.
In the immediate aftermath of the 1825 contingent election, Jackson was gracious to Adams. Adams hoped to continue Monroe's goal of ending partisanship, and his cabinet included individuals of various ideological and regional backgrounds. Nevertheless, Adams's appointment of Clay rankled Jackson, who received a flood of letters encouraging him to run, and in 1825 Jackson accepted the Tennessee legislature's nomination of him for president in the next election. Adams's ambitious December 1825 annual message to Congress galvanized the opposition, with important figures such as Francis Preston Blair of Kentucky and Thomas Hart Benton of Missouri breaking with the Adams administration. By the end of the first session of the 19th United States Congress, an anti-Adams congressional coalition consisting of Jacksonians (led by Benton and Hugh Lawson White), Crawfordites (led by Van Buren and Nathaniel Macon), and Calhounites (led by Robert Y. Hayne and George McDuffie) had emerged. Aside from Clay, Adams lacked strong support outside of the North, and Edward Everett, John Taylor, and Daniel Webster served as his strongest advocates in Congress. Supporters of Adams began calling themselves National Republicans, while supporters of Jackson began calling themselves Democrats.
In the 1826 elections, Adams's opponents picked up seats throughout the country, as allies of Adams failed to coordinate among themselves. Following the election, Van Buren met with Calhoun, and the two agreed to throw their support behind Jackson in 1828, with Van Buren bringing along many of Crawford's supporters. While Jackson had wide support and many thought that the election had been unfairly stolen from him, he lacked an ideological platform to unite the opponents of Adams. As the 1828 election approached, this proto-party structure would effectively portray Jackson as an outsider unaffected by the corruption and elitism of Washington. Allies of both Adams and Jackson established their own newspapers, with the Jackson forces proving considerably more effective. While Jackson allies coordinated among themselves to become effective champions for their candidate, many newspapers sympathetic to Adams hoped to avoid becoming purely partisan. Both sides organized their own state nominating conventions, with no doubt as to whom the conventions would nominate, but the Jackson-aligned conventions were better organized and better able to rally voters.
Jackson committed himself to the campaign, hosting numerous visitors at his estate and reaching out to various individuals, including former enemies, for their support. Adams, meanwhile, continued to cling to the hope of a non-partisan nation, and his refusal to use the power of patronage to build up his own party was criticized by Adams followers such as Edward Everett. Outside of New England, many of the administration's supporters defined themselves more in their opposition to Jackson than in their support of Adams. For fear of upsetting the delicate balance among his supporters, Jackson avoided taking any strong positions other than his opposition to the Adams administration. Supporters in the West hoped that Jackson would invest in internal improvements, while Pennsylvanians hoped he would favor a high tariff. But at the same time, many Southerners saw Jackson as a beacon of opposition to a federal government that they feared could be used against slavery. Yet Adams failed to take advantage of Jackson's ambivalence on policy, and the 1828 election was largely contested around the images of Adams and Jackson.
In his 1825 annual message to Congress, Adams presented a comprehensive and ambitious agenda. He called for major investments in internal improvements as well as the creation of a national university, a naval academy, and a national astronomical observatory. Noting the healthy status of the treasury and the possibility for more revenue via land sales, Adams argued for the completion of several projects that were in various stages of construction or planning, including a road from Washington to New Orleans. He proposed the establishment of a Department of the Interior as a new cabinet-level department that would preside over these internal improvements. Adams's programs faced opposition from various quarters. Many disagreed with his broad interpretation of the constitution, and favored stronger state governments at the expense of the federal government. Others disliked any government interference and were opposed to central planning. Some in the South feared that Adams was secretly an abolitionist and that he sought to suborn the states to the federal government.
Most of the president's proposals were defeated in Congress. Adams's ideas for a national university, national observatory, and the establishment of a uniform system of weights and measures never received congressional votes. His proposal for the creation of a naval academy won the approval of the Senate, but was defeated in the House (the United States Naval Academy would instead be established in 1845). No national coastal survey was completed, although several smaller surveys won congressional approval. Adams's proposal to establish a national bankruptcy law was also defeated.
Some of his proposals were adopted, specifically the extension of the Cumberland Road into Ohio with surveys for its continuation west to St. Louis; the beginning of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, the construction of the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal and the Louisville and Portland Canal around the falls of the Ohio; the connection of the Great Lakes to the Ohio River system in Ohio and Indiana; and the enlargement and rebuilding of the Dismal Swamp Canal in North Carolina. Additionally, the first passenger railroad in the United States, the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, was constructed during Adams's presidency. Though many of these projects were undertaken by private actors, the government provided money or land to aid in the completion of many of those projects.
Allies of Adams lost control of Congress after the 1826 mid-term elections, and pro-Adams Speaker of the House John Taylor was replaced by Andrew Stevenson, a Jackson supporter. Adams himself noted that the U.S. had never before seen a Congress that was firmly under the control of political opponents of the president. Jacksonian Congressmen lobbied numerous attacks against Adams, including attacks on Adams's actions at Ghent and criticism of White House expenditures such as the purchase of a pool table. Jacksonians devised the Tariff of 1828, which raised tariffs considerably. Adams and Clay both supported a high tariff, and Adams signed the bill. After signing the tariff, Adams was denounced in the South, but he received little credit for the tariff in the North. The high tariff rates would eventually lead to the Nullification Crisis of the 1830s.
Adams sought the gradual assimilation of Native Americans via consensual agreements, a priority shared by few whites in the 1820s. Yet Adams was also deeply committed to the westward expansion of the United States. Settlers on the frontier, who were constantly seeking to move westward, cried for a more expansionist policy that disregarded the concerns of a supposedly inferior civilization. Early in his term, Adams suspended the Treaty of Indian Springs after learning that the Governor of Georgia, George Troup, had forced the treaty on the Muscogee. Adams signed a new treaty with the Muskogee in January 1826 that allowed the Muskogee to stay but ceded most of their land to Georgia. Troup refused to accept its terms, and authorized all Georgian citizens to evict the Muskogee. A third treaty was signed in 1828, giving all of the Muskogee land to Georgia.
According to Charles Edel, Adams believed that, "Intervention would accomplish little, retard the cause of republicanism, and distract the country from its primary goal of continental expansion." Moreover, fearful that U.S. intentions would outstrip its capabilities, Adams thought that projecting U.S. power abroad would weaken its gravitational force on the North American continent.
During his term as president, Adams achieved little of long-term consequence in foreign affairs. Among his diplomatic achievements were treaties of reciprocity with a number of nations, including Denmark, Mexico, the Hanseatic League, the Scandinavian countries, Prussia, and Austria. However, thanks to the successes of Adams' diplomacy during his previous eight years as secretary of state, most of the foreign policy issues he would have faced had been resolved by the time he became president.
As president, Adams continued to pursue the peaceful settlement of potential disputes with Britain, including the unsettled border between Maine and Canada. However, in 1825, Britain banned U.S. trade from the British West Indies, damaging Adams's prestige in foreign affairs. After Congress retaliated by increasing tariffs on British products, the British forbid U.S. trade with any British colony aside from Canada, further damaging U.S. businesses.
Adams favored sending a U.S. delegation to the Congress of Panama, an 1826 conference of New World republics organized by Simón Bolívar. Adams sought closer ties with the new Latin American states, believing that stability among the new states would benefit the U.S. and be conducive for the purchase of Texas from Mexico. Clay had originally proposed the idea, and he hoped that the conference would inaugurate a "Good Neighborhood Policy" among the independent states of the Americas. However, the funding for a delegation and the confirmation of delegation nominees became entangled in a political battle over Adams's domestic policies, with opponents such as Senator Martin Van Buren impeding the process of confirming a delegation. Van Buren and other opponents saw the Panama Congress as an unwelcome deviation from the more isolationist foreign policy established by President Washington. Though the delegation finally won confirmation from the Senate, it never reached the Congress of Panama due to congressional resistance and delay.
1828 presidential election
During his presidency, Adams's opponents coalesced around Jackson. Opponents accused Adams of favoring big government, the Northeast, manufacturing, and abolition. Followers of Jackson, Van Buren, and Calhoun formed a proto-party apparatus, raising large sums of money and sponsoring newspapers and local clubs. Adams, meanwhile, refused to adapt to the new reality of political campaigns, and he avoided public functions and refused to invest in pro-administration tools such as newspapers. As the presidential election of 1828 approached, Jackson was viewed as the favorite by many, as Van Buren and others had established a strong base of support. In the spring of 1827, Jackson was publicly accused of having encouraged his wife to desert her first husband. In response, followers of Jackson attacked Adams's personal life, and the campaign turned increasingly nasty. Though few doubted Adams's intelligence, the Jacksonian press portrayed him as an out-of-touch elitist.
Vice President Calhoun joined Jackson's ticket, while Adams turned to Secretary of the Treasury Richard Rush as his running mate. This represented the first time in U.S. history that a ticket of two Northerners faced at ticket of two Southerners. Neither side publicly campaigned on the issue of slavery, but Adams's status as a New Englander may have hurt him, as many outside of New England held negative cultural stereotypes about the region.
The key states in the election were New York, Pennsylvania, and Ohio, which accounted for nearly a third of the country's electoral votes. Jackson won Pennsylvania, Ohio, and even Clay's home state of Kentucky. He also won a majority of the electoral votes in New York, and denied Adams a sweep of New England by winning an electoral vote in Maine. In the South, aside from Adams's win in Maryland, only Louisiana was remotely competitive, and even there Jackson won 53% of the vote. In total, Jackson won 178 of the 261 electoral votes and just under 56 percent of the popular vote. No future presidential candidate would match Jackson's proportion of the popular vote until Theodore Roosevelt exceeded it in 1904. Adams's loss made him the second one-term president, after his own father.
The election marked the permanent end of the Era of Good Feelings and the start of the Second Party System. The dream of non-partisan politics, shared by Monroe, and Adams, and many earlier leaders, was shattered, replaced with Van Buren's ideal of partisan battles between legitimated political parties. The coalition of Jacksonians, Calhounites, and Crawfordites built by Jackson and Van Buren would become the Democratic Party, which dominated presidential politics in the decades prior to the Civil War. Clay's supporters would form the main opposition to Jackson as the National Republican Party. The National Republicans in turn eventually formed part of the Whig Party, which was the second major party in the United States between the 1830s and the early 1850s. Ideologically Adams had campaigned on the belief that the government should seek to improve the lives of citizens, while Jackson campaigned on the belief that the government should only be concerned with defending liberty against power. Though Jackson decisively won the 1828 election, this dichotomy would resonate in future presidential elections.
John Quincy Adams left office on March 4, 1829. Adams did not attend the inauguration of his successor, Andrew Jackson, who had openly snubbed him by refusing to pay the traditional "courtesy call" to the outgoing president during the weeks before his own inauguration. Jackson's wife had died shortly after the election, and Jackson blamed Adams and his followers for her death. Adams was one of only four presidents who chose not to attend their respective successor's inauguration; the others were his father, Andrew Johnson, and Richard Nixon.
John Quincy Adams is generally ranked by historians and political scientists as an average president. He is remembered as a great secretary of state and a man eminently qualified for the presidency, yet hopelessly weakened in his presidential leadership potential as a result of the election of 1824. Most importantly, Adams is remembered as a poor politician in a day and age when politics had begun to matter more. He spoke of trying to serve as a man above the "baneful weed of party strife" at the precise moment in history when America's Second Party System was emerging with nearly revolutionary force.
Paul Nagel argues that Adams's political acumen was not any less developed than others were in his day, and instead argues that Adams' political problems were the result of an unusually hostile Jacksonian faction and Adams' own dislike of the office. Although a product of the political culture of his day, Adams refused to play politics according to the usual rules and was not as aggressive in courting political support as he could have been. The followers of Jackson relentlessly attacked him for his involvement in the supposed bargain with Clay in the election.
A 2017 C-SPAN survey has Adams ranked among the middle third of presidents of all-time, right below George H. W. Bush and above Ulysses S. Grant. The survey asked 91 presidential historians to rank the 43 former presidents (including then-out-going president Barack Obama) in various categories to come up with a composite score, resulting in an overall ranking. Adams was ranked 21st among all former presidents (down from 19th in both the 2009 and 2000 surveys). His rankings in the various categories of this most recent poll were as follows: public persuasion (33), crisis leadership (23), economic management (17), moral authority (16), international relations (15), administrative skills (18), relations with congress (32), vision/setting an agenda (15), pursued equal justice for all (9), performance with context of times (22).
- Kaplan 2014, pp. 364–367.
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- "John Quincy Adams: Campaigns and Elections". Miller Center of Public Affairs, University of Virginia. Retrieved March 28, 2017.
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- Kaplan 2014, pp. 397–398.
- Remini 2002, pp. 84–86.
- Hargreaves 1985
- Remini 2002, pp. 85–86.
- Parsons 2009, pp. 146–147.
- Remini 2002, pp. 110–111.
- Parsons 2009, pp. 150–151.
- Remini 2002, pp. 112–116.
- Parsons 2009, pp. 157–158.
- Remini 2002, pp. 115–116.
- Edel 2014, pp. 225-226
- Kaplan 2014, pp. 398–400.
- Edel 2014, pp. 132, 161
- Hargreaves, The Presidency of John Quincy Adams (1985) ch 4
- Kaplan 2014, pp. 400–401.
- Kaplan 2014, pp. 423–424.
- Kaplan 2014, pp. 401–402.
- Remini 2002, pp. 82–83.
- Kaplan 2014, pp. 404–405.
- Remini 2002, pp. 82-83.
- Kaplan 2014, pp. 408–410.
- Kaplan 2014, pp. 401–402.
- Kaplan 2014, pp. 425–426.
- Parsons 2009, pp. 152–154.
- Parsons 2009, pp. 142–143.
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- Parsons 2009, pp. 166–167.
- Parsons 2009, pp. 171–172.
- Parsons 2009, pp. 172–173.
- Parsons 2009, pp. 177–178.
- Parsons 2009, pp. 181–183.
- Parsons 2009, pp. 185–187, 195.
- Nagel 1999
- Parsons 2009, pp. 189–190.
- "John Quincy Adams: Impact and Legacy". Miller Center of Public Affairs, University of Virginia. Retrieved March 23, 2017.
- Nagel 1999
- Stenberg, R. R. (1934). "Jackson, Buchanan, and the "Corrupt Bargain" Calumny". The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography. 58 (1): 61–85. doi:10.2307/20086857.
- "Historians Survey Results: John Quincy Adams". Presidential Historians Survey 2017. National Cable Satellite Corporation. 2017. Retrieved March 23, 2017.
- Edel, Charles N. (2014). Nation Builder: John Quincy Adams and the Grand Strategy of the Republic. Harvard Univ. Press.
- Hargreaves, Mary W.M. (1985). The Presidency of John Quincy Adams. Univ. Press of Kansas.
- Kaplan, Fred (2014). John Quincy Adams: American Visionary. HarperCollins. Biography
- Nagel, Paul C. (1983). Descent from Glory: Four Generations of the John Adams Family. New York: Oxford Univ. Press. ISBN 978-0-19-503172-0.
- Nagel, Paul (1999). John Quincy Adams: A Public Life, a Private Life. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press. pp. 19,21,26,30,32,49,51,54,73,76,272,279,327,346–348,351–353,357,359,368. ISBN 978-0674479401.
- Parsons, , Lynn H. (2009). The Birth of Modern Politics: Andrew Jackson, John Quincy Adams, and the Election of 1828. Oxford Univ. Press. excerpt and text search
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- United States Congress. "Presidency of John Quincy Adams (id: A000041)". Biographical Directory of the United States Congress.
- John Quincy Adams at the White House
- The Diaries of John Quincy Adams: A Digital Collection at the Massachusetts Historical Society
- "Life Portrait of John Quincy Adams", from C-SPAN's American Presidents: Life Portraits, April 18, 1999
- Works by John Quincy Adams at Project Gutenberg
- Works by or about John Quincy Adams at Internet Archive
- Works by John Quincy Adams at LibriVox (public domain audiobooks)
- Personal Manuscripts by John Quincy Adams at Shapell
|U.S. Presidential Administrations|
|J. Q. Adams Presidency