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John Quincy Adams

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Adams, John Quincy (1767–1848), sixth president of the United States and son of the second president, John Adams. Adams also served as diplomat, secretary of state, senator, and representative.

Early life

As a boy, Adams accompanied his father on various diplomatic missions in Europe, where he was educated. After returning home in 1785, he studied at Harvard, graduating at the age of 19. He became a lawyer and settled in Boston to practice, but he spent much of his time writing newspaper articles on political topics.


In 1794 Adams was appointed ambassador to the Netherlands by President George Washington, who had been favorably impressed by Adams's political essays. He later served in diplomatic posts in London, Lisbon, and Berlin.

In 1809 President James Madison appointed Adams the first U.S. ambassador to Russia, a post he held until 1814. Adams helped to negotiate the Treaty of Ghent (1814), which ended the War of 1812 between the U.S. and Britain. From 1815 to 1817, he was ambassador to England.

Secretary of State

John Quincy Adams became secretary of state in 1817, under President James Monroe. He helped develop the Monroe Doctrine, which stated U.S. opposition to involvement by European countries in the Americas. He also negotiated the treaty with Spain (1819) that ceded Florida to the United States and established a border with Mexico.


Adams's presidential term (1825–29) was probably the least successful phase of his public life and certainly the unhappiest. His political enemies accused him of having made a suspicious deal with one of the other candidates, Henry Clay, in order to become president by vote of the House of Representatives. These accusations haunted him throughout his term.

As president, Adams advocated a strong national bank, protective tariffs, conservation of public lands, and protection of Native American tribes. He pushed for other national projects and improvements such as highways, canals, and railroads, but Congress rejected most of these ideas.

A tariff act passed during his term was so unpopular that it was called the Tariff of Abominations. Adams ran for reelection in 1828 but was defeated by Andrew Jackson.

Return to Congress

In 1830 Adams was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, where he served until his death in 1848. Known as Old Man Eloquent, he fought vigorously for the right of the people to petition for the redress of wrongs, as well as against the extension of slavery. He was one of the first to claim that the federal government could free slaves during time of war, an argument that later supported President Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation of 1862.

Adams died at the age of 80, 2 days after suffering a stroke at his desk in the House of Representatives.


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