About the Diary

For more than 68 years, John Quincy Adams (JQA, 1767–1848) kept a diary of his public and private experiences. The diary encompasses more than 15,000 pages from the first entry on 12 November 1779 through the final one on 20 February 1848. The resulting 51 diary volumes comprise the longest continuous record of any American of the time and provide an unparalleled resource for students, scholars, and all lovers of history.

John Quincy Adams was the oldest son of John and Abigail Adams of Quincy, Massachusetts. His distinguished career in public service spanned six decades and included roles as diplomat, secretary of state, president, and congressman. The John Quincy Adams Digital Diary, a publication of the Adams Papers editorial project at the Massachusetts Historical Society, presents verified and searchable transcriptions of entries alongside manuscript page images. Currently 11,600 pages are available with more to come.

About John Quincy Adams

John Quincy Adams was born 11 July 1767. As a young boy Adams accompanied his father John Adams on his diplomatic missions to Europe. He attended school at a private academy outside Paris, the Latin School of Amsterdam, and Leyden University. The years 1781–1782 he spent in St. Petersburg as private secretary and interpreter to Francis Dana, U.S. minister to Russia. In 1785 Adams returned to the United States to continue his education. He graduated from Harvard College in 1787, studied law for three years with Theophilus Parsons in Newburyport, Massachusetts, and then practiced law in Boston.

Adams entered into diplomatic service in 1794 when President George Washington appointed him as minister to the Netherlands. While in London in 1795 he met Louisa Catherine Johnson, daughter of the U.S. consul Joshua Johnson and his wife, Catherine Nuth Johnson. The couple married on 26 July 1797 and together welcomed four children—George Washington Adams (1801–1829), John Adams 2d (1803–1834), Charles Francis Adams (1807–1886), and Louisa Catherine Adams (1811–1812).

During his father John Adams’ presidency, John Quincy was appointed minister plenipotentiary to Berlin in 1797, where he served until being recalled after the elder Adams’ defeat in the presidential election of 1800.

John Quincy Adams continued in public service, making his first foray into politics with the Massachusetts Senate before being elevated in April 1803 to fill a vacant seat in the U.S. Senate. Adams’ independent actions in the Senate, namely support for the Louisiana Purchase and the Embargo of 1807, alienated him from the Federalist Party in Massachusetts. When the state legislature, dominated by Federalists, named Adams’ successor six months before his Senate term was to expire in 1808, Adams resigned.

He returned to diplomatic service the following year. Commissioned minister plenipotentiary to Russia in 1809, Adams, Louisa, and their son Charles Francis spent five years in St. Petersburg. Adams’ post placed him in a unique position to report on Napoleon’s march across Europe and disastrous attempt to conquer Russia. Within months of the U.S. declaration of war against Great Britain in 1812, Adams was involved in efforts to bring about peace—first through Russian mediation and later as a negotiator at Ghent in 1814. The Adamses extended their stay in Europe when John Quincy was appointed minister plenipotentiary to Great Britain in 1815, a position both his father and son Charles Francis also held. George Washington Adams and John Adams 2d joined their parents and younger brother in England.

Adams’ eighth and final voyage across the Atlantic was made in 1817 when he returned home to serve as secretary of state in President James Monroe’s administration. Significant among his many accomplishments are the negotiation of the Transcontinental Treaty of 1819 with Spain, the completion of his authoritative Report on Weights and Measures (1821), and the development of the Monroe Doctrine (1823).

Adams succeeded Monroe as president in 1825 after a contentious election. He ran second to rival Andrew Jackson in the 1824 election but was chosen president by the U.S. House of Representatives when no candidate received a majority vote by the electoral college. Adams struggled as a minority president and received little support for an ambitious program of national improvements (federal support for the arts and sciences, creation of a Department of the Interior, and development of a system of roads and canals).

Although defeated for reelection in 1828 by Jackson, Adams soon returned to national politics as a representative from Massachusetts and served in the U.S. House from 1831 to 1848. He became an increasingly vocal opponent of slavery and its expansion—opposing the annexation of Texas and war with Mexico, championing the freedom of petition in defiance of the congressional Gag Gule, and defending the Amistad captives before the U.S. Supreme Court. On 21 February 1848, Adams collapsed at his seat in the House chamber. He was carried to the Speaker’s Room in the Capitol, where he died on 23 February.

Contributors & Credits


Neal Millikan – Sara Martin – C. James Taylor – Karen Barzilay – Susan Martin – Molly Nebiolo

With thanks for the assistance of current Adams Papers staff

Rhonda Barlow
Gwen Fries
Sara Georgini
Miriam Liebman
Hobson Woodward

The project gratefully acknowledges the following individuals and organizations for their financial support:

Amelia Peabody Charitable Fund

Harvard University Press

L. Dennis and Susan R. Shapiro

Phillis Lee Levin and others

Project efforts have been advanced by the valuable contributions of former Adams Papers staff and interns and the dedication of many volunteers:

Sophia Alessandri, Anthony M. Amore, Mary Quine Auerbach, Adam Berk, Nancy Bertrand, Perry Blatz, Kelsey Brow, Jeff DeToro, Ronnie Dooley, Josh Feigenbaum, Joan Fink, Katie Finnegan, Christina Gaebel, Kaz Gebhardt, Timothy Giblin, Doug Girardot, Michael Lynn Griffin, Christopher Hall, Kenna Hohmann, Lauren Howard, Robert Huberty, Alison M. Kiernan, Jessica Leeper, Alyssa Machajewski, Cliona McCarry, Scott R. McKinley, Amanda Norton, Joan Quigley, Margot Rashba, Laura Richards, Emily Ross, Grace Stillwell, Peyton Tvrdy, Lucy Wickstrom, Emily Wieder, Mary K. Wigge, L. J. Woolcock, and others.