The Young Diarist and Early Legal Career November 1779 August 1794

John Quincy Adams’s (JQA) diary, which was inspired by his father John Adams (JA) and started as a travel journal, initiated a lifelong writing obsession. In 1779, twelve-year-old JQA made his second trip abroad to accompany his father’s diplomatic mission. While in Europe, he attended various schools and traveled to St. Petersburg as an interpreter during Francis Dana’s mission to Russia. He subsequently served as JA’s secretary at Paris during the final months before the Anglo-American Definitive Peace Treaty was signed in September 1783. Two years later, JQA returned to the US. After graduating from Harvard College in 1787, he moved to Newburyport to read law under Theophilus Parsons and in 1790 he established a legal practice in Boston. JQA’s skill as a writer brought him public acclaim, and in 1794 President George Washington nominated him as US minister resident to the Netherlands.

Diplomat, Senator, and Professor September 1794 July 1809

John Quincy Adams (JQA) entered diplomatic service in September 1794 as US minister resident to the Netherlands. He married Louisa Catherine Johnson (LCA) in July 1797 after a fourteen-month engagement, and their three sons were born in this period. During his father John Adams’s (JA) presidency they moved to Berlin where, as US minister plenipotentiary, JQA signed a new Prussian-American Treaty of Amity and Commerce. JQA returned to the US in 1801 and entered politics, elected first to the Massachusetts senate in 1802 and then to the US Senate in 1803. His contentious relationship with fellow Federalist members over his support of some Democratic-Republican policies led to his removal from office. In May 1808 the Federalist-controlled Massachusetts legislature voted to replace him at the end of his term, prompting JQA’s resignation in June. Between 1806 and 1809 he also served as the first Boylston Professor of Rhetoric and Oratory at Harvard.

Later Diplomatic Career August 1809 August 1817

John Quincy Adams (JQA) returned to diplomatic service in August 1809 as the US’s first minister plenipotentiary to Russia. In St. Petersburg JQA was well-liked by Emperor Alexander I and closely followed the battles of the Napoleonic Wars then raging across Europe. When the US declared war on Great Britain in 1812, Adams watched from afar as the conflict dragged on for two years. In April 1814, he traveled to Ghent, Belgium, as part of the US delegation to negotiate an end to the war with England; the Treaty of Ghent was signed on Christmas Eve. Subsequently appointed US minister to the Court of St. James’s in May 1815, JQA served in London for the next two years.

Secretary of State September 1817 February 1825

John Quincy Adams (JQA) served as the US secretary of state during James Monroe’s presidency. Adams’s duties included organizing and responding to all State Department correspondence and negotiating agreements beneficial to the US. His achievements as secretary of state include the Anglo-American Convention of 1818, which established the US border with Canada along the 49th parallel, and the Adams-Onis Treaty of 1819 (Transcontinental Treaty), which resulted in the US acquisition of Florida. JQA also formulated the policy that became known as the Monroe Doctrine, in which the US called for European non-intervention in the western hemisphere, specifically in the affairs of newly independent Latin American nations. As Monroe’s presidency came to an end, JQA was among the top candidates in the 1824 presidential election. When no candidate earned the necessary majority, the House of Representatives decided the election in JQA’s favor in February 1825.

President March 1825 December 1829

John Quincy Adams (JQA) was inaugurated as the sixth president of the US on 4 March 1825 and began his administration with an ambitious agenda of improvements for American society. His presidency was embattled. Supporters of Andrew Jackson, who believed their candidate had unfairly lost the 1824 election, worked ceaselessly to foil JQA’s plans. Domestically, JQA refused to replace civil servants with partisan supporters, and his administration became involved in disputes between the Creek Nation and the state of Georgia. JQA’s foreign policy also suffered, as partisan bickering in Congress failed to provide timely funding for US delegates to attend the 1826 Congress of Panama. Political mudslinging in advance of the 1828 presidential election was particularly fierce, and by mid-1827 JQA knew he would not be reelected.

Return to Public Service January 1830 December 1838

In 1831 John Quincy Adams (JQA) became the only former president to subsequently serve in the US House of Representatives. As the chairman of the House Committee on Manufactures, he helped compose the compromise tariff bill of 1832. He traveled to Philadelphia as part of a committee that investigated the Bank of the United States, drafting a minority report in support of rechartering the bank after disagreeing with the committee’s majority report. JQA regularly presented the antislavery petitions he received from across the country, and he vehemently opposed the passage of the Gag Rule in 1836 that prevented House discussion of petitions related to slavery. He opposed the annexation of Texas, and in 1838 he delivered a marathon speech condemning the evils of slavery. JQA also chaired the committee that oversaw the bequest of James Smithson, which was used to establish the Smithsonian Institution.

The Amistad Case and Final Years January 1839 February 1848

During his final years of service in the US House of Representatives, John Quincy Adams (JQA) continued to oppose the Gag Rule that prevented House discussion of petitions related to slavery. In 1839 he joined the defense team for the Africans who revolted aboard the Spanish slave ship Amistad. The Supreme Court declared the Amistad Africans free on 9 March 1841 after JQA delivered oral arguments in their favor. In 1842 JQA faced a censure hearing and ably defended himself against charges from southern congressmen. He introduced a successful resolution that finally led to the repeal of the Gag Rule in 1844. JQA voted against both the annexation of Texas in 1845 and the US declaration of war with Mexico in 1846. He collapsed on the floor of the House on 21 February 1848 and died two days later.