U.S. Presidents 101: John Quincy Adams

February 22, 2017

John Quincy Adams bio
6th president, John Quincy Adams


If you follow us on Instagram, you may remember one of John Quincy Adams’ favorite pastimes. But if you weren’t able to catch our Presidents’ Day fun facts earlier this week, we posted an interesting tidbit about him: the man liked to skinny dip, every single morning in the Potomac River during his presidency. That hobby though, is just skimming the surface. Keep reading to learn more about our nation’s sixth president, President Adams. 

For those of you new to our blog, this post is part of our U.S. Presidents 101 series. If you’ve been following along with us, you may remember one of my goals this year is to learn all the U.S. Presidents, some fun facts about each one, and to teach it all to my kids. Here are our previous presidents: George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and James Monroe, in case you want to follow along.

The Facts: He was John and Abigail Adams’ (as in the 2nd president and First Lady of the U.S.) son and therefore became the first son of a president to become president. He served from 1825 to 1829. He was James Monroe’s Secretary of State and was the primary drafter of the “Monroe Doctrine.”

Historians say John Quincy Adams may have very well endured the most miserable presidency in history. That’s saying something because our country has had its fair share of challenging presidencies. I’m sure you can think of at least a few.

To understand why his presidency was so arduous, you have to understand how he was elected. For the first time in American history, each area of the U.S. put forth its own candidate. The North nominated Adams, the South nominated Andrew Jackson, who was widely popular at the time. William Crawford and Henry Clay were also nominated.

Put four candidates out there and what you’re left with is a completely divided race.

The short version is it was a race too close to call. Since no single candidate received enough electoral votes to win, the race was decided by the House of Representatives. The Speaker of the House was none other than Henry Clay (a candidate himself).

Ultimately, the contest came down to Adams and Jackson. Clay, as Speaker, got to cast the deciding vote. The House was highly in favor of Jackson but somehow Adams came away with the win. And what do you know, but Henry Clay was shortly thereafter named Secretary of State, leading everyone (especially Jackson and his supporters) to believe that a “corrupt bargain” was made behind close doors with Adams and Clay.

The nation was in an uproar over this . . . obviously. Think about what something like that would mean in today’s political world. We’ve already got accusations left and right that Russia helped secure Trump’s win, but this was even more scandalous.

Adams, determined to prove everyone wrong about this “corrupt bargain,” tried to rise above the politics of the day and refused to fire anyone who spoke against him or hire anyone who spoke in favor of him. I’m picturing some really awkward staff meetings. In addition to the staff issues, Congress was primarily pro-Jackson, and therefore made Adams life miserable by blocking everything that came its way.

The result was what has been deemed one of the most miserable presidencies in existence.

To Adams credit, he had a great plan for our country. He wanted to implement new canals and highways across America, which was super forward thinking at the time. However, since Congress blocked everything he tried to do, none of it came to fruition–at least not under an Adams presidency.

Why he’s cool: He literally served his country from childhood until death. As a pre-teen, his father took him to serve as his secretary when he was minister to France. His death came when he literally had a heart attack and died while giving a speech on the House floor at age 80.

He didn’t give up. He may not have had a successful presidency, but afterward instead of sitting home and moping about his second term loss to Andrew Jackson, he ran for a seat in the House and won. In fact, many historians believe he did his most important life work as a member of Congress, fighting for the anti-slavery cause.

John Quincy Adams

Fun facts:

  • Adams was the first president to have his photo taken (see above photo).
  • He was the first off-spring of a former president to become president.
  • He was the first president to wear full-length pants.
  • He was the first president to be elected to Congress after his presidency.
  • Also, and maybe this is the most fun fact of all (as we noted above): he was a skinny dipper! He went for a nude swim nearly every morning in the Potomac. Maybe there’s a reason swimming in the Potomac has been banned.

First Lady: English born Louisa Adams was the first foreign born First Lady. She and her husband were said to have an interesting relationship–apparently she was not appreciated by him, though she was quite instrumental in his successful political career. She was explicitly told not to express her opinions, so she hid herself away in her bedroom writing poems and eating chocolate. Her father-in-law, John Adams, however, was said to have been a big fan.

Vice President: John C. Calhoun, representative from South Carolina (he also served as Andrew Jackson’s vp, ironically) and Secretary of War.

Sources: History Channel has an awesome documentary on our U.S. Presidents. You can watch portions of it on YouTube but you can get all of it on Amazon. There’s a shorter version, here that is also fascinating.

The American Presidents Series is a favorite of mine. The John Quincy Adams book in the series emphasizes that while Adams may not have had a successful presidency, his political career both pre and post-presidency were highly influential.

For Kids: Here’s a fun fact your kids might enjoy: John Quincy Adams will be 250-years-old this year! Whoa!


Author: Brittany

Former White House and Capitol Hill staffer, wife, and mom.

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