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The presidency of John Quincy Adams

John Quincy Adams narrowly beat Andrew Jackson in the presidential election of 1824. Though his 'American System' modernized the American economy, his endorsement of a protective tariff as well as his lenient stance toward Native Americans cast him out of office after one term. 


  • John Quincy Adams was the sixth president of the United States. He served one term in office from 1825 to 1829.
  • John Quincy Adams was the son of John Adams, the second president of the United States. He served as Secretary of State under James Monroe before becoming president.
  • Adams was a nimble statesman who is best remembered for his skilled diplomacy and his principled opposition to slavery.

The early life of John Quincy Adams

John Quincy Adams was the son of John Adams, the second president of the United States, and Abigail Adams, an early feminist who famously reminded her husband to “remember the ladies” while he was in office. Quincy Adams served as Secretary of State from 1817 to 1825 under President James Monroe and is widely considered one of the best Secretaries of State in US history.
George P. A. Healy, portrait of John Quincy Adams, 1858. Image credit: courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
As Secretary of State, Adams helped negotiate the Treaty of Ghent, which ended the War of 1812. He also worked with the British to establish the border between British Canada and the United States, negotiated the annexation of Florida from Spain, and composed the Monroe Doctrine, which asserted the Western Hemisphere as the US sphere of influence and warned European imperial powers not to meddle in it.1

The presidency of John Quincy Adams

John Quincy Adams won the 1824 presidential election in a four-way race against Henry Clay, William Crawford, and Andrew Jackson. The election was so close that it was ultimately decided by the House of Representatives, which had the authority under the 12th Amendment to the US Constitution to decide the outcome of a presidential race in which no candidate received a majority of electoral votes.
Because Andrew Jackson had won more electoral votes than any other single candidate, he was embittered by the outcome and declared the election to be a "corrupt bargain.”2 Jackson alleged that Henry Clay, who served as Speaker of the House of Representatives at the time, had convinced the House to elect Adams—a charge made more believable by the fact that Adams, once in office, appointed Clay as Secretary of State. Although no evidence surfaced to indicate that Clay had actually corrupted the process, the accusations lent credence to Jackson’s portrayal of Adams as a defender of the elite against the interests of the common man.
As president, Adams supported a program to modernize the US economy. Known as the American System, it included funding for infrastructure development to facilitate trade, a tariff to protect the domestic manufacturing industry, support for a national bank and currency, and a sharp reduction in the national debt, from $16 to $5 million.3

Adams's decline in popularity

John Quincy Adams’s popularity declined as a result of his lenient approach toward Native Americans, whom he supported against the demands of westward settlers. Adams’s successor, Andrew Jackson, would go on to implement a policy of Indian removal, which involved relocating eastern tribes to lands west of the Mississippi River.
In 1828, Adams signed off on a protective tariff that became known as the Tariff of Abominations to its southern opponents, who argued that it benefited northern manufacturing interests at their expense. This led to a further decline in Adams’s popularity and opened the way for Andrew Jackson to portray Adams as an eastern establishment elite who didn't care about the interests of the frontier settler or the common man.4

The post-presidency of John Quincy Adams

After losing the 1828 presidential election to Andrew Jackson, John Quincy Adams was elected to the House of Representatives, where he served for 17 years as the representative from Massachusetts.
In the House, Adams became one of the most vocal opponents of slavery. He consistently advocated abolitionist views and policies while condemning slavery as an immoral institution and attacking the interests of Southern slaveholders. During the Mexican-American War of 1848, Adams was one of the leading opponents of annexing Texas, presciently predicting that it would lead to civil war.
In 1841, Adams appeared before the Supreme Court to argue on behalf of African slaves who had revolted and seized the Spanish ship Amistad. The Supreme Court ruling was favorable; the slaves were declared free men. The incident was a major victory for the US abolitionist movement.5

What do you think?

Was John Quincy Adams an effective president? Why or why not?
How would you characterize the main differences between John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson?
Do you think Adams had a more successful career during or after his time as president?

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