John Quincy Adams

John Quincy Adams

  • Ranked #17: Adams was a very successful public servant from a very young age. With all that going for him, he turned out to be the wrong man for the presidency. Like his father, he never had allies in Washington DC. With all said and done, he didn't hurt the office.
  • Summary: He was born for public service. Had a brilliant career as a diplomat. He liked to shoot billiards, reading, keeping a diary, planting, horseback riding, swimming, the theater and fine wine. He exercised daily. Skinny dipped until the age of 79.
  • Bio: John was very straightforward about describing and documenting his faults, so he is by far the best source to describe his personality. He wrote in his diary, “I am a man of reserved, cold, austere and forbidding manners. My political adversaries say, a gloomy misanthropist, and my personal enemies, an unsocial savage. With a knowledge of the actual defect in my character, I have not the pliability to reform it.” He once wrote to his wife, “I never was and never shall be what is commonly termed a popular man, being as little qualified by nature, education, or habit for the arts of a courier as I am desirous of being courted by others….. I am certainly not intentionally repulsive in my matters and deportment, and in my public station I never made myself inaccessible to any human being. But I have no powers of fascination; none of the honey which the profligate proverb says is the true fly catcher.” I may not have understood half of what he wrote, but - well said John, (I say). I think he enjoyed being the grouchy, cold, wet rag that he describes himself as. This is, of course, ironic in some ways if you consider how good an American diplomat he was. Even George Washington said he was very successful, (which makes me think that Washington liked John Quincy better than his father, the senior John).
    John Quincy Adams was 5’ 7” and weighed about 175 pounds. I will cut to the chase and say that he often had a pissed look on his face. His health was dubious by 19th century standards. He often complained about aches and pains. He had bouts of insomnia, indigestion, nervous anxiety and even occasional depression. Adams liked to exercise and was an excellent swimmer. He was known to take a daily swim in the Potomac River as President. Not bad for a guy who seemed like he would not enjoy anything. He also liked to shoot billiards and installed the first billiards table ever in the White House. He had a keen palate and was known to sample fine wine after his dinner. He was known to be able to correctly identify 11 of 14 Madeiras one evening which is difficult to do.
    Adams was groomed and destined for public service. While he was an excellent Secretary of State, he was not quite as good as a President. His election in 1824 was one of the first controversial ones, because Andrew Jackson actually got more votes than he did, but did not get a majority. Unlike elections before 1824, when there were heirs apparent who ascended to office, this one had a number of candidates. At any rate, Congress finally settled the matter by electing Adams over Jackson, which really pissed Jackson off. He called foul and accused Adams of all sorts of things. If there was one thing you didn’t want, it was a pissed Andrew Jackson aiming in your direction. This made Adam’s Presidency a virtual nightmare since Jackson could not physically kill a sitting President (likely the only time in his life Jackson showed restraint), but could and did continually harass him. Adams also did not play well in the area of politics, so he never had allies in Congress to help him with his business. As a result, he lost his bid for re-election when Jackson beat him straight up.
    Adams’ Presidency was sadly weakened, leadership-wise, by the 1824 election results. While he was clearly qualified for the job, he was sort of out of touch with the times, despite being a fine visionary. He became the only President to serve in the House of Representatives after his term in office, where It would be no mystery that he often challenged Jackson’s policies. He also displayed a strong opposition to slavery and focused on that for most of his career. Adams worked up to the very end, and as a Congressman in 1848 collapsed to the floor of the House during session. They carried him to the Speaker’s Room where he died two days late
  • Pros: Always argued against slavery. Expanded the US Postal system. After serving as president, he won a seat in the House of Representatives just two years later and served until his death.
  • Cons: Didn't get a lot done as president due to the conflicts in his election and the constant defiances of his own cabinet whom he felt should remain in place to demonstrate to the people that he had balance in his administration.
  • Born: July 11, 1767, Braintree (now Quincy), Massachusetts
  • Died: February 23, 1848 (aged 80) Washington, D.C.
  • Term: March 4, 1825 to March 3, 1829 (1 term)
  • Political Party: Democratic-Republican
  • Religion: Unitarian
  • Education: Harvard College (graduated 1787)
  • Marriage: July 26, 1797, to Louisa Catherine Johnson (1775–1852)
  • Children: George Washington (1801–1829), John (1803–1834), Charles Francis (1807–1886), Louisa Catherine (1811–1812)
  • Career: Lawyer, Senator, Diplomat
  • Vice President: John C. Calhoun