Life & Contributions

John Quincy Adams was just 10 years old when he accompanied his father, John Adams, on a mission to France during the Revolutionary War. He continued to travel with his father on diplomatic assignments to the Netherlands and Great Britain, all the while studying in the capitals of Europe. At age 14, because of his excellent French, young Adams was sent to St. Petersburg as private secretary and translator for the U.S. mission to Russia. Serious and studious, he returned to the United States to graduate from Harvard at age 20.

In 1794 President George Washington appointed the young Adams minister to the Netherlands, and when the elder Adams became president in 1797, he appointed his son minister to Prussia. There John Quincy negotiated a treaty of amity and commerce. He was soon back in Russia, this time as minister, where he persuaded the czar to allow American ships to trade in Russian ports. Then, in 1814, he left for Ghent, in Belgium, to lead the U.S. peace commission in writing the treaty that ended the War of 1812. Next Adams went to London, where he served as minister to Great Britain for two years, negotiating an important commercial treaty.

In 1817 President James Monroe finally called Adams home, appointing him secretary of state. Over the next eight years Secretary Adams negotiated treaties that acquired Florida from Spain and established U.S. fishing rights off the Canadian coast. Most important, he helped formulate the Monroe Doctrine that warned European nations not to interfere in the affairs of the nation-states in the Western Hemisphere.

With such a strong background in foreign affairs, Adams seemed well prepared to be president. But the election of 1824 was disputed, and followers of his rival Andrew Jackson denied Adams an easy presidency. Though both were strong nationalists, Adams’s proposals for a national university and a national astronomical observatory were ignored. Jackson won the election of 1828, and Adams returned to Massachusetts. But not for long. His native state sent him to the House of Representatives, where he served until his death, a strong opponent of slavery.

Related Objects

Portrait of John Quincy Adams

Portrait of John Quincy Adams

Leslie, Charles Robert
1816
oil on canvas
Portrait of Louisa Catherine Johnson Adams

Portrait of Louisa Catherine Johnson Adams

Leslie, Charles Robert
1816
oil on canvas
John Quincy Adams' Mahogany Writing Box

John Quincy Adams' Mahogany Writing Box

Unknown
ca. 1796
wood; mahogany; beech
Portrait of John Quincy Adams

Portrait of John Quincy Adams

Harding, Chester
1828
oil on canvas
American Silver Coffeepot

American Silver Coffeepot

Revere, Jr., Paul
ca. 1800
metal; silver
Portrait Miniature of John Quincy Adams

Portrait Miniature of John Quincy Adams

Parker, John
1795
watercolor on ivory, in its gilded case
Portrait Miniature of Louisa Catherine Johnson Adams

Portrait Miniature of Louisa Catherine Johnson Adams

Shelley, Samuel
ca. 1796
watercolor on ivory; in its gilded copper case with burnished bezel
Portrait of John Quincy Adams

Portrait of John Quincy Adams

Healy, George Peter Alexander
1845
oil on canvas
Portrait of John Quincy Adams

Portrait of John Quincy Adams

King, Charles Bird
1826
oil on panel
Portrait Miniature of John Quincy Adams

Portrait Miniature of John Quincy Adams

Ramage, John
ca. 1789
watercolor on ivory; in its gilded copper case
John Quincy Adams Coppered Bronze Indian Peace Medal

John Quincy Adams Coppered Bronze Indian Peace Medal

Unknown
After 1825
metal; bronze
Portrait of John Quincy Adams, 8th Secretary of State under President James Monroe

Portrait of John Quincy Adams, 8th Secretary of State under President James Monroe

Gibert, Jean Baptiste Adolphe
1844
oil on canvas