The night before her husband, John Quincy Adams,  was inaugurated as the sixth president of the United States, Louisa Adams was “seized with a violent fever,” John Quincy wrote in his diary.

A doctor was summoned and she was bled. She was ill all night, and before daybreak had a “long and alarming fainting fit.”[1]  Mrs. Adams was ill many, many times during her adult lifetime.  So she was not present when her husband took the oath of office.  A crowd followed him home to celebrate. The first lady came downstairs briefly then returned to bed. 

John Quincy Adams was a non-political politician; he would not do any “politicking.”  Louisa urged him to make speeches, visit influential people and give his supporters some attention. He declined. “My journeys and my visits wherever they may be shall have no connection with the presidency,” he chided her.  “I am sincerely sorry for it,” she replied – with more iciness than sympathy.[2]   She reminded him that his supporters had an investment in him winning re-election. But he refused to do much to help them, or his own cause. He gave no speeches nor encourage coordination, unlike Andrew Jackson whose campaign was once again running on the strength of his magnetic personality.

Daniel Webster’s brother, Ezekiel, confessed that he supported Adams “. . . from a cold sense of duty.” He wrote to Daniel, “We do not entertain for him one personal kind feeling.”[3]  John Quincy refused to talk politics with men hungry to do so when they showed up at his door.   One young man–a young Thurlow Weed–who would later enjoy significant influence, and who had helped orchestrate John Quincy’s 1824 win in New York–came to talk to John Quincy, intending to work on his behalf, only to be smoothly rebuffed. 

Later, Weed would bitterly write that President Adams “with the great power he possessed” not only failed to recognize those who supported him, but failed to make “a single influential friend.”[4]  Adam’s thinking was that ambition that led men to go out to campaign and promote themselves was the mother of corruption.

President Adams was a man ahead of the times. Visionary and creative[5]—indeed, ahead of his times.  He had vigorous and far-reaching goals for his administration. For example, he called for a Department of the Interior, an astronomy observatory, and a national system of roads and canals.

Several infrastructure projects were completed during his presidency.  The National Road between Cumberland, Maryland and Zanesville, Ohio for example. The Chesapeake and Ohio Canal was constructed as were the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal and Louisville and Portland Canal around the falls of the Ohio River. 

But like Samson of old (Judges 13-16) who was unaware that power had departed,  President Adams over-rated his political clout.  With little awareness that his cold personality had alienated many, he could not understand why he was thwarted and thwarted again. For example, his proposal to send envoys to a Panama Congress to form relationships with Central American republics was blocked until the opportunity was lost.

He promoted the establishment of a national university, but this too was rejected.  He wanted to establish a uniform system of weights and measurements, but it never received congressional attention.  His effort to found a naval academy passed the Senate, but failed in the House.  His work to establish a national bankruptcy law was defeated. And a naval expedition to explore the Pacific Ocean was blocked by Congress.

His opponents interpreted his interest in roads and bridges and canals–which enjoyed broad support before he took office–three of the five major presidential President John Quincy Adams engraving 1895 Map from “A History of the United States for America  for Schools” 1895 John Quincy Adams stock illustrationscandidates were enthusiastic advocates of internal improvements, as was President Monroe – were an indication of his plans to usurp authority.[6]

Asserting federal powers was seen as an ominous threat against slavery. Just seven months into John Quincy Adam’s presidency, the Tennessee legislature nominated the pro-slavery candidate Andrew Jackson for the presidency in 1828. In 1829, a fall in the price of cotton led to a growing resistance to J.Q.’s tariff reform efforts. Southerners believed that J.Q.’s ambitious national economic program was only a prelude to the federal government’s usurping of states’ rights.  And Adam’s own vice president, John C. Calhoun was working openly against him.[7]  “Distrust of Washington was growing, and some political coalitions arose around little more than their dislike of the political elite—and John Quincy in particular.”[8]

John Quincy’s White House years were miserable. Louisa felt isolated; they argued; their children struggled.  “Louisa resented him and admired him, both at the same time.”[9]  She lived outside Washington some of the time.

He looked forward to leaving the White House, but did nothing to pull his name out of the race for re-election.  Up to that point in the history of the United States, only one man had ever been expelled from office after just one term–his own father.   

John Quincy had difficulty sleeping, only getting four or five hours sleep a night. He had digestion trouble. His hands trembled, skin sagged and eyes watered.  He had struggled with dark moods, apathy and sometime severe depression. He labored under “uncontrollable dejection of spirits” according to his diary in July 1827.  Yet of those months, he wrote he was “insensible to the almost unparalleled blessings with which I have been favored.”[10]

As his cares compounded, his doctor recommended a vacation, something his iron discipline would not allow him to enjoy.  Getting rest when he was responsible for the country!  Horrors!  That ran counter to all his parents had made a part of his DNA.  About this time, one of his sons died.

His ideas were too advanced for the narrow minds of the time which surrounded him.  Much of what he worked for came into existence later.

He interpreted his loss of the presidential election as a repudiation of his entire life’s work, a judgment against his merit. He felt “deserted by mankind.”[11]  John Q. had to admit to himself that it was the peoples’ acceptance and approval he craved.

Not only not forgotten, but needed elsewhere, he ran for public office and was elected to the House or Representatives. This win was redemptive. A strong anti-slavery voice, John Quincy was under a gag order which only promoted his legacy. He had been around long enough that some who he influenced in prior years were coming into power and even his fiercest opponents came to respect his determination.  Every New Year’s Day, all of Washington descended on Louise and John Quincy’s house to pay their respects – abolitionists and Southern congressmen, men of ‘every political creed.” He was considered by nearly all as a great man and by some as a hero. And she was, in a different way, seen as a monument.”    He served in Congress from 1831 until his death in 1848.

What can be said of his life? He is to be commended for his extremely diligent and rigorous pursuit of a moral life. He served America and he was good for his nation.   As a product of the iron will of his parents, his emotionless life left his wife starving for affection and respect.  Yet I would prefer him many times over to the man who currently occupies the White House.  

[1]   Lousia Thomas, Page 447

[2]   Louisa , Page 536

[3]   Ibid, Page 537

[4]   Ibid, Page 537

[5]   But not street savvy.

[6]    Though the same critics pushed individual projects that benefited their own constituents.

[7]    At this time, the person with the most votes was president, while the person with the second
        most votes was vice-president, even if they were not from the same party. 

[8]    Louisa, by Louisa Thomas, Page 429

[9]    Louisa, Page 649

[10]  Ibid, Page 538

[11]  Louisa, Page 580