Podcast # 15: Presidency of John Quincy Adams, Election of 1824, Sectionalism and the rise of Jacksonian Democracy.

John Q. Adams was born in 1767 in Massachusetts. He was a child during the American Revolution and when his father worked as a special envoy to various European countries, he was brought along with him. Starting at the age of 10, John Q. Adams accompanied his father to France, England, the Netherlands, Russia, Sweden and Prussia. At the age of 14, he worked as a translator and personal secretary to the US emissary to Russia. Serving in Russia during the time of Catherine the Great no less. The US was hoping to have Catherine the Great of Russia recognize the US an independent and sovereign country. John Quincy Adams had a front row seat to watch and learn from some of the greatest leaders in not only US but world history. As a result of his travels abroad he spoke 8 languages. The most of any President.

By the time he returned to the US and began his studies at Harvard; he had already lived a lifetime compared to his professors, let alone his peers.

John Quincy Adams like his father, serves one term as President. He was like his father in many ways and followed in his footsteps. He attended Harvard and became a lawyer (Just as his father did). A He served as a diplomat and most notably, Secretary of State under President Madison.

Accomplishments as Secretary of State

All of the incredible foreign policy achievements we discussed in our previous podcast on James Monroe were all due in large part to John Q. Adams. The Adams-Onis Treaty – US gained the territory of Florida; he helped to set the border between the US and British controlled Canada; and of course the Monroe Doctrine. During his presidency, Adams hooped to strengthen relations and trade with the newly independent nations of Latin America.

Election of 1824

“One man won (Adams) One man helped him win (Clay), and one stormed out of Washington denouncing the entire affair as “The Corrupt Bargain” (Jackson) The election of 1824 was so controversial that it held that title until the election of 2000 between Al Gore and George W. Bush.

The election of 1824 is also sometimes referred to as the Corrupt Bargain

The Era of good feelings had clearly come to an end. Unlike in 1820, when Monroe ran unopposed, 4 different candidates were put up by the Democratic Republicans in the election of 1824

William Crawford (Southerner) and sec of treasury

John Adams (Massachusetts – Northerner) and sec of state

Andrew Jackson (Tennessee) military hero and general

Henry Clay (Westerner) speaker of the house

Jackson won the popular vote but none of the candidates had the majority of electoral college votes needed to become President. So, when that happens, it goes to The House of Representatives for a vote.

Henry Clay was Speaker of the House, he had no chance of becoming President, he despised Jackson. He wasn’t particularly fond of Adams, but saw similarities to Adams’ plans for the country as he had.

Clay got the necessary votes for Adams, Adams became President and when Adams made Henry Clay Sec. of State it infuriated Jackson and Adams’ Vice President John C. Calhoun. This position had been seen as a spring board to the Presidency. Many including Jackson thought it to be a Corrupt Bargain.

Around this time, we are starting to see calls for equality of suffrage (For white men) Westward Expansion and the increased availability of land weakened land owning voting qualifications. Many upper class elites disliked the idea of lower classes having an equal say. The argument was that those without property had just as much at stake as those with property. The fact that Jackson won the popular vote should make sense. The fact that Adams wins the election in the house should also make sense. Adams is an intellectual, he is from an elite family, he is not your average politician and didn’t want to play the game of politics. That unwillingness to play the game, led him to be a one term president.

We see a breakdown of the Democratic-Republican Party; Supporters of Adams were known as National Republicans Jackson’s supporters were known as Democrats or Jacksonian Democrats. The legislative Branch was filled with mostly supporters of Jackson, Calhoun and Crawford. As a result, there is tremendous amounts of opposition to almost everything John Q. Adams tried to do as President.

The anger and frustration in Jackson over this election led him to come back to Washington with vengeance and win the election of 1828.

As President, John Q. Adams doesn’t have much of a highlight reel. It’s his years before and after his Presidency that he is most remembered for.

His goals as President were to focus on Internal Improvements.

He felt that if the US only continued to focus on issues such as Farming, Industry and Commerce (trade) the US would soon become inferior.

He wanted to see an Increased focus on Arts and Literature

Creation of a National Observatory (critics referred to this as a lighthouse in the sky)

A national university

Internal improvements (canals, railroad lines, roads)

Scientific Exploration of Northwest.

Career in The House of Representatives:

He was elected to the House of Representatives in a landslide victory. Yet again, there was Adams, who had lived a lifetime in comparison to that of his peers. Sitting next to other “Freshman Senators” was diplomat, Former US Senator, Sec of State and former President of The United States. As a member of the House of Representatives, he supported causes and bills that would allow for the internal improvements he had tried to make a reality as President. He worked tirelessly and for many years without any support from his peers to end the gag rule in The House of Representatives which prevented any petition related to slavery banned from being discussed on floor of The House. He was despised by southern representatives because Adams would use any chance to possible to coax them into discussing or defending slavery and would always make sure to bring petitions in support of abolition to the house floor before the gag rule could be reinstated for that year. He opposed the annexation of territories and the Mexican –American War because he feared the addition of new territories would upset the balance between free and slave states (he was right in that thinking) He was a hero to Northern Abolitionists. It was no surprise when Northern Abolitionists asked John Q. Adams to argue before The Supreme Court.

The Amistad

In 1841. John Q. Adams represented the defense in the Supreme Court Case, The US v. Schooner Amistad. He was chosen by Abolitionists to argue in support of the freedom of the African captives.

For those who are unaware of the story of The Amistad, the story begins in 1839, when Portuguese Slave hunters kidnapped a large number of people in what is today Sierra Leone and brought them to Cuba which had become the center of the slave trade. At this point in history, many countries had made the International Slave Trade illegal (including the USA) Once in Cuba, two plantation owners purchased 53 of the African captives and sailed them on the Amistad towards the Caribbean. While on board, the Africans rebelled, killed the captain and forced the platers to sail the ship back to Africa. They didn’t and the ship was captured off the coast of Long Island, NY by an American ship. Now, keep in mind the time period. You would think that the planters would be arrested, and the captives freed, but that’s not what happened. The Planters were released and the African captives were arrested and charged with murder. The murder charges were eventually dropped, but the status of the freedom of the Africans was called into question. Were they still owned by the planters? They had come from Cuba so the government of Spain who controlled Cuba as a colony claimed ownership and the captain of the US ship that rescued The Amistad claimed he had a right to compensation based on maritime laws after all, it had been dangerous to recapture The Amistad and he felt he was entitled to compensation. By the 1840s, the abolitionist movement in the Northern part of US has really gained momentum. Northern Abolitionists raised money to defend the African captives. A lower court ruled in favor of the freedom of the captives and the case was appealed and went to The Supreme Court.

John Q. Adams who was in his 70s at this point, argued that not only was it a moral issue that the African captives be freed, it was a legal one Using the fact the slave trade had been made illegal years ago. The Supreme Court decided in a vote of 7 to 1 that the Africans were to be freed. Of the 53 people, 34 survived and were brought back home to Africa with money raised by Abolitionists the federal government refused to pay.

John Q. Adams died doing what he loved. He had a massive stroke while at his desk in The House of Representatives. He died two days later on Feb. 23, 1848.


“Know ye not,” my hearers, that “a great man is fallen?”

“ Yet, as few as men of greatness of character are – here and there one in an age, like light-houses scattered along the sea coast, to guide the bewildered mariner – our country has produced her full proportion; and John Quincy Adams was decidedly one of the number.

No man ever served his country longer, more faithfully, with higher motives and a purer patriotism. History, I say, will do him justice.”

When fighting for years in the House of Representatives to secure an end to the gag rule in his fight for the abolition of slavery, John Q. Adams often stood alone and bore the brunt of ridicule from his peers. He stood alone and continued to stand even though it wasn’t popular opinion at the time but because he knew it was right. “Old Man Eloquent” was surrounded by political allies and opponents alike when he collapsed on the floor of The House of Representatives. While his opponents may have disagreed with him, they had tremendous respect for what he had done. History can only do a person justice if people know about it.

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