Study Guide

John Quincy Adams in Monroe Doctrine

By James Monroe

John Quincy Adams

The Adams family set the trend for family members in the White House…not to mention family members in with the same name in the White House. John Quincy's historical star doesn't shine quite as brightly as his dad's, but he was the most influential contributor to the ideas of the Monroe Doctrine.

Growing Up Adams

JQA's father was already a pretty big deal when Adams junior was a child, so his mother Abigail took the lead in raising the kids. The two watched the Battle of Bunker Hill together from a hill in his hometown of Braintree. (Source)

You know, your standard mother-son bonding activity.

After the war, in 1778, John Quincy joined his father in France, where he studied at the same school with Benjamin Franklin's grandsons. Adams the Younger spent the next seven years in Europe following his father's diplomatic career, including stints in the Netherlands, Russia, Sweden, Prussia, and England. (Source)

Backpacking Through Europe, Diplomat-Style

When he came back to America, Adams became a lawyer in Boston, but didn't have as much success as his dad. His adolescence in Europe came in handy, though, when Washington appointed him minister to the Netherlands in 1794. You never know when being fluent in French and Dutch will come in handy.

From 1797-1801, Adams was the minister to Prussia (now Germany/Poland), then returned to the U.S. and became a state senator for Massachusetts. In 1803, he was elected to Congress, where his formerly staunch Federalist views shifted towards Jefferson's Democratic-Republican ideology. After his support of the Embargo Act of 1807, Adams' party made the rather rude move of appointing his successor long before his term was done, and Adams resigned from the Senate and changed his party affiliation…probably to not many people's surprise. (Source)

Adams' European adventures weren't over though. The next president, James Madison, made him the first U.S. ambassador to Russia in 1808. Despite his distaste for the whole "Czar vs. serfs" system they had going on over there, Adams bonded with Czar Alexander, especially over their mutual distaste for Napoleon. (Source)

They ended up coming up with a trade agreement that benefited the U.S., which goes to show that if you give imperial leaders a chance, they might surprise you. Unless their name is Palpatine or Caligula: then maybe just give them their space.

Adams was also part of the crew that negotiated the Treaty of Ghent ending the War of 1812 in 1814 (whoever named that war really should have been more creative). He stayed on as foreign minister to England, until finally returning to the U.S. to be Monroe's Secretary of State in 1817.

State-ing His Opinion

John Quincy Adams had a mixed record as Secretary of State. He managed some impressive agreements with other countries, which is, after all, the Secretary of State's job. He is the "Adams" of the Adams-Onís Treaty of 1819, when the U.S. got Florida from Spain. JQA also negotiated successfully with Canada, establishing a large section of the U.S.-Canada border among other things. (Source)

Adams' real foreign policy passion (come on, we all have one) was maritime rights, primarily reciprocity in commerce. In other words, he wanted the U.S. to have all the same rights as the European nations with whom they traded. Here, sadly, Adams was not so successful. His attempts to negotiate with France helped the U.S., but only by giving in to French demands, and talks with Britain just ended up hurting American commerce. (Source)

So, as you can see, we have a mixed record for Adams the Younger.

The Adams Doctrine

The Monroe Doctrine was one of the more influential results of Adams' time as Secretary of State. His stubborn insistence that the U.S. be recognized as an independent power convinced Monroe to reject an alliance with Britain, and make a bold statement of his own. At the time, the U.S. was kind of bluffing, since it didn't really have the manpower to stop European armies. But it wasn't bluffing when it came to the principle of the thing.

After all the business with getting Florida from Spain, which finally ended in 1821 with the ratification of the Adams-Onís treaty, the U.S. could focus on problems outside the immediate American borders. These problems ended up being primarily issues about maritime commerce and the newly independent Latin American countries. (Source)

Adams pre-empted Monroe's speech with his own to Congress on July 4th, 1822. In it, he expresses concern about the potential of further European colonization in the Americas, and the fact that European culture, especially British, still dominated in the U.S. of A.

Part of Adams' ideas that fed into the eventual Monroe doctrine, had to do with this issue of cultural importation. People in America were still primarily reading British literature and absorbing British ideas about what culture should be, which sometimes conflicted with supposedly American ideals. America prided itself on being the morally superior form of the antique, corrupt European society, and Adams felt that the new country was being infiltrated by too much of the old. (Source)

Adams' 1822 speech also dealt with the rapidly expanding British Empire. The Secretary of State actually credited Britain with preventing further American colonization, because the struggle of the Revolutionary War meant that further attempts to take over territory wouldn't be tolerated. However, Adams also, with surprising accuracy, predicted the downfall of the empire, specifically the eventual loss of India. (Source)

That didn't happen until 1947, but still, props to Adams for his prophecy skills.

Can't We All Just Get Along? (Apparently Not)

Adams had trouble getting along with some of his coworkers. Although Monroe was elected in a supposed "Era of Good Feelings," his administration was not the best example. Henry Clay had wanted to be Secretary of State, but Adams got the job over him. William Crawford, the aforementioned Secretary of the Treasury, was also not an Adams fan, and these two men in particular tried to make things difficult for the Secretary of State to accomplish. They were often successful. (Source)

Things got really uncomfortable approaching the 1824 election, which ended up being one of the most controversial in American history. As Secretary of State, Adams would normally have been the natural successor, but by his second term in that role others had started to fight him for the presidential spot, which ended up distracting him from his state department responsibilities and affecting his policy decisions. (Source)

The 1824 election was actually the first one where the popular vote had an impact instead of just state caucuses. There had been a movement in recent years to change the system and give the people more of a voice. Most states chose to switch to popular vote to determine where their electoral votes went, which is how our system works today. (Of course, there are plenty of people who want to change the system again to get rid of electoral votes completely, but that's a whole different ballgame that you can watch on your own time.)

There were five candidates in 1824, and no well-defined political parties, so the candidates drew support from wherever they were most popular. Jackson actually got more votes than Adams, but neither had a majority, so according to the rules back then the House of Representatives chose the winner.

Henry Clay was the leader of the House at this time, but despite his previous animosity with Adams he supported Adams over Jackson, which tells you something about how Clay felt about the former general. Adams won by one vote in the House. Then Adams finally gave Clay the Secretary of State position he had wanted for so long.

If you think that's super sketchy, you're not alone. Jackson called this move a "corrupt bargain," a name that has stuck in the history books, and people became angry that the popular vote had been essentially disregarded. (Source)

President Adams II: The Sequel

The 1824 election did not start Adams off on the right foot for his presidency, and he only lasted one term before being definitively ousted by Jackson in 1828.

His time in office is most remembered for his attempts to create what he called the "American System." This plan followed in Monroe's footsteps in that Adams wanted to establish a national infrastructure-building program, developing roads, canals, a national university, as well as funding scientific research.

Although the plan was originally proposed by Henry Clay, it was enthusiastically supported by Adams. Many people saw it as overstepping his constitutional authority, though, so what Adams saw as a way to promote trade and the economy cost him dearly in the political sphere. Whoops. (Source)

As president, Adams continued to negotiate maritime trading rights, which was clearly his real passion in life. (To each his own.) To give you an idea of how much people didn't like him and his policies, look at the Panama Convention.

In 1826, the independent Latin American republics put together a convention and invited their noble defender the United States to send a delegation. Adams of course was all for it, but Congress was less enthusiastic. Part of their opposition had to do with the fact that a lot of the countries involved had very mixed-race populations, and there would also be a delegation from Haiti, which won its independence through a slave rebellion. Southern states weren't so keen on being buddies with those guys. (Source)

Congress stalled the decision about whether to send the delegation for so long that by the time they got to Panama, they couldn't really participate in any of the convention.

Retirement Is for Sissies…and Federalists

Adams thought he would have a nice peaceful retirement on his farm, which must have seemed like a nice break after all those battles in Washington. In 1830, though, he was surprised to be elected to the House of Representatives, as the representative for the Plymouth district of Massachusetts.

Far from retiring, he spent the rest of his life as a powerful member of Congress. In fact, he died after collapsing on the House floor from a stroke. Talk about commitment to the job…

One of the more notable features of his post-presidential life is his leadership of the long battle against the "Gag" Rule enacted in Congress in 1836, which said that any petition sent to Congress regarding slavery would be tabled indefinitely. Like Fight Club, you weren't supposed to talk about slavery.

That's really the best way to solve conflict: just push it to the side and hope nothing happens. Adams' motion to repeal the rule finally passed in 1844, ending the policy. (Source)

John Quincy Adams' biggest legacies were his foreign policy accomplishments before his presidency, especially as Secretary of State. The Monroe Doctrine is one of the most influential of these accomplishments. Generally speaking, though, historians have often credited Adams' philosophy about American independence and non-entanglement with European affairs formed the foundation for U.S. foreign policy up through the 20th century. (Source)

He may not have been the most popular president—or really even the most popular Secretary of State—but dude did leave a mark through his emphatic support of American self-determination. And there were probably few others who were so passionate about maritime trading law, a passion so obscure it makes stamp-collecting look mainstream, so he really found his niche in that field.

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