John Quincy Adams: Foreign & Domestic Policies

Instructor: Mark Koscinski

Mark has a doctorate from Drew University and teaches accounting classes. He is a writer, editor and has experience in public and private accounting.

In this lesson you will learn about John Quincy Adams' career as an U.S. diplomat, president and member of the House of Representatives. You will also learn about his domestic and foreign policies.

A Brilliant Career Interrupted

Imagine being president of the United States as the low point of your career. That was the story of John Quincy Adams. His presidency was the valley between two other momentous achievements: one as a diplomat and the other as a congressman. Adams was born in 1767 into the first political dynasty in the United States. He was the son of Abagail and John Adams, second president of the United States and one of its founding fathers. Aside from his time at Harvard, Adams was taught by his father and was self-tutored. He was fluent in several languages, including Greek, Latin, Dutch, French and German, skills he found exceedingly useful in his later career. Like his father, Adams also entered into service of his country.

Adams the Diplomat

Adams was a consummate diplomat. Before reaching his 30th birthday, he was appointed United States minister to the Netherlands in 1793. In 1797, he was appointed as U.S. minister to Prussia. After an interlude serving as a member of the Massachusetts Senate and the United States Senate, he returned to Europe as U.S. minister to Russia in 1809. Adams had been rejected by the Massachusetts legislature for another term in the Senate since he supported Thomas Jefferson in the commercial trade war against England. This was his first political rebuff for doing what he felt was right for the United States.

Europe was in turmoil during his time there. The United States was establishing diplomatic relationships with European countries. The French Revolution was erasing the old regime, and Napoleon's armies were sweeping across Europe. Adams' expertise in diplomacy was particularly evident at the end of the War of 1812. He had been assigned the position of minister to Russia in 1809. As a result of his work, the Russian Empire was a peace mediator in the War of 1812. Adams himself was the lead negotiator of the Treaty of Ghent, ending this war. Subsequent to the peace treaty, Adams took up his position in England as U.S. minister, another difficult assignment.

Secretary of State

In 1817, Adams was appointed secretary of state at the age of 50. This was a significant appointment, as the current president (James Monroe) and the two previous presidents (Jefferson and James Madison) also served as secretary of state. The position was seen as a stepping stone to the presidency. During his tenure as secretary of state, Adams supported the seizure of Florida from Spain by Andrew Jackson in 1819. This secured the entire East Coast of the United States, removing foreign powers from the border. Adams concluded the treaty with Spain clinching this annexation. Adams also drafted a set of uniform weights and measures for the U.S. in 1822.

While Monroe kept a firm hand on foreign policy, he and Adams worked together as a very skilled team. In 1823, Adams collaborated with Monroe in the drafting and issuing of the Monroe Doctrine. The Monroe Doctrine demanded European powers stay out of the Americas, and not attempt to expand their territories there any farther. This doctrine became a centerpiece of United States foreign policy up to the current day.

John Quincy Adams
Engraving  based on a portrait by Healy

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