6th President of the United States (1825-1829)
Full Name: John Quincy Adams
Born: July 11, 1767, Braintree (present-day Quincy), Massachusetts
Political Party: Democratic-Republican
State Represented: Massachusetts
Term: March 4, 1825-March 4, 1829
Age at Inauguration: 57 years, 236 days
Congresses: 19th and 20th
Vice President: John Caldwell Calhoun (1825-1829)
Died: February 23, 1848, Speaker’s Room, United States Capitol Building, Washington, D.C.
Age at Death: 80 years, 227 days
Buried: United First Parish Church, Quincy, Massachusetts
2012 Dead Presidents Ranking: 26 of 26 [↔]
John Quincy Adams, like James Buchanan, was one of the most qualified men to ever serve as President. What hindered Adams in the Presidency, however, wasn’t the same things that made Buchanan the worst President; it was the same things that made his father, John Adams, the only one-term President of the first five. The Adams men didn’t have the temperament for executive leadership and, in an office like the Presidency, it hurt them politically. Where both of them excelled was in diplomacy and legislative thinking, which is where JQA spent the last 18 years of his life and happily erased the memory of his Presidency.
1948: Schlesinger Sr./Life Magazine: 11 of 29
1962: Schlesinger Sr./New York Times Magazine: 13 of 31
1982: Neal/Chicago Tribune Magazine: 19 of 38
1990: Siena Institute: 16 of 40
1996: Schlesinger Jr./New York Times Magazine: 18 of 39
2000: C-SPAN Survey of Historians: 19 of 41
2000: C-SPAN Public Opinion Poll: 15 of 41
2005: Wall Street Journal/Presidential Leadership: 25 of 40
2009: C-SPAN Survey of Historians: 19 of 42
2010: Siena Institute: 19 of 43
2011: University of London’s U.S. Presidency Centre: 20 of 40
John Quincy Adams, consoling his father in a letter following John Adams’s loss to Thomas Jefferson in the 1800 Presidential election, November 25, 1800.
John Adams didn’t exactly bear his defeat “with calmness and composure”. Instead, he left town and headed home to Massachusetts before Jefferson’s inauguration.
Nearly 30 years later, the next President to lose his bid for reelection after serving just one term in office also decided to snub the man who had defeated him. Ignoring his own advice to his father three decades earlier urging “calmness and composure” in defeat, John Quincy Adams skipped town prior to the inauguration of Andrew Jackson.
When Jackson died, John Quincy Adams noted in his diary that “Jackson was a hero, a murderer, an adulterer…who in the last days of his life belied and slandered me before the world and died.”
On November 8, 1833 former President John Quincy Adams narrowly avoided harm in the world’s first recorded railway accident with passenger fatalities.
Adams was three years into his “retirement” — an 18-year stint in the House of Representatives — and heading to Washington, D.C. from New York by way of Philadelphia. The former President caught the southbound train of the Camden and Amboy Railroad, which had just started operating on September 9, from South Amboy, New Jersey en route to Bordentown, New Jersey in order to catch a steamboat to Philadelphia.
The train was traveling at a steady speed of 20 MPH — lightning fast for people of the early-19th Century who had never moved faster than they could walk or their horses could gallop — and was about three miles outside of Hightstown, New Jersey when an axle broke on the forward coach. The broken axle caused the second coach to derail and overturn, injuring all 24 passengers inside, including Cornelius Vanderbilt whose broken leg didn’t keep him from later becoming one of the wealthiest people in American History. Two passengers were killed — one who died on the scene and another who later succumbed to his injuries. They are believed to be the first railroad passenger fatalities in history.
John Quincy Adams somehow escaped the derailment unharmed, but the 66-year-old former President was shaken. After eventually arriving in Philadelphia that night, Adams turned to his diary and recorded the harrowing details of the world’s first deadly railway accident:
Blessed, ever blessed be the name of God, that I am alive and have escaped unhurt from the most dreadful catastrophe that ever my eyes beheld! We arrived at New York at half past six this morning. I took leave of Mr. Harrod, his daughter, my niece Elizabeth, took a hack with Mr. Potter, and crossed from the East to the North River, put my baggage into the steamboat Independence, Captain Douglas, and walked to the City Hotel. I found that my wife and family proceeded thence last Monday on their way to Washington. There was a card of invitation to attend a public dinner to be given to Commodore Chauncey to-morrow; to which I wrote a declining answer. I then returned to the steamboat, which left the wharf at eight, and landed the passengers at Amboy about twenty minutes past ten. The boat was crowded almost to suffocation, and people of every land and language seemed congregated in it — among the rest, a whole tribe of wild Irish, whose language I now for the first time heard spoken. The only persons of the passengers whom I knew were David B. Ogden, of New York, and Dr. McDowell, whom Dr. Condict introduced to me last winter at Washington, and who was then a Professor at Princeton College, but has since left it and has removed to Philadelphia. There were upwards of two hundred passengers in the railroad cars. There were two locomotive engines, A and B, each drawing an accommodation car, a sort of moving stage, in a square, with open railing, a platform, and a row of benches holding forty or fifty persons; then four or five cars in the form of large stage coaches, each in three compartments, with doors of entrance on both sides, and two opposite benches, on each of which sat four passengers. Each train was closed with a high, quadrangular, open-railed baggage-wagon, in which the baggage of all the passengers in the train was heaped up, the whole covered with an oil-cloth. I was in car B, No. 1, and of course in the second train. Of the first ten miles, two were run in four minutes, marked by a watch of a Mr. De Yong, in the same car and division with me. They stopped, oiled the wheels, and proceeded. We had gone about five miles further, and had traversed one mile in one minute and thirty-six seconds, when the front left wheel of the car in which I was, having taken fire and burned for several minutes, slipped off the rail. The pressure on the right side of the car, then meeting resistance, raised it with both wheels from the rail, and it was oversetting on the left side, but the same pressure on the car immediately behind raised its left side from the rail till it actually overset to the right, and, in oversetting, brought back the car in which I was, to stand on the four wheels, and saved from injury all the passengers in it. The train was stopped, I suppose within five seconds of the time when our wheel slipped off the rail, but it was then going at the rate of sixty feet in a second, and was dragged nearly two hundred feet before it could stop. Of the sixteen persons in two of the three compartments of the car that overset, one only escaped unhurt — a Dr. Cuyler. One side of the car was stove in, and almost demolished. One man, John C. Stedman, of Raleigh, North Carolina, was so dreadfully mangled that he died within ten minutes; another, named, I believe, Welles, of Pennsylvania, can probably not survive the day. Captain Vanderbilt had his leg broken, as had Mr. West, minister of the Episcopal Church at Newport, Rhode Island; Mrs. Bartlett, wife of Lieutenant Bartlett, of the U.S. Corps of Engineers, and her sister, dangerously hurt; her child, about three years old, is not expected to live; Mr. and Mrs. Charles, of St. Louis, Missouri, severely cut and bruised; a Mr. Dreyfuss, of Philadelphia, cut in the head and sprained in the back; and six other persons, among whom are Dr. McDowell and a young lady with him, gashed in the head and otherwise wounded. The scene of sufferance was excruciating. Men, women, and a child scattered along the road, bleeding, mangled, moaning, writhing in torture, and dying, as a trial of feeling to which I had never before been called; and when the thought came over me that a few yards more of pressure on the car in which I was would have laid me a prostrate corpse like him who was before my eyes, or a cripple for life; and, more insupportable still, what if my wife and grandchild had been in the car behind me! Merciful God! how can the infirmity of my nature express or feel the gratitude that should swell in my bosom that this torture, a thousand-fold worse than death, has been spared me? At my request, a coroner’s inquest was called upon the deceased. The other dying man was left at Hightstown, three miles beyond where the disaster happened; and, after a detention of nearly three hours, the train was resumed, and, leaving the two broken cars behind, the rest proceeded to Bordentown, thirty-five miles from Amboy. The coroner’s inquest, held by a magistrate of the court, had been sworn, and I had given my testimony before we left the fatal spot. Several of the wounded were left at Hightstown. The rest were transported on cushions from the cars over the railway to Bordentown, and thence with us, in the steamboat New Philadelphia, to Philadelphia. On reaching the wharf, the Rev. Mr. Brackenridge came on board, and told me he had heard I had been seriously injured by the accident on the railway. Apprehensive that such rumors might circulate and reach my family, I wrote on board the steamboat to my wife, at Washington, and to my son Charles, at Boston, and dispatched the letters to the post-office at Philadelphia. We landed at Chestnut Street wharf between six and seven in the evening, and I took lodgings with Mr. Potter, at the United States Hotel.
John Quincy Adams famously spent the last 17 years (1831-1848) of his life — his “retirement” after turning the Presidency over to Andrew Jackson in 1829 — as a member of the United States House of Representatives. JQA remained so devoted to hard work and his lifelong service to the nation that he literally died on the job — Adams suffered a stroke while casting a vote in the House and died two days later in the Speaker’s Room of the U.S. Capitol building.
As for JQA’s political party affiliation, that was something that evolved throughout Adams’s life in a manner just as messy and confusing as the creation and evolution of American political parties themselves.
JQA was a Federalist early in his political career, but became a Democratic-Republican once he signaled his support for President Jefferson. Adams remained loyal to Jefferson’s Democratic-Republican successors, James Madison and James Monroe. JQA was particularly close to President Monroe, serving as Monroe’s Secretary of State for eight years.
Things got really confusing in 1824. During Monroe’s Presidency (1817-1825), the Federalist Party died, basically leaving the Democratic-Republican Party with no opposition. That led to the unique election of 1820 where Monroe, seeking a second term, was unopposed and breezed to victory.
Despite the Democratic-Republican Party still facing no opposition, the 1824 election was different. With President Monroe retiring after two terms, the race was wide-open. The Democratic-Republican Party didn’t nominate a candidate. Instead, regional factions of the party supported candidates, which resulted in a four-way race for the Presidency between four candidates who were all nominally Democratic-Republicans.
The messy 1824 campaign, unsurprisingly, was a disaster for the Democratic-Republican Party, which went from being the all-powerful, unopposed political monopoly of 1820 to splinter groups divided by sectional and ideological differences just four years later. It also resulted in the birth of the Whigs, Democrats, and, eventually, Republicans.
Back to John Quincy Adams — he won the 1824 election, but since none of the four candidates won an Electoral College majority, the election was decided by the House of Representatives. Adams was the last Democratic-Republican elected President. Four years later, he was soundly defeated by one of his 1824 rivals, Andrew Jackson, the first nominee of the new Democratic Party.
Former President John Quincy Adams was elected to represent Massachusetts in the House of Representatives in 1830. Adams was elected as a member of the Anti-Masonic Party, a short-lived group that was largely a precursor to the Whigs. In 1834, JQA switched parties one last time — to the Whig Party. Adams spent the rest of his life as a Whig Party leader, vehement opponent of the Mexican-American War, and passionate critic of slavery.