My favorite Adams is actually Henry Adams, grandson of John Quincy and great-grandson of John, who was homies with John Hay and wrote one of the greatest and most pretentious autobiographies of all-time, The Education of Henry Adams (BOOK | KINDLE).
But of the two Presidents, I am a fan of both of them, but I probably love John Quincy a little bit more than I love his father.
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
Andrew Jackson, stating that he would commit to supporting John Quincy Adams for President in 1824 unless John C. Calhoun entered the race, in a personal letter to James Gadsden, December 6, 1821.
Jackson himself would run for President in 1824 in a four-way race against Adams, William H. Crawford, and Henry Clay, and become embroiled in a feud with Adams (and Clay) for the rest of their lives because he believed Adams and Clay colluded in a “Corrupt Bargain” to swing the election in Adams’s favor. Calhoun would later serve as Vice President under Adams and Jackson, and also find himself in a vicious feud with Old Hickory.
At the beginning of the 19th Century, being Secretary of State was almost a guarantee that you’d be elected President. Five of the first eight Presidents had served as Secretary of State, including three (James Madison, James Monroe, and John Quincy Adams) who went directly to the White House from serving two terms as Secretary of State. But it’s been nearly 160 years since the last Secretary of State — James Buchanan, who ran President Polk’s State Department from 1845 to 1849 — was elected President.
I think it’s more difficult now for a couple of reasons. First of all, Secretaries of State aren’t nearly as powerful now. The Vice Presidency is a far more influential position today than it was in the 18th, 19th, and first half of the 20th Century, the White House Chief of Staff handles the Administration’s COO-type responsibilities that many Secretaries previously took on, and as other Cabinet posts have increased their profile within the Executive Department it has diminished the power of the Secretary of State, especially when there are turf wars like the feud between Colin Powell and Donald Rumsfeld. The Secretary of State used to be a Foreign Minister-type position that was basically just short of being equivalent to a Prime Minister; in many ways, the Secretary of State used to be (unofficially) the first-among-equals within the Cabinet. That changed a bit early in the 20th Century, but especially in the latter part of the last century. Basically since Nixon’s Presidency, American foreign policy is almost fully run by the White House through the National Security Staff (formerly known as the National Security Council). The Secretary of State is a member of the National Security Staff and has a role in formulating that policy, of course, but they are more like Super Ambassadors who go where the President sends them and relays messages. They have always been the top American diplomat, but the job now is much more political, domestically and internationally, than administrative.
Another reason why you don’t see more Secretaries of State running for President directly from the State Department is purely political. If a President serves a single term, a Secretary of State isn’t going to be an ideal candidate because they’d have to challenge their boss. If a President serves two terms, there is usually voter fatigue when it comes to the President and his Cabinet. After two terms, the opposition party will have been sharpening their knives and getting ready for the Presidential election. A Secretary of State who has either served two terms in office or wants to run for President directly from the State Department after one term in the Cabinet is an easy target. All Presidents eventually become lame ducks and if someone is serving in their Cabinet as the President’s popularity starts to take a dive, they’ll usually be painted with that same brush. It’s easy to run against them — whether you’re from the other party or challenging them in the primary.
Hillary Clinton would have a more difficult race in front of her if she were serving as Secretary of State in Obama’s Cabinet right now. It would be easier to connect her with an unpopular President who is rapidly heading towards lame duck status if she were currently in the Cabinet. Since she left after the first term, on her own terms, after Obama had been re-elected, she basically left at the perfect time — it’s like when an athlete retires after winning a championship. If you go out on top, you control your destiny and shore up your legacy. So, that’s why no Secretaries of State have been elected President since Buchanan in 1856 and few have even won their party’s nomination. But, if things play out the way I think they will, Hillary will end that drought in 2016.
John Quincy Adams, on William Henry Harrison, 1840.
Perhaps it was the opportunity to create some space between him and Harrison which explains why President Adams appointed the General to be the U.S. Minister in relatively distant Colombia in 1828.