6th President – 1825-1829
Despite being born and bred for the role, John Quincy Adams was one of the least liked presidents. Brilliant, hard-working and idealistic, he was also charmless and prone to depression. He was only the second president not to be re-elected. (His father was the first.)
He became a Senator in 1802, and in 1814 was chief negotiator of the Treaty of Ghent, which ended the war with Britain. He then became Secretary of State under President Monroe. He was instrumental in obtaining from Spain the cession of the Floridas, helped to formulate the Monroe Doctrine, and was generally considered a towering success in the role.
His election to the presidency, in 1824, was messy. No candidate won a majority of electoral votes, and the election was decided by the House of Representatives. His main rival, Andrew Jackson (who had won substantially more popular votes and electoral votes), accused Adams of securing victory through a “corrupt bargain” with another candidate, Henry Clay, whom Adams appointed Secretary of State.
The hostility of Jackson and his supporters proved a constant handicap to Adams. His attempts to develop a national infrastructure of highways and canals – and a national university – were criticised as unconstitutional. Repeated charges of corruption – apparently unfounded – further undermined his popularity, and Jackson defeated him comfortably in 1828. Like his father, Adams left town in order to avoid his successor’s inauguration.
Adams did not retire after leaving office. Instead he ran for and won a seat in the United States House of Representatives in the 1830 elections. This went against the generally held opinion that former Presidents should not run for public office. In 1848, he collapsed on the floor of the House from a stroke and was carried to the Speaker’s Room, where two days later he died. Adams was a vigorous speaker which earned him the nickname of “Old Man Eloquent”.