John Quincy Adams
Term: March 4, 1825 – March 4, 1829
Vice President: Daniel D. Tompkins
Home State: Massachusetts
Wife: Louisa Catherine Johnson
Children: Louisa, George Washington, John, & Charles Francis
John Quincy Adams was the sixth president of the United States and the son of the second president John Adams. John Quincy spent four Christmases in the White House and yet there is very little written about his Christmas celebrations, if indeed there were any. He was a very prolific writer and there is certainly the possibility that he sent Christmas messages from the White House. Since Christmas cards were not in vogue until after the 1850s, we can be sure that President John Quincy Adams did not send out White House Christmas cards.
President Adams was known to follow the same routine every day. He would arise early, swim nude in the Potomac, read several newspapers during breakfast and hold meetings. In the evening dinner was at 5 PM and then he would write in his diaries. Occasionally he would play billiards. President Adams had been raised in Massachusetts where the Puritan distaste for Christmas celebrations may have affected his outlook and he would not have allowed Christmas day to interfere with this practice. However, First Lady Louisa Adams was born in England and probably celebrated the Christmas holiday in a more prominent way for the children’s sake. There is no historical evidence of Christmas parties at the Adams White House, but Louisa was a very good hostess and may have sent invitations for Christmas dinner at the White House to further her husband’s political connections.
Before he was president Adams was the chief American commissioner for the United States negotiating a peace with Great Britain from the war of 1812. The treaty of Ghent took four months to negotiate and was considered a diplomatic victory for the United States because Great Britain would no longer have control of the Great Lakes. The treaty was signed on Christmas Eve 1814 by John Quincy Adams. President James Madison may not have known about the treaty in time to celebrate on Christmas at the White House in 1814, but there is no doubt the news was well received shortly after the Christmas season.
Joel R. Poinsett was appointed by President Adams as the first diplomatic minister to Mexico in 1825. Poinsett, an amateur botanist, found a plant growing wild in the southern states of Mexico and sent back samples to the US. Perhaps they arrived at the White House during the Christmas season, because the “Poinsettia” has grown into a very popular seasonal decoration. President Adams took pride in developing the White House gardens and he would have admired this beautiful plant. Is it possible the White House Christmas poinsettia plant decorations started from these early seedlings?
John Quincy Adams was born July 11, 1767 in the northern part of Braintree (renamed Quincy). This was close enough to Bunker Hill that he was able to view the Battle of Bunker Hill on June 17, 1775 when he was just seven years old. John Quincy’s father, John, was very active in the revolutionary politics was at the First and Second Continental Congress. John Quincy learned that his father had signed the Declaration of Independence from letters written to his mother, Abigail. There is little written about his childhood, but as a young boy of 12 he started keeping a diary. Although, he wrote many short daily entries, he never mentions any Christmas events, which will lead us to believe that Christmas was not a big celebration in his childhood home.
John Adams was appointed as a Diplomat to France from the fledgling United States and he took John Quincy with him. He learned how to speak French and Dutch fluently and achieved some understanding of German and several other European languages. At the age of 14, John was able to travel to St. Petersburg, Russia as the secretary to Francis Dana, who was on a mission to obtain recognition of the United States as a new nation. Traveling through Finland, Sweden and Denmark on his way to Russia he may have learned many different customs that were practiced for the Christmas season. One wonders whether he found these celebrations of Christmas as pagan as the Puritans had.
Upon returning to the United States, John Quincy enrolled in Harvard from where he graduated in 1788 before apprenticing as a lawyer in Newburyport, Massachusetts. The year 1791 saw Adams admitted to the bar in Massachusetts and starting a law practice in Boston. The diary entries for December often name places and people he visited, but apparently he was reluctant to write down if the visits involved Christmas parties or dinners.
In 1794 Adams was appointed minister to the Netherlands by President Washington. While in the Netherlands he was able to report on the consequences of the French Revolution and manage the repayment of loans made to the United States by the Dutch. Adams was in the Netherlands from 1794-1797. It was during his time in Europe that he felt he needed a wife and set his sights on Louisa Catherine Johnson, the daughter of an American businessman and his English wife. It is said that Adams would come to dinner every night, but leave before the girls would sing because he could not stand the sound of female voices singing. This apparently intrigued Louisa, since they were married on July 26, 1797. It can be assumed that Adams did not lead his wife in the singing of Christmas carols.
John Adams was elected to the presidency of the United States in 1797 and soon appointed his son John Quincy Minister to Prussia as suggested by President Washington. He served as minister to Prussia until 1801. During the four years spent in Prussia there is no doubt that the Adams came into contact with the German practice of decorating a Christmas tree. It is possible that the Adams family may have adapted some of the local customs for the Christmas season. Louisa Adams may have sent out invitations for Christmas dinner. Could these be considered a precursor of the Christmas card?
Shortly after his return to the United States, Adams was elected to the United States Senate. He served in Washington from 1803-1808. Louisa Adams continued to be an asset to her husband during the Washington years with her afternoon teas and “drawing room” parties. The Adams had three boys during the Senate years before John was once again appointed to a position of foreign minister to Russia.
The Adams arrived in Russia late in 1809 just in time for the Russian Christmas and long Russian winter. While in Russia, the Adams had a daughter, Louisa Catherine, the first American born in Russia, who unfortunately, lived only one year. The upside of being in Russia was that Tsar Alexander had a great fondness for the couple and they were often invited to the palace. They were able to experience the royal Russian Christmas celebrations in St. Petersburg.
After negotiating and signing the treaty Ghent, President Madison appointed Adams as minister to Great Britain where the couple happily spent the next two years joined by their two older children. James Monroe was elected President in 1916 and after taking the office in 1917 he appointed John Quincy Adams as Secretary of State in September of that year. Many years spent practicing diplomacy enabled Adams to have a good overview of the American ideas and it is widely believed that he wrote the majority of what was to become known as the Monroe Doctrine. Many historians have noted that the office of Secretary of State was a great stepping stone for early politicians to run for the office of president.
John Quincy Adams ran for president in 1824. There were four candidates that year and there was no clear cut winner, making it necessary for the Congress to decide who the winner was. Henry Clay, who could not tolerate Andrew Jackson, was a strong candidate and he threw his support in Congress to Adams. When Adams was sworn into office on March 4, 1825, he took the oath of office on the Constitution of the United States. He is the only president who didn’t use a bible for the oath of office. Adams believed strongly in the separation of church and state and being deeply religious believed the bible should only be used for religious purposes
Adams did not have a successful term in office because he faced criticism for his bargain with Clay and opposition in Congress. He refused to replace any Jackson supporters that were in his cabinet and this was considered one of the main causes that Adams failed to win reelection. Shortly before Christmas, on December 5, 1825, President Adams gave the first of four annual messages where he reviewed foreign policy and recommended a Department of the Interior, a naval academy, a national university, patents for inventions and the need for improvement in bankruptcy laws, the militia and transportation. Many of his ideas were sound and would eventually come to pass.
President and Mrs. Adams lived vastly separate lives while in the White House. President Adams developed his love for gardening and Louisa raised silk worms. Their son John was the only son of a president to be married in the White House on February 25, 1828. Louisa Adams was the first to allow visitors to tour the White House with the intention of proving that the First Family was not living in the lap of luxury at the expense of the taxpayers.
President Adams was unable to win reelection and the Christmas season of 1828 was forlorn for the Adams household. Louisa was, no doubt, thrilled to be leaving the White House which she considered to be isolated, cold and too large. The outgoing President Adams did not attend the inauguration of President Andrew Jackson because Jackson had not shown him the courtesy of visiting the outgoing president. There were only two other presidents to shun the incoming president’s inauguration. The first was his father, President John Adams and the other was President Andrew Johnson.
The ex-president was not finished with public service and ran for the House of Representatives in 1930 and won. President Adams is the only president to have served in Congress after being president. While in Congress he was in staunch opposition to slavery and strongly backed the abolitionists. He was certainly acquainted with Abraham Lincoln who served in the Congress for one term. On February 24, 1841 Adams argued The Amistad Africans case successfully in front of the United States Supreme Court. The Africans were allowed to be free and remain in the U.S. or return to Africa.
John Quincy Adams posed for earliest photograph of a president in 1843. A staid and pompous man, he spent his entire life in public life for the betterment of the United States. He died of a stroke in 1848 on the floor of the House of Representatives.