26 John Quincy Adams

This is a post in My Presidential Rankings series, linked here: https://sdu754.wordpress.com/2014/01/05/presidential-rankings/

John Quincy Adams usually ranks high in presidential scholars polls, but this is obviously due to things he did before and after his presidency, and not so much for what he did during his residency.

Adams became president in the hotly contested election of 1824. It was four way contest between Adams, Andrew Jackson, William Crawford and Henry Clay. Although Jackson won the most electoral votes, he didn’t get the needed majority, so the election was decided in the house of representatives. By law, the winner would be chosen among the top three vote getters: Jackson, Adams & Crawford. Henry Clay, being the speaker of the house, and fourth finisher, had the power to sway the election. Crawford died before the house met to vote, leaving Clays choice between Adams and Jackson. Clay, seeing that Jackson wasn’t fit to be president, threw his support to Adams. Adams named Clay Secretary of State, leading to cries of a “corrupt bargain” from Jackson and his allies. I always thought the idea of a “corrupt bargain” never really made any sense. Look at Clay’s American plan and the plan Adams outlined at the beginning of his term, they are nearly identical. Not only that, Adams didn’t remove officeholders who were actively working against him. If he was willing to trade a major position to attain office (Secretary of State)wouldn’t he had removed political enemies from lesser offices? None the less, Jackson and his cohorts went about sabotaging Adams’ administration from day one.

In Adams’ First message to Congress asked for a broad program to be enacted. The main thrust of the program was a protective tariff and massive internal improvements including the building an extensive system of roads, canals, bridges, founding a national university & a naval Academy and building an astronomical observatory. The program also included the adding of a Department of Interior, to send representatives to Congress of America, a national bankruptcy law, and a more efficient patent law.

Opponents saw the proposed program as a power grab, as Adams was warned. It unified his opponents. Crawford’s followers, now led by Van Buren were strict constructionists and worried about bigger government. Calhoun’s camp were deathly opposed to tariffs & anything suggesting protection. Jackson’s camp considered the entire administration as illegitimate. Thus was born the Democratic party, an anti-Adams coalition led by Jackson.

Adams did have some successes during his administration. Under Adams the national debt was reduced from $16 million to $5 million. Some of his proposals were adopted, specifically the extension of the Cumberland Road into Ohio with surveys for its continuation west to St. Louis; the beginning of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, the construction of the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal and the Louisville and Portland Canal around the falls of the Ohio; the connection of the Great Lakes to the Ohio River system in Ohio and Indiana; and the enlargement and rebuilding of the Dismal Swamp Canal in North Carolina. Adams also signed the Tariff of 1828, aka the Tariff of Abominations, which led to nullification crisis in South Carolina.

Whereas Adams wasn’t a bad president, he was an inept administrator, and was unwilling to remove people who were working directly against him. He was also tricked into signing the Tariff of Abominations, which severely hurt his reelection chances, as it was unpopular in the west and especially the south.


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