John Quincy Adams: A Life | Chapter 13 of 27

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Never Was a Father More Satisfied
The entire world seemed aboil as John Quincy Adams’s ship bounded into the dark Atlantic toward Europe. As he and his brother saw their native land slip over the horizon, war and revolution engulfed the world. Behind them in America, rebel torches had set skies aglow in western Pennsylvania to protest a federal tax on whiskey. Congress had imposed it without the consent of the states—much as Parliament had imposed the stamp tax without the consent of the colonies thirty years earlier in 1765. Adding to the turmoil, Indian tribes had swept across Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois, attacking white settlements. Although Britain had ceded the territory to the United States after the Revolutionary War, British troops had remained and fostered the Indian attacks to harass the new American government and provoke its collapse.
In Europe, meanwhile, the revolutionary zeal of Maximilian Robespierre’s Jacobins had metamorphosed into insanity, with Robespierre striding into the Convention, or national assembly, and demanding the arrest and execution of every member. By then, the number of widows and orphans created by the guillotine had reached staggering proportions; they and tens of thousands of ordinary citizens who had gone into hiding to escape the blade suddenly emerged en masse and marched to the Convention doors roaring, “À bas Robespierre!” (“Down with Robespierre!”). Facing the same fate on the guillotine whether or not they continued to shy before Robespierre’s schizophrenic screams, a handful of Convention delegates summoned the courage to demand his arrest and that of each of his terrorist confederates. To the surprise of all, the rest of the Convention stood and shouted their agreement. Puzzled soldiers in the Convention hall looked at each other, then sided with the delegates and led the psychotic Norman lawyer away in chains. The following day, July 28, 1794, troops loyal to the Convention carted Robespierre, his brother, and twenty of his political allies to the guillotine for execution. The guillotine claimed the heads of seventy more Robespierre confederates the following day. Although the French people celebrated by massacring hundreds more Jacobins across the nation, the slaughter did not end the famine that gripped the nation, and the new revolutionary government that took over from Robespierre—a five-man Directory that included Corsican general Napoléon Bonaparte—proclaimed an end to private property.
“The earth belongs to no one; its fruits belong to every one,” declared François Noël Babeuf. “There is but one sun, one air for all to breath. Let us end the disgusting distinctions between rich and poor . . . masters and servants, governor and governed.”1 As the poor rose in rebellion and joined equally deprived soldiers in rioting, Napoléon rallied them to his banner, assuaging their anger and hunger with promises of rich pastures across French borders: “You have no shoes, uniforms, shirts and almost no bread,” he called out to his followers.
Our stores are empty while those of our enemies are overflowing. I will lead you into the most fertile plains in the world. Rich provinces and great cities will be in your power. There you will find honor, glory and wealth. It is up to you to conquer. Marchons! 2
At Napoléon’s command, French revolutionary armies poured into neighboring Dutch, Austrian, German, and Italian territories, pillaging farmlands, villages, and towns. Royal armies seemed helpless.
“The war has not been very favorable to the glory of sovereigns,” John Quincy said, observing the obvious.3
Thomas Adams wrote to his mother to calm her fears. “Holland will negotiate the most favorable terms with the French that they can, but it scarce admits a doubt that the French will be able to impose what terms they please. It will not be a pleasant thing to reside in that country at this period, but . . . we may chance to escape molestation.”4
Meanwhile, the French navy warred with Britain on the high seas and provoked the British to attack and seize ships they suspected of trading with their enemy—neutrals as well as belligerents. Apart from preventing arms and ammunition from reaching France, the British intended to halt the flow of foodstuffs and starve the French into submission. With each American ship the British seized, they impressed dozens of English-speaking seamen into the Royal Navy, and without a navy of its own to protect her merchant fleet, the United States could not retaliate.
A month before John Quincy Adams left for Europe, President Washington acted decisively to end the turmoil on American soil. He ordered Major General “Mad” Anthony Wayne to attack Indians in the West, and on August 20, Wayne’s legion of 1,000 marksmen crushed the Indian force and sent surviving warriors reeling westward. Buoyed by Wayne’s victory, President Washington ordered Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton to assemble a fighting force to attack the whiskey rebels outside Pittsburgh. On September 19, with John Quincy two days out to sea, nearly 13,000 troops from four states converged on Carlisle and Bedford, Pennsylvania, and at 10 a.m. on September 30, Washington took field command of the army—the first and last American President to do so. Only at the last minute did he cede command when aides warned him he was too important to the nation to risk injury or death in battle.
At Washington’s side was Hamilton, who had first served Washington as a twenty-two-year-old captain seventeen years earlier during the Revolutionary War, which also began as a protest against taxes. Now, as secretary of the Treasury, Hamilton had imposed—and Washington had endorsed—a tax that provoked a similar rebellion, which the two old comrades in arms were determined to crush. The irony was not lost on either man.
By early December, an elated vice president wrote to his son, “Our army under Wayne has beaten the Indians and the militia have subdued the insurgents, a miserable though numerous rabble.” Abigail Adams was equally enthusiastic: “The insurgency is suppressed in Pennsylvania . . . [and] General Wayne’s victory over the savages has had a happy effect upon our tawny neighbors. . . . The aspect of our country is peace and plenty. The view is delightful and the more so when contrasted with the desolation and carnage which overspread a great proportion of the civilized world.”5
Both parents enthused over their son’s career. “Your rising reputation at the bar,” John Adams wrote to his son, “your admired writings upon occasional subjects of great importance, and your political influence among the younger gentlemen of Boston sometimes make me regret your promotion and the loss of your society to me.” He signed it, “With a tender affection as well as great esteem, I am, my dear son, your affectionate father John Adams.” Abigail ended her letter with the hope that “you will not omit any opportunity of writing to her whose happiness is so intimately blended with your prosperity and who at all times is your ever affectionate Mother Abigail Adams.”6
Although John Quincy’s ship developed leaks “like a water spout,” he and his brother landed safely in Dover on October 14, less than a month after leaving Massachusetts. As their coach from shipside reached London Bridge, however, “we heard a rattling . . . a sound as of a trunk falling from the carriage. My brother immediately alighted and found the trunk of dispatches under the carriage. . . . Our driver assured us that the trunks could not have fallen unless the straps had been cut away.” The incident left John Quincy shaken:
Entrusted with dispatches of the highest importance . . . to negotiations between the two countries, with papers particularly committed to my care because they were highly confidential by the President of the United States . . . with what face could I have presented myself to the minister for whom they were intended? . . . The story would be resounded from one end of the United States to the other.7
John Quincy Adams, at twenty-nine, sailed to Europe to assume the post his father had once held as American minister to Holland. (AFTER A PORTRAIT BY JOHN SINGLETON COPLEY; NATIONAL PARKS SERVICE, ADAMS NATIONAL HISTORICAL PARK)
His memoirs go on interminably, as he relived the incident and postulated how “the straps were cut by an invisible hand.”8 Adams was immensely relieved to deliver the trunk to John Jay’s quarters the next morning, along with papers for Thomas Pinckney, the American minister plenipotentiary in Britain.
Far from being in “a situation of small trust and confidence,” as he had feared when he accepted his assignment in Holland, John Quincy Adams spent the next three days helping to determine the fate of his nation with Chief Justice John Jay and U.S. ambassador to England Thomas Pinckney, former governor of South Carolina. Together they put the finishing touches on a treaty that would set the course of Anglo-American relations—and, indeed, much of the Western world—for the foreseeable future.
Jay had arrived in London four months earlier, on June 6, and obtained the British government’s agreement to exclude noncontraband goods from the ban on American trade with France and the French West Indies. He had also won three other major concessions: withdrawal of British troops behind the Canadian border from the Northwest Territory, limited resumption of American trade with the British East and West Indies, and establishment of a most-favored-nation relationship between the two nations, with preferential tariffs for each. Both sides agreed to set up a joint commission and accept binding arbitration to settle British and American financial claims against each other. The treaty made no mention of two issues that had long provoked American anger toward Britain: impressment of American sailors into the British navy and failure to compensate southern planters for thousands of slaves the British had carried away during the Revolutionary War. The slave issue lay behind the fanatical southern support for France and the willingness—indeed, eagerness—of southerners to join France in war against Britain.
Although Jay had hoped to win concessions on both issues, he recognized that Britain had little incentive to yield on either. Aside from her economic and military power, Britain had scored an important naval victory over the French fleet that left British warships in full command of the Atlantic Ocean, with no need to cede privileges to weaker nations.
“As a treaty of commerce,” John Quincy concluded, “we shall never obtain anything more favorable. . . . It is much below the standard which I think would be advantageous to the country, but with some alterations which are marked down . . . it is preferable to a war. The commerce with their West India Islands . . . will be of great importance.”9
John Quincy left with his brother for Holland on October 29, arriving in The Hague two days later and settling into their official quarters. He had effectively established himself as American minister by January 19, 1795, when General Charles Pichegru, commander of the French Army of the North, marched into the Dutch capital with a contingent of 2,000 to 3,000 soldiers. Their arrival caused so little disruption that John Quincy’s brother Thomas went to theater the following evening with the American consul general, Sylvanus Bourne. A day later, John Quincy went with Thomas and Bourne to the French authorities, who told them “they received the visit of the citoyen ministre of a free people, the friend of the peuple français with much pleasure. That they considered it tout à fait une visite fraternelle.”l
The substance of the business was that I demanded safety and protection to all American persons and property in this country, and they told me . . . that all property would be respected, as well as persons and opinions. . . . They spoke of the President, whom, like all Europeans, they called General Washington . . . that he was a great man and they had veneration for his character.10
General Pichegru had served with French forces in the American Revolution and was true to his word, doing nothing to interfere with John Quincy’s activities or those of other Americans in Holland. Despite the presence of French troops, The Hague proved to be exactly what Secretary of State Edmund Randolph and President Washington had anticipated—a listening post in the heart of Europe, and for John Quincy Adams, it proved the perfect first post in the diplomatic service. His academic training combined with his knowledge of languages and an extraordinary memory to accumulate names, descriptions, and thinking of dozens of diplomats from everywhere in Europe, along with invaluable military and political intelligence from warring parties and other sectors of the continent. “Dined with the French generals Pichegru, Elbel, Sauviac,” the pages of his journal disclose, “and a Colonel . . .
“ . . . the Dutch general Constant and a colonel Comte d’Autremont . . .
“ . . . the minister of Poland Midleton . . .
“ . . . the Prussian secretary Baron Bielefeld . . .
“ . . . the Russian minister . . .
“The French made use of balloons during the last campaign in discovering the positions of their adverse armies . . . Pichegru and the other generals assured us on the strongest terms that it was of no service at all. . . . ‘Oh! yes,’ said Sauviac, ‘the effect was infallible in the gazettes.’”11
John Quincy spent as many as six hours a day writing reports, which included twenty-seven letters to the secretary of state from November 1794 to August 1795 and ten long, explicit letters to his father, the vice president. He emerged as one of Europe’s most skilled diplomats and America’s finest intelligence gleaner. He prophesied that while Britain and France wore each other down in war, America would grow and prosper. “At the present moment, if our neutrality is preserved,” he predicted, “ten more years will place the United States among the most powerful and opulent nations on earth.”12
John Quincy’s reports elated his father. “Never was a father more satisfied or gratified,” Vice President John Adams wrote to John Quincy in the spring of 1795, “than I have been with the kind attention of my sons.”
Since they went abroad, I have no language to express to you the pleasure I have received from the satisfaction you have given the President and secretary of state, as well as from the clear, comprehensive, and masterly accounts in your letters to me of the public affairs of nations in Europe, whose situation and politics it most concerns us to know. Go on, my son, and by a diligent exertion of your genius and abilities, continue to deserve well of your father but especially of your country.13
In addition to visits, dinners, and other social events with diplomats and French officers, John Quincy continued his studies, reading histories of every European state while adding Spanish to the three other languages he was able to read and speak. “The voice of all Europe,” he discovered, had hailed President George Washington’s Neutrality Proclamation. Although it had not attracted much attention initially, it quickly established a new principle of international law as well as American constitutional law. Although rules abounded governing relations between warring nations, the world had ignored the rights of neutrals until George Washington raised the issue.
“The nations that have been grappling together with the purpose of mutual destruction,” John Quincy wrote, “are feeble, exhausted, and almost starving. Those that have had the wisdom to maintain neutrality have reasons more than ever to applaud their policy, and some of them may thank the United States for the example from which it was pursued.”14
As the end of his first year in the diplomatic service approached, John Quincy was quite content with his new career. Although he called Holland “insignificant” in comparison to diplomatic posts in Paris and London, he told his father that it was “adequate to my talents . . . without being tedious or painful . . . and leaves me leisure to pursue a course of studies that may be recommended by its amusement or utility. Indeed, Sir, it is a situation in itself much preferable to that of . . . a lawyer’s office for business which . . . is scarcely sufficient to give bread and procures more curses than thanks.”15
To his surprise, John Quincy’s next set of State Department orders emanated from a new secretary of state—Timothy Pickering of Massachusetts, whom Washington had named to replace John Randolph. Randolph had resigned following charges he had accepted bribes from the French government. For John Quincy Adams, the appointment was not unpleasant. Born in Salem, Pickering was a Harvard graduate and lawyer, a staunch Federalist who had served with distinction in the Revolutionary War and as postmaster general before becoming secretary of war early in 1795.
Pickering asked John Quincy to travel to London in the absence of American minister Thomas Pinckney to execute the formal exchange of signed copies of the Jay Treaty with the British government. Pinckney had gone to Spain to negotiate a treaty giving Americans navigation rights on the Mississippi River.
When the terms of the Jay Treaty became known in America in March 1795, Washington loyalists hailed Jay for averting another brutal war with England and forcing Britain to deal with the United States for the first time as an equal and independent sovereign state. But as Washington and Jay both knew it would, the treaty provoked a storm of controversy over what it did not accomplish—especially among advocates for states’ rights, Francophiles, and Anglophobes, all of whom attacked the treaty as pro-British. Washington loyalists in the Senate, however, outnumbered opponents, and the Senate ratified the treaty on June 24—ironically, just as Jay himself slipped away from the fray over foreign affairs by winning election as governor of New York.
By then, the savagery of the French Revolution had eroded popular support for the French in America, while the Jay Treaty with Britain was producing economic benefits. In the West, Britain’s troop pullback into Canada had ended the flow of arms to hostile Indians. Without British military support, the Indians ceded most of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and Michigan to the United States, ending Indian forays in the West and opening the vast Ohio and Mississippi river valleys to American settlement. Meanwhile, Thomas Pinckney won Spain’s agreement to free Mississippi River navigation for Americans and to allow them to deposit goods in New Orleans for export overseas. Elated by the prospects of a western economic boom, Americans quickly forgot their objections to the Jay Treaty.
Although John Quincy had set out for England on October 20 to exchange copies of the signed treaties, ill winds and a variety of dockside misunderstandings prevented his reaching London until November 11, by which time Pinckney’s secretary had completed the transaction. All that remained was the ceremonial presentation of the document to the king. Early in December, British undersecretary of foreign affairs George Hammond, a cunning and vicious anti-American whom John Quincy knew from the 1783 Paris peace talks, summoned Adams to his office. Although Hammond had been England’s first minister to the United States in 1791 and had married a Philadelphian, his efforts to undermine the American government seemed to know no bounds. He lost no time trying to trap John Quincy in an indiscretion by asking if he had heard of the President’s “intending to resign” in the wake of the Genet affair.
“No!” John Quincy replied simply and sharply.
“What sort of a soul does this man suppose I have?” John Quincy confided to his diary that night. “He talked of Virginians, the southern people, the Democrats, but I let him know that I consider them all in no other light than as Americans.” He asked whether Pinckney had worked out an agreement with Spain, then hammered John Quincy with rumors of a political revolt against George Washington. John Quincy deftly parried Hammond’s thrusts.
“All governments have their opposition who find fault with everything,” John Quincy said nonchalantly. “Who has better reason to know that than you in this country?” he smiled condescendingly. “But in America, you know, opposition speaks in a louder voice than anywhere else. Everything comes out; we have not lurking dissatisfaction that works in secret and is not seen, nothing that rankles at the heart while the face wears a smile so that a very trifling opposition makes a great show.”16
“Hammond is a man of intrigue,” John Quincy reported in his diary. “His question whether Mr. Pinckney has signed the treaty in Spain, implies at least that he knows there was a treaty to sign. . . . If I stay here anytime, he will learn to be not quite so impertinent.”17 Adams surmised that Hammond was either intercepting his mail or having him followed. He determined to be more discreet in what he did, said, and wrote.
In fact, Hammond’s intelligence was better than John Quincy’s—and even better than that of Vice President John Adams. On January 5, a month after Hammond had met with John Quincy, John Adams wrote to Abigail, “I have this day heard news that is of some importance. It must be kept a secret wholly to yourself. One of the ministry told me that the President was solemnly determined to serve no longer than the end of his present period. . . . You know the consequence of this to me and to yourself. Either we must enter into ardors more trying than any ever yet experienced or retire to Quincy, farmers for life. I am . . . determined not to serve under Jefferson. . . . I will not be frightened out of the public service nor will I be disgraced in it.”18
Far from expressing joy at her husband’s thinking, Abigail quoted a warning from Charles Churchill’s epic poem Gotham:
You know what is before you: “the whips and scorpions, the thorns without roses, the dangers, anxieties and weight of empire”—and can you acquire influence sufficient as the poet further describes: “to still the voice of discord in the land”?19
The day after meeting with Hammond, John Quincy presented his credentials to King George III before addressing him with prepared remarks: “Sir. To testify to your majesty the sincerity of the United States of America in their negotiations, their President has directed me . . . ” and he went on to give the king a copy of the Jay Treaty along with a letter from President Washington.
“To give you my answer, Sir,” the king responded with a typically noncommittal royal reply, “I am very happy to have the assurances of their sincerity, for without that, you know, there would be no such things as dealings among men.”20
In France, however, the Directory responded angrily to the Jay Treaty, insisting it was a violation of “the alliance which binds the two peoples.” The French recalled their ambassador, and when the American government retaliated by recalling ambassador James Monroe, the French ordered seizure of all American ships sailing into French waters, with confiscation of all cargoes and imprisonment of American seamen for ransom.
While waiting for Pinckney’s return to London, John Quincy went to hear debates at the House of Commons and visited Joshua Johnson, the wealthy Maryland merchant who lived near the Tower of London in a lavish brick mansion, where he also served as American consul. Staffed by eleven servants, Johnson’s home was a center of opulence and hospitality for visiting diplomats and other dignitaries. John Quincy had first met Johnson in 1781 as a fourteen-year-old, when he and his father were in Nantes, awaiting passage to America after John Adams’s first diplomatic assignment in Paris. Johnson’s three oldest daughters—barely more than infants when John Quincy first met them—had blossomed into attractive young ladies. Burdened with four other, younger girls and a young son, the Johnsons were eager to marry off their three oldest, and they welcomed the son of America’s vice president with great warmth. They invited him to their oldest daughter’s birthday ball, where John Quincy “danced till 3 in the morning” and found “Mr. Johnson’s daughters pretty and agreeable. The oldest performs admirably on the pianoforte; the second, Louisa, sings; the third plays the harp.”21
Evidently enchanted by the three girls, he spent part of almost every succeeding day or evening in January with the Johnsons, playing cards, walking in the park, and accompanying them to theater, concerts, and balls. Although the Johnsons expected he would marry their oldest daughter, John Quincy surprised the entire family on February 2, 1796, by telling twenty-year-old Louisa Catherine, the Johnsons’ second daughter, that he intended to marry her.
Louisa was beautiful, cultured, and fluent in French, the language of diplomats. Musically talented, elegant in dress, bearing, and manners, she was quiet and respectful in the presence of gentlemen and a lively conversationalist when appropriate. And she was comfortable among the rich and powerful. For John Quincy, a rising star in the diplomatic world, Louisa Catherine Johnson, the English-born daughter of an American diplomat, seemed a perfect match.
In his letters home, John Quincy only hinted of a liaison at first, without identifying Louisa. Fearing her son’s intended was English and would destroy his prospects for political success in America, Abigail fretted, “I would hope for the love I bear my country, that the siren is at least half-blood .”22 With memories of Bunker’s Hill and the Boston occupation swirling in her head, Abigail still despised the British. John Quincy’s father was more philosophical than his wife, however. “Alas! Poor John!” he remarked to Abigail. “If the young man really loves her, I will not thwart him. . . . Ambition and love live together well. . . . A man may be mad with both at once. . . . His father and his mother too know what it is. . . . Witness Caesar and Anthony with Cleopatra and many others.”23
Twenty-year-old Louisa Catherine Johnson, the English-born daughter of the American consul in London, caught John Quincy Adams’s eye, and he proposed marriage to her in February 1796. (PORTRAIT BY EDWARD SAVAGE, NATIONAL PARKS SERVICE, ADAMS NATIONAL HISTORICAL PARK)
A letter from John Quincy eventually calmed both their fears:
Your apprehensions as to the tastes and sentiments of my friend [were] perfectly natural, and all your observations on the subject were received by me with gratitude, as I know them to proceed from serious concern and the purest parental affection. . . . But she has goodness of heart and gentleness of disposition as well as spirit and character and with those qualities, I shall venture upon the chances of success and hope you will find her . . . such a daughter as you would wish for your son.24
Moved by his letter, Abigail answered contritely, “I consider her already as my daughter.” She went on to ask for a miniature portrait and lock of her future daughter-in-law’s hair.25 John Adams also sent his blessing, telling his son, “You are now of age to judge for yourself; and whether you return [to England] and choose her or whether you choose elsewhere, your deliberate choice will be mine.”26
Although Louisa had wanted to marry immediately, John Quincy refused, insisting he could not consider marriage until he was financially secure. His salary, he insisted, was not enough to afford proper lodgings for a minister and his wife, let alone a wife used to luxuries. His plan was to finish his three-year assignment in Holland and, in 1797, return to Massachusetts, reestablish his law practice, and then marry. A month after John Quincy had proposed, he spent one last “evening of delight and of regret, and I took my leave of the [Johnson] family with sensations unusually painful.”27
“On my return from England,” he wrote in his diary, “I determined to resume a life of applications to business and study,”28 and, indeed, he reveled in the calm and relaxation of intense, solitary study. “To improve in the Dutch language, I have usually translated a page every day. . . . My progress in Italian is slow. . . . The language is enchanting. . . . To keep alive my Latin, I have begun to translate a page of Tacitus every day . . . into French.”29
His official duties seldom required more than a few hours a day. He wrote to the Leyden Gazette, for example, protesting an article asserting that “disgust at the ingratitude of the American people had induced General Washington to retire from his eminent station.” John Quincy asked the editor to “have the goodness to correct . . . an imputation both injurious to the President and people of the United States.”
The reasons assigned by the President himself for declining to be viewed as a candidate for the approaching election are his time of life, his strong inclinations towards a retired life, and the peaceable, calm and prosperous state of affairs in that country. . . . The imputation of disgust to General Washington and of ingratitude to the Americans is merely the calumny of English spirits beholding the felicity of the Americans.30
As summer neared its end, John Quincy learned that George Washington had promoted him from minister to minister plenipotentiary, with a new assignment in Lisbon, Portugal, to begin in the spring of 1797. His salary would double to $9,000 a year and allow him an additional $4,500 a year for expenses—enough to marry Louisa and take her with him to his new post. The promotion was not only a reward for his good work and steadfast loyalty to the President’s policies; it was the President’s way of publicly demonstrating his confidence in John Quincy’s diplomatic skills. Although reluctant to postpone his return to America by another three years, John Quincy agreed to take the post after his brother Thomas promised to go as well.
“I am still delighted with your facts, your opinions, and your principles,” Vice President John Adams wrote to his son. “You need not be anxious about the succession to the presidency. . . . No man who has been mentioned or thought of, but has a just value of your merits. Even if your father should be the person, he will not so far affect a disinterest as to injure you. If Jefferson, Henry, Jay, Hamilton or Pinckney should be elected, your honor and promotion will be in no hazard.”31
On September 19, 1796, the American Daily Advertiser published President Washington’s Farewell Address stating emphatically that he would not serve after his second term in office. He also warned Americans of the dangers of divisive political parties at home and urged them to unite in a “fraternal union.” In foreign affairs, he urged keeping the United States a perennially neutral nation, out of foreign wars and with no long-term ties to any foreign nations.
In the vicious election campaign that followed, Federalists supported Vice President John Adams, who pledged to continue Washington’s policy of rapprochement with Britain within the context of neutrality in foreign conflicts. Adams’s chief opponent was former secretary of state Thomas Jefferson, who called himself a Democrat-Republican, supported the French Revolution, and sought closer ties to France, regardless of the effects on trade with England.
French minister Pierre August Adet tried to influence the election with pamphlets urging Americans to vote for Jefferson but only succeeded in provoking widespread revulsion against France and eroding the influence of Francophiles in America. Federalists demonized Adet and warned that a Jefferson presidency would be “fatal to our independence, now that the interference of a foreign nation in our affairs is no longer disguised.”32 The Connecticut Courant warned that the French minister was trying to “wean us from the government and administrators of our own choice and make us willing to be governed by such as France shall think best for us—beginning with Jefferson.”33 Even Republicans were offended by Adet’s meddling, with one of them railing that Adet had destroyed Jefferson’s chances for election and “irretrievably diminished the good will felt for his government and the people of France.”34
In the end, John Adams eked out a victory over Thomas Jefferson by three Electoral College votes, by rule relegating Jefferson to the vice presidency.
In the days before the election, Abigail Adams had repeatedly warned her son not to demand any special consideration if his father won, and John Quincy had responded accordingly: “I hope my ever dear and honored mother . . . that upon the contingency of my father’s being placed in the first magistracy, I shall never give him any trouble by solicitation for office of any kind.”
Your late letters have repeated so many times that I shall in that case have nothing to expect that I am afraid you have imagined it possible that I might form expectations from such an event. I had hoped that my mother knew me better; that she did me the justice to believe that I have not been so totally regardless or forgetful of the principles which my education has instilled, nor so totally destitute of a personal sense of delicacy as to be susceptible of a wish in that direction.35
President John Adams, America’s second President, ignored charges of nepotism and, on the advice of George Washington, retained his son John Quincy Adams in America’s foreign diplomatic corps. (LIBRARY OF CONGRESS)
Deeply touched by her son’s letter, Abigail Adams sent it on to her husband, who shared it with Washington. The President had, in fact, worried that John Adams’s revulsion at nepotism might lead him to dismiss his son from the diplomatic corps, and, indeed, Adams had planned to do just that. After Washington read John Quincy’s letter, he told Adams, “The sentiments do honor to the head and heart of the writer, and if my wishes would be of any avail, they should go to you in the strong hope [his italics] that you will not withhold merited promotion for Mr. John [Quincy] Adams because he is your son.”
For without intending to compliment the father or the mother . . . I give it as my decided opinion that Mr. Adams is the most valuable public character we have abroad, and that he will prove himself to be the ablest of all our diplomatic corps. . . . The public, more and more as he is known, are appreciating his talents and worth, and his country would sustain a loss if these are checked by over delicacy on your part.36
“Go to Lisbon,” the President-elect wrote to reassure his son, “and send me as good intelligence from all parts of Europe as you have done.”37
After John Quincy told Louisa of his new appointment—and the enormous increase in his salary—they saw no reason to postpone their marriage. He and Thomas packed up their things and shipped everything to Lisbon before sailing to London for the wedding. To their consternation, however, unexpected letters arrived from the secretary of state and from John Quincy’s father, the new President, directing him not to proceed to Lisbon but to wait for a commission to the Prussian court in Berlin. Although Berlin was a far more important post than Lisbon, neither John Quincy nor Louisa (nor Thomas, for that matter) was pleased about foregoing Portugal’s sunny climes for the long, grey, dismal winters of northern Europe. And John Quincy was livid about having spent $2,500 to ship most of his and Thomas’s clothes, furniture, and books—especially his books—to Lisbon.
John Quincy Adams married Louisa Catherine Johnson in an Anglican service in London on July 26, 1797, with his brother and her parents and sisters attending. Two weeks earlier, John Quincy had turned thirty; his bride was twenty-two; and in the course of three idyllic months honeymooning in the English countryside, they wrote to his “Dear and Honored Parents” to share their joy: “I have now the happiness of presenting you another daughter,” John Quincy wrote, “worthy as I fully believe of adding one to the number of those who endear that relation to you. The day before yesterday united us for life. My recommendation of her to your kindness and affection I know will be unnecessary.”
Louisa Catherine appended her own appeal for the Adamses’ parental support:
The day before yesterday, by uniting me to your beloved son, has given me a claim to your parental affection, a claim I already feel will inspire me with veneration to pursue the path of rectitude and render me as deserving of your esteem and tenderness. . . . To be respected . . . and to meet the approbation of my husband and family is the greatest wish of my heart. Stimulated by these motives . . . will prove a sufficient incitement never to sully the title of subscribing myself your Dutiful Daughter.38
The joys of their honeymoon suddenly vanished, however, when they returned to London. They knew, of course, that they faced three years of northern European winters in Berlin and enormous difficulties recovering John Quincy’s possessions in Lisbon. What they did not—could not—expect was an angry mob at the front door of the Johnson mansion in London, screaming for John Quincy to pay thousands of pounds in overdue bills.


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Great book, nicely written and thank you BooksVooks for uploading

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