John Quincy Adams was inaugurated March 4, 1825. America’s sixth president was principled, intelligent and eloquent, though his principles occasionally tripped him up. For instance, he believed elected office was a matter of service and it was wrong to campaign. All his predecessors felt the same way, and used surrogates to stump for votes.
During the reelection campaign, however, when Andrew Jackson embarked on some first-ever personal campaigning, Adams refused to follow suit. The second president to come from New England held firm. If the country wanted his services, he declared, she must ask for them. She didn’t. Andrew Jackson ascended to the presidency in 1829.
He also came across as aloof, lacking the charm of many of the politicians that swirled around the Washington social scene. Despite being widely travelled, sophisticated and one of the most intelligent presidents the country has ever had, Adams was simple in most of his tastes, often content to dine on crackers in a city that teemed with bon vivants. Adams’ personal style was reflected in his inauguration.
- He was the first president inaugurated wearing pants rather than knee breeches. Styles changed slowly, but Adams was the first president who found it acceptable to be sworn in wearing a homespun, black suit with full-length trousers. He was also the first president to eschew powdered wigs.
- Adams did not attend the inauguration of his successor, Andrew Jackson, which has happened only two other times among living presidents. His father didn’t attend the inauguration of Thomas Jefferson and Jackson did not attend Martin Van Buren's inauguration. This happened a third time if you want to count Richard Nixon, who resigned and was on a helicopter out of Washington when Gerald Ford was sworn in.
- Adams is the only president known to be sworn in at inauguration ceremonies with his hand on something other than a Bible. Adams said that he was sworn in with his hand on a law book. The only other president who is known to have taken the oath of office without a Bible present was Teddy Roosevelt, when he was sworn in after the assassination of William McKinley. However, for several inaugurations it’s not recorded what Bible was used, and it’s possible none was used.
- Adams was the first president elected who had won neither the popular vote nor the vote in the Electoral College. Andrew Jackson was more popular in both votes. Adams prevailed when the election was settled by the House of Representatives.
- Adams went to his inaugural ball stag. His wife was ill, suffering fainting spells the day before the inauguration. She was able to receive visitors the day of the inauguration, but did not attend the ball.
- The inauguration speech was pretty awful. Though he could be a powerful speaker, even earning the nickname ‘Old Man Eloquent,’ Adams had a difficult task in drawing up his inauguration speech because of how he had wrangled the win. Thus, he began his speech with the stirring line:
In compliance with an usage coeval with the existence of our Federal Constitution, and sanctioned by the example of my predecessors in the career upon which I am about to enter, I appear, my fellow-citizens, in your presence and in that of Heaven to bind myself by the solemnities of religious obligation to the faithful performance of the duties allotted to me in the station to which I have been called.
It didn’t get much better…