John Quincy Adams was inaugurated March 4, 1825 as America’s sixth president. He was principled, intelligent and eloquent, though his principles occasionally tripped him up. For instance, he believed it wrong to campaign as elected officials performed a service. All his predecessors felt the same way, and used surrogates to stump for votes.
During the reelection campaign, however, Andrew Jackson embarked on some first-ever personal campaigning. But John Quincy 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.
John Quincy Adams also came across as aloof, lacking the charm of many of the politicians that swirled around the Washington social scene. Though he travelled widely, possessed sophistication and great intelligence, Adams had simple tastes. He liked to dine on crackers in a city that teemed with bon vivants.
John Quincy Adams Wears Pants
His inauguration reflected his personal style.
- 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 happened only two other times among living presidents. His father, John Adams, 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 took a helicopter out of Washington during Gerald Ford's swearing 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 took the oath of office with his hand on a law book. The only other president known to have taken the oath of office without a Bible present? Teddy Roosevelt, sworn in after the assassination of William McKinley. However, for several inaugurations no record exists of the Bible used. Perhaps none was.
- John Quincy Adams Adams earned the dubious distinction as the first president elected who had won neither the popular vote nor the vote in the Electoral College. Andrew Jackson got more votes in both cases. Adams prevailed when the House of Representatives settled the election.
- Adams went to his inaugural ball stag. His wife Louisa fell ill, suffering fainting spells the day before the inauguration. She could receive visitors the day of the inauguration, but did not attend the ball.
An Awful Speech
- He delivered an awful inauguration speech. Though often a powerful speaker, even earning the nickname ‘Old Man Eloquent,’ John Quincy Adams had a hard time writing the speech. The reason? Because of the way he 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…
This story about John Quincy Adams was updated in 2019.