American voters rejected John Quincy Adams’s re-election in 1828, according to one observer, because he had written one too many books and learned one too many languages. The only President to have served on the faculty at Harvard, Adams was an accomplished intellectual statesman: he had been the nation’s ambassador to Russia and helped negotiate the end of the War of 1812. As Secretary of State, he secured Spain’s sale of Florida and American control of the Pacific Northwest, and created the policy known since as the Monroe Doctrine. But his resume did not include the political skills necessary to survive in a changing democratic world.
But the forcibly retired Adams began a new political career. He remains the only former President to be elected to Congress, where he spent his final eighteen years. As Professor Allison will demonstrate in this class, few Presidents have made as great an impact during their administrations as John Quincy Adams did in his retirement. He became such an effective and passionate opponent of slavery that his pro-slavery colleagues imposed a gag order on him. This made him more stubborn: a national symbol of free speech and thought. He continued fighting for liberty until he collapsed on the floor of the House of Representatives, dying in the Speaker’s office.