The Children of John Quincy Adams

John Quincy Adams was the sixth president of the United States From 1825 until 1829. John Quincy Adams had a father who was also a president; John Adams was the second president of the United States, and his mother was First Lady Abigail Adams. John Quincy Adams is descended from a long line of New Englanders, born in Braintree, Massachusetts, in 1797.

John Quincy Adams first met Louisa Johnson while on a diplomatic mission to London, England. Johnson was the wealthy daughter of an American businessman, yet she suffered migraines and fainting spells in 1795. At Hallows Barking parish in London, Adams and Johnson married on July 26, 1797; Adams was 30, and Johnson was 22. They had four children together before Adams died in 1848: George Washington, John II, Charles Francis, and Louisa Catherine, who died in infancy. 

George Washington Adams

Portrait of George AdamsOn April 12, 1801, George Washington Adams was born in Berlin, the capital of the Kingdom of Prussia. He was a descendant of the illustrious Adams family. George was the eldest son of John Quincy Adams, the sixth president of the United States, and his English-born wife, Louisa Catherine Adams. The latter was then serving as a diplomatic envoy of the United States. He was named after the first president of the United States. His grandfather, John Adams, served as both the first vice president and the second president of the United States. His granddad left office a month before he was born.

Abigail Adams, Adams’ grandmother, was dissatisfied with her son’s decision to name the child after George Washington rather than her husband. She thought the judgment was “ill-judged” and “wrong,” and John Adams also appeared to be offended. John Adams II, the second son of John Quincy Adams, was named after his grandfather.

Adams studied law after graduating from Harvard University in 1821. He ran for state government after temporarily working as an attorney. In 1826, he was elected to the Massachusetts House of Representatives for a one-year term. Adams was elected to the Boston City Council in 1828. On July 5, 1824, he delivered “An Oration delivered in Quincy, on the Fifth of July, 1824,” which was eventually published as a pamphlet.

George’s brothers Charles and John were all vying for the same woman, their cousin Mary Catherine Hellen, who had moved in with the John Quincy Adams family after her parents died. Both of his brothers refused to attend John Adams II’s wedding to Mary Hellen in the White House in 1828.

With his mistress, Eliza Dolph, Adams fathered an illegitimate child. Dr. Thomas Welsh, the Adams family’s Boston physician, employed Dolph as a chambermaid. In December 1828, she gave birth to a child and was relocated so Adams could secretly visit her and the infant.

On April 30, 1829, while on board the steamer Benjamin Franklin in Long Island Sound from Boston to Washington, D.C., Adams vanished. His hat and cloak were discovered on deck, believing that he had purposefully jumped. On June 10, his body washed up on the beach. Adams, an alcoholic, had left messages implying that he meant to commit himself; he had also acted insane while aboard the ship, requesting that the captain return to shore and saying that the other passengers were plotting against him. According to news accounts from the time and historians, he drowned after jumping from Benjamin Franklin.

John Adams II

Portrait of John Adams II

On July 4, 1803, John Adams II was born in Quincy, Massachusetts. He attended Harvard University but was expelled during his senior year for participating in the 1823 student revolt against the university’s curriculum and living circumstances. His father taught him law, and when John Quincy Adams became president, his son acted as his secretary.

Both of John’s brothers refused to attend his wedding to Mary Hellen in the White House in 1828. Mary Louisa and Georgiana Frances Adams were the daughters of John Adams II and Mary Hellen.

After his father left the White House, John tried his hand at business, including running his father’s Washington flour mill. John’s spiral into alcoholism was sparked by his lack of success and sadness over his brother George’s alcoholism and 1829 suicide. On October 23, 1834, he died in Washington, D.C., and is buried in Quincy’s Hancock Cemetery.

Mary Hellen Adams stayed with John Quincy and Louisa Adams in their later years and assisted them with their care. On August 31, 1870, she died in Bethlehem, New Hampshire.

Charles Francis Adams Sr.

Charles Francis Adams was one of three sons and a girl born to John Quincy Adams and Louisa Catherine Johnson in Boston on August 18, 1807. George Washington Adams and John Adams II were his older brothers, while Louisa Adams, his sister, was born in 1811 but died during infancy in 1812 when the family was in Russia.

Adams received minimal formal education in St. Petersburg, but he was fluent in French and chose to speak it over English. His mother took him on a traumatic journey from St. Petersburg to Paris in the winter of 1815, where they met John Quincy, the newly appointed US minister to Great Britain. Adams attended boarding school for two years while in England, and when his father returned to the United States in 1817 to take over as Secretary of State, Charles Francis enrolled in the Boston Latin School. Like his father and grandfather before him, Charles Francis attended Harvard College and graduated in 1825.

While his family occupied the White House, Charles Francis studied law in Washington, D.C. for the following two years. After returning to Boston in 1827, Charles Francis enrolled as a student in Daniel Webster’s office and was admitted to the bar in 1828. 

Both Charles and George declined to attend John’s wedding to Mary in the White House in 1828.

During this time, Charles Francis met his future wife, Abigail Brooks, the daughter of one of Massachusetts’ wealthiest men. Abigail’s father believed the couple was too young to marry and requested that the wedding be postponed until Charles was twenty-one years old. Charles created his law firm but ran it carelessly, and his father chastised him for being aimless and irresponsible in his profession.

When Charles’ oldest brother, George Washington Adams, died in 1829, John Quincy seemed to exhibit greater attention and affection for his two remaining boys, Charles, and his father had never been close. Charles Francis became more focused and goal-oriented after his brother’s death, his marriage to Abigail Brooks, and his reunion with his father. Charles Francis Adams later stated that he would never have achieved anything in life if not for Abigail Brooks.

Adams was elected to three one-year terms in the Massachusetts House of Representatives in 1840, and from 1843 to 1845, he served in the Massachusetts Senate. He bought the Boston Whig newspaper in 1846 and became its editor. In 1848, he attempted to run for Vice President of the United States on the Free Soil Party’s ticket, including former President Martin Van Buren as the presidential nominee.

From the 1840s forward, Adams established himself as one of the best historical editors of his day. He gained his knowledge in part due to his father’s decision to leave politics in 1829.

Charles was elected to the United States House of Representatives as a Republican in 1858, where he worked as chairman of the Committee on Manufactures. Eventually, he was re-elected in 1860 but resigned to serve as the United States minister to the Court of St James’s from 1861 until 1868, a position previously held by his father and grandfather.

As a diplomat, his most outstanding achievement was keeping Britain neutral. With the support of Lincoln, he helped resolve the Trent Affair in 1861, in which an American naval officer violated British liberties. With the American blockade of the Confederacy becoming increasingly successful, just a tiny amount of cotton made it to Europe via Union lines. The British government, led by Chancellor of the Exchequer William Gladstone, wanted to aid the Confederacy.

In 1869, Adams returned to Boston and declined the president of Harvard University, but he did become one of its overseers. To honor his father, John Quincy Adams, he erected the first presidential library in the United States in 1870. Over 14,000 works in twelve languages are housed in the Stone Library. The library sits on Adams National Historical Park’s “Old House,” commonly known as “Peacefield,” in Quincy, Massachusetts.

Adams campaigned for Governor of Massachusetts in 1876 but lost.

During the 1876 electoral college debate, Adams chose Democrat Samuel J. Tilden over Republican Rutherford B. Hayes.