John Quincy Adams (1767-1848), a lifelong Unitarian, has been credited with formulating the fundamentals of American foreign policy: self-determination, independence, non-colonization, nonintervention, non-entanglement in European politics, freedom of the seas, and freedom of commerce. Historians agree he was one of the greatest diplomats and secretaries of state in American history.
Adams was the son of former President John Adams and Abigail Adams. He served as the sixth President of the United States from 1825 to 1829. He also served as a Senator and as a member of the House of Representatives. As a diplomat he played an important role in negotiating key treaties, most notably the Treaty of Ghent, which ended the War of 1812. As Secretary of State, he negotiated with Britain over the United States’ northern border with Canada, negotiated with Spain the annexation of Florida, and drafted the Monroe doctrine. By the time Monroe became president, several European powers, in particular Spain, were attempting to re-establish control over South America.
On Independence Day 1821, in response to those who advocated American support for independence movements in many South American countries, Adams gave a speech in which he said that American policy was moral support for independence movements but not armed intervention. Adams foresaw what would befall the United States if it sacrificed its republican spirit on the altar of empire. He stated that America “goes not abroad in search of monsters to destroy” lest she “involve herself beyond power of extrication, in all wars of interest and intrigue, of individual avarice, envy, and ambition, which assume the colors and usurp the standard of freedom. The fundamental maxims of her policy would insensibly change from liberty to force. The United States, Adams warned, might “become the dictatress of the world [but] she would be no longer the ruler of her own spirit.” From this, Adams authored what came to be known as the Monroe Doctrine, which was introduced on December 2, 1823. It stated that further efforts by European countries to colonize land or interfere with states in the Americas would be viewed as acts of aggression requiring U.S. intervention. The United States ultimately hoped to avoid having any European power take over Spain’s colonies. It became a defining moment in the foreign policy of the United States and one of its longest-standing tenets, and would be invoked by many U.S. statesmen and several U.S. presidents.
As President, Adams sought to modernize the American economy and promoted education. He enacted a part of his agenda and paid off much of the national debt; but he was stymied by a Congress controlled by his enemies. He lost his 1828 bid for re-election to Andrew Jackson. Adams was elected a U.S. Representative from Massachusetts after leaving office, serving for the last 17 years of his life with far greater acclaim than he had achieved as president and working with especial vigor to oppose pro-slavery forces. In 1841, Adams had the case of a lifetime, representing the defendants in United States v. The Amistad Africans in the Supreme Court of the United States. He successfully argued that the Africans, who had seized control of a Spanish ship on which they were being transported illegally as slaves, should not be extradited or deported to Cuba where slavery was legal but should be considered free.
Under President Martin Van Buren, the government argued the Africans should be deported for having mutinied and killed officers on the ship. Adams won their freedom, with the chance to stay in the United States or return to Africa. Adams made the argument because the U.S. had prohibited the international slave trade, although it allowed internal slavery. He never billed for his services in the Amistad case. The speech was directed not only at the justices of this Supreme Court hearing the case, but also to the broad national audience he instructed in the evils of slavery.
Greatly abbreviated from the Wikipedia article