spacer John Quincy Adams John Quincy Adams (1767-1848)
Sixth President (1825-1829)

John Quincy Adams's tenure as James Monroe's secretary of state ranks among the most productive in the history of that office. But his often abrupt and tactless ways were ill-suited for the presidency, and when his nationalistic vision for federally sponsored development of America's potentials met with hostility in Congress, he was incapable of promoting accommodation. As a result, the accomplishments of his administration were meager indeed.

At the end of his presidency, Adams declared, "the sun of my political life sets in deepest gloom." In fact, his sun was not even close to setting. Elected to the House of Representatives in 1830, he served there until his death. By then, he had been dubbed "Old Man Eloquent," and in his prolonged and successful struggle defending the antislavery movement's right to petition Congress, he had gained a circle of admirers that extended well beyond his Massachusetts constituency.

When Adams sat for this portrait, he doubted that artist George Caleb Bingham could produce "a strong likeness." But Bingham did just that, and the portrait's sharp-edged vitality seems to echo Ralph Waldo Emerson's comment that the aging Adams was "like one of those old cardinals, who as quick as he is chosen Pope, throws away his crutches and his crookedness, and is as straight as a boy."

George Caleb Bingham (1811-1879)
Oil on canvas, circa 1850 from an 1844 original
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

Enlarged image