The Inauguration of John Quincy Adams

John Quincy Adams by Charles Robert Leslie

John Quincy Adams by Charles Robert Leslie

America’s sixth president, John Quincy Adams, was inaugurated on March 4, 1825 at the age of 57 years and 7 months. Adams, who was Secretary of State in the outgoing administration of President James Monroe, finished behind Andrew Jackson in the number of popular votes and electoral votes received in the 1824 presidential election. However, since no candidate reached the 131 electoral vote majority necessary to win, the election was decided by the House of Representatives, which voted in favour of John Quincy Adams.

Adams was aware of his relative lack of popularity. Comments like this were appearing in the press.

We did not think it possible that the representatives of the people would undertake to act in direct opposition to the expressed will of their constituents, but it turns out we were mistaken. The friends of Mr. Adams have claimed for him the character of one of the greatest diplomatists of the age, and the result of this election shows that he is fully entitled to it. Let him enjoy all the honor and comfort that an elevation so attained can confer.

Had the number of electoral votes given to General Jackson and Mr. Adams put the former fifteen votes lower than the latter named candidate, we should have been truly sorry to see Gen. Jackson elected by Congress; and had he been so elected, his past life demonstrates that he would have declined the situation. Should he not have declined it, he would have forfeited, in the eyes of the American people, the reputation he has earned. How Mr. Adams is to be affected in this respect, time will show; but if he has not a boisterous administration of it, we know nothing about public opinion and feeling. (1)

Sleepless nights

Adams spent two sleepless nights before his inauguration, “occasioned by the unceasing excitement of many past days; the pressure of business in the Department of State, always heavy at the close of a session of Congress, now redoubled at the close of my own service of eight years in the office of Secretary; the bustle of preparation for the new condition upon which I was to enter; the multitudes of visitors, upon great varieties of business, or for curiosity; the anxieties of an approaching crisis, and, above all the failing and threatening state of my wife’s health.” (2)

Louisa Adams – the first foreign-born First Lady of the United States – was “very ill.” The evening of March 3, she “was seized with a violent fever,” for which she was bled in an attempt to provide relief. Before daybreak, Louisa’s fever was joined by “a long and alarming fainting fit.” (3)

A lively and animated scene

Friday, March 4th dawned cloudy in Washington. A tired John Quincy Adams “entered upon this day with a supplication to Heaven, first, for my country; secondly, for myself and for those connected with my good name and fortunes, that the last results of its events may be auspicious and blessed.” (4)

A Washington newspaper described the activity around the Capitol.

At an early hour…the avenues to the Capitol presented a lively and animated scene. Groups of citizens hastening to the great theatre of expectation were to be seen in all directions; carriages were rolling to and fro, and ever and anon the sound of the drum and trumpet, at a distance, gave notice that the military were in motion and repairing to their different parade grounds. The crowd at the doors of the Capitol began to accumulate about nine o’clock, and, although ladies were allowed the privilege of their sex in being admitted to seats reserved for them in the lobbies of the House of Representatives, they had to attain the envied station at no small sacrifice, and the gentlemen who led and guarded them were obliged in some instances almost literally to fight their way to the doors.

Towards 12 o’clock, the military, consisting of General and Staff Officers and the Volunteer Companies of the 1st and 2d Legion, received the President at his residence, with his predecessor, and several officers of the Government. The cavalry led the way, and the procession moved in very handsome array, with the music of several corps, to the Capitol, attended by thousands of citizens. The President was attended on horseback by the Marshal, with his assistants for the day, distinguished by blue badges, &c. On arriving at the Capitol, the President, with his escort, was received by the Marine corps…whose excellent band of music saluted the Presidents on their entrance into the Capitol.

Within the Hall, the sofas between the columns, the entire space of the circular lobby without, the bar, the spacious promenade in the rear of the Speaker’s chair, and the three outer rows of the member’s seats, were all occupied with a splendid array of beauty and fashion. On the left, the Diplomatic Corps, in the costume of their respective courts, occupied the places assigned them…. The officers of our own Army and Navy were seen dispersed among the groups of ladies, exhibiting that most appropriate and interesting of associations, valor guarding beauty. Chairs were placed in front of the Clerk’s table, on the semicircle within the member’s seats, for the Judges of the Supreme Court. The hour of twelve arrived and expectation was on tiptoe – the march of the troops, announced by the band of the marine corps, was heard without, and many a waving plume and graceful head within beat time to the martial sounds. The galleries, though filled to overflowing, were remarkable for the stillness and decorum which (with a very few exceptions) prevailed.

At 20 minutes past twelve, the Marshals made their appearances in blue scarves, succeeded by the officers of both Houses of Congress, who introduced the President Elect. He was followed by the venerable Ex-President and family, by the Judges of the Supreme Court, in their robes of office, and the Members of the Senate, preceded by the Vice President, with a number of Members of the House of Representatives. Mr. Adams, in a plain suit of black, ascended the steps to the Speaker’s chair and took his seat. (5)

John Quincy Adams was the first president to wear full-length trousers (rather than knee breeches) to his inauguration.

A mass of intellectual strength

Although there was no suggestion of a security threat, one journalist observed:

Within that little space was concentrated a mass of intellectual strength, calculated, when called into energetic action, to shake this continent from one end to the other, and to cause its motion to be felt throughout the civilized world. There, within a few feet of each other, stood Adams, and Monroe, and Clay, and Marshall, and Jackson, and Cheves, and Calhoun, and Webster, and Story, and Emmet, and Tazewell, and Wirt. The explosion of a single shell would have created a chasm such as this country would have felt for a century. (6)

The inaugural address

Once seated in the Speaker’s chair, John Quincy Adams read his inaugural address, which took about half an hour and was rather dull, but received a long applause. In it, he tried to heal electoral divisions.

Of the two great political parties which have divided the opinions and feeling of our country, the candid and the just will now admit that both have contributed splendid talents, spotless integrity, ardent patriotism and disinterested sacrifices to the formation and administration of this government; and that both have required a liberal indulgence for a portion of human infirmity and error.…

There still remains one effort of magnanimity, one sacrifice of prejudice and passion, to be made by the individuals throughout the nation, who have heretofore followed the standards of political party. It is that of discarding every remnant of rancor against each other; of embracing, as countrymen and friends; and of yielding to talents and virtue alone, that confidence which, in times of contention for principle, was bestowed only upon those who bore the badge of party communion.…

Fellow-citizens, you are acquainted with the peculiar circumstances of the recent election, which have resulted in affording me the opportunity of addressing you at this time. You have heard the exposition of the principles which will direct me in the fulfilment of the high and solemn trust imposed upon me in this station. Less possessed of your confidence, in advance, than any of my predecessors, I am deeply conscious of the prospect that I shall stand more and oftener in need of your indulgence. Intentions, upright and pure; a heart devoted to the welfare of our country, and the unceasing application of all the faculties allotted to me, to her service, are all the pledges that I can give for the faithful performance of the arduous duties I am to undertake.

To the guidance of the legislative councils; to the assistance of the executive and subordinate departments; to the friendly co-operation of the respective state governments; to the candid and liberal support of the people, so far as it may be deserved by honest industry and zeal, I shall look for whatever success may attend my public service: and knowing that, except the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain, with fervent supplications for his favor, to his overruling Providence, I commit, with humble but fearless confidence, my own fate, and the future destinies of my country. (7)

The oath of office

Then, placing his hand on a volume of the laws of the United States, held up to him by Chief Justice John Marshall, John Quincy Adams read the oath of office of President of the United States.

The congratulations which then poured in from every side occupied the hands, and could not but reach the heart of the President. The meeting between him and his venerated predecessor had in it something peculiarly affecting. General Jackson, we were pleased to observe, was among the earliest of those who took the hand of the President; and their looks and deportment toward each other were a rebuke to that littleness of party spirit, which can see no merit in a rival, and feel no joy in the honor of a competitor. Shortly after one o’clock, the procession commenced leaving the Hall; but it was nearly an hour before the clustering groups which had crowded every seat and avenue completely retired.

The President was then escorted back as he came, and, on his arrival at his residence, received the compliments and respects of a great number of gentlemen and ladies who called upon him, who also generally paid their respects at the Mansion occupied by the Ex-President. (8)

Adams noted in his diary:

I found at my house a crowd of visitors, which continued about two hours, and received their felicitations. Before the throng had subsided, I went myself to the President’s house, and joined with the multitude of visitors to Mr. Monroe there. I then returned home to dine, and in the evening attended the ball, which was also crowded, at Carusi’s Hall. (9)

The inaugural ball

Throughout the day Louisa Adams continued to feel extremely ill. She received visitors in the drawing room before dinner, but was not well enough to go out in the rain to the inaugural ball.

The ball at the City Assembly Rooms in honor of the inauguration of the President and Vice-President…was more numerously attended, and exhibited, perhaps, a greater display of beauty and respectability, than has ever been witnessed on a similar occasion in this city.

The President of the United States, the Ex-President, and the Vice-President, with their families; most of the representatives of the foreign Courts, and nearly all the members of the Senate and House of Representatives who still remained in the city; many officers of the Army and Navy, and visitors of distinction from different parts of the Union; and a large number of our own citizens, were present, making altogether an assemblage of nearly a thousand persons.

In the ball room, which was most tastefully decorated, the dancing continued without interruption until past the midnight hour. About ten o’clock, the supper tables in the room below were filled by as many of the company as could be seated at once. At the head of the centre table the President took his seat under a canopy, which had been prepared for him and some of the most distinguished guests…neither expense nor exertion appear to have been spared to render the supper superior to any which has ever been given in this city. (10)

Adams did not stay for the whole thing.

Immediately after supper I withdrew, and came home. I closed the day as it had begun, with thanksgiving to God for all His mercies and favors past, and with prayers for the continuance of them to my country, and to myself and mine. (11)

You might also enjoy:

The Presidential Election of 1824

The New Year’s Day Reflections of John Quincy Adams

John Quincy Adams and Napoleon

John Quincy Adams’ Swimming Adventures

John Quincy Adams and the White House Billiard Table

John Quincy Adams’ Report Upon Weights and Measures

When John Quincy Adams Met Madame de Staël

John Quincy and Louisa Adams: Middle-Aged Love

Louisa Adams, First Foreign-Born First Lady

When Louisa Adams Met Joseph Bonaparte

James Monroe and Napoleon

Last Words of Famous People

  1. Louisville Public Advertiser (Louisville, Kentucky), March 2, 1825.
  2. Charles Francis Adams, ed., Memoirs of John Quincy Adams, Vol. VI (Philadelphia, 1875), pp. 516-517.
  3. John Quincy Adams Diary, March 3 & 4, 1825 [electronic edition], The Diaries of John Quincy Adams: A Digital Collection, Vol. 33, p. 103, Massachusetts Historical Society, Accessed January 19, 2017.
  4. “The Inauguration,” Daily National Intelligencer (Washington, D.C.), March 5, 1825.
  5. Memoirs of John Quincy Adams, Vol. VI, p. 518.
  6. Daily National Intelligencer (Washington, DC), March 17, 1825.
  7. Niles’ Weekly Register (Baltimore, MD), March 5, 1825.
  8. “The Inauguration,” Daily National Intelligencer (Washington, D.C.), March 5, 1825.
  9. Memoirs of John Quincy Adams, Vol. VI, p. 519.
  10. Daily National Journal (Washington, DC), March 7, 1825.
  11. Memoirs of John Quincy Adams, Vol. VI, p. 519.

Join the discussion

Your e-mail address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Less possessed of your confidence, in advance, than any of my predecessors, I am deeply conscious of the prospect that I shall stand more and oftener in need of your indulgence.

John Quincy Adams