1938 6¢ John Q. Adams
Issue Date: July 28, 1938
First City: Washington, DC
Quantity Issued: 3,614,501,500
Printing Method: Rotary press
Perforations: 11 x 10 ½
Color: Red orange
Known affectionately as the “Prexies,” the 1938 Presidential series is a favorite among stamp collectors.
The series was issued in response to public clamoring for a new Regular Issue series. The series that was current at the time had been in use for more than a decade. President Franklin D. Roosevelt agreed, and a contest was staged. The public was asked to submit original designs for a new series picturing all deceased U.S. Presidents. Over 1,100 sketches were submitted, many from veteran stamp collectors. Elaine Rawlinson, who had little knowledge of stamps, won the contest and collected the $500 prize. Rawlinson was the first stamp designer since the Bureau of Engraving and Printing began producing U.S. stamps who was not a government employee.
John Quincy Adams
John Quincy Adams, son of second President John Adams, was a diplomat and politician known mostly for his involvement in numerous international negotiations. He served as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, the nation’s 8th Secretary of State, Ambassador to the United Kingdom, Russia, Prussia, and the Netherlands, and Massachusetts Senator. He was the first child of a former U.S. President to be elected to the nation’s highest office.
As President, his plans for modernization and educational improvement were rejected by Congress due to tensions with Andrew Jackson and his supporters, who believed Adams was undeserving of his election. Following his term in office, Adams became the first of two Presidents to serve in Congress after leaving the Presidency.
Adams’ Early Life
John Quincy Adams was born on July 11, 1767, in the town of Braintree (present-day Quincy), Massachusetts. The son of America’s second President, John Adams, and his politically active wife, Abigail, John Quincy Adams had a privileged childhood of top-notch education and travel.
When he was just six years old, Adams watched the Battle of Bunker Hill and the burning of Charleston with his mother. He learned the Declaration of Independence from his father’s letters to Abigail while the document was still being written in Philadelphia. Between 1778 and 1782, Adams traveled with his father, who was serving as an American envoy to France and the Netherlands. During this time, he studied at the Netherlands’ oldest university, the University of Leiden.
At the age of 14, Adams began a three-year journey to Europe, where he served as secretary to lawyer and statesman Francis Dana. The trip included visits to Russia, Finland, Sweden, Denmark, and Germany, about which Adams published a travel report in 1804. During this time, Adams became fluent in French and Dutch, and learned some German and other European languages, all of which would eventually help him in his post as foreign ambassador.
In 1788, Adams enrolled in Harvard College, while apprenticing as a lawyer with Theophilus Parsons in Newburyport, Massachusetts. Admitted to the bar in 1791, Adams began a brief career as a lawyer in Boston.
U.S. Ambassador and Early Politics
After his graduation, Adams began work on a series of papers opposing Thomas Paine’s doctrines on the Rights of Man, and sharing his support for a neutral political relationship with France and England. Agreeing with many of his points, George Washington appointed Adams to the position of U.S. minister to the Netherlands in 1794. His service lasted until 1796, when he was sent to Portugal. During his father’s presidency, at Washington’s request, Adams was made minister to Prussia from 1797 to 1801, where he negotiated a treaty of friendship and business with the Prussians. It was during this time that he met and married Louisa Catherine Johnson, the daughter of the U.S. Consulate General in London.
Adams began his political career in 1802, while running unsuccessfully as a Federalist candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives. The following year, he was elected as a Federalist representative of Massachusetts in the U.S. Senate. He soon realized that his views differed from those of his party, and quickly found himself disliked by the majority for frequently voting on the Republican side. Adams held this position until 1808, when he left the Federalist Party and joined the Republicans.
The Treaty of Ghent
After three years of teaching rhetoric (effective and persuasive language skills) and oratory at Harvard, John Quincy Adams was once again called upon to serve as U.S. minister, this time to Russia. He arrived in Russia in 1809 to meet a tsar of goodwill who was eager to help the U.S. With the outbreak of the War of 1812, the tsar offered to serve as a mediator between the U.S. and England, which President Madison accepted.
In 1814, Adams met with British diplomats for negotiations, along with James A. Bayard, Sr., Henry Clay, Albert Gallatin, and Jonathan Russell. The treaty took months to complete because the British diplomats could not make direct negotiations and had to wait for orders from London.
The treaty released all prisoners and returned 10,000,000 acres of land to America. Britain paid nearly $500,000 for captured American slaves. The treaty was signed on December 24, 1814, in Ghent, Belgium, ending the War of 1812 between America and Great Britain. It was approved by the U.S. Senate on February 16, 1815.
Secretary of State
Adams began his service as U.S. Secretary of State in 1817. Two years later, after lengthy negotiations with the Spanish minister, Adams successfully completed the Transcontinental Treaty, in which the Spanish retracted their claim on territory east of the Mississippi. This is considered one of Adams’ greatest accomplishments, as numerous administrations before him had failed to gain the Florida territory.
Although instituted by President James Monroe, the Doctrine was primarily written by Adams. Adams wrote the Monroe Doctrine while serving as Secretary of State. The Doctrine called for an immediate end to European colonization in America. Completed in 1823, the Monroe Doctrine is the foundation on which current American foreign policy is based.
The Election of 1824
At the end of James Monroe’s “Era of Good Feelings,” tensions were high between his top advisors, three of whom were running to replace him as President. Monroe’s other advisors in this election were Secretary of War, John C. Calhoun, and Secretary of the Treasury, William H. Crawford. Other candidates included Speaker of the House, Henry Clay, and Tennessee Senator Andrew Jackson. Calhoun was nominated for Vice President, but none of the other four received a majority of votes. The decision was left to the House of Representatives, as prescribed by law.
The choice was between the top three candidates who had received the most votes (Jackson, who had received the most electoral votes, Adams, and Crawford). As speaker of the House, Henry Clay, who did not like Jackson, voted for Adams, who won on the first ballot. Shortly after, Adams appointed Clay as Secretary of State, which Jackson alleged was part of a corrupt bargain between the pair to keep him out of office. Jackson’s hostility over this incident would prove troublesome for Adams’ entire term of office.
Adams began his presidency on March 4, 1825, taking his Oath of Office not on the Bible, as is tradition, but rather on a book of laws. His ambitious plans for his term focused on modernization, including new roads, canals, a national university, and an astronomical observatory. Despite his high hopes for modernizing America, he was met with great opposition. Many critics believed he was arrogant because of his close defeat over Jackson in the 1824 election. Jackson’s supporters in Congress, still outraged over the previous election, opposed the majority of Adams’ proposals.
Despite the tremendous opposition he faced, some of Adams’ proposals were adopted. A number of roads and canals were constructed, including the canal connecting the Great Lakes with the Ohio River System in Ohio and Indiana.
Another significant issue of Adams’ presidency was protective tariffs. The Tariff of 1828 (also known as the Tariff of Abominations) increased the prices on European goods, resulting in less sales to America. In turn, the British drastically decreased purchases of American goods, especially cotton, which greatly hurt the South. The consequences of this bill continued to mount until the passage of another tariff bill in 1832.
While still plagued by Jackson’s supporters in Congress, Adams’ foreign policy seemed once again to be one his greatest strengths as President. During his term, a number of treaties were established with countries such as Denmark, Mexico, the Hanseatic League, multiple Scandinavian countries, Prussia, and Austria.
The election of 1828 was a scandalous one, filled with mudslinging and accusations from both Adams and Jackson. Jackson was still outraged over the election of 1824. In the end, Jackson won by a landslide. Adams’ last day in office was March 4, 1829.
After a brief retirement, Adams won election as a National Republican and Whig to the House of Representatives. Some critics suggested that accepting this position would degrade the former President, but Adams replied that no person could be degraded in serving the people as a representative of Congress.
Adams’ time in Congress, revered by some as the most significant part of his career, centered largely around the abolition of slavery and the repeal of “Gag Laws.” Adams argued that the Gag Rules, which aimed to keep all petitions relating to slavery from being referred to a committee or printed, were in violation of the First Amendment. Finally, in 1844, his motion to repeal such gags was passed by a vote of 108 to 80.
On February 21, 1848, while waiting to address the House of Representatives, Adams suffered a cerebral hemorrhage. He died two days later, at the age of 80, in the company of his family while in the Speaker’s Room at the Capitol Building in Washington, D.C.