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America’s Worst Politician

October 27, 2015

George Washington and John Adams identified with the Federalist Party. John Quincy Adams (JQA), son of the second U.S. President, was elected to the U.S. Senate as a Federalist. The Massachusetts legislature chose him over Timothy Pickering, the former Secretary of State who had worked against the elder Adams while still a member of his cabinet. Since JQA was a member of that legislature, he could have voted for himself. He abstained.

Since both U.S. Senate seats were vacant in 1803, JQA had another opportunity to vote on a U.S. Senate seat. Even though he despised Pickering, he was obligated to the Essex Junto which had supported him for the first Senate seat. He voted for Pickering who then became the junior Senator from Massachusetts.

Thomas Jefferson had been President since 1801. The Adamses and the Jeffersons had been on friendly terms during the American Revolution, but they were now political adversaries. This did not prevent JQA from siding with Jefferson on important matters of public policy. He was the only Federalist in either house of Congress to vote in favor of the Louisiana Purchase. He also voted for the Embargo Act of 1807.

The Massachusetts legislature decided to replace JQA rather than give him a second term. They could have waited until February 1809, but they got him to resign by voting not to retain him in June 1808 and then directing JQA to vote for repeal of the Embargo Act.

Sixteen years later the Massachusetts legislature would nominate JQA for President of the United States. When he became President in 1825, he once again demonstrated the courage to stand on principle rather than political expediency. Once again he was not re-elected.

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