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The Panama Congress

November 3, 2015

U.S. Presidents are elected for their domestic programs, but they are more often remembered for their foreign policy. In 1825 John Quincy Adams (JQA) was elected for neither. He did not receive a majority of Electoral College votes or even a plurality of popular votes, but under the 12th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, he was elected by the House of Representatives. This was the last time Congress would treat him so well, especially since it did not favor his bold domestic program. However, JQA was the greatest American diplomat of his time, perhaps even of all time. Surely his Administration would attain a measure of success in that arena.

JQA, who had been Secretary of State when the Monroe Doctrine was adopted, sought to enhance U.S. prestige by appointing two delegates to the 1826 Panama Congress. It would have made great sense for the nation that had freed itself from Great Britain to participate in a meeting of American nations that had recently won their independence from Europe.

The U.S. Congress deliberately delayed funding as long as possible. Even JQA’s Vice President worked against him in the Senate. When the delegates and the funding were finally approved, the mission had already been compromised. One delegate died en route to the Panama Congress. The other arrived too late to participate.

Much of the opposition to sending a delegation had come from Southern slave holders who thought it would be unseemly for white men from the U.S. to associate with black men from Haiti. JQA would not be re-elected President, but in 1830 he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. There, for almost nine terms he would vigorously oppose the proslavery faction in Congress.

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