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Diplomacy in Action

John Quincy Adams: First U.S. Representative to Russia

Fact Sheet
Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs
May 18, 2007


[Released by the U.S. Embassy Moscow]

A Reflection: John Quincy Adams and U.S. Foreign Policy

"John Quincy Adams grasped the essentials of American policy and the position of the United States in the world more surely than any other man of his time. He availed himself of matchless opportunities to advance the continental future of his country and the fundamental principles for which it stood in the world. . . Even if John Quincy Adams was not to have another great career, as a crusader against the expansion of slavery, this first and mighty achievement, of no less than continental proportions, in laying the foundations of American foreign policy, would have been great enough for one lifetime."

(Samuel Flagg Bemis, John Quincy Adams and the Foundations of American Foreign Policy, New York, 1949. pp. 571-572.)

John Quincy Adams. John Quincy Adams was the first U.S. representative to Russia and later became Secretary of State and eventually sixth President of the United States. When he arrived for duty in 1809, he was renewing an acquaintance -- having first visited Russia in 1781 as the French-language interpreter for an earlier U.S. diplomatic mission. In his letters home, he described the poor conditions of the enslaved peasants, known as "serfs," and the absolute power of the nobility of imperial Russia. These early sentiments perhaps shaped his later thoughts on liberty and the rights of man. In 1841, Adams argued against slavery in the celebrated Amistad trial, which strengthened the anti-slavery movement in America. A gifted linguist, John Quincy served in St. Petersburg during Napoleon's invasion of Russia from 1809 to 1814. He also served as Minister to several European countries. His personal friendship with Tsar Alexander I was beneficial for both countries and would remain strong for decades. Of Alexander, Adams wrote: "From personal motives I ought to cherish his memory, for through my Agency he rendered essential good offices to my Country. His influence upon the history of my life has been great and auspicious." The exceptional diaries of John Quincy Adams provide a revealing account of early American politics and international relations.

John Quincy Adams and an American Dynasty

The Massachusetts Historical Society For more than two centuries the MHS has been collecting and preserving materials relating to the history of the commonwealth of Massachusetts and the United States. Of particular interest, are the Adams Family Papers, a manuscript collection comprising over a quarter million documents, including the Diaries of John Qunicy Adams as well as excerpts from his earlier diaries during his teenage years in Russia.

The Monroe Doctrine provides an overview of this seminal U.S. document, written by John Quincy Adams when he was Secretary of State for President James Monroe at the suggestion of Imperial Russia. Historical Documents page from the University of Oklahoma, provides further details.

Defending Human Liberty: The Amistad Case. John Quincy Adams made a landmark defense of captured Africans on the ship "Amistad" who were bound for North America as slaves. These websites provide a rich collection of materials related to this event, which bolstered the abolitionist cause in the United States.

The Adams National Historical Park tells the story of four generations of the Adams family (from 1720 to 1927). Of particular interest is the biography of John Quincy Adams.

The Project Gutenberg EBook of John Quincy Adams by John. T. Morse. (Copyright, 1882 and 1898) This eBook is provided as part of and under the terms of the Project Gutenberg License included with this eBook or online at

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