John Quincy Adams Confirms That It Was His Father, President John Adams, Who Recalled Him From His Post As U.S. Ambassador to Prussia, and Not Incoming President Thomas Jefferson

He asks the American consul at the port of Hamburg to arrange transportation home for him and his family

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He expresses concern for his wife, who had just borne their first child and was feeling unwell

President Washington saw great potential in the young John Quincy Adams, so much that in 1794 he appointed him U.S. Minister to the Netherlands. This was an important and prestigious post at the time. John...

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John Quincy Adams Confirms That It Was His Father, President John Adams, Who Recalled Him From His Post As U.S. Ambassador to Prussia, and Not Incoming President Thomas Jefferson

He asks the American consul at the port of Hamburg to arrange transportation home for him and his family

He expresses concern for his wife, who had just borne their first child and was feeling unwell

President Washington saw great potential in the young John Quincy Adams, so much that in 1794 he appointed him U.S. Minister to the Netherlands. This was an important and prestigious post at the time. John Quincy wrote frequent reports to the State Department detailing the military and diplomatic activities in Europe and warned against U.S. involvement. These views, which included preserving American neutrality in the early years of the Napoleonic Wars, were so valued that some of his phrases appeared in George Washington’s Farewell Address in 1796. President Washington praised John Quincy Adams as “the most valuable public character we have abroad.”

When John Adams was elected President in 1797, he appointed his son U.S. Minister to Prussia, which is now part of Germany. Before the younger Adams left for Prussia, he traveled to England to marry Louisa Catherine Johnson, the daughter of Joshua Johnson, who served as the first U.S. Consul to Great Britain. Louisa was born and raised in Europe and is the United States’ only foreign-born First Lady. Louisa brought qualities to her marriage that made her an ideal partner for John Quincy Adams. The future First Lady’s charm and warmth endeared her to all she met, and offset her husband’s cold and serious manner. John Quincy Adams and his new bride traveled to Prussia after their wedding in 1797.

Adams’ immediately set out to improve relations between the U.S. and Prussia. In order to achieve this objective, he worked hard to master the German language. Fluency in German made his diplomatic work easier, and he successfully concluded a Treaty of Amity and Commerce between the U.S. and Prussia in Berlin in 1799.

President John Adams lost the Presidential election of 1800 to Thomas Jefferson. On January 31, 1801, with just a month left in his term, Adams asked the Secretary of State, John Marshall, to prepare papers recalling his son from his Berlin posting. The reason was that the elder Adams thought that, although he would like to keep his son in Europe in an ambassadorial role, the only acceptable posts (minister to France or Britain) were either unsuited to him or unavailable, hence the decision to bring him home.

After several miscarriages, in April 1801 Louisa Adams bore her first child, George Washington Adams. She was unwell in the immediate aftermath of the birth. She was also likely anxious about going to the United States, which she had never before visited, and meeting President John Adams and First Lady Abigail Adams. She had heard that they were formidable characters, as indeed they were.

Autograph letter signed, Berlin, April 28, 1801, to Joseph Pitcairn, the American consul in the city of Hamburg, asking him to help with arrangements for his return to the U.S. It was from Hamburg that Adams would take a ship home. He also states that it was his father’s decision to recall him, and not that of new President Thomas Jefferson. “I have received your favor of the 21st instant and most sincerely sympathize with you upon the loss of your child. My own feelings give me but too just a measure of yours. My wife has had a relapse of her illness, and is now in a state which gives me great concern and some alarm.

“I have received my recall from this mission, and if a good opportunity should offer from Hamburg to Boston, or any other part of the eastern states, in about two months from this time, I shall wish to engage a passage for myself and family. Sooner than that Mrs. A’s health will certainly not admit of undertaking so long a voyage. In the course of a few days I shall forward by water to your address that part of my baggage which we shall not want to have with us. Mr. Welsh intends to go from Amsterdam and will have this place soon. If you should receive from Mr. Williams in London [Samuel Williams of Massachusetts, the U.S. consul in London] the little box for Mrs. Adams which I mentioned to you some time since, please to keep it until we have the pleasure of seeing you at Hamburg.

“My recall was by the determination of the late President, before he went out of office. The enclosed letter for my brother I will thank you to forward by the earliest opportunity, and also that for the Secretary of State.” With the integral address panel in his hand, and Pitcairn’s docket on that.

The younger Adamses arrived in Massachusetts in fall of 1801 and the next year John Quincy was elected to the Massachusetts Senate, starting his political career. In 1803 he was selected to be a U.S. Senator, and in 1809 returned to Europe where he would serve as ambassador to first Russia and then Britain. When Louisa reached the Adams home in Quincy, she felt ill at ease and entirely out of her element. She later recalled, “Had I stepped into Noah’s Ark, I do not think I could have been more utterly astonished.” Louisa felt especially unsuited to the standards and demands of her mother-in-law Abigail, who found Louisa lacking in many ways and gave her a great deal of unsolicited advice on how she should act as a wife. It was not until years later that Louisa and Abigail came to appreciate one another.

When Adams left Berlin, it was another 30 years before a successor was chosen for that place. It seems the U.S. and Prussia simply did not have enough contacts to make exchanging ambassadors worthwhile. So Mr. Welsh, mentioned in this letter, never did arrive in Berlin.

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