In order to combat loneliness and depression, Louisa Adams became interested in social causes. In the process, she increased public awareness of the issues of her day.
Being the wife of the President of the United States has not been easy for any First Lady. Louisa Johnson Adams (1775-1852) had an especially difficult time fulfilling this role. As a result of tremendous personal and public pressure, Mrs. John Quincy Adams suffered from depression. One way Louisa coped in the years after her husband’s presidency was through studying the important issues of her time. Mrs. Adams’ interest in two particular causes– abolition of slavery and women’s rights– made her an inadvertant social activist.
Post-White House YearsJohn Quincy Adams’ presidency ended in 1828 with the election of Andrew Jackson. The former president retired to the family home in Massachusetts in 1830. Mrs. Adams, on the other hand, stayed in Washington, D.C., for she was grieving the alleged 1829 suicide of her son, George. Although John Quincy was 62 years old by this time, he decided to run for Congress. When he won the 1830 mid-term election, he seemed energized and ready to champion a new social cause. Unbeknownst to him, his wife as also about to join this crusade. The issue was slavery, and it was threatening to tear apart the very fabric of a nation.
Abolition: The Great Moral Crusade of the Nineteenth Century
John Quincy Adams’ opposition to slavery was purely political– he did not want the union to be divided. This was not the case with Louisa. A deeply religious woman, she morally opposed the “peculiar institution” on the basis of her conviction that no human being should be yoked to an earthly master. She was also heavily influenced by two sisters, Angelina and Sarah Grimke, the first female abolitionists. Louisa began cataloguing anti-slavery petitions that she received from women’s organizations and sharing the information with her husband. In turn, John presented these arguments to Congress, which was comprised largely of Southern slaveholders. Eventually, more and more people began taking up the abolitionists’ cause.
Religion Leads to Awareness of Women’s Rights and the Securing of a Presidential Legacy
Louisa’s rigorous Bible study led to an awakening. This awakening precipitated Louisa’s involvement with the Grimke Sisters. Ultimately, Louisa not only became an ardent abolitionist, but she also became passionate about women’s rights. Most importantly, Angelina Grimke’s husband, Theodore Weld, became a friend and colleague of the former president. The relationship and frequent correspondence between Weld and Adams strongly affected Adams’ policies. John Quincy even became a proponent of women’s rights, which had once been an alien concept to him. The connections Adams had formed through his wife even helped him avoid Congressional censure. The greatest result of Louisa’s newfound passions, however, occurred when John Quincy was credited with defending enslaved blacks who had revolted on a ship called the Amistad. This was in no way a small personal victory for Louisa.
The End of a Long Journey
John Quincy Adams’ long political career ended with his death on February 21, 1848. He was 74. Louisa died of a stroke on May 25, 1852. While she suffered many disappointments in life, Louisa Adams will forever be remembered as a woman who helped bring public and political awareness to two of the most contoversial , divisive issues in U.S. history. For this, she and her husband left behind a positive legacy of moral fortitude and political tenacity.
- Harris, Bill. The First Ladies Fact Book, p. 119-21. New York: Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers, Inc., 2005.