Miller Center

American President

A Reference Resource

Foreign Affairs

John Quincy Adams's administration achieved a mixed record in foreign affairs during his presidency. On the one hand, it substantially opened up trade through commercial treaties with a variety of nations, including Austria, Brazil, the Central American federation, Denmark, Norway, and Sweden, which granted the United States reciprocal trading rights. Adams arranged to extend indefinitely a commercial convention with Britain and resolved outstanding questions regarding British seizure of property during the War of 1812.

On the other hand, President Adams was prevented from resolving the ongoing issue of trade with the British West Indies, and rivals in Congress were determined to deny him any mark of success and thwarted his other efforts. For example, when the new Latin American republics, which had formerly been Spanish colonies, convened a congress in Panama to promote cooperation in the Western Hemisphere, they logically asked for delegates to attend from the American President who had authored the Monroe Doctrine. When Adams requested funding to send two delegates, southern congressmen strongly objected. The new Latin American nations had outlawed slavery, and southerners feared that the conference might call for a united stand in favor of emancipation everywhere in the hemisphere. Others did not like the idea of American ministers' meeting with black and mixed-race foreigners on equal terms. Jacksonian supporters in Congress eagerly joined with southerners to withhold funding for the delegation until the convention had ended.

Also, Adams had resolved many foreign affairs issues that might have engaged him as President when he served as Monroe's secretary of state. He had already secured the disarmament of the Great Lakes, fishing rights off of Canada, a U.S.-Canadian boundary, the accession of Florida, and a U.S.-Spanish border west of the Mississippi River giving America strong claim to the Pacific Coast in the Northwest. These were all issues that previously had brought the nation into open conflict with Britain. The resolution of these concerns, which had dominated American foreign policy for so many years, meant fewer projects for the State Department to tackle during the Adams administration.