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Another weird election, this one with a Unitarian
By Tom Stites

John Quncy Adams
John Quincy Adams
As inauguration day approaches and the son of a US president follows his father into office for only the second time, let's put today's divisive politics aside and consider what happened in an election almost two centuries ago, long before dimpled chad entered the vocabulary.

In 1825, when John Quincy Adams became the first son of a president to be sworn in, father and son were both Unitarians. Neither George W. Bush nor his father is a Unitarian Universalist, of course, but there's a sobering similarity between Election 2000 and Election 1825: the younger Adams's election was, if possible, as bizarre as George W. Bush's.

There were four candidates in 1825. General Andrew Jackson won the most popular votes and the most electoral votes, and Adams came in second. But nobody got a majority of electoral votes, so under the Constitution it fell to the House of Representatives to choose the president. The House elected Adams after Henry Clay, who finished third in the popular vote and fourth in the Electoral College, threw the votes of his supporters in the House to Adams. In return, Adams appointed Clay secretary of state, an office that in those days was a stepping stone to the presidency. Jackson's people cried foul and immediately began the campaign that made Adams a one-term president.

All this happened the same year that the American Unitarian Association was founded, signaling the consolidation of the American Unitarian movement as many New England Puritan congregations turned away from Calvinism and embraced liberal religion. Both Adamses were lifelong members of what is now known as United First Parish Church of Quincy, MA (original name in 1639: Ye Church in Braintry; the city of Quincy was carved out of the town of Braintree, south of Boston). Unitarianism was hardly new in Quincy: a congregational vote in 1750 had embraced each person's right to "free and impartial examination" of religious doctrines.

The elder John Adams, an early patriot and delegate to the first and second Continental Congresses, served in France and Holland in diplomatic roles during the Revolutionary War, was the new nation's minister to the Court of St. James, and then served two terms as George Washington's vice president. Finally, he served as president, during a time of tension between England and France and among domestic political factions. Adams is credited with saving the nation from a war with France.

John Quincy Adams, a lawyer and linguist, entered government as a diplomat at age 26 and, under Monroe, was one of the nation's great secretaries of state. As president, he set in motion the public works efforts to build canals, breaking ground for the B&O canal in 1828. After he left office, he was elected to the House of Representatives and for the rest of his life was a congressional leader and advocate of civil liberties.

Both Adamses and their wives are entombed in a crypt in the basement of United First Parish's 1828 granite building, which is often called the Church of the Presidents (http://www.ufpc.org). The church has a cooperative arrangement with the Adams National Historic Park to open the crypt and the church building to visitors, but because it remains an active congregation, it receives no government money and must raise funds to support the effort.

After the elder Adams moved into the brand new White House in 1800, as Washington, DC, became the nation's capital, he wrote in a letter to his wife words that still ring today: "I pray Heaven to bestow the best of Blessings on this House and all that shall hereafter inhabit it. May none but honest and wise Men ever rule under this roof."


voices from the past


Presidential Electors: From the present state of the votes it is inferred that no person will be chosen by the electors…. The choice of President and Vice President of the United States, for the ensuing four years, is to be made on Wednesday next. Who will be president? is a question not easily answered.

    From the Christian Register, Friday, November 26, 1824
Presidential Election: So important and interesting an article of intelligence as that of the election of a President, of the United States, can hardly now be news, even to our retired readers; especially at a time when so deep an interest is generally felt in the result. It is proper however for us to state the result, and we have no disposition to disguise the satisfaction we feel in being able to state that the Hon. JOHN QUINCY ADAMS is elected president of the United States, for four years, to commence on the 4th day of March next.

    From the Christian Register, Saturday, February 19, 1825

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