Digital History
John Quincy Adams Calls for a Vigorous Role for Government
Digital History ID 332

Author:   John Quincy Adams


John Quincy Adams was one of the most brilliant men to occupy the White House. A deeply religious man, he read the Bible at least three times a day--once in English, once in German, and once in French. He was fluent in seven languages, including Greek and Latin.

But Adams, like his father, lacked the political and personal skills necessary to win support for his programs. His adversaries mockingly described him as a "chip off the old iceberg." But his problems did not arise exclusively from his temperament. His misfortune was to serve as President at a time of growing partisan divisions. The Republican party had split into two distinct camps. Adams and his supporters, known as the National Republicans, favored a vigorous role in promoting economic growth, while the Jacksonian Democrats demanded a limited government and strict adherence to laissez-faire principles.

In this letter, Adams observes that throughout his political career he believed that the central government was responsible for maintaining what has come to be called the nation's infrastructure.


Conformably to your desires, I enclose herewith a copy of the Resolution moved by me in the Senate of the United States on the 23d. of February 1807. in relations to internal improvements....

This was I believe the first Resolution ever offered in Congress, contemplating a general system of internal improvement....

The question of the power of Congress, to authorize the making of internal improvements, is, in other words, a question, whether the people of this Union, in forming their social compact, avowedly for the purpose of promoting their general welfare, have performed their work in a manner so ineffably stupid, as to deny themselves the means of bettering their own condition. I have too much respect for the intellect of my country to believe it. The first object of human association is the improvement of the condition of the associates--Roads and Canals are among the most essential means of improving the condition of the Nation, and a People which should deliberately by the organization of its authorized power, deprive itself of the faculty of multiplying its own blessings, would be as wise as a Creator, who should undertake to constitute a human being without a Heart.

Copyright 2016 Digital History