Friday, August 15, 2014

John Quincy Adams, Champion of Human Rights, Gets a Quilt

When Sue Reich called for quilters to make a small presidential quilt I jumped at the chance to ask for John Quincy Adams. I had just read a biography on Louisa Catherine Adams. I had read about JQ in Bunker Hill, the John Adams by David McCullough, and in other books on American history.

People don't have a very clear image of JQ. He was raised for public service by his parents, Founding Father and president John Adams and Abigail Smith Adams. They expected superhuman achievements and JQ endeavored to meet the task.

When John Adams became Minister to France, 12-year-old JQ accompanied him. He was beloved by Thomas Jefferson. JQ traveled across Europe, studying under his father and at the finest universities. Back in the US he attended Harvard and followed his father into law.

George Washington chose JQ to be Minister to Holland. After his father left office he returned home and became a US Senator. Party politics intervened, and he left to teach at Harvard.

Then he was chosen to be Minister to Russia. He had married the London born Louisa and together they learned to navigate the Czarist court. Louisa became the pet of many a grand lady. He was called to France at the end of the Napoleonic Wars to represent America in forging the Treaty of Ghent. Louisa stayed behind to sell off their household, pack up, and travel with her child,  a dangerous winter journey of 3,000 miles to join him.

James Monroe asked JQ to be his Secretary of State, and he accomplished his greatest achievements. He forged the Monroe Doctrine and treaties incorporating Florida and Oregon into US territories.

The disintegration of the Federalist party left only the National Republicans, which had four candidates. None received a majority electoral college vote and the vote went to the House. JQ won because of Henry Clay's vote.

As President JQ focused on infrastructure to facilitate trade, education, and scientific research which he deemed needed to support a growing nation. He made sure the Smithson money went to create the Smithsonian Institute and was involved in the creation of what became the US Naval Observatory.

A one term president, JQ did not leave public service for long. He was called by Massachusetts to the House of Representatives. Never popular, a fierce independent and true to his own values, JQ was an eloquent spokesman for lost causes. He did not support President Jackson's removal of Native American peoples. He fought the "gag rule" against discussing slavery and finally ended it, as described in America 1844.

"Old Man Eloquent" was an abolitionist, as were his parents. When a ship of captured Africans mutinied and took over the Spanish ship Amistad, JQ was approached to represent the Africans at trial. He accepted, pro bono. In a seven hour presentation he argued that the Africans were not merchandise, but free men taken by pirates. JQ won the case and the grateful Mendhi men wrote letters of thanks.

It was reading these letters that was my "ah hah" moment. I had been struggling on how to present JQ, using quilt methods of his time, broderie perse in particular. What about JQ would reach and move a viewer of the quilt? I knew it had to be the Amistad case, representing JQ's deep dedication to liberty and Civil Rights.

The same day I had my breakthrough I learned that Sue Reich was offered a contract by Schiffert Publishing for "Patriotic and President Quilts" and it would include the Presidential Quilts Project!

All afternoon yesterday I worked on the quilt in a creative heat.

We had pizza for dinner.

Learn more about Sue Reich at

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