John Quincy Adams—sixth President of the United States; son of our second POTUS, John Adams; and all-around interesting guy—was born on July 11, 1767, in a part of Braintree, Massachusetts, that is now known as Quincy. From his penchant for skinny-dipping to his beloved pet alligator, here are some things you might not have known about the skilled statesman.
1. John Quincy Adams was elected president despite losing both the popular and electoral votes.
The election of 1824, which saw John Quincy Adams face off against Andrew Jackson, is the only presidential election that had to be decided by the U.S. House of Representatives, as neither candidate won the majority of electoral votes. Despite losing both the popular and electoral vote, Adams was named president by the House.
2. John Quincy Adams loved morning cardio.
When it comes to personal fitness, early birds have an edge. Nobody understood the virtues of morning exercise better than Adams. As America’s foreign minister to Russia, Adams would wake up at 5:00 a.m., have a cold bath, and read a few chapters from his German-language Bible. Then came a six-mile walk, followed by breakfast.
3. John Quincy Adams was an avid skinny-dipper.
As president, Adams got his exercise by taking a daily dip in the Potomac … naked. Every morning, he would walk to the river, strip down, and go for a swim. Sadly, the most famous swimming anecdote likely never happened. The story is that when Adams refused an interview with reporter Anne Royall, she hiked down to the river while he was swimming, gathered his clothes, and sat on them until he agreed to talk. But modern historians tend to agree that this story was a later invention. That’s not to say, however, that Adams never talked about Royall. In his diaries he wrote “[Royall] continues to make herself noxious to many persons; treating all with a familiarity which often passes for impudence, insulting those who treat her with incivility, and then lampooning them in her books.”
4. John Quincy Adams enjoyed a good game of pool.
Adams installed a billiards table in the White House shortly after becoming president. The new addition quickly became a subject of controversy when Adams accidentally presented the government with the $61 tab (in reality he had paid for it himself). Nonetheless, political enemies charged that the pool table symbolized Adams’s aristocratic taste and promoted gambling.
5. John Quincy Adams was an amazing orator, but terrible at small talk.
Although Adams was nicknamed “Old Man Eloquent” for his unparalleled public speaking ability, he was terrible at small talk. Aware of his own social awkwardness, Adams once wrote in his diary, “I went out this evening in search of conversation, an art of which I never had an adequate idea. Long as I have lived in the world, I never have thought of conversation as a school in which something was to be learned. I never knew how to make, to control, or to change it.”
6. John Quincy Adams kept a pet alligator in a bathtub at the White House.
Adams had a pet alligator, which was gifted to him by the Marquis de Lafayette. He kept it in a tub in the East Room of the White House for a few months, supposedly claiming that he enjoyed watching “the spectacle of guests fleeing from the room in terror.”
7. When it came to politics, John Quincy Adams played dirty.
The presidential election of 1828—when incumbent John Quincy Adams got crushed by longtime rival Andrew Jackson—is famous for the mudslinging tactics employed by both sides. Adams’s side said Jackson was too dumb to be president, claiming that he spelled Europe “Urope.” They also hurled insults at Jackson’s wife, calling her a “dirty black wench” for getting together with Jackson before divorcing her first husband. Jackson’s side retorted by calling Adams a pimp, claiming that he had once procured an American girl for sexual services for the czar while serving as an ambassador to Russia.
8. John Quincy Adams is responsible for acquiring Florida.
Next time you find yourself soaking up some rays in the Sunshine State, take a moment to thank Adams. As Secretary of State, Adams negotiated the Adams-Onís Treaty, which allowed the U.S. to acquire Florida and set a new boundary between the U.S. and New Spain. That’s right: Walt Disney World might not have been built if it weren’t for the sixth president.
9. John Quincy Adams was the first United States Minister to Russia.
In 1809, Adams was appointed the first official U.S. representative (ambassador) to Russia. He had previously lived there as a teenager, when the person his father sent him to work for was relocated there. President James Madison asked Adams to return decades later. His time there was more than politically fruitful: Adams gave Russian grammar and vocabulary books to Noah Webster—of dictionary fame—and helped bolster an interest in Russian studies back in the U.S.
10. John Quincy Adams kind of hated being president.
Adams once reportedly stated, “The four most miserable years of my life were my four years in the presidency.” But even if he hated being commander-in-chief, Adams couldn’t bear to be out of the political loop for too long. After finishing his term as president, Adams served 17 more years in the House of Representatives, where he campaigned against further extension of slavery.
11. John Quincy Adams Died shortly after suffering a stroke on the House floor.
During a vote on February 21, 1848, Adams suddenly collapsed at his desk. Fellow Representatives—who held the former president in high regard—rushed to his aid, swiftly relocated the ailing 80-year-old, first to the Rotunda for a bit of fresh air, then to a more private location. He entered a coma and died just two days after his stroke.
A version of this story originally ran in 2018; it has been updated for 2021.