This July marks the 250th birthday of John Quincy Adams, the sixth president of the United States and an original member of the New England Historic Genealogical Society. Born on 11 July 1767 in Braintree, Massachusetts, Adams was a passionate orator and ardent champion of learning, whose lamentable presidency was just a short interlude in his lifelong dedication to public service.
This month also marks the fiftieth annual presidential wreath-laying ceremony for John Quincy Adams at the United First Parish Church in Quincy. The tradition was initiated by Lyndon B. Johnson in 1967, establishing that on the birthday of each deceased president the current sitting president would send a wreath to be laid on his tomb.
As a Graduate Fellow at the “Church of the Presidents,” I was able to attend several of these ceremonies as well as sharing the story of the Adamses, their congregation, and their final resting place with visitors from all over the world.
John Quincy Adams is interred beside his wife and his parents at the First Parish Church, built in 1828. After the death of John Adams in July 1826, John Quincy, then president, wrote urgently, asking that the committee not delay on the construction of a new church and requesting that he be permitted to erect a “plain and modest monument” to the memory of his father.
Nine months later the cornerstone was laid. On 1 April 1828, John and Abigail Adams’ remains were moved from the Hancock Cemetery across the street. The church was dedicated in November 1828, during Adams’ bitter bid for reelection against Andrew Jackson.
John Quincy Adams died in Washington, D.C., on 23 February 1848 and was returned to Quincy where he was laid to rest in the Hancock Cemetery. Upon the death of his wife, Louisa Catherine (Johnson) Adams, in 1852, their son Charles Francis Adams requested that the couple be laid to rest beside John and Abigail. The modest tomb was enlarged and the sixth president and his wife were interred there in 1854.
The “Church of the Presidents” is unique as it is the only building in the nation in which two presidents are laid to rest. As such, it has the honorable charge of hosting two presidential wreath-laying ceremonies each year, in July and October. The ceremonies are free and open for the public to come and celebrate the lives of the presidents. All are welcome to attend.
 John Quincy Adams wrote on 8 September 1826: “Upon the decease of my late honoured Father, I have considered it a duty devolving upon me to erect a plain and modest monument to his memory; and my wish is, that divested of all ostentation it may yet be as durable as the walls of the Temple, to the erection of which he has contributed, and as the Rocks of his native Town, which are to supply the materials for it.” Adams to Thomas Greenleaf, Adams Papers, Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston (available via NARA Founders Online, founders.archives.gov/documents/Adams/99-03-02-4739).