On this day in 1797, future President John Quincy Adams, the son of second President John Adams, marries Louisa Johnson in London, England. Louisa was–and remains– the only foreign-born first lady of the United States.
Louisa’s parents were English colonists living in Maryland before the Revolutionary War. In 1771, her father moved the family back to England, then went to live in France while the colonies fought British rule. Louisa was intelligent and a skilled writer and musician, but suffered all her life from nervous disorders that caused extreme fatigue and fainting. Her family moved back to England in 1784 and, in 1795, she met a young American diplomat named John Quincy Adams. The couple was engaged a year later.
John and Louisa lived in Europe until 1800, when the senior Adams lost his second presidential bid to Thomas Jefferson and John was called home. At first, John’s mother, the former first lady Abigail Adams, considered her daughter-in-law frail and unequal to the task of being a public servant’s wife. Early in her marriage, Louisa endured Abigail’s meddling in John’s political career as well as in the raising of her grandchildren. Louisa and John went back to Europe in 1807, where he served in diplomatic posts in Russia, Belgium and England until 1817, when they again returned to America. Soon after, President James Monroe appointed Quincy Adams secretary of state, a position he held until 1824, when he ran for president. In the subsequent presidential election, a tie between Quincy Adams and Democrat Andrew Jackson put the deciding vote in the House of Representatives. The House chose Adams, who went on to serve one term from 1825 to 1829.
Although Louisa supported her husband’s political career, she hated the demands placed on her as first lady and never considered the White House a real home. She blamed public life for the disgraces that beset her family. First, their son George became addicted to opium and sired a child out of wedlock. Their son John was kicked out of Harvard University, and a third son, Charles, was caught soliciting prostitutes. After John and Louisa left the White House, George committed suicide. On a happier note, in 1828, their son John married Louisa’s niece Mary Catherine in the first White House wedding ceremony for the son of a president.
As a result of domestic stress and what she saw as her husband’s emotional disinterest, Louisa felt increasingly estranged from her husband during the presidency. During summers apart she threw herself into writing poetry and plays and became passionate about women’s rights. Still, she remained supportive of her husband’s career, and when he returned to Congress in 1831, she helped him organize his legal fight to end slavery.
After John Quincy Adams suffered a stroke on the floor of the House of Representatives on February 21, 1848, Louisa stayed by his side until he passed away two days later. She herself suffered a stroke the next year and died in 1852.