John Quincy Adams (July 11, 1767 – February 23, 1848) was an American statesman, diplomat, lawyer, and diarist who served as the sixth president of the United States, from 1825 to 1829.
Historian Neal Millikan spoke with Business Insider about Adams’ rigorous morning ritual. In the winter months, he’d skip the swimming and kick off his day with a two-mile walk around Washington. But when the weather was nice, he’d take to the water.
Adams himself summarized his routine in a July 1818 diary entry:
“I rise usually between four and five — walk two miles, bathe in Potowmack river, and walk home, which occupies two hours — read or write, or more frequently idly waste the time till eight or nine when we breakfast— read or write till twelve or one, when I go to the office; now usually in the carriage — at the office till five then home till dinner. After dinner read newspapers till dark; soon after which I retire to bed.”
On one or two occasions, the tide nearly washed away Adams’ clothes while he was bathing. But according to Millikan, that was just the way people swam in the 19th century.
“It wasn’t really that odd that he bathed naked,” Millikan says. “He talks about other people leaving their clothes on the rocks. Sometimes he would go alone. Sometimes if his sons were home from Harvard, they would go with him. Sometimes his valet, Antoine, would go with him. He also tried to get a Dutch diplomat whom he met, Mr. Ten Cate, to go with him. Sometimes he would, sometimes he wouldn’t.”
Anne Royall, the first female journalist to ever score an interview with a president, discovered Adams bathing and hid his clothing until he agreed to talk to her, according to the Harvard Square Library. A corrupt bargain indeed!
In July 1803, Adams summarised his daily routine:
“Rise between 5 and 6. Bathe and walk about two hours— Read or amuse myself with George untill 9. Breakfast— At Market— Read or write untill 2. p.m. Dine— Read again untill Sunset— Walk an hour. Lounge away the time untill 10.”
Historians rank John Quincy Adams as one of America’s all-time greatest Secretaries of State, but even while holding that office he felt most of his days were wasted hustling to-and-fro…
“Every day starts new game to me, upon the field of my duties; but the hurry of the hour leaves me no time for the pursuit of it, and at the close of my Career I shall merely have gone helter skelter through the current business of the Office, and leave no permanent trace of my ever having been in it behind.”
Adams’ diligent, meticulous personality is reflected in his diaries. He kept up daily journals from the time he was 12 to his death at age 80.