Party Politics: The Adamses’ Jackson Ball

By Amanda A. Mathews

The women of the Adams family may not have held public office themselves, but they were vital to their husbands’ political careers. Abigail aided John both through her counsel and astute management of their property during his long absences. Louisa Catherine Adams, on the other hand, choosing to remain near her husband at his various posts, used her charm and entertaining skills to showcase John Quincy to the political world in her parlor.

Perhaps her greatest triumph in this vein came on 8 January 1824, the ninth anniversary of the Battle of New Orleans, an important victory for the United States at the end of the War of 1812. Louisa hosted a grand ball to honor the hero of the battle, Andrew Jackson.

The Jackson Ball that Louisa planned was a magnificent affair that took over two weeks for the family to prepare. Five hundred invitations were issued to congressmen, cabinet members, and the social elite of Washington, and newspapers estimated that potentially 1,000 people attended the ball that required the Adamses to install pillars to support the upper floors of their F Street, Washington, D.C., home. Wreaths, garland, and roses covered the walls, while delicate chalked eagles and flowers graced the floors and guests were treated to a sumptuous buffet. “Mr Adams and I took our stations near the door that we might be seen by our guests and be at the same time ready to receive the General to whom the fete was given,” Louisa recalled in her diary. “He arrived at nine o’clock and I took him round the Rooms and introduced him to the Ladies and Gentlemen whom we passed. . . . my Company dispersed at about half past one all in good humour and more contented than common with their entertainment.”

But this was no mere party. This was politics. The Adamses hoped to win over the support of a yet undeclared candidate and potential political rival in Jackson, and showcase their leadership as John Quincy became a leading presidential candidate. During the evening, a small mishap underscored this understood overlap between the social and political worlds. Louisa recorded, “While sitting in the dancing Room one of the lamps fell upon my head and ran all down my back and shoulders— This gave rise to a good joke and it was said that I was already anointed with the sacred oil and that it was certainly ominous— I observed that the only certain thing I knew was that my gown was spoilt—” While this lavish ball failed to win Jackson’s political support, as he became Adams’s chief rival in the Election of 1824, it was a smashing social success, spoken of for years to come, and clearly revealed Louisa’s mastery of social politics.

If you would like to learn more about Louisa in her own words, the forthcoming A Traveled First Lady: Writings of Louisa Catherine Adams is available for pre-order now.