Career Before the Presidency
After being admitted to the bar, Adams began a short-lived law career in Boston from 1790 until 1794. During this time, his father was serving as vice president of the United States. John Quincy Adams was a huge supporter of the Washington administration and published articles in support of its policies. Due to this and the fact that he could speak Dutch, Washington appointed him as diplomat to the Netherlands in 1794. Thus began his illustrious career as a diplomat.
From 1794 to 1801 and then again from 1809 until 1817, Adams served as a minister to various European countries. He ensured that America paid its debts to the Dutch for money lent during the American Revolution. In 1797, he was sent to Prussia by his father who had recently been inaugurated as president. He completed an important commercial treaty there before returning home in 1801.
From 1802 until 1808, Adams was in the United States serving first as a Massachusetts state senator and then as a U.S. senator. Despite his experience as a diplomat, Adams was not known for his tact or interpersonal skills in Congress. Even though he was elected as a Federalist, he actually supported Thomas Jefferson as president. Because he did not support Federalist policies during his time as representative, he was forced to resign in 1808.
From 1809 until 1814, President James Madison appointed Adams to be the minister to Russia. He was able to establish a good relationship with Tsar Alexander and witnessed Napoleon's failed attempt to invade Russia.
As a sign of the faith placed in Adams's diplomatic skills, Madison chose Adams to be the chief negotiator of the peace treaty between America and Great Britain that officially ended the War of 1812. After completing his work on the Treaty of Ghent, he was assigned to be the U.S. minister to Great Britain until 1817.
Secretary of State
In 1817, Adams was recalled to the United States when President James Monroe appointed him to be his secretary of state. This was a job that was particularly suited for him and in which he proved to be one of the best who ever held that position. During his time as secretary, he was able to establish fishing rights with Canada, formalize the western U.S.-Canadian border, and negotiate the Adams-Onis Treaty, which gave Florida to the United States. He helped craft the Monroe Doctrine that warned European powers against interfering in the Western Hemisphere and insisted that America present this as a unilateral declaration instead of a joint declaration with Great Britain. He left the office better organized and able to manage future diplomatic duties.