Facial Hair Friday: the First President Not Clean-shaven

Every February we celebrate Presidents Day (the Federal holiday is really George Washington’s Birthday, but I’ll never win that battle). So, today’s Facial Hair Friday is all about the first President with facial hair: John Quincy Adams. 

John Quincy Adams, undated. (National Archives Identifier 528668)

John Quincy Adams was the sixth President of the United States, serving from 1825 to 1829. But with his large sideburns, he was the first U.S. President to have facial hair. Since the term “sideburns” was named after U.S. Civil War General Ambrose E. Burnside, calling them “mutton chops” is probably more historically accurate.

Adams’s election to the office of President was a bit of a controversy. Adams, then Secretary of State, failed to win a majority of the Electoral College and was elected as President by the U.S. House of Representatives. Andrew Jackson had actually won the popular vote and 99 electoral votes. Next was Adams with 84 electoral votes, followed by Secretary of Treasury William Crawford with 41 and Speaker of the House Henry Clay with 37. 

Tally of the 1824 Electoral College Vote, 2/9/1825. (National Archives Identifier 306207)

Since no candidate got a majority, the House of Representatives, as stipulated in the Constitution, selected the winner. Because Clay didn’t finish in the top three, he was excluded from the ballot. It’s widely believed that Clay, as Speaker, then engineered Adams’s election over Jackson. This was further supported when later, as President, Adams nominated Clay to be his Secretary of State.  

Andrew Jackson perhaps had the last laugh, though, when he beat Adams by a landslide in the 1828 Presidential election. Adams became only the second President to lose a second term (the first being his father, John Adams).

While Jackson was clean shaven, the country wouldn’t have to wait long for another facial-haired leader. Martin Van Buren, the President to succeed Jackson, also had sideburns.

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